New York’s quietest restaurants are also New York’s priciest. We have the decibel counters -- and the receipts -- to prove it.
If Per Se’s most expensive dish is the $175 white truffle risotto, the second and third dearest items are surely peace and tranquility. I mean that only half-jokingly, as using real linens can add tens of thousands of dollars to a restaurant’s annual costs.
Anything that absorbs noise -- carpeting, drapes or extra space between tables -- is an expense that restaurants pass along to you. Of course, the sound supplement, unlike your foie gras add-on, isn’t listed on the menu.
So if price is no barrier and you need quiet, you’ll dine at Per Se and thank me later. Other restaurants in that vaunted category include Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Daniel and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.
Or you can consult my list below for some great restaurants where the decibel levels are tolerable and the check isn’t out of reach.
Upper West Side
Boulud Sud: Soft carpeting and cushy seats, plus peaceful sea foam green accents. Boulud Sud ranks, along with Cafe Boulud, as Daniel Boulud’s quietest New York venues outside of his eponymous three Michelin-starred flagship.
Lincoln: What’s changed since Jonathan Benno opened this lovely restaurant is the Italian food: it has improved. What hasn’t changed is the East room, a glass triangle looking out over the Lincoln Center campus.
Craft: At Tom Colicchio’s flagship restaurant there are no tablecloths. But that’s not a problem, because of the high ceilings, luxuriously spaced tables and well-behaved patrons. You can hear your companion and your conversation stays at your table. The Wagyu isn’t bad either.
Gramercy Tavern: Eleven Madison Park is charging $195 per person for three-hour lunches, so this is your go-to spot for downtown business meals. The formal dining room is sedate and elegant, with bargain $58 tasting menus during the day and $88 set menus at night.
15 East: The Tocqueville team brought us this life-changing sushi restaurant back in late 2006. Since then chef Masato Shimizu has hosted omakase sushi tastings in a fun environment (unlike the formal, and formidable, Masa).
The NoMad: Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have created two restaurants with The NoMad’s different rooms. There’s the shouty Atrium and the more relaxed Parlor where you can savor the foie gras and black truffle stuffed chicken, one of the city’s best -- and at $79 for two, most expensive -- birds.
Ai Fiori: Sure, Michael White’s Marea has expensive soundproofing. But the chef’s most sedate spot is this Southern French and Italian spot at The Setai on Fifth Avenue. The four-course menu is $92; the tasting, $130.
Sushi Yasuda: This is your default spot for a proper sushi business dinner near Grand Central Terminal, an oasis recessed from the crowded, noisy streets.
Ma Peche: This underrated restaurant at the Chambers Hotel continues to function as Momofuku’s most civilized New York spot. And while neither Ko nor Noodle Bar is terribly noisy, Ma Peche is quieter.
Riverpark: Just a stone’s throw from New York University and Bellevue medical centers, this is Colicchio’s culinary gift to midtown doctors and members of the biotechnology industry. The sound level rarely rises above a whisper, all the better to appreciate an outstanding mushroom consomme, not to mention the East River view.
Empellon Cocina: Ask for a table in the back and something very peculiar happens: You hear Jack White playing the guitar on the sound system while the voice of your dining companion is crystal clear. That’s because chef Alex Stupak invested a bunch of money in professional sound proofing. Other young restaurateurs should follow Stupak’s lead.
Degustation: The only sound you’ll hear over the voices of patrons is the sizzle of a grill at this haute tapas restaurant. Patrons can watch chefs around a sushi-style bar or sit next door in the spare, blissfully muted dining room. The seven-course, $80 tasting menu makes this one of the best deals in the city.
WD-50: I’m not completely sold on Wylie Dufresne’s tasting menu ($90-$155) revamp of his famous avant-garde spot on the Lower East Side. Give the chef credit for accessible modernism with a pleasant sound level.
Torrisi Italian Specialties: If a 20-ish hedge funder wanted to woo a young investor, she’d be wise to invite that prospect to Torrisi, an haute ode ($75-$160) to the classic red sauce joints of New Jersey and Long Island. It’s hushed, even if the tables are tightly placed.
Corton: Drew Nieporent is the King of Tribeca. The crown jewel of his dining empire (Nobu, Tribeca Grill) remains this hushed French restaurant, a sometimes fussy temple to imaginative chef Paul Liebrandt, who charges $125 for a short tasting, $155 for a longer one.
Brushstroke: David Bouley’s ode to Kyoto comes in the form of this fine kaiseki restaurant, where guests can enjoy the $85 menu in an environment that never distracts from serious culinary contemplation.
North End Grill: Danny Meyer and chef Floyd Cardoz gave Battery Park City this high-end American spot earlier this year, a cafeteria of sorts for the world headquarters of Goldman Sachs a block away. The bar room is loud and filled with Scotch drinkers eating clam pizza. Ask for a dining room table and the roasted turbot.
Atera: Matthew Lightner’s 13-seat chef’s counter is for one purpose only, taking in a 20-course-plus, $165 extravaganza. No shouting, no loud music.
Del Posto: Mario Batali’s most expensive, with dinner starting at $115 per person. Bar diners can order from Del Posto’s cheaper a la carte menu. And the $39 lunch is still one of Manhattan’s best deals.
Colicchio & Sons: For seekers of black olive oil cod with caramelized fennel, chorizo and potatoes. It’s part of the restaurant’s $82 set menu. And the old flat-screen TVs from the space’s Craftsteak days are long gone.
Annisa: One of two Michelin-starred female chefs in New York, Anita Lo runs an adult dining room, a place where couples can appreciate foie gras dumplings without any unnecessary disturbances. Tasting menus start at $78.
Blue Hill: When Michelle Obama flew to New York with her husband on a much publicized “date night,” they chose Dan Barber’s secluded haute-barnyard establishment for dinner. If it’s good enough for the First Couple, it’s good enough for us.
Gwynnett St.: This Williamsburg cookery ranks among last year’s best new restaurants, a place where hipsters and hedge fund managers come together to enjoy all the gorgeous intricacies of cumin spiked carrots. The tasting menu, which does include meat and fish, costs $85.
Vinegar Hill House: Gastronauts choose this cute DUMBO restaurant for many reasons, but the best is that you can have one of the city’s tastiest pan-roast chickens for only $26.
Blanca: I’m cheating a bit with this one, because dinner at Blanca will cost about as much as Daniel, Jean Georges or Le Bernardin. The set menu is $180 per person.
I mention this place because it’s in a converted garage in Bushwick, which is probably not where you’d expect to find tranquility along with a 25-course tasting menu.
Blanca is proof that fine dining, with civility intact, is reason enough to move further and further into the outer boroughs.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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