From the August 2015 edition of Reserve, a Bloomberg Brief publication.
New York’s Upper West Side is home to many of the city's intelligentsia and food media. Why then is so much of the food so mediocre? It all comes back to real estate: As the coveted family neighborhood gets more expensive, the most creative chefs are pushed to areas where rents are cheaper.
Still, for those tenants that can afford it, the UWS offers a hungry and knowledgeable customer base. For example, Eric and Bruce Bromberg of Blue Ribbon fame—pioneers of such areas as Park Slope and Soho—have just opened their latest restaurant, The Ribbon, on West 72nd Street. They clearly believe there’s a paying audience for their brasserie style and aren't afraid of the families, professionals, and dog-walkers that abound in the area. Is it a little less-hip than their others? Yes, but that's exactly as it should be.
Here are some of the neighborhood's best offerings.
Go With Clients
Jean-Georges/Nougatine: At the neighborhood's southernmost tip, this is ground zero for modern cuisine in the U.S., let alone the UWS. The main room is for destination dining; the less formal Nougatine is where insiders eat. It is surprisingly inexpensive in its range, especially for its glorious prix fixe lunch.
Dovetail: A standard-bearer for creative American fare, John Fraser's recently redone spot is a safe bet.
Telepan: Bill Telepan is one of the city's most skilled chefs. His local-ingredient-focused style is unpretentious and delicious.
The Leopard at des Artistes: Il Gattopardo's team modernized the beloved Cafe des Artistes space and its naked nymphs. It's a sophisticated power scene that is uniquely NYC.
Gabriel's: One of the city's secret power scenes. Its cozy green leather banquettes and solid Italian fare make it a great spot for meetings.
Go With Friends
FOR DRINKS ...
George Keeley: A favorite destination for beer lovers and Upper West Siders of all stripes. There's a decent pub menu for nibbles after baseball games in Riverside Park—and it stays open until 4 a.m.
FOR DINNER ...
Kefi: Unpretentious Greek fare that works for families, friends, or take-out.
Salumeria Rosi: This tiny, sexy space can produce some of the best Italian fare outside of Lucca.
Boulud Sud: Daniel Boulud's empire has a corner on Broadway facing Lincoln Center: Bar Boulud for pre/post theater, Epicerie for take-out, and Sud for a trip to the Mediterranean.
The Mermaid Inn: A twin to the super-hip Lower East Side original run by Red Cat's Danny Abrams and Jimmy Bradley.
Cotta: Solid Italian food. Delivers and has seats outside.
Go With Family
Isabella's: Like Sarabeth's, this is an UWS institution catering to people who wield baby strollers. You're going here for brunch or to pretend you're in a Steven Spielberg film shot on the UWS. To get tables, never yell: Tip discreetly and wait patiently.
The Ribbon: The Brombergs of Blue Ribbon fame take the same themes—great fish, a chef-y vibe, delicious comfort food—and clean it all up for an UWS audience.
The Boat Basin Café at 79th St: This is the unofficial summer hub of the UWS. The food/drinks are nothing to rave about, but the location on the Hudson River is sensational.
Barney Greengrass: One of the last of the great New York delis, quintessentially Upper West Side and as terrific as ever.
Red Farm: Ed Schoenfeld practically invented high-end Chinese food for New Yorkers. If any place shows how the UWS has evolved, this is it.
Peter Elliot is editor of Reserve and manages the lifestyle functions on the Bloomberg Professional service. He is Bloomberg’s founding food critic and a James Beard Award winner. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @mrpeterelliot.