A Few Tasty Bites Of The Big Apple

In mid-July, the Democratic convention will add 40,000 visitors to Manhattan's crowds. So even people who can pay any price to get into The Four Seasons or Guys and Dolls may find themselves out of luck. But don't fret if the best-known attractions are thronged. Here's an insider's guide to alternatives:

DINING Without advance notice of a week or more, forget the four-star French restaurants in midtown (Lutece, Le Cirque, Le Bernardin). You might luck out in midweek at the newest addition to the list, Bouley (165 Duane St., 608-3852), downtown in Tribeca. If not, at three-star Le Perigord (405 E. 52nd, 755-6244), owner Georges Briguet makes everyone feel like royalty. A young chef from Lutece reigns at the colorful, new La Topiaire (120 W. 45th, 819-1405) off Times Square.

To dine or drink and savor a great view of the area's hubbub, seek out 2 Times Square in the new Ramada Renaissance Hotel (7th Ave. and 47th).

For Italian cuisine at moderate prices, a bright chef who was formerly with Spago serves up California-style fare at Dolce (60 E. 49th, 692-9292). At Trattoria dell'Arte (900 7th Ave., 245-9800), the big anatomical artworks are amusing, the antipasto is bountiful.

If you favor Chinese, Flower Drum (856 2nd Ave., 697-4280) near the U. N. is less busy at dinner than at lunchtime. And in Chinatown's new Hotel Maria, Pacifica specializes in seafood, Hong Kong-style (138 Lafayette St., 941-4168). There's exotic luxury, too, at a much-praised new arrival, Jewel of India (15 W. 44th St., 869-5544).

Near Lincoln Center, Cafe Luxembourg (200 W. 70th, 873-7411) has lively crowds and brasserie-type cuisine. Fresh seafood and oceanside decor made Fishin Eddie (73 W. 71st, 874-3474) an instant success when it opened last fall. This summer's lures for the young and trendy are downtown: Boom, Felix, and Metro CC.

SHOWS If the SRO sign is up at Crazy for You and Miss Saigon, head Off-Broadway to Ruthless (254-5076, $37.50), a very funny musical that blends Gypsy with The Bad Seed. Blue Man Group (254-4370, $35) is Off-Broadway's highly offbeat trio in blueface. They mix slapstick with sophisticated pokes at avant-garde art and music to make audiences of all ages laugh.

To trim theater costs, many visitors line up at 3 p.m. daily at the TKTS booth on 47th St. in Times Square. It sells half-price tickets (cash only) to evening performances of nearly every show in town. You can beat the lines by using the mezzanine TKTS booth at No. 2 World Trade Center, which opens at 11 a.m. And a third-floor desk at Bloomingdale's on 59th St. sells same-day tickets to a select group of shows at 10% to 35% off, credit cards accepted.

SIGHTS If New York lifestyles seem too wild, viewing some real wildlife can be calming. The modernized Central Park Zoo is open daily until 5 p.m. And all sorts of North American creatures inhabit a new 11-acre Queens Zoo (718 271-7761), just 20 minutes from Times Square via the No. 7 Flushing line.

A must for art-lovers is the expanded Guggenheim (5th Ave. and 89th St., 423-3500). Closed for three years, Frank Lloyd Wright's recently reopened masterpiece showcases 20th century art. Adults and kids alike will enjoy a different kind of museum: midtown's gleaming new Museum of TV & Radio (25 W. 52nd St., 621-6600).

DEALS No pool at your hotel? By showing any hotel room key, you can swim and work out--free--at the health club in the renovated Sheraton Manhattan (51st St. & 7th Ave., 581-3300). Midtown's best place to catch a movie is at the uncrowded six-screen Worldwide (50th St. west of 8th Ave.).

For good deals on stereos, camcorders, and such, visitors pack 47th Street Photo at 37 W. 47th St. But shopping is easier two blocks away at the 115 W. 45th St. branch. Both stores are closed Saturday, open Sunday. Or, at 15 Park Row, near City Hall, J&R is a big discounter that's open every day.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.