The immediate area around the Javits Center isn't exactly bustling with restaurants, but with a little travel you can quickly find yourself in many of New York City's best restaurants. Here are some of Frommer's favorites.
Barbetta. Italian. The debate over which is New York's oldest restaurant rages on, and Barbetta (est. 1906) is in the thick of it. But there is no debate over Barbetta's sustained excellence. The first, and still one of the few, New York restaurants to serve cuisine from Piemonte (the Piedmont), Italy's northwesternmost region, Barbetta's food, like the decor, is richly elegant. At Barbetta, if you dine in the autumn or winter, you might have the pleasure of white truffles, flown in from Piemonte, and shaved over your already decadent gnochetti ai formaggi, freshly made gnocchi in an unforgettable cheese sauce, or the stunning creation of an edible quail's nest filled with fonduta cheese and surrounded by three tiny, speckled quail's eggs. On the menu you can choose from one of the restaurant's 1906 creations such as the bolliti misti, a mix of boiled meats and broth served from an antique silver cart (order 48 hr. in advance). Barbetta also features an impressive Italian wine list and, in the warmer months, one of the city's most romantic outdoor gardens. Though this is a Theater District restaurant, and many come for the pre-theater prix fixe, Barbetta is best experienced at a relaxed, leisurely pace. 321 W. 46th St. (btw. Eighth and Ninth aves.); 212-246-9171. Reservations recommended. Prix-fixe dinner $49; main courses lunch $22-$29, dinner $28-$36.
Becco. Italian. If you're a fan of Lidia Bastianich's PBS cooking shows, you can sample her simple, hearty Italian cooking here. Becco, on Restaurant Row, is designed to serve her meals "at a different price point" (read: cheaper) than her East Side restaurant, Felidia. The prices are not rock bottom, but in terms of service, portions and quality, you get great bang for your buck. The main courses can head north of the $20 mark, but take a look at the prix-fixe Sinfonia de Pasta menu ($18 at lunch, $23 at dinner), which includes a Caesar salad or an antipasto plate, followed by unlimited servings of the three fresh-made daily pastas. There's also an excellent selection of Italian wines at $25 a bottle. If you can't make up your mind about dessert, have them all: a tasting plate includes gelato, cheesecake and whatever else the dessert chef has whipped up that day. 355 W. 46th St. (btw. Eighth and Ninth aves.); 212-397-7597. Reservations recommended. Main courses lunch $13-$25, dinner $19-$35.
Bombay Talkie. Indian. Try to imagine you are on the streets of Bombay and you are hungry. There are inexpensive food options everywhere on those streets, and at Bombay Talkie, with a Bollywood movie playing behind the bar and a soundtrack on the speakers to match, some of those options are replicated in a much more comfortable environment. You can munch on a dosa, a thin, lightly fried bread stuffed with coconut and mustard-seed chicken or spiced potatoes. Or you might want to try the Pau Bhaji, grilled bread served with mixed, gingery vegetables. Wash it down with one of the restaurant's innovative cocktails, such as a passion fruit margarita or an Indian beer. The restaurant has two levels, a few booths on the lower level and a long communal table, which is fun for large groups. 189 Ninth Ave. (btw. 21st and 22nd sts.); 212-242-1900. Reservations recommended. Street bites $6-$9; main courses $11-$16.
Cookshop. American. On far West Tenth Avenue, Cookshop is brawny and boisterous, with food to match. Seating can be tight, and you would hear your neighbor's conversation if it the whole place weren't so loud. But never mind: enjoy the chef's creations. A pizza with shaved king oyster mushrooms and stracchino cheese or the grilled Montauk squid in a salsa verde make good starters to complement the restaurant's innovative cocktails. Or combine a few snacks, like the fried spiced hominy or the smoked pork tacos as starters for the table. Cookshop offers entree options in four categories: sauté, grill, wood oven and rotisserie. The whole roasted porgy, head and all, cooked in the wood oven, is moist and full of flavor, while the chili-braised beef short ribs, served over cheddar grits, from the sauté section, are tender to the bone. Service is casually efficient and helpful. 156 Tenth Ave. (at 20th St.); 212-924-4440. Reservations recommended. Main courses $21-$36.
Frankie & Johnnie's. Steak. When restaurants spin off other branches, red flags go up. Does that mean the restaurant has become a chain and quality has eroded? In the case of Frankie & Johnnie's, the legendary former speak-easy turned steakhouse in the Theater District, the answer is "no!" There are now two other outlets, one in Westchester and the other in a two-story town house once owned by actor John Barrymore. Just try their signature sirloin. It also helps that the dining room on the second floor of the town house is gorgeous, especially the Barrymore room, the actor's former study, with stained-glass ceiling panels, dark-wood walls and a working fireplace. Not only are Frankie & Johnnie's steaks underrated in the competitive world of New York steakhouses, but the other options are superb. The crab cake appetizer had a high crab-to-cake ratio, while the sides of hash browns were the best I've had. Pastas and seafood are also on the menu, but what's the point? Service is steakhouse old school, and if you are staying in Midtown, the restaurant provides complimentary stretch limo service to and from the restaurant. 32 W. 37th St. (btw. Fifth and Sixth aves.); 212-947-8940. Reservations recommended. Main courses $25-$36
Keens Steakhouse. Steak. Until the latter part of the 20th century, Keens, which was established in the same location in 1885, referred to itself as a "chop house." They are now known as a steakhouse, but I wish they had remained true to their roots. To their credit, they are a steakhouse in name only. They serve the basics of a steakhouse--the porterhouse for two, aged T-bone and filet mignon with requisite sides such as creamed spinach and hash browns--but they still serve chops: lamb chops, prime rib, short ribs and, most notably, mutton chops. It is the mutton chop that has made Keens famous. The monstrous cut has two flaps of long, thick, rich, subtly gamy meat on either side of the bone that look kind of like mutton-chop sideburns. So which came first, the sideburns or the chop? Keens is no gussied-up remake of old New York: It's the real thing, from the thousands of ceramic pipes on the ceiling (regular diners were given their own personal pipes, including such celebrities as Babe Ruth, George M. Cohan, and Albert Einstein) to the series of rooms on two floors with wood paneling, leather banquettes, fireplaces, a clubby bar with a three-page menu of single malts, and even the framed playbill Lincoln was reading at the Ford Theater that infamous evening in 1865. Keens has been there, done that, got the playbill. 72 W. 36th St. (at Sixth Ave.); 212-947-3636. Reservations recommended. Main courses $26-$45.
Marseille. French. Lively and casual with open, high ceilings and a tiled floor that creates a Casablanca-like ambience, this restaurant, named after the port city in France, features the food of that city, including its North African influences. That means you'll find such entrees as Moroccan chicken, couscous and tagine on the menu, along with Provençal specialties such as bouillabaisse, which comes in three varieties (chicken, vegetarian and traditional, made with fish--stick with the traditional), short-rib daube, salad niçoise and soup au pistou. You can make a meal of the mezes (small plates), which feature a tangy grilled merguez sausage, anchovies and roasted peppers; brandade (whipped salt cod); tapenade; and broiled sardines wrapped in lardo (thick bacon). In the Film Center building on Ninth Avenue, this is a good pre-theater choice, but even better when the pre-theater rush is over. 630 Ninth Ave. (at 44th St.); 212-333-2323. Mezes $4-$13; main courses $16-$28.
Mandoo Bar. Korean. The heart of Manhattan's Koreatown is 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues--and the number of Korean restaurants on that block is dizzying. You'll know you've found Mandoo Bar when you see the two women in the window rolling and stuffing fresh mandoo (dumplings). The dumplings, stuffed with a variety of ingredients, are always incredibly fresh. There's mool mandoo (basic white dumplings filled with pork and vegetables), kimchee mandoo (steamed dumplings stuffed with potent Korean spiced cabbage, tofu, pork and vegetables), green vegetable mool mandoo (boiled dumplings filled with mixed vegetables) and goon mandoo (pan-fried dumplings filled with pork and vegetables). You really can't go wrong with any of these, so sample them all with a Combo Mandoo. Soups are also great; try the beef noodle in a spicy, sinus-clearing broth. With seating that is nothing more than wooden benches, Mandoo Bar is better suited for quick eats than a lingering meal. 2 W. 32nd St. (just west of Fifth Ave.); 212-279-3075. Reservations not accepted. Main courses $7-$17.
Nizza. French/Italian. You won't do much better for pre- or post-theater dining than Nizza. Nizza offers the cuisine of the French Mediterranean, the city of Nice specifically, and its Ligurian-Italian influence. It's a restaurant where you can fill up on appetizers and salads, starting with the tangy tapenade of black olives served with freshly baked focaccia chips and socca, a chickpea pancake cooked in a brick oven and sprinkled with fresh herbs. Or savor a glass of wine with a plate of salumi, a selection of cured meats such as coppa, mortadella, prosciutto and a variety of salamis, including duck. The romaine salad I had in a garlic vinaigrette with anchovies and shaved pecorino cheese made me swear off Caesar salad forever--well, almost. From that same brick oven come pizzas, including a Provençal pie with ratatouille, goat cheese and pesto; entrees such as the delicate polpette (meatballs), served on a bed of polenta and garnished with a hot green pepper; and wild-boar lasagna that is much less ferocious than it sounds. The restaurant is loud and seating is tight, but you'll love the memorable food and the easy-on-your-wallet prices. 630 Ninth Ave. (at 45th St.); 212-956-1800. Main courses $12-$20.
Zuni. American. This restaurant is Off-Off Broadway central; each evening waves of actors, directors, techies and audiences flood the place from various theaters in the neighborhood. They make the bar a fun scene, with the booths in the back quiet enough to hear yourself talk, but with enough room to table-hop if you see friends. The menu is American/eclectic with a tilt toward Mexican (ask about the quesadilla of the day). Also recommended are the sandwiches (grilled salmon with wasabi aioli, an excellent burger) and solid entrees with daily specials and soups. The bar makes good, strong drinks. It's a bargain for the area, which means it'll cost more than a hole in the wall but a lot less than the Italian trattoria across the street. 598 Ninth Ave. (at 43rd St.); 212-765-7626. Sandwiches $10-$13; main courses $12-$21.
From Frommer's New York City 2010. For more information about Frommer's, visit booth #4141, where Arthur and Pauline Frommer will sign guides on Thursday, May 27, 10 to 11 a.m.