This year’s return to my youthful stomping grounds was one of my most “successful” trips to NYC in years on the food side. There is ever the over-hyped in the NY dining scene and always a couple “misses” each visit, despite my aggressive research and vetting of places. But this time around, even when not perfect, each restaurant held a strong point or numerous strengths. From a Scandinavian food hall to a Harlem ramen/cocktail destination, here are four new Manhattan openings that stand out (more of my NY recommends and reviews here).
AGERN, Midtown East
Open in April, Agern (which means acorn in Danish; pronounced AY-gurn) is a sleek haven for Scandinavian goodness in Grand Central Terminal from Danish restaurateur Claus Meyer (one of the original founders of Noma) and chef Gunnar Gislason (formerly of Dill in Reykjavik, Iceland).
Agern’s sleek, lofty, windowless dining room sets the stage for dishes both pristine and inspired, exemplifying the long trendy New Nordic cuisine that swept the culinary world the last decade. This is as fine an example as I’ve seen of it in the States and a restaurant I’d love to return to.
Eat This: Sourcing local ingredients and animals, dishes can be breathtaking, whether corn and chanterelle mushrooms ($28) accented with golden raspberries and tarragon or exceptional house breads baked by Rhonda Crosson. I found the oft-raved about salt and ash-baked beetroot dish to be visually striking but one of my least favorite dishes. Pastry chef Rebecca Eichenbaum’s desserts also stand out, like a seemingly standard chocolate ganache and crumble ($16) given complexity from caramelized fairytale eggplant and basil granita.
Drink This: Likewise, sommelier Chad Walsh has crafted a striking wine list to pair with tasting menus or individual dishes, from Old World beauties to small production California wines. Head bartender Jess Hryniewicki’s cocktails play with Scandinavian flavors, like the Tør (more on that drink here).
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GREAT NORTHERN FOOD HALL in Grand Central Station, Midtown East
As a partner to the aforementioned Agern in Grand Central Terminal, the Great Northern Food Hall is the kind of food hall I wish for in every city. Like a trip around modern Scandinavia, one can order smørrebrød (open-faced Danish sandwiches), baked goods, coffee, vegetable and fruit juices or around the corner in another corridor Scandinavian-influenced hot dogs. There is a bar with lovely cocktails highlighting ingredients like beets and thyme with small batch spirits, as well as craft beers. You can graze, snack, make a moveable feast of it all with drink in hand, taking a virtual trip much further than any train or bus from the iconic station allows.
On the drink side, here is what I wrote about ROKC at Liquor.com months back, an intimate ramen and cocktail haven way up in Harlem that opened in May. The innovating cocktails and glassware are showstoppers, worth a visit on their own under the warm glow of white lights lining the bar.
But the deal is sealed with the raw bar, spicy shrimp buns ($4.50) and heaping bowls of ramen I am partial to the creamy Hokkaido version when it’s on the menu: Sapporo ramen ($13) in a chicken-based, house miso broth packed with chicken chashu, corn, baby bok choy, scallion, red and black pepper.
With three locations (the original two are in Brooklyn), the Harlem location of Sottocasa opened in April, half underground and glowing with warm lights illuminating brick walls, a curved bar and a congenial, laid back vibe. Even on a Friday night, we easily found seats and were treated to authentic Neapolitan pizza cooked in a wood fired oven from Naples, complete with transporting service from gracious Italian staff (the owners are from Naples and Piacenza).
Eat & Drink This: Sipping Italian wines (like a fine glass of dry Lambrusco) with a salsiccia pizza ($15), dotted with hot Italian sausage and basil, feels an escape to Italy and the bill is shockingly low, especially for Manhattan. Surprise hits come in the form of hearty salads like the rughetta ($9 arugula, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, Parmigiano, lemon dressing) or tonno e ceci ($9 tuna, chickpeas, capers, red onions, garlic, lemon dressing).