Katsuya, Fasano and Café China
New York is coming back to life, and a number of exciting restaurant openings are fueling the city’s resurgence.
From Midtown’s newest Italian restaurant, Fasano, to Chelsea’s authentic Spanish restaurant El Quijote, Manhattan is full of mouth-watering menus to try, all amid Gotham’s swirling resurgent energy. You have five new must-visit restaurants.
The best new Italian food in town comes from Brazil. The plush and pretty Fasano is this year’s Pavilion, a refined restaurant with unabashed luxury braving the uncertain winds of Midtown. But unlike the French address of Daniel Boulud’s taste, it’s traditional Milanese by way of Sao Paolo, where the Fasano hotel and restaurant empire was launched four generations ago.
Opened less than a month ago, it’s the company’s first US location, and it’s already Park Avenue’s trendiest lunch and dinner spot. A steady stream of daring diners have included Leo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Maria Sharapova, filmmaker and gallerist Fabiola Beracasa, real estate mogul Steven Roth, entrepreneur Lauren Santo Domingo and neighbor bankers too shy to name.
Fasano has nothing to do with the lackluster and short-lived Four Seasons reboot it replaced. Designer Isay Weinfeld has separated tables and booths with low partitions that allow for both privacy and good people-watching. The sexy decadence extends to the rich wood walls, deep carpeting, white tablecloths, and lighting bright enough for business but soft enough for romance.
Florentine chef Nicola Fedeli’s menu brings the northern Italian playbook to life. A Jurassic-sized veal chop Milanese is a lot more fun than its simple appearance suggests. The sourdough breading crackles while the Padano cheese inside lends a scrumptious complexity. Pasta and risotto classics are gloriously done. But my favorite dish was the baked black cod with tomato sauce and creamy white polenta – a feast for the eyes and the palate. The sauce lends a pleasantly sweet dimension to the buttery fish and gives it a much-needed break from the miso-glaze treatment it receives at many restaurants around town.
There’s also a bright bar/lounge with a shorter menu displayed on chalkboards. But the dining room is the place to be – a shot of faith in the heart of Midtown where a new JP Morgan Chase skyscraper rises across the street.
280 Park Ave. (enter from East 49th Street); (646) 869-5400, reservations on Resy.com
The old excavations of Les Halles are just romantic enough for a first (or third) date. It looks a bit like Anthony Bourdain’s old haunt which closed five years ago. Burgundian cabins could belong to many bistros, but kitchenware king Francis Staub’s new spot offers much better traditional French cuisine than I remember getting on Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” Executive chef Jaime Loja previously ran the kitchen at the unfortunately closed Brasserie Ruhlmann. I tasted the best duck and bacon terrine I’ve had in ages, as well as an Arctic char with a brown butter sauce worthy of the best seafood cuisines.
411 Park Avenue South; (212) 567-8282, LaBrasserieNYC.com
Everyone has always loved the atmosphere — Cervantes-inspired red murals and chandeliers — of this nearly century-old Chelsea Hotel spot. The food, not so much: there was a sprawling, inexpensive menu with “paella” that tasted like plain boiled rice. This has been resolved with Brooklyn-based Sunday Hospitality group taking over and offering a more focused and much more delicious range served only in the original main room. (The side rooms will be used for another restaurant). Madrid-based chef Byron Hogan concocts slightly modernized Spanish classics: wonderful paella with shellfish and rabbit; fideua de setas, head-on prawns al ajillo and the best ham croquettes outside of Barcelona.
226 W. 23rd St.; (212) 518-1843, ElQuijoteNYC.com
The Far West Side needed a giant, colorful Asian party setting where the chefs bellowed “Irasshaimase!” (“welcome”) to surprised customers. Colossal Katsuya, which offers 305 indoor seats and a 100-seat rooftop terrace, is part of a growing upscale national chain that first launched in Los Angeles in 2006. On paper, the Chef Katsuya Uechi’s modern Japanese menu is nothing fancy, but the difference is in the taste. The familiar-sounding “signature” spicy tuna crispy rice, rock prawn tempura, miso-glazed black cod, and short rib of tomahawk in Yakiniku BBQ sauce whip up competitors’ seaweed with potent ingredients and to precise execution.
398 10th Ave. (in the Citizens complex in Manhattan West); (212) 920-6816, KatsuyaRestaurant.com
The original Cafe China, a few blocks away, spearheaded the Sichuanese revival when it launched 11 years ago. It closed seven months ago, but this three-story reboot transplanted by owners Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang retains the fiery spirit and romance of the original with dim lighting from 1930s Shanghai-style fixtures. Cantonese classics like tea-smoked duck are good, but the hotter dishes shine. Among the best: an ultra-tender Szechuan-style braised pork belly and a sizzling fish stew with a thick bright red broth with chili peppers. It’s as hot as it sounds, but they’ll adjust the heat on demand.
59 W. 37th St.; (212) 213-2810, CafeChinaNYC.com