Spring didn’t happen this year (thanks for nothing, Mother Nature), but at least the restaurant openings were a bit less fickle. With the seasonally warm weather now upon us, you’ll be itching to cool down with some rum cocktails at a vibrant new Nicaraguan eatery or a briny ice cream flavor at an Upper West Side dumpling hot spot.
1. Knock One Back With the Neighbors
Tom Valenti, formerly the executive chef at Le Cirque, has debuted his ideal neighborhood joint: Oxbow Tavern in the old Cafe Tallulah space on the Upper West Side. The New American restaurant with a French accent meets you where you’re at. Craving a good burger? It’s got a great one that doesn’t skimp on caramelized onions. Need a nice dining option before a show at Lincoln Center? Oxbow is five blocks away. Looking for a can’t-go-wrong date spot? A pork chop or coq au vin does the trick. Nightcap? Its extensive cocktail program is designed by an Employees Only owner, and the zinc bar is apparently the longest in Manhattan.
2. Eat Two or Three Pizzas
While it seems like a new pizza joint opens every week (because one does), no opening has been as anticipated as that of Una Pizza Napoletana, the return of Anthony Mangieri’s blissfully charred pies. Mangieri hasn’t messed with the pizza: He serves just four types, all vegetarian (except a salami-dotted one on Saturdays). He has, however, incorporated a delicious selection of small plates and desserts with help from the guys behind Contra and Wildair: Enjoy burrata and tomatoes with lobster oil and white asparagus with bottarga alongside your impeccable pie, then go nuts for the otherworldly strawberry panna cotta. See, we actually do need one more pizza spot!
3. Stay All Day at Madcap Cafe
Every neighborhood needs an all-day café, and Carroll Gardens just got its own: Madcap Cafe is helmed by Heather Fuller, whose fine-dining résumé boasts Per Se, Momofuku Ko, and Nix, but whose own menu is rather neighborly: crafted with care, comforting, a little random, and entirely delicious. Sidle up to the long bar and enjoy one of the nine dishes Fuller feels like making that day. It could be a tempting sticky bun, biscuits and gravy (Fuller is from Atlanta), or roasted maitake mushrooms cradled in a house-made flatbread. With such local vibes and ever-changing offerings, it’s easy to make this a repeat spot.
4. Satisfy Your Summer Rum Cravings
If your vision of summer in the city involves tropical prints, spicy food, and rum, Chicha is your spot. There aren’t many places to try Nicaraguan food in New York, and the good news is we just got a great rendition in Brooklyn. In an airy warehouse made lively with bright colors, wife-and-husband team Vanessa Palazio and Adan Schneider are creating flavorful, vibrant fare you can’t find in many places. Start with a quesillo or two: The homemade corn tortilla—topped with cheese and pork, chicken, or lobster—is a common street food made classy here. Another standout is the elotitos, reminiscent of elotes but made with grilled sweet baby corn. Every dish just so happens to go great with a drink or two, which are not to be missed. The draft and craft cocktail menu is massive and all about rum—so much so, you’ll find this slightly out-of-the-way eatery by following the bright sign that reads “Rum.” See how easy that is?
5. Kenney’s Culinary Block Party
We can start to call Second Avenue between East 3rd and 4th Streets Matthew Kenney’s block: He veganized pizza (very well) with Double Zero, as well as Mexican food with Bar Verde. Now right next door, he’s opened Arata, a vegan Japanese spot that’s every bit as healthful and flavor-forward. Expect shareable plates like rice cakes with long beans and snap peas; beautiful buns stuffed with smoked oyster mushrooms, cashew hoisin, and pickled chile; and bowls brimming with noodles, Szechuan tempeh sausage, and chickpeas. Go for the cacao matcha tart to finish.
6. Dill-icious Ice Cream at Lucky Pickle Dumpling
The folks behind UWS favorite Jacob’s Pickles have opened a fast-casual joint, Lucky Pickle Dumpling, that goes straight for the good stuff: Six kinds of dumplings, noodles, and pickles. What more could you want? The dumplings are pillowy and flavorful, and the lunch combos render decision making a snap. The only thing to ponder is whether you’re game to try the pickle soft serve. (It’s cucumber fresh, with just a little pucker from a bit of brine—definitely worth the gamble.)
7. A New Kind of Omakase
At the latest high-end omakase in town, you won’t get plate after plate of sushi. Instead, El Bulli–trained chef Chikara Yamada is elevating kushiage, a type of deep-fried Japanese skewer not widely seen (yet) in Manhattan. The elegant yet surprising omakase starts with a sake martini and a liquid molecularly made olive, then goes into various sticks, showing off Yamada’s molecular gastronomy and Spanish training—think: a deep-fried oyster wrapped in bacon and quail egg with truffle. After the kushiage and a chirashi box, dessert and a traditional matcha tea ceremony take place on the outdoor patio. Yamada Chikara is a little new wave, a little traditional—all serene and enjoyable.