A Seat at Our Table

A Seat at Our Table: October 2017

Which NYC restaurants will WSWD’s Secret Culinary Insider be dining at this month? Start your search at a patisserie in a former speakeasy or a “ramen party bar” in Bushwick.

Photo courtesy of Oka

October is peak season for eating apples straight from the orchard and celebrating Oktoberfest the untraditional, New Yorker way. We, however, will still be pounding the pavement and trying a new izakaya, Oaxacan-style Mexican, and pasta made in a wok. Our Secret Culinary Insider knows what’s new and hot, along with the tried and true, in every pocket of the city. Here’s where she’s eating this month. And don’t ask us to reveal her identity: If we did, we’d never get another dinner invite.

1. A Taste of Oaxaca in Gowanus

Oaxaca is enjoying its status as the It place to be in Mexico: Artists and the fashion set are flocking there in droves, and—lucky for us New Yorkers—chefs are bringing its flavors back to the city. Enter Claro, headed by chefs Chad Shaner and TJ Steele, who met while at Union Square Cafe, and JT Stewart, who designed the space. Chef Steele has devoted much time to traveling throughout the Oaxacan region and learning the craft of barbacoa (Mexican barbecue), which he cranks out on Claro’s backyard grill; his version is done by dry-rubbing goat and steaming it in avocado leaves. Claro takes its masa seriously, as well, and teams up with farmers in Oaxaca to import heirloom varieties of corn that are expertly ground into the freshest tortillas. Go while it’s still warm out: The smell of the grill and mezcal-laced cocktails on the beautiful backyard patio will make you forget you’re in Gowanus. 

2. Guilt-Free Dining at a Vegetable Bar

After closing its West Village doors, Ladybird is back in action (and in a larger space) a little further east. Restaurateur Ravi DeRossi (owner of Death & Co., Avant Garden, and Cienfuegos) teamed up with musician and animal rights activist Moby to open the all-vegan eatery and cocktail bar, which simply touts itself as a “vegetable bar.” Small plates meant for sharing are the focus of the menu; go for the artichokes served with caponata, basil, and vegan ricotta on sourdough toasts, and fondue made with tapioca, garlic, and white wine. Even the cocktails feel guilt-free—they all either incorporate juice or are garnished with a veggie. The decor is decidedly romantic; a lush emerald green banquette wraps itself around the restaurant, and white marble and gold round out the color palette.  

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Slide into one of Ladybird’s emerald green banquettes.

3. Cocktails and Corn Dogs in Bushwick

From the team behind Williamsburg’s Suzume is the self-anointed “ramen party bar” known as Lua. Nothing on the menu—split into two categories: snacks and noodles—is over $10 at the Asian-Brazilian-Hawaiian mashup, which is good, considering the bar is cash only. We’re partial to the General Tso’s cauliflower, spicy butter wings (from organic chickens), and the spicy cold sesame noodles. However, after a few rounds of pony beers and a shot (for $6!), you may feel emboldened to order the Spicy Boys! Spam corn dog. If you’re looking to take a more sophisticated approach, cocktails like the Aloha Punch (light rum, Prosecco, passion fruit, and lime) or the Whiskey Coconut (bourbon with coconut-water ice cubes and fresh sour mix) accompanied by some garlic-miso eggplant noodles may be more your speed. 

4. Japanese Izakaya for a New York Crowd

WD-50 alum John McCarthy has opened his New York version of a Japanese izakaya, Oka, in Murray Hill. However, McCarthy has taken some liberties with both the food and drink menus in a break from what the typical izakaya would offer. The chickpea croquettes are tasty, as are the fried maitake mushrooms with za’atar-smoked Dijon mustard. A certified sake sommelier, McCarthy devised the cocktail menu himself—we recommend the Lillet Blossom (vodka, ginjo sake, grapefruit, and ginger). Unique Japanese beers and more traditional French and Italian wines are offered, as well. Its proximity to midtown makes it the ideal spot to meet for cool after-work drinks and chef spotting.

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Croquettes with panisse, chickpea, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and chili oil; courtesy of Oka

5. The Jane Hotel’s All-Day Café

Matt Kleigman and Carlos Quirarte have opened the all-day Old Rose in the former Cafe Gitane space inside the always-cool Jane Hotel. Taking its cues from Italy, the menu focuses on seasonal offerings, with the main event being pizza. Old Rose sources its organic flour from Central Milling in Utah, and its toppings list includes clams and chiles, so expect these pies to be a kick up from your typical late-night slice joint. Plenty of raw seafood is on offer, too, and the thoughtful drinks list boasts local craft beers, natural wines, and cocktails. 

6. Pastries Worthy of a Third Date

Pastry chef Rory Macdonald opened the fantastic Patisserie Chanson hoping to serve classic European pastry—the kind of bread a Parisian would approve of—and, perhaps even more ambitiously, a dessert bar. The latter took a bit longer than expected, but the extra efforts are well worth it. The bar is located in the underground space beneath the patisserie and, as it turns out, was a Prohibition-era speakeasy and casino academy in its past life. Along with the 16-seat bar, the area also has booths and tables where you can enjoy a six-course dessert tasting menu ($68) and an optional drink pairing ($52). As to be expected, the offerings are playful; expect black sesame soft serve in a mini chocolate cone and homemade boozy gummy bears in flavors like Campari and Frangelico.

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A buffet of whimsical breakfast pastries from Patisserie Chanson.

7. Italian Flavors, Southern Charm

Proud Southerner Chris McDade isn’t afraid to inject some of the flavors of his childhood into his Italian-inspired Popina. Together, McDade and business partner James O’Brien (the two both worked at Maialino) have created a laid-back spot to tuck into hot chicken Milanese served with radicchio and ranch dressing, and fettuccine with guanciale, jalapeño, corn, and Pecorino. Finish off your meal with chocolate chess pie topped with fresh whipped cream and amarena cherries. Popina also boasts a backyard dining area with a boccie court and plenty of space for kids to run around. 

8. A Taste of the Mediterranean 

Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer are the duo responsible for creating some of our favorite and most reliable spots around town (Vic’s, Cookshop, Rosie’s). We anticipate the same with Shuka, a Mediterranean wonderland that pulls the flavors of North Africa, the Middle East, Spain, and Italy harmoniously together. Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja has been testing and experimenting with the menu for years; expect to find shawarma-spiced chicken on skewers, a killer vegetable paella, and a cod tagine. Cocktails are cleverly named after cities from which much of the food inspiration hails; we’re partial to the Tunis, with tequila, red pepper juice, lime, and lemon shrub. The space is decorated with blue and white ceramic Moroccan tiles and banquettes with patterned pillows and tufted ceiling curtains.

9. Michelin-Starred Pasta…Served From a Wok

Chef Massimo Sola certainly knows a thing or two about pasta. After all, his restaurant in Italy, I Quattro Mori, received a Michelin star, and he spent a solid portion of his career as head of restaurant operations at Eataly Rome. So it should come as no surprise that his latest venture, Sola Pasta Bar, brings with it the quality and excitement you’d expect from the high-caliber chef. There’s a twist, though, befitting his new backers, who helped open By Chloe: Chefs cook around a square, open kitchen and toss pastas into luscious sauces in a wok. Make sure to claim a spot at the 16-seat kitchen counter, where you can watch the whole scene unfold. The chefs will also do the serving, ensuring they can explain the food and its origins to diners. 

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Ever have pasta served straight out of a wok? Photo courtesy of Sola Pasta Bar

10. A Brasserie Worthy of Your Loyalty

We think New York could use more brasseries, the type of place that’s buzzy but not too loud, and where you can solidly depend on a delicious meal. Enter The Loyal, the latest from John Fraser (Dovetail, Narcissa, Nix), located in the former Pagani space in the West Village. Though Fraser has spent time honing his skills in Paris restaurants and The French Laundry, The Loyal is influenced by his experiences cooking and tending bar at the Shagwong in Montauk. In other words, comforting and simple. The menu will feature homemade pastas, items from the restaurant’s butchery, along with an extensive wine list and creative cocktails.  

11. Adventurous Thai in Carroll Gardens

A bowl of kao soy put chef Sirichai Sreparplarn on the map. He was working for a restaurant (called Kao Soy) in Red Hook when, in 2015, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells called it one of the 10 best dishes of the year. Sreparplarn has since moved on and opened his own shop, Ugly Baby, for inventive Thai (you won’t find any pad Thai here). His menu items are informed by all areas of Thailand, like the brutally spicy dried beef-shank curry from the south and the red snapper with tamarind and ginger from the central region. Kao soy is still on offer (though now called khao soi nuer), along with a plate of duck feet with black pepper and a crispy coriander pig’s ear, if you’re feeling up to the challenge. 

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Care for a spot at our table? Get in touch with our experience advisers for reservations at any of our picks for the month.