I go out to eat a lot – probably 4 or 5 times a week. I’m always checking out new restaurants. Most never get a second visit but I am always thrilled when I discover one that works its way onto my favorites list. What those restaurants share is that they deliver on three essential elements: food, staff, ambiance – when this trifecta works, the restaurant makes me feel like I have had an amazing experience. If any element is off, it’s a FAIL.
Read more below on both the restaurants and what makes a perfect hospitality experience for me.
The Perfect Hospitality Experience/ My Trifecta
Food has to be tasty and consistently prepared the same way. With all my favorite restaurants, I have go-to dishes and I expect them to taste the same each time – and also to be on the menu consistently. I used to love Le Philosophe – especially their bacon-veiled salmon. After they took it off the menu, never to be returned, I tried other things but nothing was the same. I stopped going to Le Philosophe as a result.
The personality and engagement of the staff is absolutely crucial and can make or break a place. I gravitate to restaurants staffed with people who exude warmth, remember my name, make me feel welcome, are knowledgeable about menu items, show some flexibility on dietary restrictions and love their restaurant! Rebelle, Narcissa and Uncle Boon’s are especially strong in this department.
I don’t have a preferred aesthetic but my favorites tend to be on the smaller side and are generally not white tablecloth kind of places. I definitely have a preference for younger, contemporary spaces – which can be rustic (e.g. Roberta’s) or more refined (e.g. Narcissa) or just wildly colorful and fun (e.g. Santina). I also love restaurants with outdoor space – especially Narcissa and the Standard EV garden!
One thing I DESPISE: loud acoustics – I find it punishing to eat in a restaurant where I can only catch every second word. One of the many reasons I hate Dirty French.
More On My Favorite Restaurants:
Love everything about Rebelle. Menu items I am addicted to: duck, chicken and the chocolate dessert (dulcey fondant). Their wine list is fantastic. Even if you’re an aficionado, ask the somm what you should order (and don’t be afraid to give them a price range – they have very good wines in the $50 range). Everyone here is into food and super proud to work here – really a first rate experience. Only open for dinner. Rebelle also has a fantastic social media presence – instagram, twitter, facebook – one of the very best!!
Their food is amazing!! Especially love the barley risotto with clams, carrot fries, duck cigars and the rotisserie-crisped beets. They switch their menu up fairly often – entree faves include the bass, the branzino, the pork and the carrots wellington (order the latter as a shared starter). Fabulous bread too – baked on premise. Great staff, very knowledgeable, great FOH (hi – Kevin!!) and they have a gorgeous garden. I frequently meet friends in the South Garden which abuts Narcissa and serves the Standard Cafe menu – totally wonderful experience.
I LOVE this place which is very unusual for me because the Carbone guys’ restaurants have not been my favorites but Santina is so fun and the food is so tasty. My recommended dishes include zucchini carpaccio (amazing!!), the octopus spiedini, the tuna cecinas (although they lack consistency), the pastas change frequently but have always been good. Santina is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they also have great outdoor space. Excellent if you’re visiting the new Whitney.
Roberta’s Pizza (Bushwick):
Roberta’s opened the same year that I moved my office to Bushwick so I have a huge crush on the place. It’s the best pizza I’ve ever had and I just love the vibe of the place – also has great outdoor seating, they grow vegetables on the roof, they broadcast heritage radio out of a shipping container in back. They switch out the menu often but my favorite pizzas remain the Cheesus Christ and the White and Green (and if you ever see the Good Girl on the menu, get it, it’s my absolute favorite). Roberta’s is open for lunch and dinner but doesn’t take reservations so it can be a nightmare waiting for tables unless you go right as they open.
I don’t come here as often as I should for 3 reasons: the food is spicy and many of my friends aren’t into that, they’re not on OpenTable and they don’t have many vegetarian options. But I absolutely love Uncle Boon’s. Very friendly and informed staff and the food is amazing: the betel leaf wrap, spicy chicken and banana blossom salad (very hot but so good), the golden curry, the spicy rotisserie cabbage, the coconut sundae and they serve a beer slushie that people seem to love. Only open for dinner.