When I think of splurging on an unforgettable meal in NYC, I often think of heading to spots like Le Bernardin in Midtown or Eleven Madison Park in the Flatiron District, also two of the finest dining experiences I’ve had in my life. Downtown has an array of fancy restaurants too, from mainstays like Del Posto to Mas (Farmhouse) to newer hotspots like Jungsik and Brushstroke, you can eat around the world without ever traveling north of 23rd Street. Venture north of 59th Street and you will find fewer options, but still, special occasion spots are sprinkled throughout. That said, get out your LBD, ladies, and your favorite suit, gents – here’s my guide to NYC’s fine dining scene on the Upper East and Upper West.
Upper East Side Fine Dining
Cafe Boulud, 20 E 76th St
With three stars from the New York Times and a Michelin Star, Chef Daniel Boulud’s Upper East Side Staple provides classic dining in a classic neighborhood. Cafe Boulud is perfect after a romantic stroll in Central Park.
Tasting menu: not daily, but Cafe Boulud does specialty dinners with a tasting menu. Currently on the calendar, there’s a Korean dinner for $165 per person including beverages.
What to order: Sweet Corn Risotto, Jimmy Nardello peppers, pecorino Romano, chive oil, and the Striped Bass “en Paupiette,” pommes purée, baby leeks, sauce meurette.
Altesi Ristorante, 26 E 64th St
This sophisticated Italian just off Madison Avenue is the sleeper in the group, but well worth trying. Pastas are impeccably fresh, service is lovely, and the space, divine. I tried Altesi one night at the suggestion of my friend, Scott, and was happy I did. The restaurant does not offer a dinner tasting, so all items are available a la carte.
What to order: The pastas are decadent. If you’re a vegetarian, try the Pappardelle with chanterelle mushroom and pecorino Toscano, or the Orecchiette with sausage ragu, broccoli rabe, and pecorino Romano if you’re a meat-eater.
The Simone, 151 E 82nd St
You won’t find much info on the website, and you can only make a reservation by calling, but that hasn’t stopped the success of this restaurant. French cuisine in a delightfully simple yet elegant dining room sounds amazing to me. I’ve walked by The Simone countless times, and even from the outside, I could tell that this is no ordinary restaurant. You’ll find a combination of seafood and meat main courses in this husband-and- wife-owned gem tucked into a townhouse.
Tasting menu: None. All dishes are a la carte.
What to order: The menu changes regularly, but the sweetbreads are a constant and house specialty.
Daniel, 60 E 65th St
Yes, Daniel Boulud strikes again, but this time in an his award-winning eponymous flagship known for its elegant Neo-Classic interior paired with contemporary French food.
Tasting menu: Yes, 7 courses, Daniel’s Selection $234. Optional wine pairings $135/$225. Vegetable menu, 7 courses $234. Optional wine pairings 135/$225. Prix-fixe menu, 4 courses $142. Optional wine pairings $82/$142.
What to order: If you go with the prix-fixe menu, try the Beryx (oven-baked alfonsino, stewed hawaiian hearts of palm, grilled celtuce white barley, cape gooseberry-vadouvan vinaigrette), and the Cerf de Boileau – roasted venison loin, Pennsylvania sumac, kampot pepper, Italian plum, confit fennel, sauce “Joel Buchman.”
The Mark, 25 E 77th St
Another winner from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Mark boasts a fantastic dining room in the Mark Hotel. The menu is varied in both ingredients and pricing, with no tastings.
What to order: Black truffle with fontina cheese pizza, and the Niman Ranch lamb chops with a side of chickpea fries.
Upper West Side Fine Dining
Lincoln Ristorante, 142 W 65th St
Lincoln serves beautiful plates in an even more beautiful space. and is ideal before or after a performance at Lincoln Center (the restaurant is part of the performing arts complex). This upscale modern eatery uses both local and imported ingredients, paying tribute to Italian tradition through its open kitchen. Besides a spectacular meal, Lincoln provides a phenomenal view no matter where you turn.
Tasting menu: Optional (3 courses $65, 4 courses $80). Optional wine pairing $45/$60. Pasta only (4 courses $55). Optional wine pairing $45.
What to order: Busiate con arrogosta (whole wheat pasta, lobster, San Marzano tomatoes, breadcrumbs, lobster bottarga), and Anatra per due (braised Pekin duck, peach marmellata, fairytale eggplant, dandelion greens (For two). Menus change frequently.
Cesca, 164 W 75th St
Considered a pioneer on the Upper West’s fine dining scene, Cesca specializes in farm-to-table Italian American dishes in a warm, welcoming space. All plates are a la carte, so there’s no tasting menu. I might add that Cesca is one of the more casual places on this list, and it boasts a lively bar scene should you be looking for an even more relaxed night out.
What to order: Grilled octopus, butter beans, arugula, and red pepper puree, and the Heritage Pork Porterhouse with a side of fried Brussels sprouts. Delish.
Per Se, 10 Columbus Circle
Thomas Keller’s creation in the Time Warner Center is definitely a special-occasion spot –– think birthday, anniversary, engagement, etc. Foodies flock to Per Se for a best-night-of-my-life experience, and rarely, if ever regret the high price tag that comes with dining here. Order a la carte in the Salon only.
Tasting menu: 9 courses, $325, but several dishes incur supplemental charges. Vegetable tasting menu, also 9 courses and $325. Tasting menus include service.
What to order: The menu changes daily, and no two ingredients are repeated throughout any meal.
Jean-Georges, 1 Central Park West
So I celebrated my recent birthday with friends at Nougatine (the bar area of Jean-Georges), but since I’ve yet to dine in the restaurant, it’s on my list. Jean Georges’ Upper West establishment opened in 1997 and continues to crank out innovative and scrumptious dishes accompanied by stellar service.
Tasting and prix fixe menus only, and several to choose from: Prix fixe, 3 courses, $145. Jean-Georges menu, 7 courses, $218. Seasonal menu, 7 courses, $218. Vegetable menu, 7 courses, $188. Optional tasting menu wine pairing, $168.
This blog about NYC’s fine dining restaurants on the Upper East and Upper West focuses on dinner menus, but know that many of these restaurants serve lunch, which is much more affordable for us average New Yorkers.
Menus will change by the season, and for some places, more often. Before ordering, I tend to ask my server what he or she recommends, or if they like the dish I’m considering. Service is often what sets these restaurants apart (yes, the food is of the highest quality too), so don’t be intimidated. Ask questions, make special requests, and savor every moment.