Twenty-four-year-old owner Tommy from Milan is an easy-going restaurateur who declares only one rule inside his cozy, intimate dining room: “It’s a no prosecco zone.” This “red line” is drawn to showcase Franciacorta, a smooth, subtle Italian sparkling wine made via small batches (unlike mass-produced prosecco). This sets the stage for Da Tommy Osteria’s 60-seat getaway, offering high-end cuisine at bargain prices (no entree tops $29). The 10-person elbow-shaped bar, white brick walls, and random shelves of wine complete the owner’s authentic vision. An osteria is a woodier, more rustic trattoria where the root word is host, as in, you’re being hosted in someone’s home. Seventy-percent of the menu is vegetarian, which is a hit with the local Kosher crowd. Start with the Zucchini Cake and Parmesan Truffle Fondue or Grilled Octopus and Lemon Ricotta (a meaty white ‘sea sausage’ via Portugal). A celebrity chef designed the menu, taking it up a notch with fresh-made colorful pasta specialties led by scene-stealer Tonnarelli Cacio E Pepe (Roman Style Pasta, Pecornio, Black Pepper, $12!). The outstanding Branzino Al Forno (Pan Roasted Sea Bass, Capers, Olives, Vegetables) is served in a sturdy frying pan. This affordable feasting ground prides itself on only serving fine Italian wine and beer; the recommended Franciacorta is Contadiscastaldi Brut. Ps, the staff is Italian, so there will be no rushing here. Da Tommy Osteria, 14 Bedford St., Manhattan, New York, NY. 212-675-9080.
The Milling Room’s refreshing space is a discovery even for veteran Upper West Side Manhattanites. There’s no indication from the establishment’s street view—which only reveals their inviting bar—that a huge, inspiring restaurant space with high ceilings capped by a glass atrium awaits. The rustic, industrial brick is counterweighed by recycled wood and cast iron trimmings. I’ll get to the dazzling food in a bit. The history of this lofty space is equally amazing, as it transitioned from a hotel lobby bar hangout for “high-end” 1930s gangsters into an asylum for the mentally ill during the 1940s through the 1960s. It later became a food court. Then, after a few restaurant incarnations, it established itself as this trusted local retreat.
Olden and classic blues play while old-school 1930s cocktails (that won’t break the bank) accompany supreme appetizer stylings of Hamache Tartar and Roast Beet Salad. I settled in with a Casino, a classic concoction (Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, lemon, orange bitters) that has multihued notes which make you ponder New York’s oft-glamorized mobster era. A disused fireplace mantle is one more bit of history inside this bygone but revitalized gem.
The American-style cuisine is prepared by veteran Chef Scott Bryan. Bryan, who was heralded by Antony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential as one of New York’s top chefs, turned me into a fan of Long Island Duck Breast via its preparation in parsnip puree, shaved brussel sprouts, and brandy jus. Bryan’s take on Skate (crisped with couscous, capers, tomato, and verjus) elevates this fish in the ray family to new heights.
This spacious getaway that melds tavern, historic site, and memorable cuisine—while transporting NYC’s aggravation eons away—won’t disappoint.
The Milling Room, 446 Columbus Ave, NYC, 212.595.0380
Bustling Midtown still has a few secret hideaways. As part of Hotel Chandler’s inviting entrance, Juni and its understated elegance might go unnoticed if you’re hustling along East 31st St—but they shouldn’t. Juni’s famous Australian chef, Shaun Hergatt, slices and dices locally sourced ingredients (think nearby Union Square Market) to enliven the contemporary American theme. The chef—no stranger to media fanfare—provides a minimalist but exotic experience that allows you to have a fling with his culinary imagination.
Paying homage to every season, chef Hergatt serves up enticing combinations, such as the “stone crop–fresh hearts of palm–purple basil.” Other standout choices include the “garden radish–live montauk scallop–citrus coriander” option, which sounds as tantalizing as it tastes. This is an extended journey, not a mere meal. Juni’s inventive ingredient pairings awaken the taste buds with flavors meant to be savored.
The universal appetizer medley is the first of four or six courses (not including chef’s samples). A team of attentive waiters swoop in with oyster-soaked leaves, and the odyssey begins. You’re invited to explore your boundaries with a menu that encourages and rewards experimentation.
The modern, plush setting, inspired by Capellini Design Associates, whispers relax. It’s Midtown majesty without the pomp. However, be prepared to have the wait staff cater to your every need. The server to diner ratio seems almost one to one in the 50-seat restaurant. If you’re a true foodie and can’t get a reservation at Noma (waiting in line?), add this classy but unpretentious gem to your culinary hit list. Dress nice.
Discover Juni at 12 E 31st St., Manhattan, (212) 995-8599.