While many other Manhattan restaurants labor to reinvent themselves, it’s relaxing to slide back into basics at the upper east side’s TBAR Steak & Lounge—and that’s why it’s packed with in-the-know veteran New Yorkers. The one-page 40-item menu rolls out time-tested beauties debuting with appetizers including truffle rice balls (mushrooms, truffle oil) and salmon ceviche (lime, jalapeno, tequila). The bi-level 100-seat space has a chatty 10-seat bar and a dozen options to dine while beholding Third Avenue’s bustle. The career waiters (including philosophical Croatians) and the mature clientele ensure calm as you realize that although steaks drive this train, the menu isn’t mono-focused (Chilean sea bass, Crispy Long Island duck). That said, many filet mignons, NY strips, and prime aged angus burgers are celebrated. The flip side of the one-page menu highlights champagne, fine wines, and cocktails including the Manhattan 73 (Angels Envy whiskey, cherries, antica, vermouth, cherry herring). But you’re not done yet—desserts like the banana parfait mille feuilles (coconut, caramel sauce) and the chocolate sundae (brownie, cream, chocolate sauce) have a way of reviving your appetite. This place makes getting it right the first time look easy. Okay, now you’re done. TBAR Steak & Lounge, 1278 3rd Ave @73rd, 212-772-0404.
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
New York Comfort Food—with a Twist
Swifty’s restaurant feels like an old-style Upper East Side private club, but with reasonable prices and a few designer-t-shirt hipsters spiced into the mix. Dinnertime, which seems to start at 7pm-sharp for sport-jacket-wearing retired men and their spouses, means Frank Sinatra might be crooning as the backdrop. There’s no shortage of chatter and cheer in this eatery namesaked after a dog who used to be the VIP at a now-closed nearby restaurant that took its reputation—and clientele—here. Enjoy clear-cut American cuisine with classic Euro options, ranging from Baked Meatloaf to Wild Bass with Chanterelles and Port Wine Sauce.
What does ‘bistro’ mean to you? If desired descriptions include non-flashy, intimate, romantic, old-world-real, and house-made ice creams, then this place is for you. The lingering, clandestine 65+ high-society vibe is balanced by affable, mostly European waiters. It seems that at least one person at each table (your neighbors are not far away) is an expert storyteller (or filibusterer). Inside this neighborhood parlor with huge, slightly down-turned mirrors, vintage wallpaper, and talk of the Ivy League, you won’t see many diners ogling their phones. If you wear a cowboy hat here, you will be the first. Arrive early (6pm) and run the show. There will be no brawls.
Swifty’s, 1007 Lexington Avenue, NYC, 212.535.6000