Top 10 Restaurants – Winter 2004 Edition

So you’re still in NYC. You’re still hungry. And you still have no idea which of the thousands of restaurants you should eat at, even though I gave you a list of my 10 favorites this summer.
Never fear, I’m still here. This season brings us some retired restaurants due to closures (First has unfortunately shut down) and horrible management decisions (Giovanni was apparently let go from Forno Italia, complete removing the motivation to go there), and some new entrants. Keep in mind this tends to be centralized around Astoria and the UES, as these are the areas I’m primarily in. Let’s walk the list:
1) Basta Pasta (17th, betwen 5th and 6th)
Last time, I waxed poetic over Basta, the strange fusion of Italian and Japanese. Another trip back proved it wasn’t a one time fluke. This time around, I started with a wonderful Caesar salad (giant heart of romaine on a bed of perfect dressing, with fresh shaved parmesan and long crispy croutons). This was followed with the somewhat legendary Spaghetti with Parmesan & Prosciutto. The spaghetti is spooned out of this giant wheel of cheese, then giant slices of prosciutto and japanese basil are layed on top. It was, needless to say, perfectly balanced. Top notch drinks and dessert filled out what was already a fantastic meal.
And the prices are *still* reasonable, and the service is *still* polite and efficient.
Pros: Consistent, fantastic food/service/prices/everything.
Cons: It’s hard to get out of the place after 9, as the bar area is very full.
2) Matsu (70th, between 1st and York)
Just recently opened by the med school, this sushi place will strike you as being tiny and often crowded during lunch. But if you go regularly – and during the slower times – prepare to fall in love. Wendy and Gary make friends with everyone, and will regularly bring you little goodies like hot cups of tea, new sushi creations, and bits of fruit to munch on for dessert. The sushi is fresh and creative – I’m especially fond of the kiwi and strawberry sushi as a counterpoint to regular fish-based sushi. Everything out of the kitchen is great, too – best shrimp tempura I’ve had in the city.
The only real downfall I’ve found is that going during lunch can lead to some frustration over muffed orders – they’re really busy. Go for dinner.
Pros: Great sushi, and personable staff.
Cons: Nowhere to sit during lunch.
3) Shelly’s New York (57th, between 6th and 7th)
Ironically, this is the *first* restaurant I ever truly ate at in NYC – it was the first place Katie and I lucked into on our honeymoon, as it was right behind our hotel. The food at the time was superb.
Since moving here, we hadn’t been back until a few months ago, and I’m happy to say, everything is as fantastic as it was the first time. Some of the best seafood you can find in town, fantastic desserts, and kind wait staff make this a great place to drop by – although the price range may make it an occasional visit at best.
Pros: Hard to top for seafood.
Cons: If you don’t like art deco, don’t come here.
4) Aureole (61st, around Lexington)
I haven’t been back since the last entry, and I don’t know if I ever will – but the meal still registers high on the Great NYC Experiences meter. Check it out if you have money to burn.
Pros: The dinner may well be one of the defining moments in your life.
Cons: The dinner may also violate the “costs more than the top of the line iPod” line.
5) Chat n’ Chew (16th St, just off Union Square West)
Just off Union Square, Chat N’ Chew is comfort food with a vengence. I have yet to find anything off the menu here that has not left me obscenely full and my wallet largely unscathed. Seating can be cramped but is generally not too bad – try to go when the students aren’t around, and always save room for dessert. (And no, Lilbit, they’re not closed.)
Pros: Comfort food = win.
Cons: That feeling like you’re going to explode.
6) Evergreen (1st Ave, between 69th and 70th)
Up by the Medical School, Evergreen is still the best traditional Chinese food I’ve had. The lunch special is obscenely cheap and extremely good. Dim Sum is available on Sundays, and everything is pretty tasty. I recommend the Crispy Spicy Ornage Beef, or the Chicken Fried Rice (made with brown rice, which makes it lighter than every other fried rice I’ve ever had.)
Pros: Fantastically cheap Chinese food, possibly the cheapest outside of Chinatown that isn’t one of those hole-in-the-wall places.
Cons: Wait staff hovers over you way too much.
7) Chipotle (St. Marks, 53rd & Lex, or 34th & 9th)
Yes, a chain has made #7. A chain owned by McDonald’s. A chain that’s been churning out amazingly fresh tex-mex. A chain that always leaves me satisfied and with a smile on my face. Hard to pass up if you’re in the mood for a monster burrito. I recommend the bol.
Pros: Quick, efficient, incredibly fresh, reasonably priced.
Cons: Some people may find the menu constraining, and the 53rd St. location intimidating.
8) La Bonne Soupe (55th, between 5th & 6th)
A somewhat small French bistro just south of Central Park, La Bonne Soupe specializes in, well, soup. The French Onion is quite good, with lots of cheese and onions. You can get a soup, salad, a beverage, and dessert for $15, which is pretty good for lunch. There’s also some decent fondue. Downfalls include an extremely cramped downstairs, some iffy wine, and the fact that I counted 26 seperate items on the menu that had some grandiose language describing how great the dish is. (The French Onion Soup, for instance, “should be sniffed like a fine brandy before consuming”. I shit you not.)
Pros: Reasonably good prix fixe soup lunch.
Cons: Really cramped. House wine is average at best. Masturbatory menu descriptions.
9) Market Cafe (23rd Ave & 31st St., Astoria – last stop on the N/W)
Somewhat new, this place does a killer brunch. Huge glass of OJ, well cooked takes on the usual fare (I had Eggs Benedict that came with a slightly citrusy sauce – I’m getting hungry thinking about it), and cheap to boot. The only downfall is that they’ve apparently been ignoring the smoking ban, and the last few times I’ve been in it’s been smoky as hell.
Pros: Great brunch. Really great.
Cons: Seemingly unaware of these things called “laws”.
10) Republic (Union Square West)
There’s some interesting asian fusion going on at Republic – mostly Thai, with some Korean and Japanese kicks here and there. The majority of the menu is noodle bowls, full of strange meats and vegetables. It’s all very good, and certainly not hurting the place are the large portions and cheap prices. Nearly everything on the menu is $8 or less. On the downside, the decor is iffy (it’s bench seating – hope you like the people next to you) and the atmosphere is loud. But it’s hard to top the price/tastiness ratio.
Pros: Unique dishes at uniquely low cost.
Cons: Louder than any restaurant should be.

Know of a place I should hit? Let me know, I’m always up for new dining experiences.