How the West Was Won: Taste of the Upper West Side
I have a number of hipster friends who refuse to travel north of 14th Street unless it is a medical emergency or they have finagled free tickets to a Broadway show. Certainly, they would never consider trekking further north (oxygen mask, anyone?) to the Upper West Side to eat. Frankly, I'm fine with that because it affords me a better chance of snagging a table at some of New York City's most innovative culinary haunts.
Originally home to tobacco fields in the 17th and 18th centuries, and later to squatters displaced by the creation of Central Park in 1853, the Upper West Side - like much of New York City - has reinvented itself time and again. The early 20th century apartment boom and the country's first-ever subway system, which opened in 1904, brought an influx of diverse cultures to the neighborhood. It is the setting of West Side Story and home to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the American Museum of Natural History.
Yet with all of this colorful history and cultural influence, the best dining option for many years was a hot dog from Gray's Papaya - until now. Today, the Upper West Side is peppered with top-notch chefs, charming cafés, and a host of al fresco options that welcome diners with little attitude but lots of flavor.
New Taste of the Upper West Side
The Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District recently presented New Taste of the Upper West Side. This sold-out weekend of food celebration featured comfort food classics, wine seminars, and "The Best of the West", which highlighted more than forty of the Upper West Side’s most celebrated chefs while also showcasing locally sourced ingredients. Here are some of the weekend’s stand-out dishes and the restaurants that are enticing even the most cynical downtowners to head north.
Honey- and soy-glazed salmon with chipotle mayonnaise atop sushi rice
With more stars than on Wonder Woman’s bootie, Jean Georges has been an anchor at the Trump International Hotel and Tower since 1997. His modern interpretation of classic French technique glides across the palette, and so will the bills out of your wallet at $98 per person for a 3-course meal. Where else can you get foie gras brulee with white port gelee or arctic char with Burgundy truffle crumbs?
Chef Marc Murphy’s UWS Fest snack involved shrimp paste, egg whites, and a searing hot griddle. The result was what you might imagine dolphins eating if they had guilty-pleasure fast food in the ocean. Landmarc’s menu is accessible (nightly pasta specials from $14 - $22) while still throwing an occasional offal curveball like chicken liver cavatelli ($18) or caramelized sweetbreads ($29).
Lamb sliders with feta sauce
Co-Owners Donatella Arpaia and Chef Michael Psilakis have created a classic Greek taverna that can whisk you away to the Mediterranean while still within walking distance of Central Park. Meze dishes include warm fingerling potatoes with string beans and feta ($6.95), grilled sardines ($8.95), and house-made Cypriot sausage ($7.75).
Lobster salad roll
Cafe Luxembourg is classic Upper West Side. In operation since 1983, the bistro continues to pack in Lincoln Center theatergoers, yuppies with doublewide strollers, and a slew of old-timers who probably remember the trifecta passings of George Balanchine, Tennessee Williams, and Gloria Swanson the year the restaurant opened. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Cafe Luxembourg’s brunch is the perfect way to start a Sunday before strolling over to Riverside Park. Enjoy short rib hash with béarnaise sauce ($18), homemade granola ($10), or an Upper West Side classic - smoked salmon and bagel ($18).
More Culinary Gems
Don’t miss these other local culinary gems, which run the gamut from porchetta to pudding.
Daniel Boulud’s casual bistro serving signature charcuterie.
Chef Missy Robbins’ regionally inspired Italian cuisine.
Pass on the cupcakes and go for the banana pudding instead.
Nuevo Latino cuisine with a south-of-the-border killer cocktail menu.
Your Next Food Fest
Are you craving a food festival but can’t hold out until next year’s New Taste of the Upper West Side? Check out the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, September 29 - October 1, 2011.
Proceeds benefit the Food Bank For New York City
and Share Our Strength.