5 Spots Actually Worth Visiting for Restaurant Week

Oh, NYC Restaurant Week! You come and go every year, leaving us keenly aware of what handful of fancy restaurants are like on an off night. Insipid salmon on every plate and waiters upselling us on pricey plonk only make us hate you more. But we’ve decided to be amenable this year, scouring the BlackBook New York Guide for participating restaurants that have the chops to transcend the mediocrity.

We’ve plucked some of our Top Picks (and a few lucky others) who can’t help but deliver a divine dinner, even if they’re forced to sell it for far less than they’d like. Here are a few of our picks for the most seductive prixe fixes for Restaurant Week 2011.

5Ninth, a delightful townhouse with garden seating, continues its porcine tendencies with a packed-with-pork fixed-price dinner. For appetizing, we’d pick the Lyonnaise salad with anchovy dressing, poached egg, and loads of bacon bits. The main course of house-made papardelle with pork ragu makes us ready to pig out.

10Downing never ceases to offer creative chow, even during Restaurant Week. The heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with mint, almonds, and radish sounds, well, mouth-watering. The curry & coconut pot pie as our main speaks for itself: a puff pastry filled with roasted chicken or veggies, if you must. Maybe not the heartiest of meals, but there’s poached rhubarb and strawberry consomme for thirds.

Bless the person who recommended sacrificing Kittichai’s baby back ribs for Restaurant Week hoppers. Soaked in Mekhong whiskey barbeque sauce, you’re a weirdo if you don’t love it. Skip the salmon and savor the pan-seared branzino and bay scallops, conveniently surrounded by a toothsome coconut turmeric broth.

One If By Land Two if By Sea is the perfect spot for a romantic rendezvous–what with all those flowers, an in-house pianist, and candle chandeliers. Therefore, an uninspired prix fixe would never do, not even this week. We’d request the marinated octopus with sugar snap peas and shiitake mushroom vinaigrette for the first round. For seconds, we’re thinking the sautéed Atlantic rock shrimp with spaghetti, hazelnut pesto, and Thai basil will suffice.

Restaurant Week gets sexy with Yerba Buena Perry on the list. The ceviche Chifa for first course pickings, composed of flounder, scallions, ginger, carrots, cilantro peanuts–the list goes on–makes us wonder if this was a menu glitch. The sea bass chorrillana with yucca puree, tamarind-aji panca glaza, and “pickled slaw,” seems worth the $35 price tag and then some.

The Dish: Kittichai’s Unlimited Thai Hot Pot

You may have noticed that the temperature in New York is starting to drop, and when that happens, restaurants around town tend to slightly alter their menus to satiate their customers’ need for warmth. This season, there might not be a better (and more delicious) option than the new Thai hot pot at Kittichai.

What: A scalding, spicy tom yum broth, perfect for cooking everything that comes with it: thinly-sliced slabs of marinated pork and hanger steak, salmon, mussels, squid, shrimp, and a variety of Asian veggies. After you’re done cooking, the waiters will bring you a bowl of noodles and douse them in the tom yum broth, which has now been seasoned with all the meat. Where: Kittichai, that sleek, modern Thai resto at Soho’s 60 Thompson, featuring star chef Ty Bellingham. Ideal meal: They start you off with a sweet papaya salad as a kind of calm before the storm. Get the $45 unlimited offering, which is exactly what it sounds like. When you run out of offerings, they will bring you more of whatever you want. End your meal with the aromatic Thai hot chocolate with Mekong whiskey, perfect before confronting the frigid night air. Because: While $45 might seem like a lot, the unlimited option truly ends up being one of the best dining deals in New York. Otherwise, you’ll have to order each item individually and it quickly adds up. The ingredients here are quality. The shrimp is plump, the salmon fresh, and the red meat comes rapped around asparagus spears and broccoli stems. The variety of it all can’t be matched. Tastes like: Whatever you want it to taste like. That’s because they provide you three different dipping sauces, and if you’re the heat-seeking type, they’ll bring you three chili-infused hot sauces for maximum burn. Bottom line: You’ll not only leave feeling gastronomically satisfied, but there’s also a satisfaction with the level of control afforded to you throughout the experience. You cook what you want, when you want, for as long as you want. Few experiences in New York’s culinary world are as satisfying.

Kittichai’s New Chef Ty Bellingham Speaks to Blackbook

Is it me or is there a Thai restaurant on every corner in Manhattan? The latter seems right: they’re as ubiquitous as ATM machines. And they’re not all that special, either (you have to go to Queens for that). Thankfully, New York City recently received one of the best Thai imports in the city’s culinary history. Ty Bellingham—who worked at the famed Sailors Thai in Sydney, Australia—has taken over Kittichai at 60 Thompson, giving it that Thai magic makeover. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s regarded as one of the world’s top Thai chefs. It took Ty a couple months to get acclimated, so we gave him some time to get down and dirty before getting the dish on his new adventure.

What are some of the changes we can expect at Kittichai? I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life specializing as a chef in authentic Thai cuisine. I have immersed myself in every aspect of it including learning about the culture, which is integral to eating the food. My passion for it has led me around the world, including running the most awarded Thai restaurant in Sydney, and traveling through Thailand many times. I guess my philosophy is, if it’s hard it’s usually worth doing. This means making our curry pastes, and lime juice coming out of fruit. No shortcuts are taken.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with your new position?
 I imagine getting fresh food is harder to get here than
 Australia. 
There are lots of ingredients I can’t get here that I
 can get in Sydney, but I’ve been surprised at the many 
things that I can source. There is a lot more here than I expected. 
I’m enjoying trying all the different types of chilies, fresh and 
dried. There are a lot more varieties here.
The initial challenge is learning all the seafood and meat.
 What’s good, what’s not, and 
what’s a good price. But my sous chef Bryan has helped me a great deal
 with that. Plus I am struggling with the different measures: Fahrenheit, ounces, pints and quarts.


What are some dishes you’ve introduced to the menu?
 I have almost overhauled the entire menu, leaving some of the 
Kittichai favorites.
 A personal favorite is my smoked trout on shiso leaf, with a
 caramelized palm sugar dressing. I did this for the Food Network’s
 Food and Wine fair and the Taste of New York events. It seemed the 
customers at those events loved this dish. 
I also have five different curries on the menu right now:
 Seafood with a citrus red curry, the classic green curry with chicken
 and Thai eggplant, and for the more adventurous, we have the pork tenderloin in a jungle
 curry paste, which is the hottest item on the menu. Curries are my 
favorite dishes to make and eat.

How do the Kittichai diners differ from who those you served back in
 Australia?
 Well, for one thing, diners in News York eat out a whole lot later. In
 Sydney, service would end around 10 to 11 pm. Thai food has been fairly prevalent in Australia for a while – probably due to our proximity to Southeast Asia – and so they are more used to
 ordering food family-style, which is how Thai food is supposed to
 be eaten. A meal would typically have a spicy, salty curry, crispy
 caramelized pork belly, a hot and sour soup, and a salad of some kind. But
 all this means nothing unless it is served with rice. 
I have noticed that people eat less rice here in New York City. Maybe 
it’s the whole carbs thing after 6pm.

What is your opinion of the Thai restaurants in NYC? I really have no opinion on Thai restaurants in NYC. I haven’t had
 time to eat out a great deal yet. 
But what I have recently read is that Thai food is the new Italian. So I
 think it is great that I am here in the city at a time when Thai food is getting
 the recognition it deserves. When it is done well, Thai can compete with the great food countries 
of the world. 
In Australia, Thai has replaced the local Chinese as people’s take-out
 of choice, it is literally that popular. It would be great to see
 Thai food as prominent as this in NYC.

What are some of your favorite restaurants (Thai or not Thai) in NYC? The restaurants in our group are fantastic and show a great range of diversity of cuisines. BONDST has great sushi, Republic at Union Square is great for noodles, and Indochine is still fantastically cool.

The Dish: Death by Chocolate Ribs at Kittichai

You’ve had Little Italy in the Upper East Side, slurped down the best soup dumplings, tried Ethiopian, Australian, South African, and food from Timbuktu. Even the wackiest noodle bars don’t excite. You’re either PMSing, or you have what I like to call Mennui—food borne boredom or general lack of interest in eating out. In either case, it’s a good idea to head to Kittichai at 60 Thompson, where their Chocolate Baby Back Ribs might satisfy your languor with delectable, interesting, fall-off-the-bone meat, and the sweet and salty chocolate sauce might satisfy that whole PMS thing that’s plaguing you.

What: Chocolate Baby Back Ribs Where: Kittichai (Soho) Ideal Meal: For bitchy girls in need of a chocolate fix, manly men in need of something slightly sweet (especially if their GF is one of the aforementioned bitchy girls). Because: When you need to feel sexier, when you have out-of-town pals who are slightly more in the know than most, when you need a quiet spot for you and your beau, when you need to drink cosmos and wear high heels with your gal pals with a low to medium level of sceney pretentiousness. Tastes like: If sweet and salty trail mix was a rib covered in melty chocolate sauce. Bottom Line: Works as either a main or as an appetizer, and, considering chocolate cures everything, $25 for a tasting menu is a steal.

Industry Insiders: Lulzim Rexhepi, Craftsmanship at Kittichai

Lulzim Rexhepi spent time in some of the world’s top kitchens before taking over for Executive Chef Ian Chalmerkittichai at 60 Thompson’s Kittichai . From the Mandarin Oriental in Switzerland and the Blue Water Grill to the Four Seasons Hotel and Icon at the W Hotel and Xing, Chef “Lou” has endured every type of culinary experience to help him keep Kittichai’s flavor booming.

Typical day: I come in, I check my email, I go over manager’s log, and go through Grub Street to see what’s happening in the restaurant world. I walk through the kitchen. First I stop by the butcher station to make sure everything came in properly. I’ll walk through where the cooks are cooking and make sure everyone is using the right product at the right time, make sure everything is fresh. Then I get ready for service.

Favorite kitchen: Working at Icon with Chef Paul Sale. I was on the cusp of being a sous-chef and he really showed me how to take it to the next level. He taught me so many important lessons about cooking. The people I worked with before that were really mean, non-stop-yelling chefs, and he was very laid back, very cool, and we still got the same amount of production. He just taught me a whole different style in the kitchen. It doesn’t need to be that old-school mentality. It can still be an amazing kitchen.

On getting along with the old boss: Chef Ian and I have a great relationship. We still email. He’s mostly in Thailand. He pretty much lets me do the menu the way I want. The only difference is that I have to take a step back and tweak my own mistakes. Whereas before I had him to ask, “What do you think of this?” That’s really the only difference. Of the ten ideas I get in a day, maybe three of them are like “wow” if I’m lucky. So I definitely need the back and forth with him.

Go-to menu items: My favorite drink is the Muddled Grape with coconut water and grapes. It’s really refreshing, really nice. I absolutely love the Whole Fish. We dust it in rice flour, lightly fry it and we serve it with a lesser-ginger curry. It has an earthy flavor and a nice spice. It takes curry to a slightly higher level. I also just put a lobster dish on the menu that I love. It’s cooked three different ways and we serve it just like that with a little suki-yaki sauce, which is a Thai fondue sauce.

On being in a Thai kitchen: Kittichai is the first Thai restaurant I ever worked in. When the Tsunami thing happened, I went to Thailand with Ian to do a fundraiser at the Four Seasons, and I wound up staying for a long time, trying street food and exploring. I get along well with my peers, though. I come from a modest background. When they come in the room I’m no longer the chef, I look at them eye to eye, call them “chef.” My parents did a really good job of teaching me, and I’ll be a culinary student until the day I die.

On getting a tough table: Give a hundred bucks to the manager. I’m joking. Because I’m never sure when I’m going to be off, I hardly ever make reservations and I don’t go to places and say, “Oh I’m the chef at Kittichai, give me a table.” I’m very polite, and if I have to wait a half hour at a place I want to eat, I do it. When a host has 80 people waiting for tables, if you walk in and you’re demanding, you’re not getting a table. It never hurts to compliment what the host is wearing.

Go-to joints: I like Macao. I like the bar chef there as far as drinks go. I go up to Thom Bar and have a cocktail with my buddies. I just had a great dinner at The Breslin and I think April Bloomfield is doing some cool stuff.

Guilty pleasure: I sneak behind pastry counter and eat these mekong whiskey chocolate truffles that we make. I can’t get enough. They’re ridiculous. I’ve got a lot of bad habits—I get worked up easy. When I’m in the kitchen, I’ll explode for a second, and then I’ll take a deep breath and get better.

Hotels as the New Nightlife: 60 Thompson vs. the Standard

Not long ago (just a few days ago actually), the place to be in the city was a speakeasy, a dark and dank basement bar. The kids stayed far away from “the man” — in nightlife’s case, bottle-servicing mega clubs, huge corporate-type hangs, slick bistros, or slick anything. With the recent opening of the now beloved Standard Hotel, we seem to be getting back to the well-rounded Manhattanites we once were. These days you’ll find us venturing out from the West Village; some are even crossing over from the Lower East Side to experience the multifaceted Standard properties: the Boom Boom Room, The Standard Grill, and The Standard Beer Garden. Like a family caravan-ing to a Six Flags, we make the pilgrimage and usually end up staying all day at this adult playground. It works to our benefit, since we get the advantage of changing scenery without paying cab fare. As Steve Lewis asked, will most or all new nightlife construction be in the hotels? With that question in mind, it was time to revisit another of the city’s package deals: the all-inclusive 60 Thompson, the understated, elegant, and trendy Soho hotel which houses the undeniably chic Kittichai, Thom Bar, and A60. Can other hotels stand up to the new Standard?

Kittichai Thai stunner brings luck with goldfish, gold coins, and, at these prices, hopefully your date as well. Very slick but I wouldn’t want a Thai resto any other way. Despite the glamour of the place, the food is richly authentic. Once we checked in with the host, we took our time lingering at the shimmering front bar, built a little too close to the waiting area, but great for a first look at the design aesthetic. Dark wood is complimented by rich jewel colors and fireside lighting. While the restaurant has recently received mixed reviews on service and presentation (disposable chopsticks, slow waitstaff), my guests and I had an above-average experience that finished perfectly with the most beautiful desert fondue presentation. Atmosphere: Atmosphere is everything, with a focus . A reflecting pool explodes with orchids, which are also contained in illuminated, water-filled bottles. The fire burns hot — at least, that’s what the lighting suggests. You feel very grown-up in this sensual atmosphere. Perfect for: A corporate dinner, entertaining a wide-eyed out-of-towner, or the girls for ladies’ night; the cosmopolitan feel sets the tone. Menu Picks: ● Kittichai fish cake with cucumber and red onion chutney, $11. ● Northern Thai beef salad Chinese long beans and roasted sticky rice powder, $14. ● Crispy whole fish in lesser ginger curry, $29. ● Steamed jasmine rice, $3. ●”Sankaya” Pandan-Valrhona white chocolate sauce with seasonal fruit, $8.

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Thom Bar Follow the staircase one floor up and find another welcoming nook to start off the night. Comfy club chairs and all manner of throw pillows for lounging louchely about. Class act in the hotel; not as exclusive as the members-only rooftop, but on point in all other respects. Fireplace makes for cozy winter nights, though on the particular night I went, it was a great end-of-summer spot to grab drinks with a date. Later on it turned into hipster madness of the Thursday-night party on the reg. It was a nice sight amid the lush backdrop. Atmosphere: Cozy lounge with a hint of debauchery. Beautiful decor and warm lighting. Perfect for: Visiting friends who aren’t so wide-eyed but more in the know. First date drinks; your complexion will glow in the good lighting. Early on: Cougar central, which is not a bad deal at all. Drink Menu Picks: ● Lychee martini. ● Pineapple caipirinha. ● Classic mojito.

A60 You need a VIP card or a room at the hotel in order to access one of the most beautiful views in the city. Trendy without being too obnoxious. Moneyed and attractive guests sip champagne on ice and muddled fruit concoctions. You tab will be big, but it’s worth it just to feel the breeze up here. Atmosphere: Relaxed and elegant; wooden benches and luxe outdoor furniture adorn the deck. Tea lights compliment the glittery skyline. You automatically feel like you’re on vacation. Perfect for: Absolutely everything. I’m hard pressed to find a more impressive view, more attentive bartenders, and a more mixed crowd. Drink Menu Picks: ● Champagne. ● House mojitos with Pyrat rum.

Industry Insiders: Robert d’Arcangelo, Managing A60’s A-List

From his perch in the Rooftop Bar high above Kittichai, Robert d’Arcangelo — general manager of the Thom Bar and A60 — calls the shots at 60 Thompson (and sometimes pours them).

What are your favorite places? My favorite restaurant is La Siesta in Sperlonga, in a small beach town at the beginning of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Not cheap, but the food and style of service is basically perfect. Stresa in Paris is another. In the city, really, there’s a small Argentinian restaurant on the Lower East side called Azul Bistro. The food is always consistent, the service is very casual, but if it’s any type of date or business meeting, I can always count on things going the right way there. If you pay attention to the ceiling, it’s plastered in old Argentinian pin-up centerfolds, but a lot of people don’t notice.

The A60 rooftop is finally open for summer. Yes. The week we decided to open the A60 roof garden, it seemed to rain forever. I’ve had the opportunity to go up there at sunset, and the view of the water towers on the rooftops is still my favorite sight in New York. Miles and miles of water towers. It’s just very much a New York experience that you can see all the way uptown to the Empire State Building. This view with a mojito makes you feel as if you’re on the private terrace of a penthouse.

Isn’t it a private terrace? It is. It’s just for members and people in the hotel. Regardless of when you go up there, you never have to worry about being shoulder-to-shoulder with the teeming masses. I hope that doesn’t change for the future.

The view is really spectacular. I really need to make more of an effort to spend a few more nights of the summer up there. One of the great things is seeing the 4th of July fireworks from the rooftop. Last year I had my mom up there, and she started tearing up and having a New York moment. We employ a lot of kids, college kids who work for us who have moved away from home, and whenever their parents come in, they want to take them to the roof to see their adopted city. It makes the parents feel good about where their kids are. In New York, waiting tables could mean anything. When they come and they see their kids working in a hotel like this one, in this environment, they feel good about the situation.

What’s the Thom Bar famous for? It was one of the first lounge bars in a boutique hotel. That’s where all the cocktails in the building became famous. The DJs we have there work seven nights a week. I’ve always had a strict rule: they could only bring in vinyl, no CDs. That makes a big difference. We’re always able to shift the type of music for the crowd and the vibe in the room. For a period after 9/11 there was no restaurant in the hotel, and Thom Bar became the heart of the hotel. We spent a lot of time perfecting the cocktails. I think the lychee martini is the top seller; although other places have their version, people keep coming back for more. My personal favorite is the strawberry Limoncello, a muddled drink that’s an unusual taste combination.

How was the concept for Kittichai conceived? After 9/11 the restaurant Thom closed, and for a year there was nothing. One of the investors, Robin Lee, had been in Thailand and had heard of Chef Ian who was doing a television show that was seen in 45 countries. Robin went to the Four Seasons to meet him there and after he did a personal tasting for the owners, Kittichai was born in New York. I call him Chef Ian, but his name is really Charlerm Kittichai. Rockwell designed the restaurant; they did an amazing job transforming the space into a memorable experience in Thai food. It was tough to bring the orchids in over the pool. Until Kittichai, a lot of people weren’t familiar with anything but fast Thai food, so Ian put his culinary skills to work in a sophisticated taste test, with more of a western approach. When we opened, we were amazed at how well it was received: for the first two years it was packed every night. People really needed a high-end Thai restaurant, and they keep on coming. After dinner, the procession moves to the sky.

Who do you admire in your industry? Jean-Marc Houmard, for sure. Even though the circles he travels in are high-flying, the humbleness he displays is admirable. The staff in all of his restaurants really love him. Mario Batali is another one. He’s been able to do a lot with the restaurant industry. He’s a customer here, so I’ve had to chance to talk with him. A very humble guy.

Current trend in restaurants that you like? There’s a lot of negative talk about “fusion,” but going to Whole Foods and watching the Food Network lets you know what we can do. Customers are a lot more adventurous than they used to be. They’re well educated, and it really excites chef and staff. The possibilities are endless. Before, French restaurants dominated, and people wanted to stay in the old-fashioned concepts of what restaurants should do and be. Now cuisines available from all over the world. When you travel, sometimes you see Chinese-Italian restaurants, which would have once been scary. Now there’s a fascination.

Trend you despise? A lot of restaurant owners have become businessmen instead of restaurateurs. Maybe this recession will teach some respect in an industry that has brought them so much. There’s a place for that — if you’re going to franchise and go the corporate route, that’s fine. I believe in the old-fashioned dictum that every restaurant has a soul.

Something that no one knows about you? I appreciate meditation. I studied Taoism in Los Angeles. It’s not one particular form, but I start my day meditating for 10 minutes before the chaos begins. Now, when things really get nuts, I go to a Burmese temple in New Jersey.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I have a plot of land in Italy in a small section about half an hour from Sperlonga, Lenola, with about 60 olive trees. It’s a little-by-little project I’m getting together.

What are you doing tonight? After work I’m going swimming, and then I’ll cook for myself — I got into work at 7am this morning, and will be here until closing …

New York: Top 10 Thanksgiving-Friendly Restaurants

imageBecause we don’t like cooking, our kitchen is the size of a closet, and the thought of leaving the city and risking missing the early-morning sale at Saks is too scary to bear (as are some of our relatives), here’s a list of our picks for the most Thanksgiving-friendly restaurants in New York City (and the specials they’re running for Turkey Day).

10. Freemans, three courses, $75. Number 10 on our list because only half of us find irony in surrounding yourself with taxidermy on Thanksgiving. 9. Ben & Jack’s, three courses, $65. The main course, traditional roast turkey, comes with turkey stuffing, caramelized mashed sweet potatoes, classic mashed potatoes, sautéed string beans, cranberry sauce, and turkey gravy — enough said. 8. Mesa Grill, three courses, $70. With dishes like fresh sage and orange butter turkey and pumpkin flan made with gingersnap wafers, Bobby Flay’s longstanding Southwestern joint would surely prove to be a Smackdown winner. 7. BLT Market, three courses, $95. Because where else could you get a sage-foie gras crouton?

6. Benjamin Steakhouse, three courses, $65. A sure bet with its ten-foot working fireplace, oak wood paneling, oversized mirrors, leather chairs, and traditional eats courtesy of Peter Luger alum Benjamin Prelvukaj. 5. Kittichai, five courses for $55 or four for $45. Infusing dashes of Asian flare into traditional dishes — turkey osso buco braised in massaman curry with Brussels sprouts, sweet potato and traditional trimmings — makes the sleek eatery an innovative delight. 4. Gilt, four courses, $110. Who knows, you might run into Blair Waldorf. 3. Via Dei Mille, five courses, $59. Like Cipriani only newer, cheaper — better. 2. Alloro, four courses, $40. Excellent value from local Italian dynasty Gina and Salvatore Corea; includes turkey meatballs, pumpkim raviolo, prune-stuffed turkey, and pumpkin tiramisu. 1. Cookshop, two courses, $60. Proudly displaying a chalkboard listing not the daily specials, but rather the joint’s “favorite farmers,” was the touch that made this modern cozy spot, with its food that’s fresh-as-can-be, come-out on top.

New York: Top 5 Hotels You’ll Never Have to Leave

Leave the touring to the little people. image1. 60 Thompson (Soho) – Trendy but not too obnoxious, with fine dish Kittichai downstairs and A60’s unparalleled views up top 2. Hudson Hotel (Midtown West) – Schrager and Starck’s West Side claim brings two hot bars and a swanky comfort-food cafeteria. 3. Dream Hotel (Midtown West) – Room service from Serafina, Rm. Fifty5 for off-lobby tippling, Ava for sick views on two levels. Making midtown modern/bearable.

4. Mandarin Oriental (Upper West Side) – Asiate, MObar, and the Lobby Lounge, on top of a five-star spa and lap pool. 5. Maritime Hotel (Chelsea) – Studded with porthole windows and stuffed with an upscale Japanese and a rustic Italian restaurant, a patio, a cocktail deck, and a booming nightclub.