New York: Holly GoNightly’s Top 5 Tastes of Summer

Usually when summer rolls around, I find myself eating less as tiny string bikinis and Hampton-thin bodies dance in my head. But last night at the Taste of Summer — a benefit for the Central Park Conservatory — I had a taste of what my summer will be, and this summer will be delicious. Roughly a thousand foodies and Central Park enthusiasts banded together at the Naumburg Bandshell to kick off summer in the New York, a city that takes pride in her beautiful, distinctive park and the significant culture that talented chefs and colorful restaurants bring to her table. There was no actual table — I’m using a metaphor unless you were a VIP ticket holder and had the pleasure of sitting in the cafe area hosted by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality group — but there was food, glorious food. The event was held al fresco in a tent that happily shielded party goers, the silent auction goodies, and over 40 renowned chefs from the drizzly evening weather. I could name-drop the UES socials caught fork-in-mouth, but the star of the event was without a doubt the food. Here, my own top five picks of the evening’s pleasurable nibbles from places I wouldn’t normally think to venture to.

Asia de Cuba (Murray Hill) – Their nibble was a Thai-style short rib that was long on flavor. Sweet, fall off the bone flavor. My guest couldn’t/wouldn’t stop at one. The menu is Cuban-Chinese (okay, Asian), with oxtail spring rolls, honey rum roast pork, and Thai beef salad that bursts in creative, artful presentations. The Murray Hill address has kept me from venturing to the Philippe Starck-designed communal table, but this small taste was enough for me to make a reservation.

South Gate (Midtown West) – This address is up there, ya know? It’s a lot to ask a downtown girl to flit around the island of Manhattan for a dinner reservation, especially when there’s champagne to be drunk below 14th Street. But their beautifully prepared ravioli dish melted in my mouth and subsequently melted my old ways. The charming Kerry Heffernan — executive chef here — told me of their Greenmarket-driven menu, and while the prices are power-suit clientele are a little rich, I’m banking on the fact that their roasted lobster is worth it.

Mañana (Upper East Side) – The Madison Avenue location and Serafina proximity guaranteeing lots of Hermes-sportin’ younguns dropping daddy’s Amex was always an off-putting prospect, but that little ceviche tostada will have me scrambling to borrow a Birkin in no time. Apparently, they are also known for their endless creatively constructed margaritas, which is also fine by me.

The Carlyle (Upper East Side) – The moment I set foot into the huge tent, I was on the hunt for scallops. I could smell them the entire night, and not in a fishy way. When I finally found them, it was utter heaven. Extra large, buttery, not very salty or gritty for their enormous size, and lightly seasoned.

Montenapo (Midtown West )- Milanese Italian in New York Times lobby brought out a risotto — a fava bean delight topped off with a summer truffle. This, along with the veal-chicken ravioli, was my personal favorite of the night. And I will happily be going to the New York Times building location for more seasonal selections.

New York: Top 10 Entrees Under $25

imageBecause the choice shouldn’t be between restaurants where Chipotle and Per Se, here are a few spots that have embraced the middle ground.

10. Moules-frites @ Schiller’s Liquor Bar (Lower East Side), $18 – Same Parisian-bistro vibe as at Keith McNally’s Balthazar and Pastis, but you’ll save yourself some cash, a two-hour wait, and any shame involved in being stingy with your wine selection (the list is divided into “cheap,” “decent,” and “good”). 9. Hamburger @ J.G. Melon (Upper East Side), $8.50 – Nothing can pack in hoards of NYC prepsters like this UES landmark’s juicy burger. 8. Romanian skirt steak @ Delicatessen (Soho), $17 – Forget that foodies critically panned it and that a neighbor urinated on the glass roof; with nothing on the menu over $20, a lively atmosphere, and plenty of swank space, it’s little surprise that Delicatessen is almost always packed.

7. Open filet mignon grilled taco with roasted poblanos, onion confit, rice and beans @ Manana (Upper East Side), $23 – Good eats and eurotrash eye candy come together at this Mexican spot from the folks behind Serafina and Geisha. 6. Steak frites @ L’Express (Flatiron), $19.50 – Nothing like hearty protein and carbs at 4 a.m. 5. Dutch-style pancake with pears and Canadian bacon @ Prune (East Village), $14 – A must for brunch, the baked pancake is so good it’s not only worth the wait, but worth dealing with the diminutive spot’s stern no-substitution policy. 4. Chicken dolsot bibimbop @ Bonjoo (East Village), $12.95 – Cheap enough to order as take-out, the traditional Korean chicken bibimbop is served sizzling hot in a heavy stone bowl. 3. Zucchini and heirloom tomato lasagna @ Pure Food and Wine (Flatiron), $24 – Not for nothing does outspoken meat lover Giselle Bundchen have a house account at this surprisingly satisfying raw and vegan spot. 2. Grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, pesto & spinach panino @ ‘inoteca (Lower East Side), $11 – Carbs, vino, a bustling corner LES location, and communal seating make this a perfect before-the-bars meal. 1. Sweet & crispy jumbo shrimp at Buddakan (Chelsea), $24 – A sceney spot with eats, cocktails, and décor likely to impress even the most jaded New Yorker.