I take an annual fall trip to NYC because it is the greatest city in the world, with fine food. I always want to try every Michelin 3 star in cities I visit, so this year went to Alain Ducasse for the first time. What a disappointment. My entre of New Zealand Bass with vegetables was very bland, and my appetizer of foie gras and tapioca ravioli with celery broth wasn't much better. My dessert was nothing special either. The bread, the cheese and the madelines after dessert were all good, but at a Michelin 3 star it is a shock to not find any inspiration in appetizer, entre or dessert. The first sign of trouble came during the ordering process, when our server brought a large truffle for us to smell in the hopes of luring us into ordering the $320 truffle tasting menu. That made it feel like just fancy a clip joint. I wonder how they got 3 stars?
This year I also tried Jean Georges for the first time, and it was a real treat. I ordered five dishes plus dessert and they were all delicious and interesting. For example, an earthy soup of mushrooms and root vegetables, contrasted by a maple foam. It was fun to try to guess the chef's intention with each dish, sort of like being a judge on Iron Chef. The servers were friendly and helpful in understanding the thought behind the food.
I went back to Le Bernardin a couple times and it was great as usual. Delicious food and very friendly people. Tried Per Se last year and it was great, but not worth the hassle of getting reservations when there are other equally good places that are easier to get into (I have heard folks say the same about the French Laundry).
Before this trip the best US restaurant in my experience was Joël Robuchon at the Mansion, in Las Vegas, so I was anxious to try the new L'Atelier Joël Robuchon in NYC. The food is just wonderful, and the counter seating is great. I ate there 4 times in 2 weeks, and had interesting conversations with other diners each time. Everyone who eats there is like a Chowhound. One lady sitting next to me wanted to eat lightly so shared part of each of her dishes with me - she and her husband are from Kentucky and also own an apartment in Manhattan. There was a recent thread about the best steakhouse in NYC, and I would say that the best steak I've had in the city is the Kobe rib eye at Joël Robuchon with their truffle mash potatoes. They even have a great seasonal vegetable salad you can eat as a starter and great desserts, to create a reasonable steakhouse experience.
Of course, NYC has great food beyond the Michelin 3 stars. I always go to Katz's for pastrami, ordered "juicy", and to Barney Greengrass for smoked fish. I also love Suzu Sushi on 1st Avenue near 58th. Went to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn for pizza and they do have great crust. However, I prefer the pizzas I make at home (sacrilege?) but their crust is better. Waiting for the loo is a chance to watch them putting pies into and out of their very hot coal oven. Nice walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on the way there and back, too. The morning beignets on the lower level of Grand Central are nice.
Last year I tried Peter Lugar's Steakhouse in Brooklyn. The steakhouse experience was great, but I'm sorry to say the meat itself was nothing special. Sliced and sitting in a pool of melted butter is not a substitute for good marbling.
My wife is generally not interested in NYC, although I have lured her there several times for Atlantic crossings via the QE2. In Sept 2000 we went to the Windows on the World, rest in peace, where the food and the view were just wonderful. Her brother said it was the best restaurant he'd eaten in. I'd say the old Lucas Carton in Paris was the best I'd eaten in, although the best meals I've had have been in private homes. Not that my friends are better cooks than the great chefs, but it's hard for a restaurant to match the personal attention paid to home meals.
I'm always happy to hear about good places to eat in NYC.