8 day visit and 5 major dining experiences - it was our 1st time to New York and we were looking for something unique from the multi-ethnic dining in Toronto.
1. Lupa - I was surprised at how tiny and plain this place was, but the central Italian food was very good. The pork shoulder special was very tender but too rich (ie fatty) for my taste. Enjoyable but nothing unusual as Toronto has lots of great variety in Italian places.
2. Gramercy Tavern - the clear winner of our week, service was superb, decor pleasant and every food item well done. The corn/mushroom chowder, salt baked salmon & deserts (chocolate nib tart with rum milk shake, peanut butter parfait) were standouts. I can't say this was unlike some of our best Toronto offerings, but if this place moved to my city it would be my fave.
3. Chez es Saada - a standout for its disney-like ambience (audience participation belly dance?), the food here was nothing special. More a sexy lounge than a fine Moroccan restaurant, at least in our experience. Toronto has better Moroccan food but nothing like this ambience.
4. Artisanal - overall a fun, very loud, modified Bistro experience. The fromagiere was a unique touch, and we enjoyed the cheese (especially the Artisanal fondue). I guess I was expecting more of a special atmosphere - it was crowded and a bit cafeteria like.
5. Cafe Boulud - my second fave, my husband's fave - the only place that was quiet and even remotely romantic, although perhaps a bit stuffy (mainly because of the upper East Side clientele... lots of suits and blue blazers, hardly any good looking young people to watch). However the Vietnamese black bass I chocolate souffle were outstanding, and the cheese was as good as Artisanal (albeit, without the fromagiere).
Overall I'd say New York's dining scene doesn't differ too much from our own, although there is far more selection at the "upper end". Of course we didn't try Daniel, Alain Ducasse or several other recommended places (too many places, too little time!), but we enjoyed very much what we did have. The French Laundry in Napa is still my favourite resto of all time (maybe I'll be lucky & make it back to NYC when FL II opens in the fall!).
Thanks to all of you whose discussion & advice helped us make these diverse and enjoyable choices. This message board rules!