My wife and I spent last weekend chowing through Manhattan - at least, through the places we could get to in a mere 48 hours. Here are some reflections, touching on places in the order that we visited them:
Katz's - Lived up to its reputation. In my experience, their pastrami is the only sandwich of its kind that rivals the smoked meat of Schwartz's in Montreal. Great character in the physical space and the counter staff too.
Laboratori del Gelato - Very good, especially the dark chocolate eaten on the same spoon as a little of the cinnamon. Not discernably better than top gelati in other cities though.
Russ & Daughters - The Scottish smoked salmon had great balance and texture, but the bagels could use some firming up. Terrific selection of schmeers...if only we'd had more time to investigate them.
Kee's - First rate. The tiny, authentic storefront is almost as comforting as the way the chocolates melt onto the palate.
Lupa - Fine, but a little disappointing. The aged prosciuttio and the beets with pistachio were technically correct, but overall too simple. I understand that fancy food is not the goal of the place, but I still felt that I could replicate the dishes at home without much difficulty. The orecchiette pasta special was very nice, though not as large as postings in this forum had led me to expect. Service was efficient but not genuine.
Chez Laurence - Recommended. The "egg-spresso" was light and fluffy, and the blueberry pancakes were more than serviceable. Excellent bacon too.
The Modern (at the bar) - A highlight of the trip. Excellent setting and service, a strong wine list and tasty food. The tarte flambee and seared tuna in a panko crust were well done, but the true gems for us were the scallops on beet and almond salad with cumin, and the peppered lamb on noodle cake. Quality martinis too.
La Maison du Chocolat - Technically correct, but lacking the artisinal element (soul?) of Kee's. Nicely delicate chocolates with very well defined flavours. Expensive but probably worth it.
Le Bernardin - Not surprisingly, another highlight of the trip. Beautiful and perfectly-executed food, with standouts being the peekytoe crab (my best crab experience to date, anywhere) and the feathery salted cod salad. The room was elegant and, we thought, quite warm. As expected, the service was formal but could use a little more charm. Was it worth it? Perhaps not, as we could've had two (or three) standout meals elsewhere for the same price. But this is one of the top restaurants in one of the top dining cities of the world, and you can only experience it, first-hand, by leading with an open wallet.
Pain Quotidien - Breads that are both grainy enough to be virtuous and chewy enough to be enjoyable. After my tenth tablespoon of strawberry jam, I managed to forgive the place for offering eggs only in soft-boiled format. A wonderful side plate of Paris ham helped as well.
That's all we could manage in the time available. Many thanks to everyone on this board for the tips and suggestions that helped our trip to come together.