Was in NYC this past weekend. Before setting off, of course scoured chowhound for recs. Am finally emerging from years of "lurking" mode to "give back" and report on some places mentioned in the archives that I sampled.
Momofuku: I cannot praise this place enough. First the food: I pity the person who is vegetarian or does not eat pork because that means missing out on the food here. The pork buns are absolutely divine - succulent shredded pork, just a tad crisped in a wonderful crepe-type outer wrapping that is folded over and meant to evoke a "bao." The shitake bun was fantastic too, but the pork ones have taken over my dreams. The asparagus with poached egg and miso butter put me in heaven (and I don't even LIKE egg!). I could slather that miso butter on everything I eat! Truth be told, everything was marvelous - the octopus, the ramen (both hot and cold), etc. And the staff are wonderful. When we returned the next day (believe me, you will too!), they remembered us and what we had ordered and were utterly kind and attentive. The place is unpretentious (look outside the window) and feels like a neighborhood joint, not a highly written up restaurant whose chef just won one of Food & Wine's coveted Chef of the Year awards.
Gavroche: I found this place on chowhound and am very disappointed to report that I would highly disrecommend (a word?) it. We had an 8pm reservation, seating for the garden. When we got there, the restaurant itself was boiling hot and the staff in flurry. After waiting around a while, along with a dozen or so other folk, we asked the bartender what the problem was, whether the AC was broken so everyone was being seated outside, hence the chaos. No, she said, the AC is not broken; it's just that everyone wants to sit outside. We suggested that perhaps if they turned the AC on, some folks would be happy to be seated inside for their dinner (rather than wait). Not to mention that those of us waiting in the sultry and warm inside would be happpier. To their credit, they did turn on the AC. Meanwhile, groups that had come after us were seated (the owner's excuse: they were a group of 3, we were only 2!?). Finally, after 1/2 hour, we were told that it would be a "little longer." We asked if we couldn't be offered a drink on the house while waiting at the bar... and were refused. Now that's nerve! It's one thing not to offer a drink, but another entirely to refuse it when a customer with a reservation has been kept waiting 30+ min and asks for a drink. This sort of attitude is unacceptable and we left. (Incidentally, we ran into some colleagues who were also kept waiting a very long time despite a reservation, although they finally managed to secure a table; they reported that it wasn't worth it). Restaurants need to figure out that, no matter the quality of the food, a good dining experience is a holistic one and this includes being made to feel welcome and treated hospitably.
The story has a happy ending. We decided on an entirely different neighborhood and cuisine - Uncle Nick's in Hell's Kitchen - and had a wonderful dinner. The staff were busy but attentive in an unobtrusive way. The greek sausages were brilliant, the grilled octopus marvelous, and the grilled red snapper beautiful.
Finally, Alta in the W. Village: the food was very good. Highlights were the mergueze, green olive plate, leek risotto. The only problem with the food was the delivery schedule: the plates came at too rapid a pace, certainly not one that could be accomodated on the very small tables. But the atmosphere of this place was wonderful - utterly romantic and cosy in the upstairs; down below is for larger groups and more brightly lit, and sitting on the balcony, looking down, one gets the best of both worlds.