Just got back to Toronto and I wanted to say a big thanks to everyone for their suggestions. It was a delicious trip.
Here's where we (me, my wife and our 10-week-old daughter) went (roughly in order). Funny how a kid can switch your targets from aquavit, daniel and the like (which we've done on other trips):
--Ali Baba (34st around 3rd): Loved the food, service and ambience. Found the price a little high (even with the newfound mightiness of the Canadian dollar), but i guess that's the neighbourhood. Had the Yogurtlu Shish. Wonderful hunks of tender lamb in a buttery, peppery yogurt sauce on top of torn pieces of bread. started with the coban salatasi, which had vinegar instead of what should have been lemon juice. still good. they comped us a pastry for dessert, i think because i looked crestfallen when they told me they didn't have ekmek kadayifi.
--Sarge's: Went for brunch one day. Tried not to be too alarmed by the swarm of flies that were hovering around our table. Service was OK. Per chowhound suggestions, had the corned beef hash, which was pretty damned tasty. Decent fresh coffee. Definitely not a deli, though. More like a diner with some deli items.
--Waterfront Ale House (30th/2nd Ave). Good (but not the best) pulled pork, awesome beer (had the cantillon rose, sierra nevada schwarzbier, and some weihenstephaner heffeweissen). sam the owner happened to be there preparing for the brooklyn pig-fest (which we unfortunately had to miss cause we were visiting family in connecticut that afternoon -- sigh...). One of our beer orders got a little confused, so Sam came over to clear it up, and stayed there chatting for like half an hour on a busy friday night. nice guy. also gave us some of his apple pie vodka (very yummy). my wife only had a little bit of hers -- something about it not being too good for a nursing mother.
--Saravana Bhavan Dhosa Hut (lex btwn 27/28): Wandered down Lex and went in here because it looked loud/bright enough that no-one would mind our infant crying (not that she did). gigantic portions of everything. my wife had the bangalore special (a thali with 6 or 7 items), a mulligatawny and a badam halwa (delicious sweet nut paste flavoured with saffron). i had the onion rava masala. quite similar to a dosa, but a little less delicate. same potato masala filling, and lots of really sweet onions fried in ghee.
--Grimaldi's (by the bklyn bridge). Went at 3 p.m. and avoided the lines. Had an excellent small pie with sausage, onion and roasted red peppers. Crust was perfect, as were the sausage and onions. Coulda done without the red peppers, but otherwise a great pie. Then we grabbed some chocolate from J.Torres. Not bad, but doesn't really compare to the stuff I had last time I was in belgium).
--For the last supper, we went to Pete's Tavern. I normally try to avoid touristy kind of places, but Pete's still seems to have something good going on, at least as far as the drinks/atmosphere goes. The chow? well, the portions were large but the quality was mixed. Salad was OK, dressing was awful. NY striploin (16 oz) wasn't exactly the most tender piece of beef i've ever had. my wife's prime rib was much better -- again, gigantic. service was quite good. waitress even brought a sampler of two wines i was considering a glass of.
--we also had a few bagels/lox/creamcheese from a ``deli'' around the corner from our hotel. not bad, but nothing particularly special (it was the silver star at 3rd and 34th, to be precise).