I just made a quick trip to Manhattan last weekend (I live in San Francisco), and as usual found this board invaluable in finding places to eat. Thanks!
I made a reservation at Blue Hill for Friday night, based on descriptions here. The restaurant called me at home at 8 am on Thursday morning to confirm. As it turned out, we were about half an hour late because our rather brain-dead cabdriver got us onto 7th Avenue in the middle of the bike protest. I called to warn them we'd be late, but when we arrived the room was less than a third full, at 9 pm on Friday, which surprised me a little. (But then, we found the city pretty empty on this pre-convention weekend.) We were seated and given water and bread, and then ignored for about 15 minutes. This was especially evident because the room was so small and empty, and the waitress who appeared to be assigned to our table passed a number of times with eyes averted. Finally my friend, who is usually very even-tempered, said "Let's get out of here." As we started to get up, a previously unseen waiter arrived to take our drink orders. We hesitated but ended up staying. When he came back he said "I just realized that you were getting ready to leave--I really apologize for the delay." Apparently there was some emergency with another customer.
The apology was very much appreciated, and we ended up enjoying ourselves. My friend found the markup on the wine to be ridiculously high (she works for a winery in Napa and is pretty knowledgeable on this topic), so we didn't order as we would have normally. I found the food pretty good, but not as memorable as what was described in other posts here. Maybe it was an off night. It was good enough, but I wouldn't return.
Since the city seemed so empty, we decided to take our chances at Babbo the next night (I couldn't get a reservation before we left). It was mobbed, of course, but the maitre d' (and Joe Bastianich, who happened to be standing by the podium--I recognized him from an article) suggested we go to Otto for a glass of wine and return in an hour. (We saw Mario Batali coming in the door as we left. I love New York--you never know whom you're going to see.)
When we arrived we discovered Babbo had called over to tell them we were coming, which was nice. The manager spent a lot of time with us over the extensive wine list and even gave us generous tastes of Plus (2001), a white produced by the Bastianich vineyard in Friuli. We ended up with a lovely Sicilian red, Litra Sta. Anastasia (1998). I think he was happy to have a knowledgeable enthusiast with whom to discuss wine. We gave our waiter a taste too, as he hadn't tried it.
We started with an amazing special dish of fig, ricotta di bufala, and some slightly bitter greens. This may have been the best fig dish I've ever had--they were a bit caramelized, and the ricotta was very fresh and sweet, and the combination was entirely delicious.
We then shared an order of house-cured cinghiale proscuitto and salami, an order of spaghetti alla carbonara, and an order of funghi misti. The spaghetti was interesting--gamier and lighter (a little lemony) than I've had before. We learned that the chef grinds proscuitto and pancetta together for this dish. Very good.
We finished with a selection of five cheeses. I'm sorry I didn't think to write them down, but they included a gorgonzola dolce, a triple creme, and a pecorino. The serving was generous and we could hardly finish the plate even though we split it. The cheeses were accompanied by saucers of black truffle-laden honey, preserved cherries, and preserved orange rinds. All the cheeses were perfectly ripe and at the right temperature. (Unfortunately, we had no room left for the gelato, which is apparently fabled.)
The most amazing thing about this place was how inexpensive it was! The above-mentioned cheese plate with the sides was $13. I will definitely return on my next trip. It seems to attract a clientele of people in their 20s and 30s, most of whom were on dates on this Saturday night. We may have been the only ones paying attention to the food. We did appear to be the only ones not asking for bread and making sandwiches out of the cheese plates. Ah, youth!
We also had lunch at old favorites Les Halles and the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, both of which were delicious and fun. San Francisco is a pretty amazing restaurant city, but I think New York is equally amazing. Can't wait to return to try more places!