I stayed in Manhattan for 10 days on this trip and grateful to all who contribute to my earlier post "Singapore Family Seeking Advise" in April prior to my trip: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/513455 . The planning has been smooth, with the exception of Babbo's which refused to accept our reservation for a party of of 5 initially. By the time we reached Manhattan, I have decided to avoid fine dining places as I was not sure if my kids would behave appropriately in such places, so have to miss JG, MEP, Aquavit, Daniel, Gramercy Tavern that were heavily recommended in the earlier post. Guess I would have to make it up in future trip.
In all, we visited 14 restaurants, 9 of which were recommended in Chowhound, and the rest more due to the convenience of the location during the meal time. My favorite would be Aquagrill, followed by Sushi Yasuda. Rating as follow (3= excellent), (2=good), (1= mediocre). The first 9 are the ones I got the recommendation from members of Chowhound.
1. Aquagrill (2) : this is my favorite place on this trip. We ordered 18 oysters from 6 different regions and 9 clams from 2 regions (Massachusett and Rhode Island) for 2 adults. All were super fresh and tasty. Also ordered the buttered steamed lobster, which was excellent. The tuna carpaccio was a let down though, and my kids did not enjoyed the big burger there. Very good service as well.
2. Sushi Yasuda (2) : very good sushi though not in the same league with the top notch sushi places in Tokyo (such as Mizutani, Kanesaka, Jiro). I thought it was one of the best sushi places I had outside of Japan, and the best thing is that it is "value for money", in my opinion. Each of us had more than 20 negiri (I lost the counts as Chef Yasuda kept recommending his rare stuffs to us) and the price about US$130-140 per person++, which I thought was quite reasonable for that quality standard. Some of my personal favorites, such as anago, ika, ebi, kohada, were mediocre; the tamago was really badly done. Toronto hound, Charles Yu, who joined me on this occasion, told Yasuda we had been to Sukiyabashi Jiro Tokyo before, whom Yasuda ranked the best sushi chef in this business, so he tried very hard to impress us. I liked the shiro salmon, a white salmon that he told us is available only for week(s) from Alaska, but not impressed with the unagi sushi, that he sourced from Chinatown, prepared and marinated himself with origin from Florida. The rest were very good. Yasuda is friendly and direct, a bit unlike traditional Japanese, but I guesses he is already Americanized. What I thought was interesting was that he volunteered and tried very hard to educate all his customers. The server was also friendly; unfortunately, I would not say the same for the 2 black-jacket, black-T shirt clad young men on the front door, who were quite rude when I requested for certain changes on seating due to the presence of my kids. Another interesting observation is that, on my left and right, most American customers love to order salmon sushi or roll. It seem like that is a favorite item here in America.
3. Babbo's (2) : I am also glad Charles joined me on this place. He had already wrote a poor review on his post and I added some comment there; you can read it here : http://www.chowhound.com/topics/535368 . Overall, I enjoyed the meal here, but due to the heightened expectation prior to the trip, I was unfortunately not so impressed.
4. Keens (1) : another disappointing one. My previous experience with American steaks are Prime Rib in Lawry's LA, Porterhouse in Mortons and Ruth Chris. I have read on Manhattan site that those places are meaningless compared to the top notch steak houses in Manhattan, so i was looking forward to NY style steak. Unfortunately, I have not acquire the taste bud to appreciate them; the Prime Rib was bland and dry, T-bone steak was also dry though rich in its flavor. The server also had attitude problem and often disappeared when we need to order something extra. But the dessert, hot fudge sundae, was excellent, the best dessert on this trip. I am still dreaming about this dessert now, and it is perhaps the "best dish" on this trip.
5. Mandangsui (2) : love the galbi (ribs), both marinated and non-marinated. Also love the short rib with kimchee soup. The ribeye, beef tongue were mediocre though. My kids love the galbi so much that we visited this place twice on this trip.
6. Yakitori Totto (2) : A few starters were very good, such as sea cucumber in ponzu sauce. The yakitori pieces were ok, but nothing too impressive compared to my regular place Kazue in Singapore. I was disappointed with its Kobe tongue though, I thought the cuts were too huge for me. We had to queue for more than one hour for this place; and I am using this example to tell my friends back home that it sure does not look like a recession in America.
7. Hill Country (2) : first time we have been to a Texas style BBQ. Love the brisket moist, though it became too greasy and overwhelming after a few bites. The market chicken was also pretty good but the brisket lean and pork spare ribs were mediocre. ( I guess I find them too dry again, just like in Keens) Love the atmosphere too; everyone was friendly there. The only place I felt like a tourist on this trip in Manhattan.
8. Momofuka Ssam Bar (1+): I find this place quite expensive and not too impressed with its "innovation". I kept wondering if I should include it to (1) or (2) since it is in the borderline, so end up with 1+. The kids do not like this place so we just ordered for the 2 adults. We ordered Oysters kimchee consumme, Santa Barbara uni with some herbs, chanwamushi with snails, mussels/clams with bacon kimchee soup, steamed bun with pork belly. Most are Asian comfort food with a twist to suit the taste bud of Americans.
9. NY Noodletown (1) : after 2 weeks in Orlando, we need to have some comfort food once we reached NYC, so we headed to Chinatown. The brisket was really good but the accompanied noodle was just mediocre.
10. Lusardi (2) : love this Italian place in Upper East Side. We went to Metropolitan Musuem of Art on Monday before realizing it was closed on that day when we arrived there. So instead, we strolled and shopped around the UES area before deciding to pick this place as the Zagat magazine we had pointed to this place as the best Italian in that area. The grilled calamari was perfectly done; my pasta Spahegatti seafood with lobster was also pretty good. The place was empty and quiet for lunch; we were the first party to be there at 1:30pm before another 2 parties joined in. Almost had the place to ourselves.
11. Wollensky's Gill (1) : Went to Smith & Wollensky for lunch but was told only Wollensky's Gill is available for lunch. I ordered the Cajan ribeye steak, which was above average. My friends ordered the grilled Sirloin, which he said was mediocre, and the Prime Rib was quite poorly done for my kids. I liked the buttered lobster though. Seem like lobster is one of my favorite food in NYC.
12. Tang Pavillon (1) : I traveled to Shanghai quite often, so this Shanghai and SuChow place is just mediocre.
13. Sushi Ann (1) : Just right next to the hotel we stayed in, so we went there on the first night after arrival. Well, let's just say Sushi Yasuda is much better.
14. Onigashima (1) : went for the soba after the shopping trip at 5th Avenue. Just average.