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Seeking a few good recs for a mid-June trip (lots of details inside)

Big Bad Voodoo Lou | May 28, 200807:52 PM

Greetings, Manhattan Chowhounds!

I'm a regular on the Florida forum, but my girlfriend and I will be in NYC from June 18th through the 22nd, and we're hoping you can point us to some great places. We're staying at the Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel New York City at 569 Lexington Ave (in Midtown?), and we'll be spending some time near Baruch College of The City University of New York at 55 Lexington Avenue. We will probably take cabs most places or walk to anything that's close. Just something to keep in mind: I recently graduated grad school and may or may not have a great new job by then, and she's in grad school currently, so neither of us are loaded.

We visited NYC for a whirlwind 2-night trip last year, and some of the highlights included:

West Bank Cafe (based on a recommendation from here; it was pretty good but I don't think it blew either of us away, no offense)
Norma's (her idea; very decadent, but the service was so snooty and snobby that I don't think we'd go back)
Katz's Deli (completely awesome pastrami on club, and we're definitely going back this time)

We also grabbed two meals at those convenience store/deli/supermarkets you guys have all over the city -- surprisingly good gourmet sandwiches that saved our lives in the draining August heat. And I got a slice of pizza from a random Ray's (not sure which one) somewhere near St. Mark's Bookshop in the Village, which was really good.

Since we will have more time and won't be as rushed, we're looking forward to a few great meals this time around, although not necessarily expensive, trendy, or fancy. That said, I would have loved to get us a reservation at Babbo based on all the hype, but by the time I called, they couldn't get us in at a time that worked. Can anyone recommend one really awesome restaurant for a special night out? We don't want French or Indian food, stuck-up service like Norma's, or tiny portions. I don't mind paying for quality, as long as there is some quantity involved too. :) Maybe an interesting tasting menu, so we can sample lots of specialties? Are there any Italian places that are similar in food style to Babbo that won't break the bank? How is Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill? The online menu makes it sound fantastic.

Beyond that, how worthwhile is Barney Greengrass: The Sturgeon King? I saw Anthony Bourdain go there on his old Food Network show, and since I love delis and smoked fish, would it be worth a trip even though we're also going to Katz's? Are there any other must-try delis, particularly anything close? I'm cool with either Jewish or Italian-style delis -- I like nothing more than great sandwiches with salted, cured meats and wonderful cheeses. What about fantastic bagels near our hotel? Would H&H be worth a special trip?

My girlfriend definitely wants to try the frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, so we'll go there at some point. I have been checking out the Il Laboratorio de Gelato website, as that sounds right up my alley, and neither of us would be opposed to sampling the famous cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery.

Are there any interesting "concept restaurants" these days? I always thought it would be neat to try the Automat, just for the experience, but I'm reasonably sure it has been gone for years, if not longer. Any sort of unforgettable or unique dining experiences for a couple of 30-year-olds from Orlando?

Also, we don't have Trader Joe's in FL, and everyone raves about it. Would a TJ trip be worthwhile to load up on snacks and goodies for the hotel room and the trip home? What about Dean and Deluca? We wouldn't say no to amazing Mexican, Thai, Greek, or Chinese food either, particularly if any places are convenient to the hotel.

EDIT: One more thing -- we don't drink, so no need to worry about wine selections at restaurants or finding cool bars to hang at.

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