NYC Urban Eats
Excursions into the city are opportunities to try out new dining spots. Here are some we've sampled: an elegant space in the Armani flagship, an inventive pan-Asian bistro and a "good life" hangout for shoppers and sports fans.
Floor to ceiling windows are a focal point in the sophisticated white and black marble Armani/Ristorante 5th Avenue
Armani Ristorante 5th Avenue
A separate elevator is provided, but ignore it. Give yourself a treat (and work up an appetite) by walking up the ramp to the third floor restaurant in the Midtown Armani flagship store. Passing the beautiful clothing and furnishings sets the scene for the cool, sophisticated dining space with its black marble floor, white tables, black chairs, scattered circular leather banquettes and breathtaking floor to ceiling windows overlooking Fifth Avenue.
The equally stylish food is beautifully presented and delicious, an updated version of the traditional Italian dishes. Diners start with a basket of irresistible breads baked on the premises, breadsticks along with rolls and loaves featuring raisins, nuts, herbs and rosemary. On a typical $34 prix fixe lunch menu, appetizer choices start with a velvety bean soup accented with crispy pork cheek, delicate eggplant rolls, calamari served over pureed peas. Main course offerings may be egg pasta fettuccine with spinach and ricotta, lemon and caper pan seared bass or thinly sliced veal over potato fondant and broccoli rabe. A selection of fruity sorbets rounds out dessert.
Evenings when the shopping is over, the restaurant offers a full dinner menu, and the sleek and friendly bar attracts a chic group of people who gather to sip Negronis and keep an eye on passersby.
Armani/Ristorante 5th Avenue, 717 Fifth Avenue, 212-207-1920.
The Ember Room's rustic Asian decor mirrors the restaurant's "fusion" theme
It may be time for "progressive Thai comfort food" to become part of your dining vocabulary. Already thriving in Bangkok cafes and coffee shops, comfort food cuisine mixes international influences with classic Thai traditions. Invited to the 9th Avenue restaurant for a tasting, C&G wine guru Baroness Sherri de Borchgrave and I arrived as skeptics and departed total converts. From the Thai tacos (shredded chicken, bean sprouts, chives, peanut, tofu, coconut and sweet chili sauce) to the wonderful circled sweet and sour whole striped bass, to the Korean BBQ-beef fried rice (with kimchee and topped with raw egg) and the wondrous Had Yai volcano chicken (marinated in turmeric-coconut with green chili sauce), which arrived flambéed! The unusual combinations were startling, different, and delicious and with entree prices ranging between $13-$24 experimenting is affordable.
veggie burger and prawn salad
Chef Ian Chalermkittichai designs the dishes which are served in a decor fusing rustic wood, distressed metal finishes and a wall crusted with the suggestions of Asian lanterns. A tableau painted at the far end of the room depicts a child of the forest enfolded in the trunk of a protecting elephant.
Ember Room. 647 9th Avenue, between 45th and 46th Streets. 212-245-8880. www.emberroom.com
Diners enjoying the "Dolce Vita" at Lugo Caffe
Shoppers and sports fans should consider a stop by Lugo Caffe, conveniently located at the west end of the 34th Street corridor of stores and just across the street from Madison Square Garden. The convivial charm of Italy's cafe culture is captured in its open, airy room with double height windows and a floor to ceiling display of wine bottles. The homemade pastas, grilled pizzas, salami and cheeses and extensive wine list are -inspired by the Rome of Fellini's 1950's film La Dolce Vita. A homemade fresh mozzarella bar is served with prosciutto di parma, fig jam, vine tomatoes, sweet basil and a balsamic glaze. Fried artichokes are dipped in lemon aioli. There's a porterhouse Fiorentina for two and for daring couples and guests the crispy Lugo pork shank and sweet Italian peppers, which the waiters serve up tableside.
artichokes and mushroom pizza
The owners, who also run Lugo Menswear in Nolita, have outfitted the staff in shirts and ties from their "tailored lifestyle" line, and while Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimée aren't apt to show up, diners are apt to be in for a good life experience.
Lugo Caffe. 1 Penn Plaza. 212-760-2700. www.lugocaffe.com