Our Favorite Restaurants of 2017

The New Yorker

Tables for Two writers revisit the top places they ate in 2017, presented in alphabetical order.

abcV

On many occasions this year, I felt acutely miserable about eating meat, as I considered climate change and the barbaric practices of food corporations, and my search for fresh, piquant, and satisfying vegetarian dishes became increasingly urgent. AbcV, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest restaurant—his first without meat on the menu—was a welcome salve. His mission is to “inspire a cultural shift towards plant-based intelligence” by offering “high-vibration foods.” At first, I found the spin a bit too self-congratulatory, but after several visits I got over it—the food was too good, the service too sweet, even the bohemian-scientific-chic aesthetic more pleasant than I had wanted to admit. Some of the best dishes include the slow-roasted beets garnished with chili aioli and pickles, the warm crimini and morel mushrooms (mixed with an order of sticky coconut rice), and the hearty, lip-smacking fresh spinach spaghetti. The enormous dosa, served with yogurt, avocado, and fresh sprouts, is another must. My favorite part of ordering, however, is deciding whether I’m craving joy, brain, grounding, heart, or spirit. These are the names of the “vibrations,” or restorative tonics, made from fantastical-sounding ingredients like ashwagandha, blue lotus, and pau d’arco. They come in the colors of a summer garden at sunset.Carolyn Kormann

Agern

Agern is a little culinary haven in a big railway terminal, a cool retreat from the crowds, a calming touch of Aalto-ish minimalism in the midst of Grand Central’s Beaux-Arts opulence. Claus Meyer, a Danish food entrepreneur and the co-founder of Noma, in Copenhagen, opened the restaurant, his first in New York, in the spring of 2016. He has since launched several more New York-based, Nordic-inspired culinary projects, but Agern remains his pearl—the finest example of his regional aesthetic, ethos, and cooking style, served with casual elegance. The short and long tasting menus—either five or eight courses—are the best way to experience the latest innovations from the chef, Gunnar Gíslason, which are based around flavors from his childhood in northern Iceland—smoke, ash, salt, dill, berries, buttermilk, and anything preserved, pickled, or fermented—and reinvented with local ingredients, such as Long Island duck or Rhode Island squid. But if you’re there to catch a train and only have time for à la carte, you can’t go wrong with hearty dishes like the crispy potato-and-cod bread (what one server compared to “fish doughnuts, but a lot better than that sounds”), and chopped beef, served raw with spicebush, elderberries, and tarragon. There’s also Meyer’s simple and remarkable sourdough rounds, the best bread in the city.—Carolyn Kormann

Atla

Enrique Olvera, the chef behind the high-end midtown Mexican restaurant Cosme, and Pujol, in Mexico City, opened this downtown canteen on a sleepy corner in NoHo last spring. Rather than a pricey extension of his temples to haute cuisine, Atla turned out to be an affordable all-day café built to last. The head chef, Daniela Soto-Innes, makes elegant yet sturdy dishes, such as chilaquiles, chicken enchiladas, and flounder Milanese, with bright flavors and on-point technique. The guacamole, made with—gasp!—mint, arrives hidden beneath a single giant blue chip, a touch that is more sculptural than pretentious, partly thanks to the restaurant’s desert-chic vibe. They didn’t need to make a killer quesadilla, but they did. The loveliest time to be there is breakfast, when the sunlight streams through the picture windows and you can sit over your café con leche and concha pastry and pretend you’ve got all the time in the world.—Shauna Lyon

Belly

Really, how many things can you do with pork? When I sat down to the nine-course omasake menu at Belly, a Korean restaurant promising porcine acrobatics, I had my doubts. Many Asian methods of tackling pork—overstuffed dumplings come to mind, as do thick slabs of samgyeopsal, a Korean grilled belly meat so marbled that it can feel like you’re knocking back lard—are too rich to share the stage. The secret for Belly’s proprietors, Philip Cho and Anna Lee, is portion control (as sacrilegious as that might seem to an older generation of Asian chefs) and fastidious attention to detail. The bacon sushi—a sweet, translucent slice of pork jowl draped over vinegary rice, and topped with Szechuan oil, wasabi, and lime—constitutes a course but can be consumed in a single bite. The miracle of dining on nine courses at Belly is that you do not leave with a distended belly. Instead, you savor the memory of your favorite dishes, wishing that there was just one bite more.—Jiayang Fan

Birds of a Feather

This year saw the cresting of the Sichuan craze, with its signature swagger of mouth-numbing peppercorns. All Chinese restaurants, and occasionally even non-Chinese ones, seem to boast of something from the inland province. Birds of a Feather, which is run by the husband-and-wife pair behind the Michelin-starred China Café, in midtown, has done the diners of Brooklyn—a corner of New York not previously known for quality Sichuanese—the favor of pairing authenticity with efficacy. The spicy-and-sour tofu, a favorite snack of mine from a childhood spent in Chongqing, is probably the best I’ve had in New York. A plate of sweet-and-sour ribs—an entirely different species from the radioactively colored chunks you get at American Chinese restaurants—is a classic that is underrepresented at most other Sichuanese joints. Best of all, the restaurant’s superior service—graceful, swift, knowledgeable—is accompanied by a no-tip policy, a merciful convenience that, for those who are numerically challenged, is as sweet as dessert.—Jiayang Fan

The Fat Monk

As someone who eats little meat and almost never orders hamburgers, I never would have guessed that a gastropub would make it onto my year-end list. But when an aggressively corpulent duck burger steals your heart, what can you do? You submit to its grease-slicked glory, because medium-rare duck oozing with Emmentaler cheese, heaped with foie-gras aioli and shallots roasted in fat, is simply too sinfully good to pass up. So is the crispy Berkshire pork belly, a Bavarian ham hock, and Schwaeinshaxe, prodigious enough to feed four, as well as the exquisite Dungeness-crab tater tots, a pedigreed hybrid between crab cakes and tater tots that will make you thankful for every single one of their fifteen ingredients, even if you can’t name them. The Fat Monk, tucked away in the basement of a stamp-size bar up in Manhattan Valley, may nod at monastic living with its stained-glass-and-stone walls, but its menu will please the most intemperate among us.—Jiayang Fan

The Finch

This obscure bistro, hidden on a charming brownstone block in Clinton Hill, was the most ambitious neighborhood joint I ate at in 2017. Inside, the dining room is both warm and modern, anchored by a central open kitchen and, in the fireplace, an incongruous, if lovely, six-hundred-pound hunk of glittering quartz. Chef Gabe McMackin’s seasonal American fare achieves a rare balance—it’s original, refined, and sometimes surprising, without abandoning the sort of consistency or heartiness that any local would demand. Such gastronomic poise has earned the place a Michelin star for each of the past three years. I love the vegetarian lasagna, the bay scallops served with a savory and fresh purée of “green things,” and the duck (hay-poached breast, confit leg) accompanied by McMackin’s unforgettable smoked bread pudding—another simple delicacy that has kept me coming back, even after I moved many subway stops away.—Carolyn Kormann

The Grill

Last year, in this column, I lamented the passing of the Four Seasons, the grande dame of upper-midtown dining, after a spat between the restaurateurs and their landlord, Aby Rosen, left them looking for a new home after fifty-seven years in the same place. There was a goodbye party. People (myself included) jumped into the restaurant’s famous Carrara-marble pools and wondered what would become of Philip Johnson’s majestic space. All was not lost, however: Rosen enlisted Mario Carbone and his team—known for their trendy spots downtown—and the Grill was born, a place for slick folk and slick food. Here you can order modernized versions of American Continental food and pick from a buffet stacked with all sorts of goodies (goose terrine, layer cakes, pickled sardines)—admittedly all for a hefty price, but, then again, Rosen’s clientele doesn’t seem to be the type to complain.—Nicolas Niarchos

Hanoi House

On a friend’s recommendation, I visited the East Village in the late spring to review Chao Chao, one of the neighborhood’s several recently opened Vietnamese spots, and found it shut down. Luckily, Hanoi House had recently opened, and amply filled the void, combining tasteful décor and traditional food. Along with its neighbor Madame Vo, it’s popular with a hip downtown crowd, and the volume in the dining room sometimes hits eleven. That said, Hanoi House is still a remarkably soothing spot. That’s probably on account of the food, especially the sixteen-hour stewed pho, which is silky and filling and comes topped with a choice of oxtail or bone marrow. Another standout dish, Chao Hao, contains clams and congee, and sparkles with an oil-and-peanut seasoning. With food this delicious, Hanoi House deserves to be around for a long time to come.—Nicolas Niarchos

King

The co-chefs at King, Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer, trained at the world-class London restaurant the River Café, whose ethos is reflected in King’s exaltation of the lush yet simple pleasures of Italian cooking. Dinner in the warm, intimate room, on the edge of SoHo, all creams and coupe glasses, begins with an exuberant carta di musica, a curling, crisp bread brought gratis to every table—a tip-off for what’s to come. The menu is small but stylish, and each dish is slightly wild in appearance and deep in flavor, taking full advantage of what’s in season. Onglet steak, hunter’s rabbit, and even the simple panisse, made of fried chickpea dough, stick in the memory long after they’re gone. A fritto misto of polenta, lemon, and sage-and-anchovy sandwiches, served at a themed Sunday lunch, was one of the best dishes of the year.—Shauna Lyon

La Morada

Six years ago, the Village Voice’s Robert Sietsema wrote of a desperate quest to find Oaxacan food in New York. “There is no Oaxacan food in Gotham,” he declared. How wrong he was: La Morada has been quietly serving excellent examples of the cuisine, including a plethora of moles, in its vibrant purple South Bronx space for almost a decade. Scrumptious food aside, the restaurant also serves as a meeting place for the local community and is especially supportive of undocumented immigrants. The issue is, unfortunately, close to home: Marco Saavedra, the owner’s son, who works at the restaurant, came to this country from Mexico as a toddler, and is now faced with the threat of deportation.—Nicolas Niarchos

Otway

The chef Claire Welle sets a high bar for self-sufficient economy in the kitchen—not only does she butcher whole animals, she makes her own bread, with grain milled in house, as well as her own lardo, charcuterie, and butter. Otway, in Clinton Hill, is a neighborhood restaurant that should also be a destination—for refined, delicious dishes, such as the uni-topped buckwheat crêpe, the beef-tallow-fried chickpeas, and foie-gras torchon served with the requisite glass of Sauternes. Welle makes a ricotta gnudi that is fluffy and dreamy; she also makes duck with cherries along with buckwheat that has been cracked, boiled, and fried in a heavy-bottomed pan so that it’s crisp-edged and chewy—taking a hearty classic and spinning it anew.—Shauna Lyon