Midtown & Time Warner Center
BLT Steak Anyone expecting a shrine to the bacon sandwich will be surprised. Short for "Bistro Laurent Tourondel," BLT Steak is named for its chef, an F&W Best New Chef 1998 formerly at the late seafood-centric Cello. With all the sophistication a French star chef can bring, he offers eight types of steak, seafood dishes like spiced swordfish, exceptional sides, and yes, a BLT—which he makes with foie gras and double-smoked bacon. DETAILS 106 E. 57th St.; 212-752-7470.
Masa and Bar Masa At Masa, chef Masayoshi Takayama (formerly of Beverly Hills' Ginza Sushi-ko) charges at least $300 a head for his stunning tasting menus (five appetizers, 15 to 20 sushi pieces), starring exotic seafood shipped daily from Japan. Bar Masa is more modestly priced. DETAILS 10 Columbus Circle (Time Warner Center); 212-823-9800.
Per Se Predictions that type-A New Yorkers wouldn't take to French Laundry chef Thomas Keller's 15-course meals have proven wrong. Among his ingenious little dishes: rabbit shoulder stuffed with sweetbreads and served with poached cherries; cauliflower panna cotta topped with oyster glaze and caviar. DETAILS 10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-9335.
V Steakhouse In a dining room that looks like a boudoir, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten plays with the steak house genre: a juicy sirloin is made of kobe-style wagyu beef, steak sauce is flavored with tamarind or rhubarb, and onion soup is deconstructed into a fondue. DETAILS 10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-9500.
Asiate It got off to a slow start, but Asiate, in the new Mandarin Oriental hotel at the Time Warner Center, now offers food to match its 35th-floor views. Noriyuki Sugie's Asian-inspired dishes (squab leg in a Chinese five-spice jus with a cauliflower-barley risotto) might single-handedly rehabilitate the dreaded fusion label. The international 350-bottle wine list is outstanding. DETAILS 80 Columbus Circle; 212-805-8881.
Lever House Restaurant Manhattan needs more restaurants like this: an architecturally dramatic space with unfussy food. In a mod room with a '50s-style honeycomb motif, Dan Silverman (an F&W Best New Chef 1997) serves market-driven dishes, like chicken paillard with a compote of heirloom tomatoes and scallions. For dessert: pastry chef Deborah Snyder's silky spiced panna cotta or her moist fig cake with sweet-corn ice cream. DETAILS 390 Park Ave.; 212-888-2700.
Café Gray After a few low-profile years, Lespinasse alumnus Gray Kunz is back. A sprawling space with an open kitchen is the latest setting for his trademark cuisine: luxurious, Asian-inflected French. DETAILS 10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-6338.
East Village & Lower East Side
Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar It's hard not to love a restaurant with the words "luxury" and "oyster" in its name—even harder when its owners are Jack and Grace Lamb, who run the exquisite sushi spot Jewel Bako. Working out of a tiny kitchen, chef Allison Vines-Rushing turns out a brief, irresistible menu of Southern-inspired dishes: lobster barbecued New Orleans-style; spice-rubbed lamb with lima-bean puree. And the restaurant's name doesn't lie—the ice-cold oysters are perfect. DETAILS 246 E. 5th St.; 212-673-0338.
Hearth Craft has the high-design dining room and the hard-to-score reservations—but Hearth has chef Marco Canora. The Craft alum, who left to open Hearth last fall (with Gramercy Tavern veteran Paul Grieco), does haute comfort food expertly, extracting powerful flavors from simple-sounding ingredients. He braises octopus in red wine until it reaches the ideal soft-but-chewy texture and serves it with celery root and potato; he roasts quail and combines it with farro, tomato preserves and a runny quail egg. The theme continues with pastry chef Lauren Dawson's desserts, like her warm, fragrant apple-cider doughnuts with maple cream. DETAILS 403 E. 12th St.; 646-602-1300.
wd~50 Experimental cuisine can be a tough sell in America, as chef Wylie Dufresne (an F&W Best New Chef 2001) discovered when he opened his sophomore effort, wd~50. But Dufresne pressed on despite the naysayers, and the earth-toned dining room fills up nightly with those game to see if short ribs go well with lily-bulb puree, or whether clams pair nicely with sake-soaked noodles and kimchi "paper" (yes, in both cases). So many of Dufresne's seemingly crazy ideas work that it's crazier not to give them a try.details 50 Clinton St.; 212-477-2900.
'inoteca This offshoot of 'ino could have become a smash just by duplicating its sibling's panini menu. Instead, co-owners Joe and Jason Denton joined chef and co-owner Eric Kleinman to create delicious small plates, like calamari with borlotti beans. The wine list has 25 choices by the glass. DETAILS 98 Rivington St.; 212-614-0473.
Schiller's Liquor Bar Keith McNally could turn a Blimpie into a tough reservation. Like his Balthazar and Pastis, Schiller's combines the easy feel of a local bistro with the buzz of a hot spot, but its menu is more multiethnic (Cuban sandwiches, chicken-liver mousse), a nod to the Lower East Side's heritage. DETAILS 131 Rivington St.; 212-260-4555.
LOWER EAST SIDE SHOPPING
Some Odd Rubies At this new boutique, co-owned by actress Summer Phoenix, chic cocktail dresses, halter tops and jewelry by local designers share space with a well-edited collection of vintage pumps and bags. Across the street is TG-170 (170 Ludlow St.); around the corner are Shop and Foley + Corinna (105 and 108 Stanton St.). DETAILS 151 Ludlow St.; 212-353-1736.
West Village & Meatpacking District
The Spotted Pig What took New York City so long to get its first gastropub? England discovered years ago that ambitious food served in a laid-back pub setting is a winning formula. The Spotted Pig is co-owned by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and first-time restaurateur Ken Friedman with chef April Bloomfield, an alum of London's River Café. She turns out creamy smoked-haddock chowder, gnudi (fluffy gnocchi) with brown butter and sage, and an expertly done shepherd's pie. DETAILS 314 W. 11th St.; 212-620-0393.
Mas At first glance, Mas's small dining room seems modest, but it's full of elegant flourishes—just like ex-Bouley chef Galen Zamarra's cooking. In an intimate space furnished with blue-suede banquettes and antique wood from an upstate farmhouse (mas means farmhouse in French), Zamarra serves briny grilled sardines on a Parmesan cheese sablé (a thin crisp) and matches juicy duck breast with a crunchy pistachio nougat. The best surprise: The restaurant stays open until 4 a.m. DETAILS 39 Downing St.; 212-255-1790.
AOC Bedford Roast suckling pig is one of the world's greatest dishes, and it's hard to find a chef who prepares it with as much care as Herbert Robertson. His menu is short but full of discoveries, like juicy beef tenderloin with spaetzle and a Pinot Noir sauce. DETAILS 14 Bedford St.; 212-414-4764.
Barbuto Jonathan Waxman, formerly of Washington Park, doesn't stay at any one restaurant too long, but dishes like his salad of calamari and wild chicory, and his risi e bisi (a risotto of peas and ham) draw diners wherever he goes. DETAILS 775 Washington St.; 212-924-9700.
50 Carmine Certain New York places—50 Carmine among them—become local hangouts even for those who have to travel by subway to reach them. It's impossible not to crave Sara Jenkins's Italian food: maccheroni with duck ragù; tagliatelle with snap peas, bacon and mint. DETAILS 50 Carmine St.; 212-206-9134.
Spice Market Where else can you find Tori Spelling sitting inches from a Senegalese prince? Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new restaurant has dark Thai wood and chic white leather and an electric vibe. Ex-Lespinasse chef Gray Kunz consulted on the Asian-street-food-inspired menu; top choices include the spiced-chicken samosas with a cilantro-infused yogurt sauce. DETAILS 403 W. 13th St.; 212-675-2322.
5 Ninth Meatpacking District crowds can pass by 5 Ninth without knowing it: The restaurant hides behind an unmarked door in an old townhouse. Chef Zak Pelaccio tinkers with Asian traditions to create dishes like his "silky" fried chicken with black-pepper gravy and boiled peanuts. Dave Wondrich's eclectic cocktails complement the menu. DETAILS 5 Ninth Ave.; 212-929-9460.
Sumile At 31, Josh DeChellis is one of the city's youngest chefs, which may explain his fearless cooking style. His version of Japanese cuisine includes egg custard topped with duck confit and clam dashi (broth), and flatiron steak with fresh wasabi. Owner Miwa Yoshida sings for Japanese pop band Dreams Come True. DETAILS 154 W. 13th St.; 212-989-7699.
Cru In the former Washington Park space, chef Shea Gallante, formerly of Bouley, is creating French-American dishes like veal with truffle-anchovy mayo. DETAILS 24 Fifth Ave.; 212-529-4700.
MEATPACKING DISTRICT HOTELS & SHOPS
Hotel Gansevoort Like its neighbor, the members-only Soho House, the more-democratic Gansevoort has a rooftop pool—with a view onto Soho House's roof deck. DETAILS Doubles from $325; 18 Ninth Ave.; 877-426-7386.
The Maritime Hotel Owned by nightlife entrepreneurs Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, the Maritime crams several trendy hangouts into one building. Besides its 130 nautical-themed rooms, the hotel houses a patio bar; the velvet-rope nightclub Hiro; the casual Italian restaurant La Bottega; and best of all, Matsuri, a Japanese restaurant where chef Tadashi Ono serves premium sushi and homestyle dishes like plum-braised sardines. DETAILS Doubles from $245; 363 W. 16th St.; 212-242-4300.
Carlos Miele The stretch of West 14th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues now houses some of the city's best boutiques. The São Paolo, Brazil-based designer's first Manhattan store—an enormous, futuristic space—features his long, beautifully cut halter and off-the-shoulder dresses alongside more casual pieces like embroidered sweaters. Across the street are the Manhattan outposts of British designers Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. DETAILS 408 W. 14th St.; 646-336-6642.