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Upper West Side Blues


Felonius
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I may be beating a dead horse here but....

I've lived on the UWS for four years, and the mediocrity of our local restaurants continues to frustrate me. I think it may be the worst dining area in the city. This is inexcusable for a such a densely packed residential area with plenty of disposable income.

In the last week, I've had three truly awful meals at places considered by many to be some of the better upscale dining options on the UWS.

Cafe Luxembourg - a lousy hanger steak that made me wished I'd walked or crawled to any number of places outside my neighborhood (Les Halles, Florent, Pastis, Jardin Bistro, etc.)

Cesca - a greasy "Cubano" panini that took 45 minutes to arrive at my table. The fact that it cost something like $14 only added insult to injury.

Nice Matin - truly inedible short ribs. Two slabs of fat with negligible amounts of meat, served in a rancid tasting reduction.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these meals is that all three restaurants were packed to capacity with gleeful Upper West Siders, willing to endure long waits to pay up for this crap. You'd think that one of the major restauranteurs in NYC (McNally, Neiporent, Meyer, etc.) would come up here and kick some culinary ass.

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I have to say, I have been happy with my meals at Nice Matin, but have never had the short ribs. They also make a great breakfast.

I agree on Luxemborg that it is hit or miss, but my meal at cesca was good (great gnocchi).

Compass is relaible, although service is spotty. I find on the upper west side that ethnic may be the way to go.

You should try:

Genaro for italian on Amsterdam, usually a wait, but go early or order in(they deliver)

Sipan for peruvian. Really great ceviche. Pampa for steak(although no reservations)

Alouette for french food.

On the upper end of the spectrum, Picholine never disappoings. And of course their is nougatine and all the new restaurants at Time Warner. Although Ouest is a tough ticket, they do a good job of serving at the bar.

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@SQC always does a fine job, as you know.

Aix is very good, and always interesting.

Ouest, as previously mentioned.

But, by and large, yea... there is a serious dearth of quality restaurants at a certain level.

--

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I've never been to Compass, Sipan or Alouette. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll try them and post back.

As for the others mentioned:

Ouest - I dined there three times last year. Had decent food, but nothing memorable. I do seem to remember portions on some items were laughably small, and this is coming from someone who generally prefers smaller portions. Overall I'd agree that it's some of the better food on the UWS, but given the price point and the difficulty of getting a reservation, there are many more compelling options for a $5.00 cab ride East or South.

Nice Matin - I've eaten there 4 times now. The first meal was good to average, and then it went downhill from there. The last two meals have been poor enough that I felt completely ripped off given the price charged. The one exception was a chocolate/coconut timbale with lychee sorbet for dessert, which I thought was very good. And who did the interior design? Awful!

Cesca - only had one meal there, so will give them another shot if I can ever get a reservation!

Picholine - had a couple of mediocre experiences there years ago, and never went back. In fairness to them I should give it another try, but given the cost I'm inclined to head South to Jean-Georges or East to Daniel/Cafe Boulud where I know I will get what I'm paying up for.

@SQC - One of the only bright spots in my neighborhood. I dine there quite often and I've enjoyed nearly all my meals there.

Jean Georges - I think one of the top three restaurants in NYC. I just don't really consider this the UWS.

Nougatine - Not nearly as good as Jean Georges, but still worth the trip. Given the relative price point, there's no reason in my opinion to go to a place like Ouest when Nougatine is a close cab ride away.

Aix - Tried it twice and had average meals at an above average price. The setting is kind of fun though. I should probably give this place a few more chances.

Genarro - I used to go there a lot. Recently I've become less thrilled with the food. It's a good option for the price, but I don't think it's worth waiting in line for. I still go, but only at off-peak times to avoid the lines.

Celeste - I think this place is tops on the UWS for price/value ratio. The only drawback is getting a table!

I agree that ethnic foods further up on the UWS are probably the best thing in the neighborhood. In my initial post, my thoughts were more focused on finding a good middle-to-upper range bistro type place. I wish we could have a Balthazar, Pastis or Payard. Even Orsay does a much better job in my opinion than Cafe Luxembourg or Nice Matin.

I just don't get why we don't have more options of this type. The Bowery/LES gets Schiller's liquor bar, so why can't we get our own funky bistro with reliable food? Given the crowds at Nice Matin, Ouest and Cesca, don't you think there's a market to support a place like Balthazar?

Edited by Felonius (log)
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I live on the UWS, too, and agree that there is a dearth of decent French Bistros/Brasseries. My husband and I ate at Nice Matin for the first time last week and had a very mediocre meal. (So mediocre I cannot remember what my main course was). The only thing truly worthwhile was the wine list. Les Routiers does a decent job of Steak Frites and especially Moules Frites. Cafe Luxembourg is terrible. I would love to see a place like Balthazar or Les Halles on the UWS and definitely think the neighborhood would support it. Avenue used to be an acceptable substitute, sort of.

As an aside, I recently dined at Kitchen 82 and really enjoyed my meal there. Any of you tried it?

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Agree on Celeste, have gone on the early side and usually been able to get in. They do a great job on their cheese course. I ate at Kitchen 82 the day after it opened and they did a good job, given how new it was. Good price value as well.

I 3rd the notion of a les halles, balthazar type of place. It kills me to have to go downtown to get decent moules frites

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Haven't been to La Mirabelle, how does it compare with Les Routiers (I was unimpressed).

I agree with most people's assesments of Celeste(especially the cheese) and Gennaro. I have found La Grolla to be a really nice experience you might want to consider.

Another mention is AIX which has been consistently improving since it opened.

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Has AIX really been improving? I ate there a few times and was fairly unimpressed. My last visit was well over a year ago, though, so maybe I'll give it another shot.

Felonious, you found the portions at Ouest small? I eat there a lot (two-three times a month, always at the bar) and have found their portion sizes fairly large. I have heard this criticism before and have always been confused. Can you tell me what you ate? The portion sizes have been getting noticably bigger, by the way.

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I like Métisse, over on 105th just east of Broadway, but no one else seems to...*shrug* maybe it's just me.

K

Basil endive parmesan shrimp live

Lobster hamster worchester muenster

Caviar radicchio snow pea scampi

Roquefort meat squirt blue beef red alert

Pork hocs side flank cantaloupe sheep shanks

Provolone flatbread goat's head soup

Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

--"Johnny Saucep'n," by Moxy Früvous

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Haven't been to La Mirabelle, how does it compare with Les Routiers (I was unimpressed).

It has been I while since I've been to either, but I used to eat at both on occasion. I always thoroughly enjoyed my Mirabelle experiences. Its menu is certainly old-school french - innards, butter, fat - generally well-prepared in reliable bistro fashion. It is also very much a family-owned and run restaurant, which produced lots of home-y, friendly moments. The decor and setting, on the other hand, is unattractive.

While I generally like Les Routiers, I have a memory of it as conveying a sense of having been better before, if that makes sense. The service was always professional and friendly, the food fairly well done, but overall it seemed, not run down, but just slightly tired.

I would certainly recommend La Mirabelle.

Knowledge is good.

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Bergerka, thanks for bringing up Metisse. I have been living in London for the last three years and only recently returned, so I havent been to Metisse in a while, but I used to like it quite a bit. I am not sure it rivals Les Halles or similar enviorns, but it used to be a good reliable neighborhood place (and next to the Abbey Pub which was a favorite watering hole). I will have to check it out again.

What I find particularly amusing about the Upper west side restaurant development, is that I now think there are better restaurants near me (in Morningside Heights north of 119th) then the average on the UWS. There is not a critical mass yet, but new places like Pisticci, Max's, Kitchennette, a great new paninni shop, Radio Perfect are all very good, throw into the mix the old ethnic standbys that have always been there (ethiopian, soul food, latin food) and then add teh fact that we have the best pizza (Patsy's) and fried chicken (Charles) within a five minute ride, Im feeling pretty pleased.

I dont want to start a UWS vs. Morningside Heights argument, because MH isnt there yet. But three years ago I could not stay in my neighborhood and have a nice meal and that has really changed. Plus there are two to three more new restaurants coming soon (a new French-Thai, the BBQ place to open near Fairway and a new, guess what, French bistro) that have me excited for the first time ever about this area.

As an aside, I think one of the reasons the upscale funky "Schiller" type places dont open on the UWS is because of the astronomical rents on the UWS. The other reason, at the risk of offense, is that Schiller's wouldnt be a funky cool place if it were on the UWS. Having lived in and around the area for well over thirty years, I can safely say, that although there may be other great things about it, there is nothing hip, funky or cool about the UWS.

Thomas Secor

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GREAT THREAD! have lived on UWS for 22yrs. the following are my own personal observations, & NOT meant to insult anyone. one other caveat: tendency to prefer french; therefore, comments have that bias:

also, UWS to me is w70 cafe lux - to - w97 alouette

as to the ones mentioned being crowded, uws'er's also pack benny's burrito!!??

picholine, jean george, not really considered part of UWS & too formal for this thread. as an aside, t. brennan's steakhouse experiment in midtown east closed due to obscene price gouging, & artisanal is not the brasserie it should be.

could not agree with felonious more! however, when i asked my favorite upper e. side bistro, quartorze bis, why he did not open on UWS:

no business lunch crowd; UWS'er's too cheap to CONSISTENTLY support more upscale restaurants/bistros, i.e., could not get the price needed to offer the type of food, decor, service, ambience; no respect for semi-casual eating, i.e., shorts & sneakers vs. reasonable decent dress; uws'er's tendency to bring young kids without proper supervision.

and, no Virginia, we can't have a balthazar or pastis on the UWS, or even an orsay, payard, la goulue, ferrier, or l'absinthe. BUT, couldn't we have a place like a jules, le pere pinard, jacque's bistro, le bateau ivre, le clown, montparnasse, provence, jubilee, bar six, quartorze bis, bistrot margot, raoul's, or even a les halles????????????????

HOW DOES THE UWS ATTRACT A RESTAURANTEUR WHO CAN MAKE US WANT TO GO THERE 2-3X PER WEEK?? just like the very successful ones on the e. side & downtown that everyone here wants.

although one may quibble, the observations re: the UWS continue to ring true! on other threads or other venues, there have been numerous comments about lack of dress respect for the better restaurants, ex. ouest; i have sat next to obnoxious parents with obnoxious kids at SQC, jesus!!; in the uws "destination" restaurants, many more from outside UWS. so the comments DO ring true - UWS dominated by families looking to go out with their kids (nothing wrong), but these are not the habitues of the restaurants we claim we want or of the restaurants we most like.

re: the restaurants:

CAFE LUX: a destination regardless of the lack of food or wine quality. comments from others are all true. average food at above average prices, hi wine prices for below average wines, absentee ownership (keith mcnally's ex who only comes in to collect the money). as long as pacino, neeson/richardson, halberstram, conan, robin, spielberg, fashionistas, etc, etc, etc come in reguarly, it will remain. of all the restaurants on the UWS, cafe lux clearly has the most "buzz", therefore, the most fun!! long on ambience, short on everything else. could go 2x/wk due to its convenient location (to us) IF the bar wasn't so crowded, in spite of the food!!!

COMPASS: too cold & not fun vs cafe lux. the food? ever since neil amis (sic?) left, not as well thought of. takes itself too serious, plus the help can be obnoxious.

'CESCA: lovely, & great bar area. but the bar menu offerings are very small with amazing high prices; therefore, don't ever consider anymore, the wines are italian (duh), but amazingly high for what they are. either valenti believes his customers are stupid OR his customers are stupid :unsure: i have NOT eaten in the main dining area, so unfair to comment. for me not worth the wait or the too far in advance reservation for what it is.

OUEST: supposedly french, but not really. ill-planned bar area, food has gone downhill, unfortunately prices have not.

* too many partners with valenti's % relatively small; therefore, HIS risk is proportionately too small too care, even though he makes a big deal out of "helping the 'hood"??

NICE MATIN: part of a chainlet of so-called french bistros around manhattan: french roast, l'express, marseille, pigalle (actually the most authentic, & the best, unfortunately in a day's inn!!??), le monde, & 1 or 2 others i have forgotten. who designed nice matin?? he must have been on drugs OR has never been to France. couldn't wait for it to open, but somebody forgot to tell everyone associated with the restaurant, this was supposed to be the one that is upscale!!! badly designed bar, food average, ambience terrible. amazing with such a fabulous location!! can't wait for keith to take over????? :cool:

@SQC: i just don't know! have eaten several times, always enjoyable, but no real ambience, that is simply MY impression. good place for the yuppie crowd. HOWEVER, mon nites are a steal: regular menu, but ALL wines 1/2 price!!! so that makes them at least reasonable :biggrin:

AIX: when did didier virot decide what people should eat?? his previous restaurant went bankrupt based on this concept!! the combinations are simply too cute, too fusional, too early '90's. prices are high, but whose aren't? on the other hand, the food, if one likes a egotiste as chef, is good, just prefer the more traditional fare with "some" excitement thrown occassionally. the space is fabulous, not a bad seat in the house, beautifully done, intelligent & separate bar area. too much service turnover, which began as attractive & cool, now both are not as.

unfortunately, too "fancy" to be the place one goes 2x/wk. some nites good ambience, most nites not.

ALOUETTE: bar area too small, tired look, no ambience, food average, but ok. not conducive to returning regularly. plus, will never forget the $5 beaujolais nouveau on the table that we were charged $28 for - only a 560% markup!!! never thought to ask, because who would have thought a cheap beaujolais nouveau would be marked up so high WITHOUT informing the unsuspecting customer??

LES ROUTIERS: small bar, tired looking, no ambience, food above average!

LA MIRABELLE: no bar, love the matronly waitstaff, too bright, average age ~ 65+

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As an aside, I think one of the reasons the upscale funky "Schiller" type places dont open on the UWS is because of the astronomical rents on the UWS. The other reason, at the risk of offense, is that Schiller's wouldnt be a funky cool place if it were on the UWS. Having lived in and around the area for well over thirty years, I can safely say, that although there may be other great things about it, there is nothing hip, funky or cool about the UWS.

as a follow-up to my long post just above, i have to agree; the UWS is the UWS, wonderful as it is; however, SoHo, E. Village, TriBeCa, NoLIta are simply "more hip, more funky, & cooler" - c'est la vie, i'd still rather live here, but i want my "bistro"!!! :laugh:

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It's not that the UWS isn't right for the kind of restaurants you want, it's that the people who live there by and large have a certain kind of mindset that says "we'd like to have a cool restaurant just like all the other cool funky neighborhoods have cool restaurants, but we want one on our terms because we're SPECIAL". Unfortunately, real world economics don't work that way.

Until residential sensibilities get back on track (more likely when hell freezes over), I wouldn't hold my breath. :hmmm:

Funny, I always thought the true culinary wasteland was all points south of Wall Street.

Soba

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It's not that the UWS isn't right for the kind of restaurants you want, it's that the people who live there by and large have a certain kind of mindset that says "we'd like to have a cool restaurant just like all the other cool funky neighborhoods have cool restaurants, but we want one on our terms because we're SPECIAL". Unfortunately, real world economics don't work that way.

Until residential sensibilities get back on track (more likely when hell freezes over), I wouldn't hold my breath. :hmmm:

Funny, I always thought the true culinary wasteland was all points south of Wall Street.

Soba

well said!! and its sort of like - UWS a great place to live, but when "I" go out, i want to go out of the neighborhood; HOWEVER, it would be nice to have a bistro-like place where one could go on a regular basis similar to the ones i mentioned above.

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Agreed that the UWS is tough but here goes

-Fairway steakhouse - its ain't lugers but its pretty good..is it still BYO?

-the Braised lamb shank at Cesca is as good a meat dish served at any italian restaurant in the city..mike the bartender is pretty cool there

-Gray's Papaya, on a relative basis its the best UWS has to offer

-sal and carmine pizza - pretty good and its not patsy's (UWS) with all the ankle biters

maybe whats going on down at the TW center will be spread north, and Jacque-imo's is coming but the more i think about it, i think we are just getting set up for dissappointment with that one....

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Agreed that the UWS is tough but here goes

-Fairway steakhouse - its ain't lugers but its pretty good..is it still BYO?

at Cesca ... mike the bartender is pretty cool there

-Gray's Papaya, on a relative basis its the best UWS has to offer

maybe whats going on down at the TW center will be spread north, and Jacque-imo's is coming but the more i think about it, i think we are just getting set up for dissappointment with that one....

FW is no longer BYOB :sad: & the service is so bad, its worth it to pay more somewhere, anywhere, else.

mike the bartender at 'cesca is an excellent bartender.

gray's papaya on a relative basis is good, but so is free parking :biggrin: , of course, it would be nice if they got some personality, but for the price...

don't think tom keller et al will be moving further uptown :biggrin:

& have never seen a new orleans restaurant succeed in manhattan, even though they keep trying. some say that location is jinxed since the museum cafe closed up. can't figure, seems like a great location. isabella's always crowded!!!

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I like Métisse, over on 105th just east of Broadway, but no one else seems to...*shrug* maybe it's just me.

K

Maybe they've gotten better. I haven't been there in a few years, but I was never impressed and felt it was kind of overpriced for its quality. Come to think of it, though, it may be more than just a few years since I was last there...

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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It's not that the UWS isn't right for the kind of restaurants you want, it's that the people who live there by and large have a certain kind of mindset that says "we'd like to have a cool restaurant just like all the other cool funky neighborhoods have cool restaurants, but we want one on our terms because we're SPECIAL". Unfortunately, real world economics don't work that way.

Stash, I may be obtuse, but I don't understand what you mean. Would you please elaborate?

jgould, thanks for participating; your contributions are much appreciated. But I can't agree with the idea of going regularly to a restaurant that has "average food at above average prices, hi wine prices for below average wines" just because big names go there. If I want to see stars, I'll watch a movie. If I'm spending good money, the food is way above average or I don't come back.

Thomas, I always considered Morningside Heights (aka the Columbia neighborhood) part of the Upper West Side, and still do. I'll allow that I might feel differently if I had grown up on 77th St. instead of 97th St.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I can't agree with the idea of going regularly to a restaurant that has "average food at above average prices, hi wine prices for below average wines" just because big names go there. If I want to see stars, I'll watch a movie. If I'm spending good money, the food is way above average or I don't come back.

good catch & let me clarify: as per my post, i find most if not all the french bistro-like restaurants on the UWS to be lacking one way or the other for the reasons i enumerated above. with that being said, if i have to choose WHICH i would go to, i guess i'm saying i would go to cafe lux, not for the "stars", but for the GENERAL ambience. the food is not terrible & there are several items i enjoy, but it is expensive; however, i can't find a place similar that ISN'T overpriced - that's NYC!! its safer to order by the bottle, which can be tough if i am alone :biggrin:

the service is very good & friendly & generally the bar crowd is interesting & fun. my only point as to the star/destination aspect is that for some reason they have selected cafe lux & continue to remain loyal. personally, i would prefer, they went other places for selfish reasons: less crowded & much easier to just walk in, which basically is what I'M looking for in a neighborhood place i can go to twice a week that has a certain je ne sais pais...

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gray's papaya on a relative basis is good, but so is free parking  :biggrin: , of course, it would be nice if they got some personality

...when i'm bombed out of my tree at 4am they let me make my own hotdogs, I know just how i like 'em...well done dog, light kraut, lotsa onion

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gray's papaya on a relative basis is good, but so is free parking   :biggrin: , of course, it would be nice if they got some personality

...when i'm bombed out of my tree at 4am they let me make my own hotdogs, I know just how i like 'em...well done dog, light kraut, lotsa onion

fortunately or unfortunately :biggrin: i know what you mean!!!!

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As a long-time UWS resident I've been following this thread (keeping kosher means I don't eat in these places). And there's one thing I've got to contradict and that's the type of people who live here. The UWS has changed considerably in the past 15 years. It's no longer that bastion of "liberal-intellectual bargain seekers." There is more wealth on the UWS than ever before - why do you think all those banks are opening? Now, I don't doubt that there are some selfish people who let their kids run rampant, but for the most part I think it's an outdated view.

The success of Ouest and Compass has proved that there are people out there who are willing to spend money for good food. Maybe if restaurateurs were willing to re-evaluate the neighborhood and the people who live there we would see better restaurants.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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