Few cities I have been to seem as insecure as New York. I am not talking about the fashionable Meatpacking District or the elitist Upper East Side- in the country where financial status clearly is the criterion of success, New York certainly does not swim against the stream.
I have never seen so many psychic practices (and I have been to some pretty depressing places). Not just in the less fortunate neighbourhoods, whose inhabitants may be checking whether they will ever be able to afford the $30000 primary schools and the $800 haircuts; the aborigines of business districts seem to be curious about their future as well- this alone explains the current financial turmoil. No one disputes the fact that money is important, in New York, however, having it does not liberate but rather defines who one is and where one belongs.
American gastronomy is in many ways similar to American cars- massive, solid, heavy and lifeless. Whether a filet mignon at Cipriani or a Dover Sole at Le Cirque– Manhattan is very different from London, Brussels or Hong Kong. In contrast to Belgian understatement and British casual cool- Manhattan is more about status than food. Apart from the two eateries above, most people are familiar with, Daniel is a rather important Upper East Side location. All three follow a reasonably strict dress code and bask in solemn self-importance. However, as oppose to the Italian American brick of Cipriani and the typically high-brow French Le Cirque, Daniel actually offers quite nice food- one just needs to ask for advice and not rely on the instincts- unsurprisingly, American take on cooking differs from the European one, proving that one does not have to eat junk food to die of fat-clogged arteries.
Daniel, by the way, is one of the few places I have been to (in the world) offering eatable deserts. I do not pretend to understand the mystery of it- I do not cook myself nor do I read or analyse gastronomy; I just eat out a lot because I like having nice meals. Out of quite a few Michelin places I have been to in Europe, the US and Asia, very very few spoil their customers with decent deserts even if the food is good. Always too rude, too heavy, too sweet or too unorthodox- almost never enjoyable.
Petrossian has been about for ages- decades in the states and, if one believes their marketing- almost a century in Europe. It is a caviar house and reasonably decent as such. Just do not expect the interior to match the gorgeous exterior and do not invest too much in the caviar, especially in their store.
Should you feel peckish in the early afternoon and not require a four people service, go to Sabarsky. The fact that it is located in one of the greatest art galleries in the city should be reason enough. It is an Austrian place, I would check the menu in advance- getting a table usually takes a while, you would not want to leave after queuing for half an hour because, surprise-surprise, the Austriacs do not stock baby pak choi. That aside, it is a nice bistro with a look and feel of its own.
Last but not least, two places that do live up to their reputation. Le Bernardin is a very fine eatery. A notch conservative, but a rare occasion of the experience matching the expectations. The food, the service and the design make it one of the very few places one would actually want to return to.
If one eats Japanese, Bar Masa offers a perfect explanation why one would pay a substantial amount of money for something as trivial as food. Fine ingredients no sane person has at home are used in a way only someone who knows what he is doing would pull off. It is a gastronomic adventure few chefs could match.