November 19, 2018 | BITE: My Journal

Ask Gael: Where Should We Go?



Steven Richter took this photo of me in China with David Keh and his son William.

          It’s my job, after all, to know where to eat. I shared the big Manhattan challenge with my mate, Don Forst, long before Clay Felker called asking me to be the restaurant critic at his just-launched New York magazine. But Clay convinced me to dine anonymously and write about it in 1968. When New York magazine rudely tossed me aside in 2007, I had already cast myself as the InsatiableCritic on line and was committed to keep on divining the best places to dine out.



The early years were wonderful, a time of discovery, and the magazine paid for all my meals.

          Those early years were rare and wonderful. I was wildly popular since the magazine paid for everything. My pals are less spoiled now. Still they email and call wanting advice. I get a little testy when I realize they haven’t bothered to check out the latest BITES on my website…or didn’t bother to find my most recent report on Paris or the Hamptons before calling. But never mind. Anytime is a good time to update my recommendations. Here goes.




My brother-in-law just wants a great steak and his wife is a vegetarian.


At Porterhouse: Yes, that’s how I want my steak.

          Sometimes I just want a great steak too. By tradition, New York’s dedicated dealers in beef normally offer chicken and fish, and were you to order nothing but a salad and the traditional steak house sides, you’d also indulge your vegetable enthusiast.


Michael Lomonoco is almost always in the kitchen at Porterhouse, popping out to say welcome.

          I’m likely to choose Porterhouse Bar and Grill in the Time Warner building when I want steak. I’ve been fond of chef Michael Lomonoco since his days at Windows on the World, and he’s usually comes out of the kitchen to say hello.  Porterhouse is close to my house (and with traffic nearly paralyzed, it makes sense to find a serious good steak spot you can walk to).



I’ve had too much at Porterhouse but I can’t resist dessert chef Wayne Harley Brachman’s sundae.

           I like the chili rubbed rib eye rare, the Caesar or chopped salad to start, and crispy hash browns and fried onion rings for the table to share. Wayne Harley Brachman’s classic American desserts are tempting even when I’ve eaten too much.  His banana cream pie always scores with friends of a certain age, or the ice cream sundae.  When my companions beg me to skip dessert, I’ll order the beguiling cookie plate and watch everyone succumb.

          If you have your own neighborhood steak port-of-call, let them know you live nearby. Make friends with the maître d’. You might want a table in the next blizzard. It’s good to cement a relationship wherever you eat. New York is a who-do-you-know town. 10 Columbus Circle 4th floor. 212 823 9500.




My sister-in-law is a dedicated first-nighter. She goes everywhere first.  I get a kick out of surprising her with a cuisine she doesn’t know.


Gazala holds the mixed antipasto platter and later explains about the Druze culture.

          I amazed myself and a rolodex of my friends when I discovered Druze food at Gazala and returned again and again. The menu looks familiar, typically Middle Eastern, but most of the dishes are unlike anything you’ve tasted before. Try the baba ganoush tower to see what I mean.



Two flaky bourekas are not quite enough for the six of us at Gazala.

          Ask about the flaky pastry bourekas that are not listed on the long menu. You might try one filled with cheese and zatar or spinach and cheese. Wonder why the house is so crowded and there is a boureka on every table? That’s because fans who know Gazala from an earlier UWS residence are back. There might be a whole fish on every table too. The crispy sea bass is full of flavor if perhaps a shade too cooked.



Gazala’s hummus is not like the hummus you’ve tasted before.

          But tonight an upper west side pal and I are having bulgar and meat balls and a dish Gazala has sent -- kebab halabi -- tough grilled lamb and beef kebabs in an ambrosial tomato sauce sprinkled with pine nuts. The baklava is not as sweet as most. But you might want to try the pistachio-topped osh-al-saria soaked in honey syrup. I read the history of the Druze people on Wikipedia after my first visit. 447 Amsterdam between 81st and 82nd Streets. 212 787 1800.




My friends have a kid and don’t want to spring for a sitter. I’m terrible with kids.



I’m glad they know me at the Brooklyn Diner because I want a booth when I have out-of-towners in tow.

          I just made up that question. I’m the one who’s tense when kids are around. Probably, you are not. I arrange to meet friends with family at The Brooklyn Diner near Carnegie Hall. It looks like a diner for starters so no one is intimidated. And it has that great baseball mural.


When Shelly Fireman introduced pastrami to the Brooklyn Diner, even the hog dogs had a new day.

          If you’re in a booth no one will notice when the kid sulks or pouts. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, the menu is full of things that might appeal to kids. Like a Brooklyn smoothie or an everything bagel with cream cheese and peanut butter or fried chicken and waffles.



I almost always order the Chinese chicken salad. What makes it Chinese? The mandarin oranges.



I hope someone at our table orders the cheesecake and someone else insists on the Brooklyn Blackout classic.

          Grownups seem to like the menu too. My guy used to order a pastrami sandwich. You have a choice of fatty or lean. Go with fatty. I always get the Chinese chicken salad. I urge friends from out-of-town to order the strawberry blonde cheesecake (“Worth an hour on the Treadmill,” a sign quotes me.),  212 West 57th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. 212 977 1957.



You can keep Teddy Durkin happy by giving him his own favorite cheese pizza.

          Teddy is five. He likes everything as long as it’s pizza. That should make dining in the neighborhood a cinch.




I’m meeting my boyfriend’s Westchester parents for the first time.  I don’t want to suggest they’re a bit strait-laced but…



The chef at Avena sent out a stunning ravioli for each one of us on our first visit.

          Avena is on East 57th Street. The location alone and the white tablecloths will reassure your guy’s unadventurous parents that you are not going to challenge them. And there won’t be anything inherently snobby about the place to make you jumpy.

          When proper types are joining us, I might consider Benno too esoteric, Café Fiorello too noisy and Infamous Chicken too low rent: These are spots you might want to try but not with your uptight family.



It was summer, the perfect weather for vitello tonnata at Avena.

          I keep going back to Avena again and again because I like it. I take fussy friends I want to impress and relaxed friends who prefer not to be impressed. The seduction starts with the bountiful bread basket and a pour of Laudemio olive oil. The amuse might be a big bowl of gazpacho.


Quickly Avena has become a hangout for my Upper East Side friends. We share this eggplant.

          Two of us can share the eggplant starter layered with cheese and tomato confit, and follow with duck two ways, or four of us can follow a mid course of pastas with a generous cut of steak served with spinach and chunks of marrow. Sometimes the kitchen is slow. Sorry about that. 141 West 57th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. 212 752 5323.




Are there still romantic restaurants? Or have millennials glued to their iPhones spoiled all that?



My guy Steven Richter took this portrait of Eric Ripert and Maguy LeCoze at the door of Le Bernardin.

          Le Bernardin can be romantic unless you’re nervous about spending all that money. It’s definitely not romantic if you’re facing the wall with your back to the room. 155 West 51st Street between Seventh and Six avenues. 212 554 1515.



Restaurant Daniel is always romantic but especially at a table for two on the balcony. Here’s the ceviche.

          Daniel is romantic too. Ask for a two on the balcony where you can take off your shoes and tickle your mate. Actually dining on a sofa in the bar is also sexy. 60 East 65th Street. between Madison and Park avenues. 212 288 0033.  Café Boulud, serene and proper, can be romantic too. 20 East 76th Street. 212 772 2600.


Romance can advance at a table for two in the calm and shadows of Café Boulud over coq au vin.

          Romance can spark or reignite with a Michelin-starred tasting dinner at one of Günter Seeger’s widely spaced tables. 641 Hudson Street between Gansevoort and Horatio Streets, 646 657 0045. If the two of you are the Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth of your set, a weekend outing at The Rainbow Room should make you feel lusty. 30 Rockefeller Center between Seventh Avenue and the Garden. 65th floor. 212 632 5000. And add Avena, of course.


If you know someone you might get the romantic table for two at the River Café looking out at Manhattan.

          I mustn’t forget that secret garden of romance, the River Café.  Beautifully restored by Buzzy O’Keefe after Hurricane Sandy, with explosions of flowers, its non-stop piano, and an eye on Manhattan across the waves, brushing knees at the right table can make your relationship feel new again.


If you’re lucky it will be a quiet night at the River Café and you can hear whispered flirtation.

          But you might not notice unless you have a window seat and the waiters aren’t racing across the room sideways because it’s the only way to navigate the crowd. As always, priority goes to friends of Buzzy. I didn’t promise Manhattan life would be fair.  One Water Street, Brooklyn. 212 522 5200.




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