In Flatiron, Find Worlds of Flavors in a Few Short Blocks
By Emily Saladino
New York Local Expert
The historic Flatiron Building, a turn-of-the-century stunner on Manhattan's 23rd Street, made headlines when it debuted in 1902. At the time, it was one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and it proudly announced New York City's arrival in the age of industrialism.
Now, one hardly needs to seek out examples of Gotham's emergence as a capital of industry. The skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan tower over the cast-iron-shaped building on 23rd Street, and enormous warehouses line the Hudson River waterfront to the west. As a result, the area surrounding the Flatiron building -- from Chelsea to Gramercy, and Midtown to the Village -- have taken on a life of their own. Small, independent office of creative industries like new media and book publishing line the streets, the centrally located Madison Square Park has been scrubbed clean, and boutique hotels, big-name chefs and retail options galore bring locals and travelers alike running to this highly accessible area. Whether it's a visit to the uber-hip Ace Hotel, which has a destination coffee shop and basement dance parties, or settling into an award-winning tasting menu at internationally lauded Eleven Madison Park, opportunities still abound in Flatiron's tri-cornered shadow. Here are the top 10 places to taste worlds of flavor in the district.
10 The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
The Breslin is a gastropub, dining destination and hipster bar all in one. At the front bar, dates, job interviews and bibulous groups of newly formed friends-for-life imbibe excellent house cocktails while awaiting their tables. Dark wood grain covers everything from the wall to the floorboards, and generously upholstered leather booths give the space an old-world gravitas. The ambiance is perfect for the meaty hedonism that has earned its open kitchen scores of fans and considerable critical acclaim. Pork scratchings prime the palate for dishes like dry-aged, 28-day ribeye steaks served with Bearnaise sauce, briny Caesar salads, and the epically popular lamb burger, which is topped with feta and cumin mayonnaise. (212-679-1939, 646-214-5764)
Seamus Mullen may not sound like the name of your typical Spanish chef, but Flatiron's Boqueria is no average tapas bar. Now a major force with three restaurants in Manhattan, Mullen made his name at this smart Spanish restaurant. Look for the large Iberian ham mounted in the front window, and you'll know you've come to the right place. The long space fairly glows with energy, from the young crowd sipping rosato and two varieties of house-made sangria at the bar, to the rows of tables topped with tea lights and an array of Iberian small plates like rice cooked with squid ink, Medjool dates wrapped with salty bacon and classic patatas bravas. (212-255-4160)
8 Shake Shack
Burgers and custards and fries, oh my! Award-winning chef Danny Meyer created this homage to drive-throughs and burger joints in the southeast corner of the once-seedy Madison Square Park, and inadvertently started a citywide burger craze -- and a global phenomenon. Outposts of the quick service concept have spread everywhere from the streets of New Haven, CT to the malls of Dubai, UAE, and fans of the signature Shack Burger loudly debate its merits against competitors from In-N-Out and beyond. Don't believe the hype, though: come to the park-bound original to sample the juicy burgers, crisp fries and wide array of shakes and frozen custards that started it all. (212-889-6600)
On the top floor of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's epic Eataly, a mammoth food hall dedicated to high-end Italian products, Birreria couples sweeping views of the Flatiron and Empire State Buildings with killer cocina. This is a beer garden, Italian-style. The crowds of happy hour office workers, Italian expats and third-dating couples come for the convivial atmosphere and solid beer list (there are 10 draughts and more than 20 bottled brews), but it's the food that truly impresses. The house-made sausages and charcuterie include bratwurst and cotechino, and can be paired with any number of vegetable antipasti and fresh, seasonal salads. ((212) 937-8910)
6 City Bakery
Supplied with the freshest ingredients from the nearby Union Square Farmer's Market, this all-American cafe and bakery serves scones, muffins, fresh breads and a variety of house-made buffet items like crisp kale salads and big bowls of warming soup. The loft-like, balconied dining room is a great place for people watching, and the exceptional salad bar is a thing of beauty. But the restaurant's crown jewel is the horseshoe shaped bakery counter serving cookies, muffins and a chewy, salty and stretchy pretzel croissant. Served with a large latte and side of fresh fruit, it's the best possible way to spoil your dinner. (212-366-1414)
5 The Nomad
Reserve well in advance to get a table in the central atrium, which has plush velvet chairs and polished tables beneath a vaulted ceiling that lets in scores of natural light two stories up. The side room, or parlour, is no less dramatic, with rosy tones, candlelit tables seating up to eight, and rows upon rows of framed line drawings. The top-notch kitchen produces an array of seasonally inspired plates, including an impossibly elegant hamachi crudo, perfectly seared duck and house-made tagliatelle made with Meyer lemon and tender lump crab. And stay thirsty, my friends -- the stellar cocktails are complemented by an impressive, international wine list that includes a crisp, dry rose on tap. ((347) 472-5660)
This isn't your dadi's Indian restaurant. With stark white walls, stained hardwood floors, softly candlelit tables and pendant lighting, this high-end restaurant appeals to a cross section of neighborhood folks, navy blue-wearing professionals and hip twenty- and thirtysomethings. The kitchen focuses on flavors from Punjab, Hyderabad, Goa, Madras, Lucknow and Calcutta for inspiration, and serves upscale versions of South Asian classics like roghan josh, made with succulent roast goat, tandoor-roasted chicken in savory yogurt sauce, and grilled scallops in coconut mint sauce. If you're looking for a different type of late afternoon nip, the neighboring tea room features Indian specialties like ajwain biscuits as well as sandwiches, pastries, and hot teas. (212-674-7400)
3 A Voce Madison
Forget everything you know about red sauce, checkered tablecloths and big bottles of Chianti in straw-based bottles. This elegant, refined Italian restaurant redefines Italian-American cooking, and launched the solo career of chef Andrew Carmellini, who now also operates Locanda Verde in the Hudson Hotel. A Voce has sleekly modern interiors on a quiet corner near the revitalized Madison Square Park, and serves an array of Italian fare that specializes in big flavors and seasonal ingredients. Don't miss the house-made pastas, which include the likes of hand-cut tagliatelle with shaved white truffle, or fettuccine made with stewed rabbit and black trumpet mushrooms. (212-545-8555)
2 ABC Kitchen
Voted the best restaurant in the country by the James Beard Foundation, this impossibly elegant restaurant is attached to the flagship ABC Carpet & Home store -- and it shows. The restaurant is outfitted in sustainably created furniture, twinkling lighting and gorgeous antiques from the globe-trotting interiors store, and the rear dining room connects right to the first floor of the six-story emporium. The locally sourced, seasonal menu does farm-to-table like none other, serving housemade pastas, fresh-from-the-sea tuna sashimi, killer vegetable sides and show-stopping main courses like wood-oven roasted Maine lobster and suckling pig served with braised winter turnips and bacon marmalade. (2124755829)
1 Eleven Madison Park
The pinnacle of New American fine dining, this James Beard-Award-winning restaurant occupies a landmark building on the east side of Madison Square Park. Originally opened by area champion Danny Meyer in 2008, it is now under the direction of Swiss chef Daniel Humm, who has since earned countless accolades and a Michelin star or three. Humm's cuisine is market-driven in the truest sense of the words, with multi-course tasting menus updated daily and featuring locally sourced ingredients like seared scallops over a pear gelee. Humm's signature is roast duck, which he regularly reinterprets to reflect the seasons, is crusted in Sichuan peppercorns and might be served with farmers' market-fresh apples and sweet cabbage. (212-889-0905, 646-747-2583)
About Emily Saladino
Emily Saladino has spent over a decade eating her way through New York City. She has collaborated on cookbooks, developed original recipes and voyaged from Philadelphia to Papua New Guinea as a food and travel writer.
Read more about Emily Saladino here.