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The Hot List: The best places to savor NYC

Cafe de La Esquina at 225 Wythe in

Cafe de La Esquina at 225 Wythe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (RJ Mickelson/amNY) Photo Credit: Cafe de La Esquina at 225 Wythe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (RJ Mickelson/amNY)

There are few things New Yorkers like more than good food and inspired cocktails. With that in mind, we’ve done the work for you and selected the restaurants, bars, treats and trends that are worthy of a spot on our 2011 Hot List. From the next big celeb hangout to foolproof hangover cures, we’ve got you covered.

Retail therapy more your thing? Be sure to grab Thursday’s amNewYork for part two of the Hot List, focusing on shopping and services.

Restaurant best suited for a brainiac:

Romera
355 W. 16th St., 212-929-5800
Molecular gastronomy is a brainy food lover’s dream, but neurogastronomy? That’s even better. This new spot in the swanky Dream Hotel is run by Spanish neurologist/chef Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera. Menu cards describe each dish in great detail, and each dish has its own (sometimes esoteric) name. For example, toro and tuna over seasonal flowers is named Cloris (for the Greek goddess of flowers) and a dessert platter is called Denique (Latin for “at last”). Besides being smart, it helps to have deep pockets to appreciate this restaurant, with its $245 11-course tasting menu.

New food fair:

Smorgasburg
brooklynflea.com/smorgasburg
The Brooklyn Flea’s waterfront food fair was a hit from the moment it opened this summer. Luckily, the perma-crowded Saturday-only event will stay open through November and is likely to be less packed. Food highlights include doughnuts from Brooklyn’s Dough (try flavors like blood orange and dulce de leche), hot dogs from Meat Hook, brisket sandwiches from Mighty Quinn’s, and Nana’s frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and topped with toffee pieces and sea salt.

Food truck turned brick-and-mortar store:

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
125 E. Seventh St., 212-533-9333
Though we love its sweet treats, our only gripe with the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is that in order to enjoy clever concoctions like the Bea Arthur (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed Nilla wafers), you have to be willing to wait upwards of 40 minutes to get it … and the truck only operates through the fall. Luckily, the new brick-and-mortar shop in the East Village has answered our prayers so we can get our fix way past ice cream season. 

Quirkiest (and tastiest) niche food shop:

Empire Mayo
564 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn, empiremayo.com
What started out as a Brooklyn Flea stand dedicated to “luxury” mayonnaise will expand into a full shop with an opening date set for Nov. 1. At his Prospect Heights store, chef Sam Mason will offer a rotating roster of 40 varieties of mayo, including creative flavors such as smoked paprika, bacon, coffee, foie gras and pumpkin spice. Custom flavors are available, too. We’re serious mayo fans (so much better than ketchup as a french fry topper), so we’re totally on board with this shop.

Highly anticipated spin-off:

Parm
248 Mulberry St.
Italian-American food gained some serious cred last year with the opening of Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Torrisi Italian Specialties in Little Italy. The only downside: It’s pretty hard to get a seat in the tiny restaurant these days. The good news is that Carbone and Torrisi are opening a casual spin-off next-door later this month. Parm will focus on comfort foods, such as sandwiches and antipasti, and take over Torrisi’s lunch operations. There will be dinner and cocktails, too.

Foolproof hangover cure:

Biscuit bar at Peels
325 Bowery, at E. Second St., 646-602-7015
Forget Advil — the breakfast sandwich is arguably the world’s greatest cure for a hangover. This NoHo restaurant takes the morning sammie to the next level with its Build-A-Biscuit menu. The classic buttermilk biscuit can be topped with as much or as little as you want — options include scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, sausage and cheddar, Muenster and pepperjack cheese. We’re feeling better already.

Next big celeb hangout:

Crown
24 E. 81st St., 646-559-4880
Chef John DeLucie’s West Village eatery, the Lion, is a bona fide see-and-be-seen hangout. And Crown, his new restaurant housed in a turn-of-the-century mansion on the UES, is poised to attract the same high-wattage crowd. Before it even officially opened, the restaurant hosted the likes of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Karl Lagerfeld at the official Met Ball after-party. People are already calling DeLucie a trailblazer for bringing the cool kids uptown.

West Coast import:

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
1412 Broadway, 212-575-3854
Until this year, New Yorkers recognized Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf from the cups that celebrities clutch in the pages of magazines like Us Weekly. (Stars ­— just like us — drink coffee!) Now we have our very own midtown outpost of The Bean. An Upper West Side location is set to open next, and more are expected to follow. Devotees rave about the signature Iced Blended drinks, which they say put Frappucinos to shame. (They’re customizable and use a special ice-grinding method that gives them their beloved texture.)

Best comeback story:

Freddy’s
627 Fifth Ave., Park Slope, 718-768-0131
When longtime Prospect Heights watering hole Freddy’s was forced to shut down in 2010 because of the Atlantic Yards project, the bevy of regulars wept over the loss of their favorite outpost. But in February, some members of the Freddy’s team resurrected the spot in Park Slope along with many of the bar’s famous quirky decorations — like a giant marlin and a four-inch stiletto — and much of the same loyal clientele.

Swankiest bathroom:

Beauty & Essex
146 Essex St., 212-614-0146
There’s absolutely nothing subtle about this LES draw, with an over-the-top decor that screams luxury, opulence and old-time glamour. Wanna know just how over-the-top it is? Visitors to the ladies’ room get a gratis glass of bubbly (sometimes cava, sometimes prosecco, sometimes Champagne). Sure, this kind of practice harks back to the pre-recession days of excess, but honestly? We’re sold.

Brooklyn offshoot:

Café de La Esquina at Wythe Diner
225 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg, 718-393-5500
Housed in the former Wythe Diner space, this Brooklyn take on the NoHo stalwart is every bit as lively — and tasty. The design features refurbished aspects of the original diner (red leather booths) as well as new elements (nightly DJs). Go for dinner and sample a variety of La Esquina favorites such as Queso Fundito, Carnitas Taquitos and Sopa de Tortilla, along with new dishes crafted by chef Akhtar Nawab just for the multi-room Williamsburg location. Let’s not forget cocktails: sip a Blood Orange Margarita, a Pepino Diablo, or sample the vast selection of tequilas and mezcals.

Genre game-changer:

RedFarm
529 Hudson St., 212-792-9700
It’s an interesting concept that hasn’t been done often: bringing a fresh greenmarket sensibility to modern Chinese food and dim sum, complemented by modern, rustic decor. Chef Joe Ng has created an enticing menu that includes riffs on classic Chinese cuisine (marinated rib steak with steamed baby bok choy, spicy steamed sea bass) and wondrously creative new additions (Katz’s pastrami egg rolls). The vibe is farm-fresh: brick walls, exposed wooden beams, red-and-white patterned fabrics and communal tables.

Next big dessert trend:

Cake pops
CakePops.com
We don’t know about you, but we are sooo over cupcakes. So we were pretty psyched the first time we attended an event that served cake pops. They’re like lollipops with small, round pieces of cake — which taste just a little bit underbaked — covered in frosting or melted chocolate and served on a stick. Unlike most cupcakes, they offer the perfect ratio of cake to frosting. They’re also often beautifully decorated and easy to eat (thanks to the stick) — and, to us, the ideal sweet ending to a meal. 

Much-needed Murray Hill nightlife addition:

Terroir
439 Third Ave., no phone
If you’re over the age of 23, Murray Hill’s endless supply of postgrad-filled sports bars gets old. Quickly. That’s why residents of this neighborhood were so thankful to welcome Marco Canora and Paul Grieco’s wine bar Terroir — which also has locations in TriBeCa and the East Village — onto the scene this fall. The third Terroir seats 55 (as opposed to the hundreds that seem to squeeze into the ’hood’s more rambunctious bars) and serves a large list of tasty vinos ($9-$18 per glass; $32-$199 per bottle), cheese plates, bar snacks and sandwiches.

Welcome stadium-food makeover:

Madison Square Garden
The great thing about Citi Field and Yankee Stadium is that even if you’re not interested in the game, there’s plenty of food to keep you busy. At MSG ... not so much. But next week, the newly remodeled Garden will offer concession stands featuring sausages from Andrew Carmellini, pastrami and corned beef from the Carnegie Deli, chicken from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and lobster rolls from Aquagrill — food that’s sure to make fans of us all.

Late-night caffeine fix:

Troost
1011 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, 347-889-6761
In a city like New York, you’d think there’d be more spots to grab a late-night latte. Luckily, this new café-bar serves coffee (and wine!) till 2 a.m., as well as a small variety of light bites along the lines of cheese plates and pastries. A charming sunny back garden is great for warmer days when you want to have a sip during daylight hours.

Strip club turned hipster heaven:

The Westway
75 Clarkson St., 212-989-1150
Call it seedy chic. The latest hotspot from owners Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte (the Smile, the Jane Ballroom) is housed in a former strip club just off the West Side Highway. They’ve kept the signature grime, but not the seedy crowds. Go-go dancers, stripper poles and a retro light-up floor were all left intact, but the young scene-y crowd is way more reminiscent of the Jane or Don Hills than Legz Diamond’s. But if you’re planning to party here, be on your game: Like most spots of this caliber, the door is a hard one.

New cocktail lounge:

Silver Lining
75 Murray St., 212-513-1234
The best part about this delightful throwback from Little Branch team Joseph Schwartz and Sasha Petraske is its location: tucked away in a nondescript building on Murray Street. Patrons walk down a flight of stairs only to enter a long, dimly lit room with live jazz and classic cocktails such as a gin martini or a rye ginger fizz. Light bites are available, too.

Behemoth beer hall:

Spritzenhaus
33 Nassau Ave., Greenpoint, 347-987-4632
Rob Shamlian, owner of some of the LES’ most popular spots (Los Feliz, Spitzer’s Corner), has expanded his reign to Brooklyn with this 6,000-square-foot beer hall. The hall, which opened at the end of April, has 100 taps dispensing 25 beers. There are about 15 tables and industrial garage-style doors that open. Lest you think it’s a fair-weather- only joint, there’s a fireplace that’ll keep things cozy on winter nights, too. Want to eat? Try light snacks such as oysters, hot pretzels and sausages.

Reason to go to LIC:

Z Hotel
11-01 43rd Ave., Long Island City, 212-319-7000
Long Island City has a new “It” hotel — the Z New York — in the vein of the Ace and the Yotel, which also attracted business to neighborhoods in need of a little nightlife kick.

The main attraction is the 5,000-square-foot rooftop bar. From 12 stories up, there’s an amazing view of Manhattan, plus crispy thin-crust pizza and $12 cocktails. An indoor gastropub serving drinks — food will come a little later — and a beer garden expected to open late this fall add to the appeal of the Z. Well, that and the fact that it’s only a 10-minute cab ride from midtown.

New vintner:

The Barrel Room @ City Winery
155 Varick St., 212-608-0555
Housed within vino leviathan City Winery, this new tasting room and café features 11 wines made on-site by vintner David Lecomte. The innovative tap system allows for pours straight from the barrel to the glass with no preservatives or added sulfates, making for some of the freshest, most eco-friendly wine around. Light Mediterranean bites round out the offerings at this 30-seat spot.

Pop-up resto we wish would return:

What Happens When
John Fraser’s long-term pop-up restaurant was extremely high-concept: Each month, the Dovetail chef and his team completely overhauled the interior and the menu, based on what was inspiring them. One month it was “Where the Wild Things Are,” and another it was a Renoir painting. When we spoke with him about the project earlier this year, Fraser was open about its challenges, and at the end of June, he closed it prematurely due to liquor-license complications. (It was originally scheduled to stay open for nine months, through the fall.) Though it may not have worked out as planned, we give Fraser credit for pulling off such a difficult concept for as long as he did. And if you’re still jonesing for some of Fraser’s fare, Dovetail is always a great option; dovetailnyc.com.

Rocking brunch:

Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel
145 E. 50th St.Penthouse, 212-888-1220
Sometimes brunch necessitates something more exciting than a quiet neighborhood spot. Then again, a bottle-serviced afternoon dance party might be over the top. Brunch at Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel is the perfect in-between. There’s a DJ playing a fun mix of tunes, but patrons stick to their own tables (which, by the way, have a great view of the East Side). Food-wise, think brunch classics with a twist, like truffled duck-egg toast ($24). Some entrees may be pricey, but most come with a complimentary mimosa or Bloody Mary — which just may ease the financial pain.

Free loot:

Granola at Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave.,212-889-0905
Granola goes upscale? Only at Eleven Madison Park would a jar of the crunchy snack taste so decadently good, with just the right amount of sweetness. It’s not surprising that the restaurant would give diners 16 ounces’ worth after dinner, since chef Daniel Humm often puts the ingredient in his savory foods and says it energizes him for morning workouts. 

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