Date-Night Dining in Hell’s Kitchen
Not all that long ago, date night meant heading to a restaurant almost anywhere except Hell’s Kitchen. Now, happily, the neighborhood has plenty of special-occasion spots that are destinations for diners from other parts of the city. These include one of only five restaurants in New York City to have earned three Michelin stars, a Cantonese restaurant you would never confuse with your corner takeout joint, and a New American eatery housed in a former printing factory.
622 10th Avenue (at West 44th Street)
The cream-colored walls, pale wood floor and tables, and simple furnishings of 44 & X will put you at ease even before you sip one of its Broadway-theme cocktails such as the Harry Potter and the Cropped Child (made with Crop organic cucumber-infused vodka, muddled cucumber, mint lemonade, and a splash of club soda) or the Kiss Me, Katel (Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit & Rose vodka, Cointreau, grapefruit juice, a dash of St.-Germain, and a sprig of rosemary). The menu, like the cocktail list, changes seasonally and spotlights fresh ingredients in some unexpected flavor and texture combinations. The goat-cheese-and-pistachio soufflé appetizer, for instance, is served with Asian pears and pomegranate syrup. Another starter is a raviolo with Maryland crabmeat, Louisiana crawfish, roasted sweet corn, and chipotle cheddar served in a citrus coconut broth. For the most part, entrees are quietly playful takes on traditional dishes: Pan-seared filet mignon is accompanied by tart tomato jam, port wine sauce, and potatoes au gratin; “orange-dusted” Maine lobster salad includes braised artichokes, wilted leeks, roasted sweet corn, fava beans, asparagus, crispy shiitake mushrooms, and blood-orange vinaigrette; the house burger is served on an English muffin with fries and a garlic pickle. For dessert you can opt for light and bright (for instance, the house-made lemon curd with spring-berry compote) or all-out indulgent (peanut-butter mousse tart with caramel sauce and vanilla, chocolate, and malted-milk-ball gelati).
431 West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
The hautest of haute cuisine, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is one of just five restaurants in the city to have earned three Michelin stars in 2019. This is not the sort of place where one decides to pop in on the spur of the moment; reservations need to be made, on average, six weeks ahead. Nor is this the place to dine if you are a control freak. You are served a tasting menu of more than 20 courses that chef César Ramirez changes every day. Among the painstakingly prepared and impeccably plated delicacies one might sample are crab with yuzu marmalade, uni accompanied by black truffle, foie gras wrapped in jamón ibérico, and A5 Wagyu beef atop charred-eggplant puree. You do have your choice of wines from the restaurant’s cellar of more than 7,000 bottles, though.
402 West 43rd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Italian restaurant Esca specializes in sustainable seafood (“esca” is Italian for “bait”) prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Among the crudo—raw or minimally cooked fish—starters are cobia seared with wild fennel pollen, kingfish complemented by pickled cherry bomb peppers, and black sea bass served with toasted pine nuts. Seafood makes its way into pasta dishes such as spaghetti with lobster, chilis, and mint and hand-cut maccheroni with sea urchin and crabmeat; mains include Sicilian-style fish stew and roasted sea bass with caper berries and olives. Those who do not want multiple courses of aquatic fare can opt for the likes of gnocchi made with goat-milk ricotta in a pumpkin, chili, and buffalo mozzarella sauce and chicken served with olives, fregula (a pebble-shape semolina pasta), and lemon. Desserts are also seafood-free; these include house-made sorbets and gelati and apple poached in white wine accompanied by apple-and-fennel sorbet and whipped mascarpone.
311 West 43rd Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues)
You will not find wonton soup at this Cantonese restaurant, and its rendition of spare ribs is made with pork ribs smoked with jasmine tea. An offshoot of the acclaimed London eateries of the same name, Hakkasan prides itself on giving time-honored dishes a 21st-century sensibility. That translates to Peking duck with optional caviar, roasted silver cod in a champagne-and-honey sauce, seared Wagyu beef with sesame sauce, and scallops fried in a wok with bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms. Several dishes and cocktails, such as a margarita made with chili-infused mescal, curacao liqueur, and agave nectar, were created exclusively for the New York restaurant. Vegetarians will be spoiled for choice, with options ranging from vegetarian hot-and-sour soup to steamed dim sum to a bevy of stir fries. The restaurant’s interior, designed by au courant French architects Gilles et Boissier, reflects the trad-meets-glam sensibility, with fretwork screens and nods to Ming-style furnishings set among dazzling blue and pink lighting.
517 West 38th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues)
The building that houses Legacy Records used to be a recording studio, though the restaurant’s sleek furnishings, curvaceous banquettes and bar, and wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, courtesy of star designer Ken Fulk, do not even hint at its past. “New Italian” best describes the menu. Start with a crudo sampler, charcoal-grilled quail, or whipped ricotta with sunchoke, arugula, and fennel pollen. Pasta courses include cavatelli verde in a sausage ragù with pecorino and mint and spaghetti with sea urchin, hot pepper, and yuzu. If you have not filled up on a second (or third) serving of the sprouted seed bread, served warm with rosemary lardo, indulge in the dry-aged ribeye steak or persuade your companion to share the honey-lacquered duck for two, embellished with satsumas and pistachios. House cocktails range from the light (the Legacy Spritz marries Aperol, prosecco, and seasonal fruit) to the robust (the Fig Fix includes Suntory Toki whisky, Nux Alpina Walnut liqueur, and Lemorton Pommeau, itself a mix of apple juice and Calvados, along with fig jam).
887 Ninth Avenue (between West 57th and 58th Streets)
A wood-burning pizza oven helps differentiate Masseria dei Vini from its neighboring Italian restaurants. Proudly prepared with ingredients imported from Italy, the Neapolitan-style pizzas include classic margherita and an indulgent four-cheese pizza with black truffles. Artisanal pizzas are only a small part of the menu, however. Among the starters are both fried and baked calamari, a version of meatballs made with eggplant instead of beef, and grilled baby octopus and cuttlefish atop pureed fava beans. Insalata di tuberi, made with red and golden beets, carrots, radishes, and potato salad graced with warm goat cheese, will delight those who know that sometimes the best salads are every color but green. Many of the pastas, including the veal-stuffed agnolotti and the squid-ink spaghetti that serves as a foundation for baby clams and garlic in white-wine sauce, are homemade. Oven-roasted rabbit and sautéed calf liver with onions and blueberry vinegar are among the more-traditional entrees. As the “vini” in its name suggests, the wine list is quite extensive, with a surprising number available by the glass.
653 11th Avenue (at West 48th Street)
Made of repurposed walnut, Print’s walls and ceiling hint at the restaurant’s emphasis on sustainable, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. The menu changes daily, depending on what’s fresh in the markets that morning, though classic Parker House rolls with house-made butter and a charcuterie board are sure-thing starters. Other appetizers might include fluke ceviche with lime-mescal vinaigrette, asparagus soup seasoned with chives and urfa biber (a Turkish chili), and pork belly accompanied by a charred-onion puree, heirloom carrots, Fresno chili, and Greek yogurt dressing. Pastas, such as gemelli serviced with pork sausage, asparagus, and baby spinach, are house-made (as are the ice creams and sorbets). Typical entrees include beet farro risotto, cod with littleneck clams in a spicy clam broth, and New York strip steak enhanced with yellowfoot chanterelles, fingerling potato chips, and a Parmigiano fondue. Carrot-cake doughnuts served with cream-cheese ice cream and a chocolate peanut-butter éclair accompanied by caramelized bananas and chocolate-stout ice cream might tempt you to start your meal with dessert.
773 10th Avenue (at West 52nd Street)
Europe does not have a monopoly on Mediterranean cuisine. Taboon focuses largely on the cuisine of the Middle Eastern countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Among the small plates you can opt for are traditional or sweet-potato falafel, accompanied by amba—a Middle Eastern take on mango chutney—and tahini; crab shawarma with leeks, mushrooms, and artichokes; and Moroccan meatballs, flavored with cinnamon and date syrup. If you manage not to make a full meal of the meze, you can move on to an entree such as sea bass encrusted with crab-and-potato latkes or chicken cooked in a wood-burning oven with caramelized onions, barberries, and green tahini. Desserts such as warm date sponge cake soaked in rum sauce and topped with a date-and-pecan compote will sate the most sophisticated sweet tooth, though you could just as deliciously end your meal with another order of the bread that gives the restaurant its name, stuffed with feta, jalapeño, and onion.
440 Ninth Avenue (between West 34th and 35th Streets)
The fringed lampshades, leather-upholstered chairs with nail-head trim, pressed-copper ceiling, and red velvet swags suggest that Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse is a decades-old institution. In actuality, the restaurant opened in 2003. (The original Uncle Jack’s, in Queens, launched in 1996.) The decor, however, is not the only thing that harks back to the heyday of steakhouses. The menu includes all the classics—filet mignon and porterhouse for two dry-aged for 35 days, 21-day wet-aged boneless New York strip steak, iceberg wedge and Caesar salads, steak fries and baked potato among the sides. But there are plenty of dishes that a diner of the Gilded Age would not have recognized, such as the Wagyu ribeye and the Kobe meatballs. Seafood-lovers will find much to savor, from the crab cake and charred Spanish octopus starters to the grilled Atlantic salmon with champagne-Dijon sauce. While you could order fresh fruit for dessert, you might as well cap off your hearty meal with something equally as substantial such as chocolate soufflé cake or New York cheesecake.