Midtown East and Murray Hill are home to not only some of the city’s finest restaurants but also some of the finest restaurants in the world. Eight restaurants in the area received at least one coveted Michelin star this year. And while you might expect most of the starred restaurants to specialize in Continental cuisine, these eight reflect the multicultural diversity that makes the city so dazzlingly vibrant.
89 East 42nd Street, in Grand Central Terminal
The country’s busiest train station might seem an unlikely spot for a Michelin-starred eatery. Then again, a meal at Agern is definitely worth a train ride, and if you are within walking distance of the Nordic restaurant, so much the better. <i>Agern</i> means “acorn” in Danish, a reference to the restaurant’s seasonal-driven cuisine that relies on farmed and wild local ingredients. Executive head chef Gunnar Gíslason came to Agern from his award-winning restaurant Dill in Reykjavík, so it makes sense that seafood is well represented: a starter of Arctic char with smoked peppers, brussels sprouts, and skyr, a type of yogurt beloved by Icelanders that gourmands in other nations are just now discovering; an entrée that teams smoked and roasted halibut with a mushroom broth. Meat-eaters will find plenty to savor too (venison with mushrooms, flavored with coffee and mustard; dry-aged beef tempered with sweet cipollini onions), as will vegetarians (with its vivid colors, the salt and ash baked beet root is almost too gorgeous to eat).
Agern’s house-made rye bread with sunflower seeds. [Image: T.Tseng/Flickr]
65 East 55th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues)
Another Nordic restaurant, Aquavit predates Agern by several decades, having opened in 1987. Flavors associated with Scandinavia are well represented: langoustine with new potatoes; lamb with dandelions; Norwegian king crabs with green strawberries. For dessert, the Arctic Bird’s Nest is a must; white-chocolate eggs filled with a goat-cheese parfait rest atop a nest made of a delicate honey cookie sprinkled with chocolate twigs, freeze-dried raspberries, and brownies crumbled to resemble dirt. The restaurant hosts several seasonal events as well. For instance, from mid-June to mid-July is its annual Herring Festival, with a special prix-fixe lunchtime medley of herring and individual jars of herring prepared in multiple ways. And of course the bar includes numerous varieties of the namesake spirit, including house-made options infused with the likes of horseradish, figs, mangos, and coriander.
538 Madison Avenue (between 54th and 55th Streets)
As well as a retail outpost of the largest caviar importer to the United States, Caviar Russe is an award-winning restaurant. While caviar is certainly well represented on its menu (scrambled egg with caviar; gnocchi with caviar, Parmesan cheese, and sage; bluefin tuna with caviar and scallions in ponzu), it is possible to be sated without so much as tasting a single fish egg. The lamb loin with peas, turnips, and hyssop will delight those who prefer land to sea, and the spring garlic velouté with scallops is a gustative feast, rich with the flavors of pumpernickel and nasturtium.
125 East 39th Street (between Lexington and Park Avenues), Second Floor
Kajitsu means “fine day” in Japanese, and any day that includes a meal here is certain to be a fine one. Those looking for sushi should head elsewhere: The restaurant specializes in shojin, a vegetarian cuisine that originated in Zen temples and is the basis of kaiseki, the Japanese equivalent of haute cuisine. Kajitsu’s fixed 8-course and 10-course menus change monthly, to incorporate seasonal ingredients, but fish, fowl, and meat are not among those ingredients. However, once you indulge in such courses as soba noodles made fresh daily, corn croquettes, and nabe incorporating new onions, morels, and burdock root, you most likely will not miss them.
House-made soba noodles with wild mushrooms and grated daikon at Kajitsu. [Image: Esdel Little/Flickr]
461 Fifth Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets)
Like Kajitsu, Sushi Ginza Onodera offers only omakase menus—that is, the chefs determine which dishes you will receive, though they will work around allergies if requested. Meals start with egg custard and end with egg cake, miso soup, and dessert. In between you will be treated to a bounty of appetizers and nigiri, in seemingly unlikely flavor combinations. Expect anything from hairy crab and uni to seared mackerel to codfish tempura to ankimo (made from monkfish liver)—or better yet, do not expect anything at all, other than an extraordinary culinary experience full of surprises.
204 East 43rd Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
Sushi Yasuda is proof that minimalist is not synonymous with stark. The restaurant is relatively unadorned, with the quiet texture of the bamboo floor, walls, ceiling, and surfaces providing most of the embellishment. Likewise, there’s no background music to distract from the pure flavors and freshness of the sushi, sashimi, and maki. And with the exception of soups and salads, that is all you will find on the menu: no tempura, no noodles, no wagyu beef. You can reserve seating as the sushi bar with a particular chef for an omakase meal, but that is more the exception than the rule.
A chef’s tasting at Sushi Yasuda. [Image: daveiam/Flickr]
222 East 39th Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
The batter is arguably the most important element of tempura, and Masao Matsui, the chef who founded his namesake restaurant, refined the traditional batter to translucent perfection. Diners can choose from one prix-fixe lunch menu and three such dinner menus; of the latter, the chef’s selection of seasonal seafood and vegetable tempura is the centerpiece, but other courses include seasonal appetizers, sashimi, sobu, and dessert, and lobster tempura can be ordered for an additional fee.
211 East 46th Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
Michelin awarded Tulsi a star largely for its refined interpretations of Indian street foods. Think galouti kebabs of grilled lamb spiced with cardamom and mace, spinach Parmesan samosas, and crispy cauliflower with a garlic-tomato sauce. Tandoori options include shrimp, fish, chicken, vegetables, and two lamb dishes; lobster masala and lal maas, a goat curry, are other highlights. Tulsi also offers three varieties of dum biryani, in which the lushly seasoned core ingredients (here, jackfruit, shrimp, or goat) are sandwiched in rice and sealed with dough before being slow-baked in a clay pot. You can also select a six-course chef’s tasting menu if you find it too difficult to narrow down your options.