Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!
This week on Ask The Critic: where to camp out with a group of work folks, and where to take Mom on a downtown food tour.
Table for a While on the East Side
My workplace has a weekly pitch meeting that lasts for at least an hour and sometimes more like two. I'm looking for a restaurant/cafe/bar (it doesn't have to be all three, but that's ideal) somewhere in the East Village or Lower East Side where we can meet on a Thursday or Friday early evening and where we won't feel like horrible rude monsters if we camp out at a table for a period of time (although we do make a point of continuing to order food and drink) and that isn't too noisy so that we can hear each other over the general din. It doesn't have to be exclusively in those neighborhoods, but below 14th Street is crucial.
In any other city but New York, is it so difficult to find places without crowds? Or, I suppose, decent places with just a few folks around, not too many to distract, not too few to suggest something wrong with the place. I get more questions about "Where can I go in these circumstances, with X many people?" than any other.
The first places that came to mind: The Randolph and Randolph Beer on Broome Street near Elizabeth. Two separate establishments, same company. Randolph Beer might be best for your purposes. Big booths, tons of beer on tap, decent food options of a pretty basic American sort—meatballs and cheese plates and mac & cheese, plus healthier options like hummus and such—for those who would rather eat. The Randolph, a few doors down, is where I often find myself holding informal work meetings. Why? It's a coffee shop until 5 p.m. or so and a bar after that with a great happy hour, so afternoons can very easily transition into evenings. (I find that both caffeine and alcohol aid my workflow, in their respective ways.) Perhaps due to its not-quite-central-to-anything location, I've never seen crowds in there before 8pm or so, which is why I feel comfortable lingering. And there's WiFi!
Though it's a little more restaurant-y, I'd also suggest Bowery Diner, Mathieu Palombino's slightly-cheffed-up take on a classic diner: It's a huge space, I've been there several times in the late afternoon or early evening, and at those times it's not crowded at all. The food's great, and you can order just about anything: Burger? Omelet? Oysters? All there. Or get a glass of wine, a decent cocktail, a good cappuccino, or a boozy milkshake. Lots to choose from, and the sort of place that shouldn't mind if one of you orders a sandwich and soup, and one of you just orders a beer.
One last thought: Bosie Tea Parlor in the West Village. Room for groups, open straight through the day, and the savory options, sweet options, and of course tea are all worth your time. Wine and beer, too.
Food Tour with Mom
If not for my mother, I would not be the Serious Eater I am today. I'd like to take her in to the city this weekend for a bit of an impromptu food tour. I think we'd prefer to have many small bites rather than one or two big meals. Soup Dumplings are definitely in the cards. Can you make any suggestions in the downtown area? Also, can you think of any food related destinations where we can poke around and shop between bites? Thanks for your help!
Lucky Mom! I like your way of thinking—lots of bites is just about always my favorite way to eat. And if you want soup dumplings, we'll point you to Chinatown, where nibbling your way through the neighborhood is the most fun, anyway. Our favorite xiao long bao are at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, just above Canal Street in Chinatown. Then wander around the neighborhood a bit—sesame pancakes, egg custard tarts, steamed buns—and when you need an eating break, take advantage of Chinatown's integration with Little Italy. Hang out at DiPalo Selects, one of the best old-style Italian groceries anywhere.
Leaving the immediate neighborhood, wander up to Taïm, the Spring Street location, to share a falafel platter (our favorite in the city) or an excellent smoothie; get an espresso at Gimme! Coffee (we're guessing you'll need one). Head over to the Lower East Side—Doughnut Plant if your sweet tooth kicks in. And then walk north to a pair of NYC classics: Russ & Daughters for smoked fish and Katz's for pastrami. If you're too full to properly enjoy whitefish salad on a bagel, or a Reuben right then, either place can give you food to go. Nothing to remind you of a great food tour like leftover smoked salmon for breakfast the next morning!
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Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!