When Mandy Oser, Eric Ripert's former right hand woman at Le Bernardin, teamed up with Amorette Casaus, a chef who made her name at El Quinto Pino, her goal was to bring great wine and food to an area that didn't have much variety to offer in dining out. After living on the Upper West Side for six years with her fiance, Mandy has watched the neighborhood's food scene change, and with casual food and wine bar Ardesia, she has staked a place in the nearby, evolving landscape of Hells Kitchen. Here are her neighborhood favorites.
Pizza: Big Nick's is reliable for a fresh, late-night, hefty, satisfying slice. It's open 24 hours and it's totally old-school. I've heard good things about the burger, too, but I've never gone in the light of day.
Burger: A little secret I discovered one night is that Telepan serves an amazing burger, but only at the bar. I love this restaurant for more than the burger of course. But it's destination-worthy just for that. It comes with a tower of onion rings and shoestring fries on the side. Whenever there's a good onion ring near a burger, I'm there. It's sort of unexpected at Telepan; it's a nice environment to have a down-and-dirty burger like that.
Coffee: I've been a longtime fan of Joe the Art of Coffee and their friendly, neighborhood feel. It's a weekend ritual to start the day with coffee from there, even though that means waiting in the line out the door. I get the iced lattes year-round: they're perfect, and always consistent.
Bagel: Is it possible to have a dive bagel store? Well if so, Bagel Talk is it. But the bagels are the best I've had anywhere. They're always still hot from the oven, steaming up the glass case. I'm pretty basic: a sesame bagel with scallion cream cheese.
Breakfast: I love the cafe above Fairway. It's always bustling which lends itself well to waking up. They do delicious and consistent food and lattes. I'm a creature of habit: they have these scrambled egg options that I toggle between. One has new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, cream cheese, and scallions. The other is chorizo, roasted tomatoes, and jalapeno. They serve it with a brioche toast. It's always tasty.
Wine bar: Bin 71 is a tiny pocket wine bar, but there's always something I'm excited to try on the international list, and I'm a sucker for their meatballs. It's adorable; it used to be a flower shop. The space has turned over many times and nothing really worked until this. As a nod to the flower shop, they always have really nice arrangements.
Greek: Kefi is great for when we don't want to be fancy but want to do a sit-down dinner, and we're hungry. The portions are generous and it's inexpensive, but everything has this spark of flavor. I always get the beautiful grilled shrimp and orzo. It's never not been good. They do really fantastic dips like hummus, babaganoush. I'm impressed with how consistent it is, and they're so friendly.
Tacos: The Great Burrito is a little tiny spot that serves surprisingly great tacos and other Mexican take-out. It's slim pickings for great Mexican in the neighborhood, but this place is very reliable. I get a selection of tacos, usually chicken mole pork tinga.
Late-night eats: Thank you Marc Murphy for opening restaurants that serve tasty food late at night! Ditch Plains is a standby for those times for after I'm working late at Ardesia. They have lots of great appetizers. My fiancé and I always get the deviled eggs, and they have good wings. I'll get the lobster roll if I'm hungrier. It's a place where you can get a late night meal, not just a snack. It's a full menu, all the time, and it's a fun, upbeat atmosphere. A lot of industry people go there.
Date night: Dovetail is really refined, but friendly and relaxed at the same time; it's sort of casual fine dining. They do these Sunday Suppers that are three courses for $45 or so, and they always change. It feels like a really thoughtful selection. I love their wine list too; it's a mainstay of the neighborhood, and it feels like they keep evolving. It's really changed the game on the Upper West Side.
Can't-miss neighborhood spot: Anything from the Daniel Boulud "corner"... Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud and Epicerie Boulud. I'm completely obsessed with what he's done there. It's not like it's a secret, but the terrines and the pates are just perfect. But I especially love grabbing a plate of oysters and a glass of wine at Epicerie in the early evening as the sun is setting over Lincoln Center. It's a nice place to have such a casual experience. They have an amazing merguez hot dog; every time my fiancé walks by, he has to get it.
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