Six Restaurants Worth Going Aboca

As much as I believe in supporting local businesses, sometimes you have to get out of the bubble. (Aboca = above Canal. No, I’m not really trying to make it happen, and yes, I know that technically some of these are beloca.) All of the photos, except the Upland ones, are courtesy of the restaurants.

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Hemlock

Tipped off to Hemlock by Joel Viehland, a chef in Connecticut’s Litchfield County (and whose new restaurant in Kent should open soon), Adam and I have been going every couple of weeks since it opened. We would’ve made it there eventually, because we’re drawn to vegetable-forward restaurants, but I’ve grown wary of the Lower East Side over the years. I’m glad we didn’t wait: Chef Diego Moya, formerly of Casa Mono, is cooking interesting food that’s also delicious. I can think of maybe one dish we didn’t love, and many we raved about: the spigarello, the onion, the melon, the sunchokes, the kimchi, the cheddar and dates, the bread…. If that list doesn’t strike you as exciting, the menu—with its terse descriptions—might not either, so just trust me and go. (There are also a handful of meat and fish dishes.) P.S. You can always tell when people working at restaurants love restaurants in general, and particularly the one they’re working at. P.P.S. Sunday is taco night, but it starts at 10 p.m., so it remains on the to-do list.

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Via Carota

When someone from out of town asks for restaurant recommendations, I invariably suggest I Sodi, Rita Sodi’s gem of an Italian restaurant on Christopher Street. It’s not flashy, and the food might seem boring to anyone expecting the cutting edge, but I find the place satisfying in every single way. (Except one: Would that it were easier to get a reservation.) After Sodi got together with Buvette‘s Jody Williams, the two women opened Via Carota on Grove. My first visit, for dinner, left me on the fence: The food was terrific, but the space was noisy and cramped, with the tiny tables that make Buvette a no-go for me. (I’m tall and old and over it.) At lunch, however, all is forgiven. With no crowds and light pouring through the windows, Via Carota is the very model of a West Village restaurant.

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Upland

I don’t eat hamburgers anymore, with one two exceptions: the burgers at Houseman and Upland (on E. 26th, just off Park Ave. South; is that the Flatiron? Kips Bay? NoMad?). Only offered at lunch and brunch, Upland’s burger is said to be chef Justin Smillie’s homage to Southern California burgers, although it’s nothing like what I grew up eating. It’s described on the menu as “grass fed beef, American cheese, Peppadew peppers + avocado,” and there are also cilantro and scallions, which play an important part. I’ve had another sandwich there, and a pizza, and a couple of salads, and they’ve been fine, but if I’m at Upland at lunch I’m having the burger, with my best intentions are checked at the door. Sitting at the bar, where the service has always adroitly walked the warm/professional line, reminds me of the good old days when I had a Time Inc. expense account.

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Flora Bar

I like Estela and Café Altro Paradiso just fine, but I’m obsessed with Thomas Carter’s and Ignacio Mattos’s third establishment, Flora Bar inside the Met Breuer. Both times I’ve eaten there, I’ve spent much of the meal talking about how ideal the place is: the glamorous, sophisticated room is what every Upper East Side restaurant should aspire to; the service is sharp; the food is reliably delicious—and the Caesar salad is the best I’ve ever had. (That’s not faint praise. Few restaurants really make salads as good as they could be.) Bonus points for the atmosphere being quiet enough that you can hear your companions and the outdoor space, where you can move for a digestif.

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Agern

Agern‘s location inside Grand Central Terminal should be its most notable feature, but if the drama of the building is what you’re after, you’re better off at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. (ugh, that name) or Cipriani Dolci. In fact, re-entering the bright, bustling terminal after dining at Agern—a relative cocoon—is a jarring experience that borders on the unpleasant. Instead, you go for the food: Chef Gunnar Gíslason’s cooking is new Nordic, and you’ll likely encounter such ingredients as hay and skyr, but without the austerity that term can imply. (Agern got flooded and had to close for a couple of months; it reopens July 19.) P.S. The vegan tasting menu isn’t quite as gratifying as the regular one—I recall lusting over a dish of butter as it passed by our table—but it’s still probably the best vegan dining in the city. P.P.S. Agern is part of Danish entrepreneur Claus Meyer’s investment in Grand Central, along with The Great Northern food hall, which is also highly recommended.

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Freeks Mill

Walking to Freeks Mill from the Union Street R train station, you pass South Brooklyn Casket Co. and the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club—if ever there was a neighborhood in the middle of gentrification, Gowanus is it. Freeks Mill is the kind of restaurant that makes you want to be part of the problem: It’s warm and easygoing, with food that’s both ambitious and delicious. The barbecue kohlrabi dish, in which the vegetable is made to taste like pork (but not in an icky fake-meat way) and served with grits and greens, is a mind-blower. I’m sure desserts are worthy, too, but a block away, Ample Hills has a huge ice cream parlor with rooftop seating….

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1 Comment

  1. A few good reasons to pack my oxygen and “Head North” ;)
    Thanks Erik!!

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