Chef Danny’s Top 10 New Restaurants of 2010

Being in the food business and having a passion for dining, I tend to get the same question again and again from friends and family: “Where should we go to eat?”

It’s a great question. And a common one. So instead of just answering friends and family on a one-off basis each time they ask me, I wanted to share my thoughts with all of you, my extended Pump family, who read our blog and look to us for interesting news and opinions.

So below you’ll find my list of Top 10 New Restaurants in 2010. If you have your own list or think I missed some good ones, please let us know in the comments below.

1. Flex Mussels

Website: www.flexmusselsny.com

Locations: 174 East 82nd St, 154 West 13th St

“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” might have been the theme song for Cheers, but for me, this is the place that comes to mind when I hear that song. Bobby and Laura Shapiro, along with their daughter Alexandra, imported themselves from Prince Edward Island, Canada and have hit a home run in New York with these mussels-centric restaurants. Serving over 20 varieties of mussels (Thai, Mexican, Provencal, and South Pacific, just to name a few), this place has a flavor for everyone. Not into mussels? I won’t judge – try the lobster roll or fish and chips. Both are excellent. Still hungry? Good, ’cause pastry chef Zac Young, of Top Chef fame, has some amazing sweets to meet your cravings – donuts after dinner anyone?

What can I say? This place has won me over time and time again, and I keep going back. You can find me at their Upper East Side location pretty much once a week, and it’s not just for the awesome food – their staff is fantastic as well. As an added perk, it’s one of the few places in the city where you can sit and enjoy a great list of beers while you take down some amazing seafood. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

2. Balaboosta

Website: www.balaboostanyc.com

Location: 214 Mulberry St

I love Mediterranean food, and Einat Admony certainly knows what she is doing in the kitchen. Producing what is arguably the best falafel in New York at her Taim restaurant in the West Village, Einat opened Balaboosta (Yiddish for “perfect housewife”) in March of this past year, and the acclaim came fast. The dining room is quaint and filled with pictures of family and cookbooks, giving it a very home-style feel.

And the food resonates that feeling with dishes such as “Mortar and Pestle” Hummus.  The juicy Boneless All Natural Half Chicken cooked “Under A Brick” is just delicious, and the Crispy Cauliflower with Currants & Pine Nuts is one of my favorite things to snack on.

3. Maialino

Website: www.maialinonyc.com

Location: 2 Lexington Ave (Gramercy Park Hotel)

The newest addition to the Danny Meyer Empire, Maialino (Italian for “little pig”) is a throwback to the Roman Trattoria. Located in the posh Gramercy Park Hotel, this place is never short on well-dressed groups of people looking to try out the food of Chef Nick Anderer.

As is customary in Rome, some of the kitchen activity can be seen in the dining room itself. In the center of the restaurant is Maialino’s cucina, featuring a salumi, cheese and antipasto station on one side, and a coffee, dessert and bread station on the other. Glass enclosed marble and metal cases are filled with a rich selection of cured meats and Italian cheeses, as well as freshly made tarts, cakes and pastries.

The menu draws its inspiration from the classic dishes found throughout the trattorie of Rome, and features fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from the Greenmarket and other local farms.

While the creativity didn’t blow me away, it was consistently good, and, as is always the case in a Danny Meyer restaurant, the service was impeccable. Quick tip for you based on what I hear – brunch is the way to go with this place.

4. Traif

Website: www.traifny.com

Location: 229 South 4th St, Brooklyn, NY

Traif, the Yiddish word for un-kosher foods, opened this year in Williamsburg to much outcry by the local Hasidic community. Chef Jason Marcus serves up dishes like flat iron steak served with king crab béarnaise and potato latkes or seared foie, fingerlings, ham chips, sunny egg, maple, and hot sauce. Sounds like a mad science project gone very wrong? Think again. This is actually one of the most interesting and compelling menus I have seen or eaten from in quite some time.

While the restaurant is simple in its décor with just some tables and a bar counter overlooking the kitchen, Chef Marcus ensures that with each bite you are more intrigued than you were with the last.  The flavors just keep building throughout the meal. Bacon-flavored donuts anyone?

5. Fat Radish

Website: www.thefatradish.com

Location: 17 Orchard St

I know what you’re thinking – what does the name mean and what do they serve? Well, let me help you out. This place serves up some awesome farm-to-table and vegetable-focused meals that would make even my father think twice before making a reservation at a steakhouse. No, it’s not vegetarian, but this place is leading the pack in the vegivore revolution that I wrote about previously on this blog (see Will the Real Vegetable Lovers Please Stand Up?). Give this place a try. You won’t regret it.

6. Fatty ‘Cue

Website: www.fattycue.com

Location: 91 South 6th St, Brooklyn, NY

Zak Pelaccio made a name for himself cooking South East Asian cuisine at his Fatty Crab restaurants in the West Village and Upper West Side, and in 2010, he traveled to Williamsburg to open a more casual concept. But he kept the Asian influence. Yes, it’s true, Asian BBQ does exist! Hickory smokers create such delectable dishes as Wagyu Brisket with a Chili Jam, Coriander-spiced Bacon, or Red Curry Rubbed Duck and Pork Spare Ribs with Indonesian Peppers.

In typical Pelaccio fashion, the restaurant is adorned with some pretty eccentric art and quirky prints, but that just enhances the experience – the food is still the main draw.

7. Minetta Tavern

Website: www.minettatavernny.com

Location: 113 McDougal St.

If 2010 is not the year of Keith McNally, then I am not sure what is. First there was the story of Nate Appelman at Pulinos, then there was the NY Magazine expose on Keith himself, and then there was the revival of Minetta Tavern.

The original Minetta Tavern was located on McDougal Street in the 1930s and flourished for many years as just a bar. With this new incarnation, McNally has taken Minetta upscale, but he decided to keep the motif as is. Well, I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, both previously of Balthazar, have moved over to Minetta to help raise the bar on the food. The menu is brasserie-inspired and has delectable items such as bone marrow speckled with sea salt, steak tartar, lobster salad, and two different types of hamburger.

The other great thing about Minetta is that it’s a late night kind of place. Where else can you go after midnight for some bone marrow?

8. Locanda Verde

Website: www.locandaverdenyc.com

Location: 379 Greenwich St

With partners such as Robert DeNiro and Andrew Carmellini and help from people like Ken Friedman of the Spotted Pig, this place had more hype than the World Series!

Locanda Verde serves family-style food for the masses. There are lots of small plates, including crostini, that are piled high with toppings, such as spicy summer corn, pureed chicken liver, and blue crab leavened with jalapeno and some cream. The kind of food that they’re serving here isn’t designed to win any awards, but rather create a stylish, affordable, crowd-pleasing restaurant where good food and a good time can be had by all. I will warn you in advance, though – the place is always busy, and it doesn’t matter who know. Remember, it’s a DeNiro joint.

9. ABC Kitchen

Website: www.abckitchennyc.com

Location: 35 East 18th St

What happens when you mix Jean Jorge, ABC Carpet (one of New York’s largest home furnishing stores), and the Union Square farmer’s market? ABC Kitchen, of course.

The theme for this restaurant can be described with a couple of words that we should all know very well by now: “locavore” and “sustainability.” That’s why they source as much of their menu as possible from local markets, the menus are made from recycled paper boxes that come into ABC Carpet, and, after the restaurant closes, all the leftovers are sent to a compost heap. But the focus on sustainability doesn’t at all take away from the dining experience – the service is casual and refreshing and the food is delightful.

One of my favorite parts of this restaurant is the ABC Elixir Bar, a juice and smoothie bar where Brandi Kowalski (who did a stint interning at Per Se at one point) has worked up an exciting and robust menu using non-traditional and exciting flavors.

10. Kin Shop

Website: www.kinshopnyc.com

Locations: 469 6th Ave

Thai food is on the rise, and it shouldn’t shock anyone that Harold Dieterle of Top Chef fame is leading the charge at his newest West Village project. The space is modest (just like his first restaurant Perilla) and the prices are reasonable – nothing on the menu is more then $25. Dieterle acts like a Professor of Thai in this new place, educating his guests with a glossary of Thai food terms printed on the menu.

And the food is fantastic. The curries are all ground in-house, and if you want to add some heat or some sour to your dish, there are pots of vinegar and Thai chilies available for each table to enjoy. If you’re the kind of person that likes some heat, then try the pan-fried crab noodles tossed with hot roasted chilies. But don’t say I didn’t warn you – this dish will burn the hair right out of your nose! Love curry? Then try the red snapper with red curry paste. Or if you’re into trying something different, go with the massaman-braised goats neck scattered with shavings of coconut and frizzled shallots. Exotic and delicious.

Kin Shop was jammed when I was there, and it’s all about the food. I have nothing but respect for Harold Dieterle, as he’s got a passion for cooking that you don’t find everyday. Maybe that’s why he was still in the kitchen as we were leaving after a very late Friday night dinner.

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So there you have it folks, my top 10 new restaurants of 2010. Don’t get me wrong – I have had many memorable dining experiences, but as I reflect on the year that just passed, these are the ones that stand out. If I close my eyes, I can still taste the flavors from these meals on the tip of my tongue.

But 2011 should also prove to be an exciting year in the restaurant industry. I expect to see an influx of Korean food, and Thai food should continue to boom. As a culture, we have long been averse to the heavy spices from the Middle East and South East Asia, but times, they are a changing. And with change comes tasty treats that we may have never known before. I can’t wait.

P.S. If you think I left out some good ones, please feel free to add them to the comments. I’m always looking for new places to check out.