This post is brought to you by Michelin Guides.
New York City can be challenging place to eat out with kids. Does that statement surprise you? Allow me to qualify it a bit: New York City can be a challenging place to eat out well and affordably with kids. Quite a lot of the time we eat take out! Nowadays, with restaurant SMS marketing software becoming popular, getting text messages to order a takeaway seems the obvious way to treat the kids. Although you’re never far from sustenance in the Big Apple, a surprising number of places to eat are mediocre, expensive, or both. This is especially true in the Midtown area where many of the tourist attractions are. The better restaurants are more likely to have high-quality restaurant supply and equipment that they use to create sophisticated dishes to draw in a wider customer base.
So when as part of my ambassadorship with Michelin, they suggested that I try their New York 2014 Restaurant Guide app I said an enthusiastic yes. The app is the the portable smartphone version of the red Guide New York City 2014: Restaurants book. Since the book sells for around $15 and the app sells for a mere $3.99, I felt like I’d already found a bargain when I downloaded it.
But aren’t Michelin-starred restaurants fancy?
Lest you think that parents traveling with kids have no need to know the local Michelin-starred restaurants, allow me to reassure you: While astronomically expensive and wonderful restaurants like Per Se are of course listed, the categories in the app include “Under $25” and “Inspector’s favorites for a good value”. And while it doesn’t have a family-friendly category, the app will also tell you how formal and luxurious a restaurant is.
There are a couple of other things that I especially like about this app:
It uses your current location to help you search for restaurants nearby. This is important to me because one problem I find in New York City is that I don’t always know just where we’ll be when it’s time to eat. I feel it might be a lot easier to decide which neighborhood to live in nyc! When my family is on vacation there, we tend to wander a bit or find unexpected things to do. With the introduction of new apps that aren’t food related, but actually similar to podcasts, the kids are always entertained and never know where they fancy eating. They just want to listen to their Clubhouse app and god knows what else! By visiting https://thesmallbusinessblog.net/buy-clubhouse-followers/ and other review websites, you can learn more about the newest apps your kids are obsessed with – and even get into buying followers for yourself! That means I don’t always want to make a plan or reservations in advance, which in the past has led to some pretty grim dining experiences when I’ve ended up with a child who just has to eat right now.
I also like that the reviews are written by Michelin’s crack staff of professionals. These are people whose job it is to eat in restaurants. And not just to eat in restaurants – to take in every single detail without themselves being detected. Michelin calls them “inspectors” and they are like professional food detectives. So unlike the sketchy, questionable information you’ll find on Yelp or TripAdvisor, these restaurant reviews are well-written, specific, and reliable. And to show you what a word geek I am, I actually remarked to my husband Matt that I appreciated their literary quality, which stands out from much of the drivel you’ll find on crowd-sourced website or apps.
Testing out the app on the Lower East Side
I used the app twice on our recent trip to New York, with great results. My first test was a fairly easy one. We wanted an early dinner in the area around the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, which we had visited late on a Friday afternoon. Given that the lower East Side is home to every hipster who can no longer afford to live in Brooklyn as well as Little Italy and Chinatown, we had a lot of choices ranging from sushi to farm-to-table.
Italian won the coin toss, and the app delivered in the form of Sauce, a charming and tiny corner joint with checked tablecloths. We were seated immediately and the boisterous adjoining table of twenty-somethings, who looked to be on their third bottle of wine, instructed us cheerfully to be sure to order the “to-die-for Bolognese.” We complied and were not disappointed.
Other great options on this menu included glossy marinated peppers and carrots, fried matchstick zucchini, homemade tagliatelle with mushrooms, and meatballs that would bring a tear to your mother’s eye.
I wish I had some pictures from this meal – the lighting was remarkably dim and I seem to have been off my game that evening as not a single photo of the food or restaurant interior is worth sharing. But take my word if not my photos for it – the food here was great, and as reasonably prized as the app promised including a nice selection of Italian wines by the glass. Also: It was noisy and cozy and generally a perfect place to bring children of any stripe who will not be heard or noticed above the din.
Dining in a trickier New York neighborhood: Midtown
I had such great success in a neighborhood known for good dining and reasonably-priced restaurants that I was eager to take it for a test drive in a more challenging part of the city for families: The between Grand Central Station and Central Park. We were staying outside the city in Westchester and would need to catch a train, so I wanted an easy walk after dinner. I like both the food court and the Oyster Bar in the train station, but I wanted to see if I could find someplace to eat in the family-restaurant wasteland that is Midtown Manhattan.
This is where the app showed both its weakness and its strength.
We started our search for dinner nearer to the park where the choices in the app were stunningly upscale and expensive. As we worked our way south and east, I was excited to find a Belgian restaurant called Brabant on East 53rd Street. My eight- and eleven-year-old love mussels and Matt loves beer so it seemed like the perfect fit. I tried to call ahead and got an automated message saying that the restaurant was open (no surprise there; it was Saturday night). Several calls failed to turn up a human on the other end of the line and I was also unable to bring up their website on my phone. This concerned me, but I decided that we should trust the app and give it a try, so we trudged across the five and half windy, long blocks from Fifth to in between Second and First Avenue only to find a dark storefront and a locked door.
This felt like a pretty big fail, but I turned once again to the app, giving it a second chance. It located an upscale Lebanese restaurant across the street that would have been acceptable but felt pricey for what was on the menu. Matt, now dubious and in need of a restroom, was in favor of abandoning the app, but I persisted and continued to refresh the nearby restaurants until it turned up what it called a “gastropub” named P.J. Clarke’s on 55th Street and 3rd Avenue. Sure we’d have to walk north again, but not too far.
I am absolutely certain that I would have walked right past this place had I not gotten the app’s recommendation. From the outside it basically just looks like a neighborhood bar in an unassuming brick building . Inside it was packed with people, the walls covered with photos and bric-a-brac. Matt looked at me darkly as he hustled off to the bathroom, not wanting to stay. Mercifully the half an hour the hostess said we’d have to wait turned into 5 minutes and we were hustled past packed together tables to a nook by the big wooden bar.
Closer inspection revealed that although this place looked like a TGIFridays, it actually was the authentic type of place upon which these chain restaurants are based. It has in fact been a restaurant since 1884 and, according to the website, was once a haunt of both Frank Sinatra and Jackie Kennedy. The wall next to our table was adorned with all kinds of Yankees paraphernalia including a thank you card from George Steinbrenner’s family that was sent after his funeral (it turns out that in the early 2000s when the restaurant was sold that he was an investor along with the actor Timothy Hutton). Here we were in a historic neighborhood joint without even trying all that hard. But what would the food be like?
We soon found out. Service was swift, beers were plentiful, and Teddy and I were happy to discover that we could order mussels after all. Mine came loaded with thick chunks of some of the best bacon I’ve ever had, while Teddy’s were redolent with garlic.
After our long, cold walk, Tommy was very happy to enjoy the free-range chicken pot pie.
When we finished our meal, we were stuffed, warm, and more than ready to stroll back to Grand Central and catch our train. It was the best meal I’ve ever had in that neighborhood.
A great trip-planning tool
Although I used the app spontaneously (partly just to test how it worked that way), you could also use it to make plans and reservations in advance. Its map feature allows you to search for restaurants in a given neighborhood and you can also search by name.
The app covers all five boroughs of New York City, but the largest number of restaurants by far are in Manhattan. Convenient features include links to phone numbers and websites as well as the nearest public transportation and hours. As my experience demonstrates, calling ahead is never a bad idea as the vagaries of the New York restaurant business may mean even a wildly successful-seeming café will be here one day and gone the next.
The New York 2014 Restaurant Guide app is available on iTunes. I can assure that I won’t be taking any more trips to New York City with kids without it. It would certainly come in handy during any family holiday trip to New York City, although of course during this season I’d recommend making reservations.
Although I was compensated by Michelin Guides for writing this post, they did not pay for any of my travel expenses on my trip to New York, including the app. You can always count on me to tell you when I’ve received something for free and to share my honest opinion.