Boasting probably the shortest commute to world-class exhibitions anywhere in the city, Flora (florabarnyc.com, The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue) is literally inside the Met Breuer. Less crammed than chef Ignacio Mattos’s other spots, this is moreover where Mattos explores the concept of a ‘raw bar’. I can think of literally no other place where I’d hazard eating a raw clam, but the Flora version – laced with the spice of jalapeño chili and the freshness of lime, cucumber, and cilantro – is one of the tastiest single bites in the city, while Mattos’s endive salad is not only one of the most beautiful looking plates you’ll ever order, it comes doused in an orangey vinaigrette I could drink by the gallon. Honorable Upper East Side mention goes to Elio’s (1621 2nd Avenue between 84th and 85th) and its Godfather-worthy dining room, in which I’ve loved to eat a plate of spaghetti since I was a child.
My number one source for quality street food worldwide, the longtime New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, first introduced me to Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery (banhmisaigonnyc.com, 198 Grand Street, 10003) maybe 10 years ago. In that time, it’s moved locations at least twice, and now inhabits admittedly strange digs (a meager dining area bafflingly cohabits with a jewellery counter): but it still makes one of the truly great Vietnamese sandwiches. I always get the “spicy pork” with extra fresh jalapeños and cilantro: perfect fuel for a tear through the Lower East Side gallery circuit or a visit to the nearby New Museum.
Just north of the Broadway–Lafayette subway hub, Atla (atlanyc.com, 371 Lafayette Street) is a perfect place if you’re heading to Chelsea for a gallery sprint from the East Village, the Upper East Side, or Brooklyn. As a native Californian, it means a lot when I compliment someone’s guacamole, and this spot purveys some of the best I’ve had, made with all kinds of herbs (not just cilantro) for a welcome new take on the classic. Conceived by star chef Enrique Olvera of much-fancier Pujol (Mexico City) and Cosme (NYC), the menu offers super-fresh modern Mexican fare and – hooray! – distinctly uncard-board-y tortillas.
My trick for the Whitney: get to Via Carota (viacarota.com, 51 Grove Street) right at their opening for a late breakfast, and then walk up to the museum. While Buvette, their sister restaurant down the street, will be obstructed by a queue all morning, Via Carota is serene and empty at 11am (though it will fill up quickly) and typically does a delicious egg dish as a “morning” special. Otherwise, try any number of perfectly executed Italian dishes, including the best bagna cauda (colorful crudités with a warm anchovy dip) I’ve ever had. This is also one of the few menus in the city with a preponder- ance of vegetables, from a heap of sautéed broccoli rabe to crispy artichokes with sliced lemons – my idea of heaven.
Coming from Brooklyn to Frieze New York? Before you hop on the L at nearby Lorimer Street, Okonomi (okonomibk.com, 150 Ainslie Street) is the spot for what must be the best traditional Japanese-style breakfast outside of Japan. A choice of two or three fish, each wincingly fresh, 9 fastidiously prepared and plated vegetables like blanched spinach, lotus root, or housemade pickles, and a bowl of barley-flecked rice with an egg floating in broth to pour over it. Wholesome, yes, but also so delicious.
If you need a really good glass of wine after returning from Randall’s Island, head to The Four Horsemen (fourhorsemenbk.com, 295 Grand Street), a natural wine bar with inventive, seasonal small plates. Fun fact: the place is owned by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, but more importantly the kitchen is committed to a type of ‘tastiness’ I cherish. Even when a flavor combination sounds a bit eccentric (‘Peconic bay scallops, chilled dashi, finger lime, white soy’), it’s invariably delicious.
Frieze New York 2018 runs May 3-6.