Fine dining and family dinner don’t have to be mutually exclusive experiences. Sprinkles co-founder Candace Nelson found New York City eateries that didn’t sacrifice flavor to keep her little diners happy.
NEW YORK CITY – As someone who works in food and is constantly seeking new restaurants in my Los Angeles backyard, New York City is always at the top of my list for domestic travel. Because the food is worth the trek, I always center my itinerary around eating out at the newest spots when I'm in town.
If I'm traveling on a family vacation, I have two boisterous boys, ages 10 and 7, along for the ride. While the trip has to be tailored appropriately — Broadway, age-appropriate art, and sight-seeing are a given – there is one area where there doesn’t need to be compromise. Restaurants.
While I have nothing against kid-friendly restaurants as a general rule (frankly, any place where kids can get French fries and mom a glass of wine is essential eating), there isn't a place for them in my personal plan to devour Manhattan. Having worked in the food world for most of my adult life, and now as an owner of Pizzana, a Neo-Neapolitan restaurant in LA, eating at top restaurants has become more than merely pleasure. It’s work.
Prior to our most recent trip, my husband and I assured our boys that our trip would be filled with fun activities and treats, but asked them to open their minds to food beyond their usual chicken finger, pizza, and hamburger diet because we would not be dining at "kid restaurants." After all, an important part of traveling and experiencing new places was trying new things, including food. These places were a hit with everyone.
103 Greenwich Ave; +1-212-889-8884
This very buzzy Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village serves elevated Italian-American cuisine in a vibrant atmosphere. While items such as poppyseed gnocchi and crysanthemum salad are better suited for the adults at the table, garganelli giganti, described as a "broken meatball" ragu, was the perfect pinch hitter for spaghetti and meatballs. Shell steak al limone was also a huge hit with our boys, who deemed it the best they've ever had.
7 Spring St.; +1-646-370-6650
Thai restaurants are usually a safe bet for us, but Uncle Boons is not your standard Thai restaurant. A funky subterranean spot in Nolita with lines spilling out the door the eatery is owned by two Per Se alums. A fancy pedigree for sure, though you wouldn’t immediately know it from the Thai tchotchkes lining the walls and the curly straws that come with the drinks — perfect distractions for the boys. Rotisserie half chicken, a very simple BBQ-style preparation with all the sauces and spicy stuff on the side, was a great option, as was sticky rice that came packaged in beautiful individual bamboo baskets — just waiting to be unwrapped and eaten with one's hands.
51 Grove St.; no phone
While this spot doesn’t take reservations, if you arrive early it’s easy to grab a few seats at the communal table. To keep child hunger at bay while navigating the menu, an order of prosciutto di Parma and chunks of parmiggiano (translation: "ham and cheese") is essential. While substitutions and alterations are not always welcome at chef-driven restaurants, the staff was happy to prepare cacio e pepe and hold the pepe for our boys.
177 Prince St.; +1-212-328-7880
We requested a table at the back of the restaurant, right next to the window into the kitchen where the boys could gaze upon the row of men fastidiously rolling each dumpling. While the boys devoured three orders of pork soup dumplings (barely saving room for Niman Ranch cumin ribs or whole Wind-Sand chicken), my husband and I enjoyed the pea shoots and dan dan noodles.
Café Altro Paradiso
234 Spring St.; +1-646-952-0828
Our server, a newly transplanted Texan actor and clown school graduate who could "honk" his nose so realistically, made my seven-year-old’s night. Well, that, and a tower of warm chewy bread alongside fresh butter and fruity Italian olive oil. The boys happily polished off spaghetti pomodoro and a burger (requested without the caramelized raddichio and gorgonzola), while we enjoyed picci with cuttlefish and cod with favas and peas.
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