Upper East Side
Sfoglia. Despite the hundreds (thousands?) of Italian restaurants in the city, Sfoglia, a spinoff of a Nantucket spot, managed to transfix Manhattanites from the moment it hit the way-upper Upper East Side. Amazingly, it’s not overrated. Rustic and slightly unexpected preparations like ricotta gnocchi with rock shrimp, rabe, raisins, and lemon cream seem all the more arresting because they don’t have a celeb-chef name attached. The room is warm and gorgeously tasteful too, and there’s virtually nothing annoying about this place (a rare achievement), except that everyone else has figured that out too, and reservations are a pain in the butt—so that can be annoying.
Never mind the white space-age tunnel of a dining room: Naya‘s food is about as earthy as Lebanese cuisine gets in Manhattan—not that there’s a ton of competition here. Owner Hady Kfoury and chef Rafic Nehme take some chances, serving dishes New Yorkers who haven’t been to Beirut or been cooked for by a Lebanese friend likely won’t have tried, like silky kibbe naye (the Lebanese steak tartare, studded with bulgur and mint and scooped up in pita bread with raw onion and olive oil), or kibbe labniye (lamb dumplings in a warm yogurt sauce). Another welcome, overdue addition (see also Ilili) to the city’s microscopic list of ambitious Middle Eastern restaurants. Naya also has a mostly takeout branch called Naya Express in Midtown, at 688 Third Ave. between 43rd and 44th Sts.
At the small Upper East Side sushi restaurant Sasabune, you eat any fish the chef wishes: That’s the beauty of this place. Chef Kenji Takahashi doesn’t believe in a la carte; instead, a sign in the small dining room says “Trust me,” and you should. Takahashi gathers around him the sea creatures he’s particularly keen on that day (say kanpachi, orange clam, horse mackerel, and much more), and sends them out in sushi, sashimi, and crudo-style preparations for a reasonable set price. Obviously a guest can opt out of any fish for reasons of allergy or dislike, but the more control Takashi has over your experience, the more you’re in for a slew of happy surprises.