New York has no shortage of hustle and bustle, and the vivacious energy of the streets often spills into its restaurants. But sometimes you just want to sup in silence, to hear your thoughts or the thoughts of your companion, and to feel the chaos of the day slip away. And that’s when you need a restaurant that specializes in both relaxation and good food, as these five do. By Jessica Allen.
This Japanese restaurant in Midtown showcases Shojin cuisine, vegetarian and ultra-seasonal, developed centuries ago in Zen Buddhist monasteries. (The menu changes monthly.) Multicourse meals are studies in patience and pauses, in contemplation and concentration, in care and precision. You might begin by simply looking at a pair of chopsticks on a red tray, as tableware is part of this place’s atmosphere. Indeed, some of the pottery was crafted more than 200 years ago.
Few dining rooms in town feel so calm, so civilized, so resolutely adult as the one at Annisa, Anita Lo’s American-by-way-of-the-world restaurant in Greenwich Village. The modesty and restraint of the decor and service belie what happens on the plate: bold, adventurous cooking full of sharp technique and unexpected flavors. Among the dishes on offer these days are barbecued squid (pictured), seared foie gras with soup dumplings, Long Island duck, and miso-marinated sable.
Attached to the Neue Galerie, an Upper East Side museum devoted to early 20th-century Austrian and German art and design, Cafe Sabarsky is more than just a place for art lovers to rest their weary bones. Like the museum, it harks back to an earlier time, one of elegance and refinement, when breaking bread meant hearty fare and good, stimulating conversation. (It’s modeled on a Viennese cafe circa the turn of last century.) For the full effect, consider booking the cabaret: a prix-fixe dinner at 7pm, followed by a performance of German and Austrian music from the 1890s-1930s.
If nothing relaxes you more than a bird’s-eye-view, then Asiate is your restaurant. Located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, this temple of decadence offers a majestic panorama of Columbus Circle and Central Park. Taxis look like Matchbox cars, people like tiny dots. All your cares feel oh-so-far away. The food uses Asian ingredients to tweak American classics, so you might sample “buckwheat and eggs,” soba noodles with uni cream and osetra caviar, or summer corn veloute with nori seaweed and Maine lobster as you feast with your eyes.
At Vatan, all you have to do is eat. You don’t have to choose or order or worry about mispronouncing a dish, as the menu is fixed: $29.95 for three courses of all-you-care-to-eat Gujarati specialties like batata vada (potato balls), chana masala (pictured), adorable mini samosas (fried pastries stuffed with potato and peas), and sauteed spinach and corn. Tables are spaced wide apart, so you won’t overhear your neighbors, and the restaurant is styled as a re-created village, complete with a fake banyan tree. Servers wear bangles and gently tinkling anklets. It’s easy, and wonderful, to lose yourself here in a haze of belly-stuffing.