Though the phrase American food often conjures up thoughts of hamburgers, hot dogs and tuna noodle casserole, there’s a lot more to the cuisine than fast food and one-dish wonders. American food, like the country itself, is a melting pot of worldwide influences, and — especially of late — what we label “New” American cuisine has blossomed to encompass seasonal dishes chockfull of vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts and foraged mushrooms, recipes made with pork (terrine, sausage, barbecued ribs), expertly fried chicken, and plates of pasta brimming with flavors that go well beyond classic red sauce. Simply put, it’s fare that’s inspired by local ingredients and traditions, but which also incorporates the many ethnic culinary influences that embody the U.S. dining scene. And don’t forget the drinks — the same lavish devotion to sourcing is applied there as well.
“American food is what I grew up eating,” says chef Bryce Shuman of lauded newcomer Betony in Midtown. For him, the crux of the cuisine is fresh, seasonal dishes — the composition of which is based on the ingredients at hand. “It’s a versatile, open-minded cuisine, and though it’s often rooted in French technique, ingredients from various cultures can be incorporated so the finished dishes become something else entirely.” Over the past several years, more restaurants focusing on New American food have been popping up in the city, a trend that follows in the footsteps of what are now New York City staples — the popular Northern Spy Food Co. (2009) in the East Village and Harold Dieterle’s West Village spot, Perilla (2007). While these restaurants made kale salad cool, there is a new crop of eateries that are carrying the New American torch and taking it in their own inspired directions — read on for the seven most impressive New American restaurants openings in the last two or so years.
The highly creative, seasonal fare at this contemporary American eatery opened by chef Shuman (formerly of Eleven Madison Park) in May 2013 is typical of the New American revival, although executed with precision that few area restaurants can match. The menu, peppered with small, medium and large plates (typical in the New American scene) wows with dishes such as chicken liver mousse with apple and celery, glazed nettle ravioli with morels and plates crammed with hand-crafted, local cheeses. The Midtown restaurant’s stunning, high-ceiling room — decorated with modern photos of the city — certainly make it a beautiful place to consider the past, present and future of the New American movement. Don’t miss the elevated cocktails, which go hand-in-hand with the high-minded fare. At Betony, the drinks are brimming with complicated, complementary ingredients: For a taste, try the Palma Fizz made with vodka, ginger, lime and rosewater and served in a copper cup, or the effervescent Coco Chanel with Cocchi Americano, bergamot and Champagne. 41 W. 57th St., 212-465-2400, betony-nyc.com
Opened in December 2013 in the East Village, this new American bistro certainly looks the part, with whitewashed walls and warm wood throughout. Owner Colby Zito even named the venture after the Hudson River, which has been used for centuries to bring fresh meat and produce from farms in upstate New York to the city. Though the restaurant doesn’t get its goods shipped downriver, what’s growing nearby is certainly reflected in chef Adam Starowicz’s menu, which is filled with dishes that map the current incarnation of American food. These include smoked deviled eggs, fried chicken and Brussels sprouts, which are turned into a hearty soup with Chinese sausage and hazelnuts. The cocktails, though they sway from the classics, play their part, and seasonal twists that help to keep the list fresh. Of note is the Spring Milk Punch, a thirst-quenching tipple made with gin, cucumber and yogurt. 166 First Ave., 212-228-1200, northriverny.com
One of the current hot spots in the New American movement is pizza, American-style of course, and that means a dish that is commonly wood-fired and combines the pliable dough of a Neapolitan pie with homemade tomato sauce or pesto, fresh vegetables such as kale or broccoli and house-cured meats. One of the NYC restaurants plying this trend is the two-year-old Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill, which has won over the neighborhood by serving up a winning combo of pizzas, pork chops, house-made ricotta and mozzarella, and, yes, cheeseburgers. The only source of heat in this triangular-shaped, rustic eatery is the wood-fired stove, which provides steam for all the cooking stations as well as the distinctive smoky essence in the food. Chef and co-owner Justin Bazdarich teamed up with Todd Feldman to build this cozy space, a far cry from his days opening fine-dining restaurants for the famous Jean-Georges Vongerichten. 376 Classon Ave., Brooklyn, 718-230-0061, speedyromeo.com
The newest American hybrid on the block (it opened in late November 2013) can be found in Carroll Gardens, and it’s brought to the neighborhood by chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, the same two behind the award-winning Battersby nearby. Where their first Brooklyn restaurant kept the menu tight on seasonal eats — think kale salad with kohlrabi, pressed terrine and short rib pastrami — the wood-lined, New England-style Dover pushes the French-Moroccan side of this craze by offering plates of lamb tartare with cucumber, pita and yogurt, and adding roasted fruit to its pork belly. Like any true New American eatery hip on the trend, it has a roasted chicken for two, served with the omnipresent black truffle and a winter vegetable gratin, though that will change as the season warms. Guests can also go for the seven-course, $95 tasting menu, another aspect of the New American movement that often offers the best way to taste the multi-dimensional range of flavors the cuisine offers. 412 Court St., Brooklyn, 347-987-3545, doverbrooklyn.com
In the East Village’s Standard hotel you will find a true New American restaurant opened in January 2014: Narcissa. In a spectacular, warmly lit space, the restaurant gives off a relaxed, coastal vibe, while still hitting that upscale beat restaurants have to nail to keep the crowds flowing. If it all sounds a bit like eating in California, well, that was likely the aim as California cuisine is where André Balazs’ East Village eatery shines. (Chez Panisse in Berkley essentially started the New America dining trend back in 1971.) Here much of the local and seasonal produce upon which the dishes are built comes from Balazs’ own Hudson Valley farm. Michelin-starred chef John Fraser expertly uses the produce to create contemporary American dishes the likes of rotisserie-crisped beets, poached farm eggs with forest mushrooms, and a playful dish dubbed Carrots Wellington with sunchokes and seasonal mushrooms. 25 Cooper Sq., 212-228-3344, standardhotels.com
Chef Bill Telepan, long known in NYC for his focus on seasonal and local cooking, knows a thing or two about New American cuisine. And with his latest joint in TriBeCa, which opened in December 2013, Telepan sticks with what he’s good at and offers a whimsical pigs-in-a-blanket appetizer, foie gras jammers, cauliflower gratin, corned tongue and snapper with pickled beets — all of which can be munched on while admiring the barn-meets-bistro setting. The menu is served tapas-style, a dining approach brought over from Spain and adopted by the food movement stateside. You can see the dedication to the trend in the cocktail menu, a list that sources small-batch spirits and uses house-made syrups, bitters and tinctures to give the drinks a special seasonal flair. 329 Greenwich St., 212-966-9255, telepanlocal.com
Not only does this Lower East Side restaurant focus on American food, but it pairs it with a beverage program led by co-owner Thomas Carter, the former beverage director at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. The small plates remain American with a European bent, while the expertly curated wine list is mostly foreign — a combination that highlights the unique flavors of Uruguay-born chef Ignacio Mattos. His stellar, ever-changing dishes have included house-pickled carrots, beef tartare with sunchokes, quail with lard, and pork with beets and butter beans. If any restaurant is a showcase of the complete melting pot that is American cuisine, this U.S.-European-South American mashup would be it. 47 E Houston St., 212-219-7693, estelanyc.com