New York City
There are too many good restaurants in New York. And even more continue to open claiming more tastiness and coolness than their prior spot or neighbor. I have a notes tab in my phone that says nyc restaurants. It is a endlessly growing list of places I read about and want to visit in the city. I refer to the list when I am looking for a spot to eat, but overwhelmed and can't remember where to go. But often times when I walk the streets, my certain whereabouts and random memories guide me to just the right place.
I used to live in Greenwich Village on West 9th Street, a one block street. My apartment was two blocks north of Washington Square Park, so going to Soho was just a ten minute walk away. Whenever I return there I take the same walk as I did then to my favorite neighborhood. Very little has changed on those blocks. The record store and the chess shop are still there. First appearing odd and out of place, but as you approach the far corner, you take a breath and it was as if you emerged from a time warp.
On my last trip to the city, I was having a drink on the corner of Sullivan and Prince near that same favorite neighborhood. Across the street I looked and saw the familiar red neon light in the window and the sign that read "Restaurant Francais", beneath the faded green awning. I forgot about the place and how it was a favorite of mine. I didn't refer to my phone list for ideas right then and decided to go there for dinner. After which, I was only able to secure a 5:30 reservation. However being a long day, I was ready to eat.
The restaurant seemed to work in four successions. A greeter, your waiter, a wine steward, and then the manager who checks in throughout the evening and who is the last one to say goodnight to you. When you walk through the front door, pulling away a red curtain that hangs to keep the cold air out and the walk-ins from lingering too long, a beautiful red-lipped hostess pleasantly greets you. Being a small restaurant, you are quickly guided to your table and sit before you get in anyone's way. You are trapped, but happily so. You are at the chef's mercy and ready for indulgence. You are being watched over by the staff, but in a good way. Nothing could go wrong. The waiter was superb. A table-side manner like a character from Shakespeare; a touchstone of expertise, humor and instinct. The wine steward, was not just any wine steward, but the former sommelier at Per Se. And then there was the icon of the place. A waiter turned manager, who had been there since the place's inception. A funny and humble grey-haired man, when looking at an old picture of his young self on the wall he smirked. I asked, "is that you?" He said, "those were my brunette days". As for the food, I ate every last bit of my 14 oz. steak au poivre that they are known for and reasonably so.
When it comes to what makes a restaurant great, always remember there are many levels within the dining experience, from a perfectly executed burger to an 8-course wine paired dinner. The question is, how do you feel walking out of a restaurant after dining there. Did you drink and eat well, did you taste or feel something you hadn't before? How many times did you say, "ahhh..."? Depending on how you answer those questions, you will know what places are as good as they claim to be. And sometimes, the less you do and the more they create for you, those are the real gems. At Raoul's, just walk through the doors and see for yourself.