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[Summer pizza at Bruno]
[Summer pizza at Bruno]
Daniel Krieger

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The Top NYC Restaurants of 2015

Eater's critic lists 17 of his favorite new restaurants.

Yesterday, Ryan Sutton laid out the case for why New York dining is better than ever. Today, he presents his top 17 picks of the year, including a three-way tie for restaurant of 2015.

Restaurants of the Year: Semilla, Santina, and Bruno

Semilla carrot

[Roasted carrots with smoked potato puree and fava leaf broth. Photo by Krieger.]

Even if you rarely eat meat, the vegetable-centric Semilla will challenge your notions of what's supposed to taste good. Are pasta-like sheets of raw squash improved by dots of foie gras? Can dehydrated cabbage leaves substitute for bread in a sandwich? Are you allowed to use truffle-topped turnips instead of beef in a Wellington-style preparation? Does grape sorbet need kombu cream? This four-star restaurant isn't a pandering study in traditional deliciousness. Its grandeur is a product of provocations. Even if you don't value all the flavor combinations, you cherish the debates that follow with your companions, and the realization that no other New York restaurant is quite like this. Cost: Just $85. 160 Havemeyer St.; Brooklyn. 718-782-3474; semillabk.com.

The cavatappi with smoked bone marrow and clams at Bruno.  Photo by Krieger.]

Bruno is not a comfortable venue. Bar seats lack lumbar support. The lighting is too bright. But you accept these drawbacks, just as you once adjusted to the backless stools and overly dark environs of Ssäm Bar down the block. Such inconveniences, ultimately, are worth the pleasures that ensue. The chefs pair sweet potatoes with nduja, candied walnuts, and cilantro, a Michelin-starred stoner's midnight refrigerator snack. The kitchen sends out the greatest pepperoni pizza on planet Earth, whose buttermilk dill sauce evokes the ranch dressing pies plaguing middle America. Also: There's no tipping. The flour is house-milled. The charcuterie – including the pepperoni – is house-made. And a tasting menu is in the works. Is Bruno the next Momofuku? Or Roberta's? Or Manresa? Maybe a little of each. 204 East 13th Street. brunopizzanyc.com.

[The cecina with gamberetti at Santina. Photo by Krieger.]

If Bruno and Semilla represent the pared-down future of food-obsessed establishments, where ambience is little more the plate in front of you, Santina constitutes the opposite — a virtual theme restaurant where the very good food nearly plays second fiddle to the visual storytelling. Santina, after all, is a Renzo Piano-designed glass cube, a human terrarium whose interior evokes the Amalfi Coast circa 1953. Palm tree fronds sway even in December (a clever oscillating fan trick). Bartenders in pastel polos pour pink cocktails. And patrons consume stellar blue crab spaghetti. It's not the most exciting Major Food Group culinary experience, but it's second to Carbone as the most thrilling Major Food Group restaurant experience. 820 Washington Street. 212-254-3000. santinanyc.com.

Top Restaurants of 2015: The Long List

Share Plates: Lupulo & Wildair

[Shrimp porridge with head-on prawn at Lupulo, and the spicy tuna toast at Wildair. Both photos by Nick Solares.]

George Mendes's Iberian tapas joint, Lupulo, ranks with Santina as one of the two restaurants I returned to most following my formal review. Here's why: Most of the restaurant is a bar, which is the correct ratio of bar to restaurant. It's open until midnight, a boon for Midtown office types stuck working late. The olive-and-egg-laced salt cod casserole for two might be one of the city's best large format dishes (it's even better as a leftover). And they let you order BEER TO GO. Wildair, in turn, is to Contra as Lupulo is to Aldea: an affordable share-plates analogue to a spendier tasting menu venue. It's also the Estela of 2015: a space whose hour-plus waits are driven by delicious, high-acid, strongly-flavored fare. Imagine beef tartare with pimenton oil, smoked cheddar, horseradish, and buckwheat groats. You dig? Lupulo: 835 Avenue of the Americas; 212-290-7600; lupulonyc.com. Wildair: 142 Orchard St; 646-964-5624; wildair.nyc.

Previously Uncomfortable, Relocated Restaurants: Momofuku Ko & Mission Chinese

[Uni with chickpea hozon puree at Momofuku Ko and Hainanese-style Koji fried chicken at Mission Chinese, both by Krieger.]

Danny Bowien's Mission Chinese grew from a rickety shack of a restaurant on Orchard Street to a cushy, two-tiered banquet hall on East Broadway with two tasting menus, two cocktail bars, amuse bouches for everyone (cilantro egg dumplings), and enough numbing Sichuan peppercorns to let you remove your own wisdom tooth with a pig's blood-soaked clam shell. And David Chang's Momofuku Ko, born as a cramped tasting counter in a gnome-sized space on First Avenue, has transformed into a four-star fine dining gem on the Bowery. Expect bespoke graffiti, a roomy chef's table, and pressed mackerel sushi that would make Jiro Ono himself swoon. Mission Chinese; 171 East Broadway; mcfny.com. Momofuku Ko: 8 Extra Place; momofuku.com

Sushi: Shuko

[Crispy trout skin with uni and trout roe by Krieger]

In the conservative world of sushi, where strict kitchens can make the French brigade system look like a posh spa, you don't effect change through revolution. You effect change through baby steps, so props to Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim, late of Neta and Masa, for pushing the genre forward with little more than gentle nudge at Shuko. Sashimi is mixed in with the sushi course. Chiles make a stronger appearance than one might expect (on mushrooms, over toro sinew). And a touch of hip-hop or rock might pipe through the sound system. It's not as boundary pushing as O Ya, but I'll argue, in true Goldilocks fashion, it's just the right amount of boundary pushing. 47 East 12th Street; 212-228-6088; shukonyc.com.

Korean: Oiji

An overhead photograph of an elaborate plate of green rice crepes and assorted condiment. Eater NY

[Chil-jeol-pan (rice crepes with assorted condiments) by Nick Solares.]

The state of modern Korean fare is strong, with Midtown's Danji and the Flatiron's Hanjan representing on the rustic side, with Tribeca's Jungsik fronting on the refined side, and with the East Village's Oiji falling somewhere in between. Chefs Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku will feed you well. Seafood broth with crispy rice is the type of restorative dish you'd hope for during a winter night in Marseille, while honey butter chips represent a gourmet version of the sweet-salty commodity crisps that sell for untold sums on eBay. 119 First Avenue; 646-767-9050; oijinyc.com.

Fast Casual: Fuku+

[Fuku bites by Solares.]

Fuku in the East Village is where David Chang gave birth to his crispy, juicy, insanely fatty fried chicken sandwich. But Fuku+ in Midtown is where much of the brilliant experimentation takes place. Translation: This is the only location where you can procure the Fuku bites. These are chewy, spicy, crunchy improvements to the classic chicken nugget. It's also the only place you can sample Mission Chinese Fuku fingers. In this dish, Chang upgrades the traditional fried chicken strip and amps it up with a dusting of heady cumin, soul crushing chiles, and palliative sugar. 15 West 56th Street; momofuku.com.

Empire Built, Gastronaut Approved: Upland & The Clocktower

[The steak at the Clocktower by Krieger, and the wings at Upland by Solares.]

Stephen Starr, the mega-restaurateur behind unsteady behemoths like Buddakan and Morimoto, reminds us he's still got a Warren Buffett-like knack for recruiting talent and producing top restaurants. Upland doesn't quite have the rustic, downtown charm of Il Buco Alimentari, chef Justin Smillie's previous employer. But the Park Avenue South hangout delivers in its own special way, with better service, cushier seating, and more precise food, including fragrant-spicy yuzukosho duck wings and stunning chicken-liver bolognese. The Clocktower, in turn, represents a stellar U.S. debut for Britain's Jason Atherton, who's dishing up epic fish & chips and Minetta-quality steaks in a restaurant where guests play billiards for free. Upland: 345 Park Avenue South; 212-686-1006; uplandnyc.com. Clocktower: 5 Madison Avenue; 212-413-4100; theclocktowernyc.com.

Vegetable-Aggressive: Untitled & Little Park

[The smoked and fried chicken at Untitled, and the beet tartare at Little Park, both by Krieger.]

Chef Andrew Carmellini — typically a purveyor of French, American, and Italian brasseries — has given us perhaps his most distinctive restaurant to date with Little Park, a venue that dedicates itself to the prevailing meat-lite mood with celery root schnitzel sandwiches and trout roe-topped beet tartare. Danny Meyer, in turn, deserves props for pushing the museum-dining envelope again at Untitled. There's not even a safe steak on the menu. Instead, Gramercy Tavern's Michael Anthony slings squash with chorizo, and carrots with pancetta. Little Park: 85 West Broadway; 212-220-4110; http://www.littlepark.com. Untitled: 99 Gansevoort St; 212-570-3670; untitledatthewhitney.com.

Noodles: Mu Ramen

[The Okonomiyaki at Mu Ramen by Nick Solares]

This Long Island City joint serves the city's best tonkotsu, a style of ramen where pork bones are furiously boiled until they disintegrate, imbuing the broth with the creamy hue of horchata. Joshua Smookler's trick is that he skims off as much residual fat as possible and doesn't emulsify any of it back in. The result is a silky, chowder-like mouthfeel, and a richness level that doesn't make you feel terrible when you're finished. 12-09 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City. 917-868-8903; ramennyc.wix.com/popup.

Fancy French: Gabriel Kreuther

[Squab and foie gras at Gabriel Kreuther by Nick Solares]

For anyone who has doubts about the sustainability of the high-end regional French restaurant, take a look at the career of chef Gabriel Kreuther. He packed the house at Danny Meyer's The Modern for the better part of a decade, dishing out tasting menus inspired by the cuisine of his native Alsace, and now he's doing the same at his namesake restaurant on Bryant Park. Expect white tablecloths, four-star service, and elegant Gallic-German fare. That means beer soup with ham hocks, scallion kougelhopf, and foie gras & squab croustillants. Rad stuff. Cost: $115 for four courses, $195 for the tasting. 41 West 42nd Street; 212-257-5826; gknyc.com.

Indian: Babu Ji

[General Tso's cauliflower at Babu Ji by Krieger]

New York's Indian scene has long thrived in its regional diversity, from the meaty kebabs of the Punjab region to the vegetable-heavy fare of Gujarat. But overly-formal dining rooms and voluminous menus have often made those venues difficult to get excited about. Enter Australian import Babu Ji, whose self-serve beer fridge, casual vibe, and dashes of creativity –– lobster-stuffed potato croquettes! — have generated epic waits for dinner. It's proof that there's pent-up demand in this city for the strain of innovative subcontinental fare that Tabla once wowed us with years ago. 175 Avenue B; 212-951-1082; babujinyc.com.

Gabriel Kreuther

41 West 42nd Street, Manhattan, NY 10036 (212) 257-5826 Visit Website
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