Dining out in Manhattan: Il Mulino, Del Frisco’s, Ocean Prime, Patsy’s & Junior’s

Headed to New York City (https://www.nycgo.com) and the Manhattan area? Here are our latest tips on where to dine.

IL MULINO:   For our family vacations in Sunny Isles, Florida in years past one of our favorite dining establishments was Il Mulino New York at the Aqualina Resort. “I wonder what the New York City experience is like?” I always asked myself.  Well on this trip we finally found out and it did not disappoint us. Our destination was Il Mulino Prime in Gramercy  (https://www.ilmulino.com/prime/gramercy),  located at  43 E 20th Street.

This modern steakhouse and Italian restaurant features inspired cuisine and choice cuts by Executive Chef Michele Mazza. Located in the heart of Gramercy-Flatiron, Il Mulino Prime embraces the signature style and unparalleled service attributed to the success of Il Mulino New York. Savor prime dry-aged meats and inspired Italian cuisine at a modern Italian steakhouse. Sun-dappled by day and sophisticated by night, Il Mulino Prime is a versatile venue that is easily customized for any crowd or occasion.  The dining room can accommodate 50 guests.

We were greeted by the manager on duty Roland. He immediately introduced us to our very charismatic server named Stefano, who knows a great deal about Canada.

A nice plate of crackers, cheese, focaccia and cold cuts was brought to the table to get things started. Roland handed us the wine list and we decided to share a bottle of pino grigio. As appetizers, we had two orders of delicious tuna tartare with avocado and chips, some jumbo shrimp and an order of burrata and tomato and crab cakes with zesty garlic sauce. For the main course, the ladies remembered how much they enjoyed the risotto langostino from the Florida location and for them this was the only option. They were pleased with their choice. As for me, it was the veal chop Milanese, topped with a light arugula salad that got my attention. Stefano said it was a house favorite. It was thin and crispy the way I like it and cut like butter. I savored every morsel.

Next time we will consider some of the other much-talked-about dishes:  grilled octopus, calamari, prime filet mignon and Bucatini Amatriciana.

For dessert. Roland asked if he could surprise us and he did with a sensational plate that included cheesecake, chocolate cake and tiramisu. For a final nightcap, we each had a glass of limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur that had a very sweet taste to it.

Founded in Greenwich Village in 1981, Il Mulino New York originated as an intimate and esteemed eatery serving local foodies in the know. Today, it has grown to 17 locales which attract “A” list celebrities and dignitaries.

Il Mulino New York focuses on the authentic cuisine of Abruzzo and serves expertly crafted dishes with unparalleled service. For more than 38 years, its flagship Greenwich Village restaurant remains top-rated in New York’s dining scene. The premier hospitality group portfolio also has outposts via its different brands Downtown, Uptown, Tribeca, the Hamptons and Long Island in New York as well as Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Sunny Isles Beach, Atlantic City, Boca Raton, Nashville and Orlando.  

There is also an Il Mulino New York gourmet product line, which offers items such as sauces, pasta, infused olive oils, and more (ilmulino.com/shopnow ).   In Canada, they are available at the four Pusateri’s Fine Foods (www.pusateris.com) stores in Toronto.

Jerry Katzoff is the chairman of Il Mulino; his wife Lee serves as vice president and Brian Galligan is the president. They describe Il Mulino Prime as an Italian steakhouse that has been so popular that they are now opening one in Chicago and looking to expand that brand, which features some Il Mulino New York classics but with a bigger slant on steaks.

Reservations are recommended by calling 212 777 5314.

DEL FRISCO’S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAKHOUSE: One of the restaurants very high on our list for this trip was Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (www.delfriscos.com). We had previously dined at this energetic, luxurious three-story restaurant, located at 1221 Avenue of the Americas, three years ago and we were anxious to return.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, with 16 locations across the United States, is an ultra-premium steakhouse providing a distinguished dining experience with personalized service in a breathtaking atmosphere, offering bold, delicious fare complimented by an expansive, award-winning wine list. Boasting a vast selection of USDA Prime wet and dry-aged steaks such as the 45 Day Dry-Aged Double Bone-In Prime Ribeye “Double Eagle Steak,” modern takes on fresh seafood, signature side dishes and mouth-watering desserts, the one-of-a-kind menu distinguishes Del Frisco’s as an American culinary institution. Each restaurant features an impressive wine list curated in-house by teams of the industry’s finest sommeliers and are perennial winners of the Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence.”

The New York location can accommodate more than 500 people at a time. The 18,000-square-foot restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views of Sixth Avenue, truly bringing midtown Manhattan to life for every diner as Radio City Music Hall’s lights shine brightly in the distance. Our table faced the Fox News building. As a new junkie, it was unique to see the latest headlines flash across the screen on the facility’s façade. The restaurant is often packed with the city’s broadcast, business and sports elite and is an ideal locale for visitors looking for a top-notch dining experience before or after a Broadway show.

Our server Stephanie was excellent, providing us with superb guidance for both the food and drink menus. Two members of our party started off with their signature VIP cocktail, Svedka Clementine Vodka infused with fresh Hawaiian pineapple.   I treated myself to a glass of prosecco.

For the appetizers, we shared the shellfish plateau: Chilled Alaskan King Crab Legs, Iced Jumbo Shrimp and Chilled Crab Claws. We added six delicious oysters to the order. This was a meal to itself. Next came a Caprese salad, a simple Italian salad made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and green basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil. It closely resembles the colours of the Italian flag: red, white and green. This was easily split in three.

Since Del Frisco’s is known for its fantastic steaks, that is what we wanted to sample. Stephanie recommended the bone in the filet and the bone in the prime rib eye. As sides, she suggested we try the Cauliflower and Brie au gratin and the sautéed wild mushrooms and pearl onions. She was right on the mark.  For our meal, the sommelier brought us a bottle of Chablis.

We left just enough room to enjoy their fabulous lemon cake split in three for dessert.

Del Frisco’s Steakhouse also recently unveiled new menu updates to appeal to guests’ modernized palates and now offers a refreshed take on the restaurant’s classic steakhouse fare. In addition to staples such as rare cuts of wet-aged steaks and fresh seafood, the menu now includes a variety of elevated classics including Wagyu Beef French Dip, Lobster Roll and Sautéed Chicken Picatta, along with eclectic appetizers and sides like Seared Rare Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Crab Fried Rice and Thick Cut Bacon Au Poivre. It has a wine list of over 1,200 selections.

Del Frisco’s offers specials tailored to holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving, as well as prix fixe menus to make things a little simpler for everyone. If you’re planning a bigger gathering for holiday celebrations, their private rooms can accommodate anything from a couple of tables to 75 or 100 people, with amenities like a separate bar, dedicated service, flat-screen TVs and other niceties. All it takes is a phone call to one of their coordinators, and they’ll be happy to set you up with whatever your holiday plans might entail.

Recently Del Frisco’s refreshed its bar offerings nationwide. Inspired by creative, culinary twists on their classic menu offerings and guest favorites, the new menu is now available at all U.S. locations and features carefully-curated and hand-crafted menu offerings, five of which are available at all restaurants and three of which are distinctly unique to each location. The localized dishes were masterfully created by each restaurant’s executive chef, bringing flavors of their communities to life with flair and sophistication.

The new bar menu features the following dishes, available at all locations: cheesesteak eggrolls with sweet chili and honey mustard sauces; dry-aged burger with white BBQ sauce, wild mushroom butter, arugula, Havarti, toasted brioche bun and hand-cut fries; salmon crudo comprised of ora king salmon with lime and miso; Alaskan king crab cocktail, served with stone mustard sauce; and corndog battered lobster tails with grilled corn remoulade and creole honey mustard

Examples of localized dishes include: shaved black truffle wagyu hot bog served with foie gras, apple balsamic chutney and pickled daikon slaw (New York City); tempura shrimp sushi cones, made with sticky rice, avocado, pea shoots and ponzu (Atlanta); portabella lump crab stack with avocado, pickled shallots and sweet soy aioli (Las Vegas); lamb lollipops accompanied by fennel arugula slaw and cucumber dill yogurt sauce (Orlando); and oyster po’ boy featuring Cajun mayo, Fresno peppers and hand-cut fries (Charlotte).

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse presents chef-driven cuisine that’s bold and delicious as well as an extensive award-winning wine list. Each restaurant, while consistently offering a personalized and memorable experience, features its own distinctive setting, décor and character.

You can call 212-575-5129 for reservations.

OCEAN PRIME: If you are looking for one of the best seafood and steak restaurants in New York, Ocean Prime at 123 West 52nd Street should be at the top of the list. Located in the heart of Manhattan, Ocean Prime (https://www.ocean-prime.com) sits amongst world-class museums, theatres and corporate headquarters. Centrally located, it offers an impressive menu of seafood and prime cuts of steak, signature cocktails, a Wine Spectator-honored wine list and truly genuine hospitality.

Spanning 7,400 square feet and a 2,500 square-foot mezzanine, Ocean Prime seats more than 275 guests and features private dining rooms to accommodate more intimate gatherings and celebrations. An expansive seasonal terrace seats 50 guests to enjoy al fresco dining. The bar and lounge area is a welcoming, relaxing space for guests to enjoy expertly created cocktails handcrafted by talented bar chefs, while a separate sushi bar showcases the freshest, most delicate and impeccably sourced fish, providing a total seafood experience.

This place only opened in 2015 and quickly gained a reputation for excellence.

A modern American restaurant and lounge, Ocean Prime falls under the umbrella of renowned restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. There are currently 16 locations from coast to coast, with the original, Mitchell’s Ocean Club, in their home base of Columbus, Ohio.

The restaurant specializes in incredible seafood and prime steaks. Their menu features classic dishes crafted with a modern sensibility and an appreciation for ingredients. With lighter fare, like their shellfish cobb salad and sushi, as well as more indulgent items like the smoking shellfish tower, juicy steaks and decadent desserts, there’s something for every occasion. 

This place’s passion is to offer exceptional service and truly genuine hospitality to each and every guest. 

Our server was Giscard and he guided us beautifully through the superb menu selections. We each started off with some glasses of wine and then indulged in a spectacular selection of Dutch Harbor King crab legs and six delicious oysters. In addition, we shared some sushi in the form of a lobster roll – poached lobster tail, kiwi, pickled serrano, masago and spicy mango. It had been a while since I enjoyed a bowl of lobster bisque and this piping-hot option truly hit the spot. The two ladies chose wisely with the sea scallops for their main course, accompanied by parmesan risotto, English peas and citrus vinaigrette. I was in a steak kind of mood and when Giscard described the bone in filet, dry-aged for 28 days, it sounded perfect. This was one fantastic cut of steak as others around the table concurred when sampling some pieces. I added some lobster mashed potatoes on the side, something I do not get to sample on each menu.  One of the managers, Evan Walcher, came by and tempted our palate with one of their signature desserts – the warm butter cake with fresh berries, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce.  It was the perfect way to end a fabulous dinner.

A special pre-show theatre menu is available Tuesday through Saturday from 4 pm to 6 pm and all night Sunday. There are also gluten-free friendly menus for lunch and dinner.

For reservations call (212) 956-1404.

PATSY’S:  A few years ago I made my first visit to   Patsy`s Italian Restaurant (http://www.patsys.com) and boy was I impressed. On the occasion of their recent 75th anniversary, I was invited back to the iconic 235 West 56th Street location and I jumped at the opportunity.

Only a few short blocks from Times Square, this legendary Midtown Manhattan spot had been known for years as Frank Sinatra’s restaurant of choice and has become a favorite with countless stars including Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller, George and Amal Clooney, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.

Founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, Patsy’s has been in its current and only theater district location (in the building next to the original site) since 1954. Over the course of 75 years, Patsy’s Italian Restaurant has had only three chefs; the late Patsy himself, his son Joe Scognamillo, who has been at the establishment since the tender age of seven, and Joe’s son Sal Scognamillo, who has been manning the kitchen for the past 32 years.

Sal makes it a point to meet with all of the customers, so many of whom are regulars. “The fact that the owner, the family is still here, it means a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “That’s how Patsy always wanted it, and that’s how it’s always been. We treat people as if they were in our homes. Grandma and Grandpa said, ‘This is the food we cook at home, [just] a bigger kitchen, a bigger dining room. Just take care of the people.’”

The 75th anniversary has attracted a slew of celebrity guests. The cast of Jersey Shore was there just a few days before me.

Sal came to my table twice during the evening. I remembered his warmth vividly from my previous visit. He runs such a superb establishment. Sal is a proud owner. While his 87-year-old dad still comes in regularly, he is preparing for the next generation. His eldest son Joseph is working at the restaurant and showed me to my table. Sal and his wife, who gave up her law practice to join the team at Patsy’s, live on Long Island. Sal comes in almost every day, working a 10 am to 11 pm shift, and loves every minute of it. He spends the early hours in the kitchen and during the evening works the two floors and mixes with the customers. The restaurant can seat 180 people and with its lunch and pre-theatre specials, is busy all of the time.

Patsy’s attracts a varied clientele, including an extremely loyal following of regular patrons, Italian food aficionados, tourists, and celebrities. They enjoy the restaurant’s remarkable signature dishes, including succulent veal chops Siciliano, spicy lobster Fra Diavolo, tender chicken contadina, and savory calamari stuffed with seafood. Spectacular seafood such as striped bass marechiare, lobster oreganata, and shrimp scampi are always requested, as are meat favorites like sirloin steak pizzaiola with peppers and mushrooms, stuffed veal chop marsala, and chicken livers cacciatora.

I was dining alone this evening, as other members of the family enjoyed a show nearby. My server Adriano gave me time to review the appetizing menu. I started off with a glass of prosecco and an order of fried calamari, with some delicious marinara sauce on the side. I followed that up with a magnificent chopped salad. It was as good as I remembered from the last time. For the main course, there were so many options. I looked at the signature dishes and elected to go with the veal rollatine marsala, stuffed with parmigiana, anoreggiano and prosciutto. It was sautéed with onions, mushrooms, prosciutto and marsala. Adriano brought me some fried zucchini sticks on the side, shaped just like French fries. I was pretty full after this absolute treat of a meal so with time on my hands I took a 30-minute break until Vinny passed by with the dessert cart. The chocolate mousse cake was screaming my name out and I absolutely could not resist the temptation.  I finished every last decadent morsel, with some decaf to drink. Sal came by again to make sure I enjoyed my meal.

I was glad that I had a nine-block walk to meet up with my family, for I needed some exercise after this very special dining experience.

For more information call (212) 247-3491 or log on to www.patsys.com where you can view the entire menu. Sal wanted me to share with readers the fact this is “the only” Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in the world that his family runs. The temptation to the franchise might be there, but why mix it with perfection?

JUNIOR’S RESTAURANT: Hail a taxicab anywhere in New York City and tell the driver, “Take me to the best cheesecake in New York.” Odds are you will end up at one of the Junior’s Restaurant (www.juniorscheesecake.com) locations. There are two in New York City and one in Brooklyn, as well as another at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and a bakery outlet in New Jersey.

In June 2017 Junior’s opened its second Times Square location at 1626 Broadway and 49th Street just a few blocks away from its sister restaurant at 1515 Broadway. Known for its no-frills, diner-style comfort food, I got a much sought-after table at the newest Junior’s. There was a one-hour wait that evening.

Founded by Harry Rosen in 1950, Junior’s landmark restaurant is known as the home of New York’s best cheesecake. For decades, Brooklynites (and other New Yorkers) have come to eat, laugh, and kibitz (chat) over cheesecake. In the 1950s, an entire generation came of age at Juniors. Their cheesecake was as important as the Brooklyn Dodgers…the Fox Theatre. Coney Island…Brighton Beach. Today loyal customers still come –from all over and all walks of life: famous mayors, Presidents, Hall of Fame athletes, authors, singers, movie stars and more.  

With a full menu ranging from steaks to seafood and sandwiches to salads and cheesecake, there was a lot to choose from. I asked my server Gregory to guide me and he started me off with their trademark beverage:  the chocolate egg cream, which consists of milk, carbonated water, and flavored syrup. You can even follow the recipe on the glass they pour it into. Gregory then brought me a piping hot bowl of matzoh ball soup. Given the fact this was my first time there he wanted me to try an old favorite: the single potato pancake with apple sauce. This is one big latka, crispy and delicious. I knew I was going to have a sandwich and once again I turned to Gregory. There are four Reuben sandwiches and he insisted that the combo (corned beef and pastrami and grilled sauerkraut and swiss cheese on rye) was actually the best of its kind in all of Manhattan.  For the finale, I could not leave without dessert and I opted for the devil’s food cheesecake. It was half cheesecake and half of the most decadent chocolate I have ever tasted. This was a piece meant for at least two people so I forced myself to stop at a certain point. At the table next to me, a dad ordered a huge piece of cheesecake for his seven-year-old daughter. He took out a $50 bill and said that it was hers if she finished it. She tried and about halfway through grabbed the money and wisely did not consume the entire piece.

Junior’s story began long before Opening Day in 1950. In 1929, Harry Rosen opened a restaurant on the corner of Flatbush Ave Ext and DeKalb, a luncheonette called the Enduro. Over the years, he expands the restaurant to several storefronts occupying the entire corner. After weathering several changes in the economy, including Prohibition and the Great Depression, Harry expanded the Enduro to a full-service restaurant with a night-club atmosphere including a raised bandstand with live entertainment.

After World War II, the returning servicemen did not have time or interest in visiting nightclubs and fancy restaurants. Brooklynites were busy rebuilding–their lives, their families, the city and the country after the war.  The Enduro closed its doors in 1949.

Harry Rosen was determined to recreate a restaurant on that famous corner.  It was to be a new family-style place.  Saddled by debt with the failure of the Enduro, he scraped together every dime he had and built Junior’s Restaurant, named in honor of his two sons, Walter and Marvin.

When Junior’s opened on Election Day in 1950, it was a modern restaurant in every way–with new neon marquee sign similar to the one on the Paramount Theater across the street, wood countertops and naugahyde booths.  Junior’s had become a landmark from the start with bright orange awnings adorning the windows and the red, white and blue bunting that draped the restaurant on that famous Tuesday in November 1950.

Junior’s in the 1960s was a place where all colors of people in all styles of dress could gather without tension. Good food and good service became the great equalizer. Harry was a keen competitor and when it came to cheesecake he was determined to have the Best in Brooklyn. Baker Peterson and Harry perfected a cheesecake recipe by the 1960s that had become a very popular dessert. They conducted laboratory-like experiments until they hit upon the magic formula. The same recipe and techniques they still use today.