Several Lower East Side restaurants are feeling pretty good today. Five out of 10 establishments chosen by New York Times critic Pete Wells as the “best new restaurants of 2014” are in this neighborhood. As he explains in this morning’s column, the year-end list is meant to highlight the chefs who are innovating and bringing something original to the city’s food landscape. Put another way, it’s not just a collection of the spots that garnered the most stars in the Times four point rating system. Here’s what Wells had to say about the top LES restaurants:
#2 – Russ & Daughters Cafe: The new restaurant from the fourth generation owners of the legendary appetizing store offered hope that “the cooking of Eastern European Jews” might have a future in the changing city. Friendly servers, an interior that honors the past without feeling dated and interesting mixed drinks, Wells writes, “should help build a new audience for traditional flavors.” He concludes, “The Lower East Side probably has twice as many restaurants as it needs, but this one feels essential.”
#4 – Cherche Medi: The critic concedes that there’s nothing particularly new or innovative at Keith McNally’s relaunched French brasserie at Bowery and East Houston, but he is taken with it anyway. “McNally says he builds the kind of restaurants where he’d like to eat,” Wells explains. “Anyone seeing how well Cherche Midi has turned out will wonder why all other restaurateurs don’t do the same.”
#5 – Ivan Ramen: While purists might complain, Wells says Orkin is playing “delicious and witty games” with Japanese food at his Clinton Street restaurant.
#7 – Contra: “The great achievement of Contra is that it’s both highly ambitious and resolutely accessible.” Wells writes. The “affordable” tasting menu “rewards curiosity with quiet surprises.”
#8 – Dirty French: The non-traditional French restaurant in the Ludlow Hotel boasts “prices (that) are borderline hostile and the room is probably too large and raucous to guarantee a good time for everyone in it.” But Wells says, “I can say without thinking twice that some of the most extraordinary food I ate this year came from the kitchen of Dirty French.”