With outdoor dining in full swing in Manhattan and the slow re-opening of indoor spaces, it’s easy to create a progressive meal that’s both fun and delicious.
Discover a Taste of the Upper East Side
On the Upper East Side, there’s no shortage of choices for a satisfying evening. It seems like every restaurant has created an outdoor oasis surrounded by plants, partitions, or under a tent to keep you fed and out on the streets.
I suggest you start your progressive meal with an appetizer and cocktail at Mole on Second Avenue. You can’t pre-game with a drink only, so you might as well have a yummy starter with your alcohol. A pineapple mezcalita rimmed with a chili salt mix pairs beautifully with the restaurant’s hand-made guac. Build up the smokiness in your ‘rita with mezcal instead of tequila, add jalapenos to suit your food and drink tastes, and you’ve kicked the evening into high gear.
Eli's Essentials and Island
Next, zigzag west to gourmet food shop and wine bar Eli’s Essentials on Madison for a quick iced cappuccino to balance out the booze and ready you for your next stop, Island. At this Carnegie Hill bistro, you can share a creamy lobster roll with your companion along with an iced tea as they do in New England. This makes for a perfectly acceptable second appetizer, changing the tone after the Mexican antojito.
A side note: Sanitary and socially distanced sharing is important because you want your progressive meal to last as long as possible and be totally safe. Wear your mask except when you’re eating, use hand sanitizer before and after you dine, and eat leisurely. The key to a progressive meal is to not fill up on any one dish, so slow down and savor.
A palate cleanser at Paola’s Osteria down the avenue comes in the form of their perfectly crisp Caesar salad. Served with anchovies, on the side if you wish, and a drizzle of dressing with grated Parmesan, it’s like having a European-style dessert early in the game. A glass of Montepulciano is a welcome accompaniment. You can choose to stop at the original Paola’s a block away if seats aren’t available.
Shoga Sushi and Oyster Bar
I suggest that you keep the main course light as well so you’ll have room for the other treats to come. A bit of walking will help keep you from feeling too full too soon. Grab an outdoor seat at Shoga Sushi and Oyster Bar back on Second Avenue where you can order nigiri a la carte, mixing vegetable versions with seafood to ensure that you don’t get stuffed. And, if rolls aren’t your thing, order sashimi rather than sushi. There’s nothing more filling than rice (or pasta), so stay focused on light and healthy choices.
You can vary the international focus at your next stop, the Turkish fave Agora. A Turkish coffee, lightly sweetened, with keep you moving, along with a small plate of cacik, the Turkish form of tzatziki. If you’re very daring, ask for veggies to dip in the blend of yogurt, cucumbers and garlic instead of pita. It will save you a lot of calories. Smear the cacik, too, on a shared plate of doner. The seasoned meat freshly shaved off a vertical rotisserie is light but filling and half of the portion is more than enough given everything that you’ve eaten so far.
For the grand finale, walk two blocks to the Upper East Side’s newest obsession, Anita Gelato. Ignore the ever-present line – it moves quickly. An import from Israel with shops in Tel Aviv, Sydney and San Juan, Anita brings hungry Manhattanites gelati that are works of art. Two cases separate the “plain” choices from the dolled-up mix-ups like Cookieman or Pavlova with Mixed Berries. In any case, the plain flavors are pretty darn amazing all by themselves. This is your time to indulge. You can order a small cone or dish with two flavors if you like, but I always seem to order a larger version and I manage to finish it without difficulty. Get the Salt Caramel and Milk Chocolate with Pretzels, and take pictures of the other flavors. You’ll thank me later.