Traditional fine dining restaurants are, at their core, pretty similar. Sure, some have menus where every dish is sourced from a different time zone, and others only serve what they can forage next to local highways. But in general, this category is marked by white tablecloths, exorbitant prices, and clientele in blazers sipping Sauternes from the year of their first divorce. But Manhatta is an exception. This French restaurant in Fidi both looks better and costs less than the vast majority of New York City’s fine dining options.
Manhatta has a lot in common with other spots from Danny Meyer’s restaurant group, like Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, except for one major difference: it’s 60 floors up. The multi-room space, which encircles an open kitchen, has floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of rivers, bridges, and skyscrapers that tourists will point to thinking they’re looking at The Chrysler Building while you understand they’re just apartments that require guarantors who have offshore bank accounts.
Before you even get in the elevator, you’ll experience your first dose of the excellent service here as hosts escort you through the ground-floor lobby. Once upstairs, the staff in the bar area (reserved for walk-ins and people who want to take in the views before their meal) appear out of nowhere just as you realize you’d like another drink. And throughout the course of your dinner in the dining room, you’ll be helped by a team of servers who can tell you how each dish is prepared and the ones they’re most excited about, all while smiling in a way that makes you think they genuinely enjoy being here. The huge wine list has plenty of bottles with prices that’ll make you ask if this grape juice is served in a gold chalice or comes with a blessing from someone who blesses things - but the sommeliers are just as happy to recommend $55 bottles of Montepulciano or Beaujolais.
The views and service are the first things that’ll impress you about Manhatta, but once you’ve settled in you’ll also appreciate the smaller details. Like the fact that this restaurant - an attractive space located at the cruising altitude of a hot air balloon - has enough room between tables that you could drive a car through it. Other special touches include cushions underneath the tables to keep the decibel level down, tastes of wines-by-the-glass offered in different types of Zalto (a.k.a. very fancy) wine glasses, and binoculars on the windowsills.
While the setting at Manhatta is unlike anything else in the city, we can’t say the same of the menu. It’s a three-course prix fixe, and you can choose from around six fairly traditional French dishes for each course. Almost all of them are very well-executed, but none of them is particularly exciting. It’s a little disappointing that a place with such a ridiculous setting has, overall, pretty predictable food.
The good news: while nothing you eat here will keep you up at night, neither will any sense of buyer’s remorse. The prix fixe is $88, hospitality included - and when you’re halfway through a wagyu bavette and bottle of French malbec, with foie gras behind you and vanilla souffle ahead, looking out on the city like you’re experiencing Google Earth in VR, you’re going to think that’s a pretty good deal.
By the time your server puts down after-dinner canelés with your check, you’ll be both full and, technically, richer than you would be after eating at similar fine dining restaurants around the city. Unlike many of those others, we would recommend Manhatta to just about anyone - but in case you’re here to toast your first divorce, know that the oldest Sauternes on the menu is from 2003.
Three types of fatty animal spread in the shape of a dainty ladyfinger (as in the cookie, not the human). There’s a thick layer of not-at-all-grainy foie gras, sandwiched between layers of tete de veau (calf’s head) and a strip of Armagnac-infused chicken fat, served with a buttery popover. This is the best first course here.
The quenelle itself has a consistency between foam and soft butter, and it’s generally forgettable. The best part of the dish is the sauce underneath the quenelle, which should be soaked up with the very good house bread.
We love escargots and we support wrapping anything in sausage, but this dish doesn’t work. The pork sausage overwhelms any flavor from the snails, and it’s under-salted to the point that you’ll reach for the salt shaker multiple times before the six meatballs are gone.
This had been rotated off the menu on our most recent visit, but you should hope it pulls a Michael Keaton and makes a comeback. The charred crust is salty and gives the tender meat some texture, and the fatty part along the bone is one of the best bites we’ve had here.
This is just a well executed version of dark a l’orange - dark pink, tender meat, a layer of fat, and a thin coating of crispy skin. But what makes this dish noteworthy is the confit portion, which tastes like some kind of duck hash brown that will make you wonder if duck hash browns are a thing. They should be.
The chicken has a lot of flavor, but know that the texture is very different from the roasted chicken you’ll find at every brick-walled neighborhood spot in the city. It’s cooked sous vide, so it’s extremely soft and tender throughout, and cuts more like pork tenderloin than normal chicken. This is a solid option for people who don’t want red meat.
If the dishes at Manhatta competed in an awards show, this would win best supporting cast. The fatty, rich meat and charred crust are good, but it’s the sides that deserve the podium. The potatoes are sliced super thin and cooked in a lot of butter, and the creamed spinach is flavorful without being too heavy, and both are taken up a notch when dipped in the beef jus.
This is a whole lot better than that ziploc bag filled with dates that was always in your great-aunt’s fridge. The cake is dense and topped with creme fraiche ice cream that tastes like a light, buttery, slightly melted scoop of vanilla.
This souffle looks like an inflated bread balloon when it’s served, and watching it deflate and crumble in on itself when the butterscotch sauce is poured on top is almost as enjoyable as actually eating it. It tastes like a cross between bread pudding and creme brulee, and it’s a great way to end your meal here.
If you want some food at the bar, and don’t want to do the prix fixe, you may be tempted to get this $28 burger that’s topped with onion rings. Fight that temptation - the flavor almost all comes from the silly amount of caramelized onions, and coupled with the beef broth, this taste more like French onion soup than a high-quality burger.
While you should skip the burger, don’t skip the bar snacks, which are only available at one of those seats. The fried chicken bites and the perfectly-battered tempura mushrooms are good, but our favorite thing is the croque madame. Two mini ham and cheese sandwiches come on crunchy, buttery bread with bechamel and runny quail eggs on top.