Neighborhood: Union Square
Address: 22 E 13th St.
How hard is it to get in?: Difficult. Walk-ins are not accepted, so if you come in without a reservation, the best you can hope for is a spot at the bar.
Wallet stress: High ($17-37)
Get this: Guinea Hen, Lumache
Skip that: Hamachi
Does it live up to the hype?: Hell yes.
If you're welcomed into a restaurant with R. Kelly cooing about coming to his hotel, the chance that you'll leave disappointed is low. Fortunately, the offerings at All'Onda are as good as the R&B selection. I'm seated at the bar, where a warm bartender gives full, attentive service. At her recommendation, I order a basil gimlet. I am not a vodka drinker. I siphon tequila into my veins whenever the opportunity presents itself. But this gimlet smells like a bouquet of fresh basil. It's beautiful too, with three aromatic drops of green basil floating on its surface. It tastes like a spring day.
The plates are equally poetic. Restaurateur Chris Cannon and chef Chris Jaeckle, both Micheal White alums, were inspired by the cuisines of Venice and Japan, an unlikely intersection that often plays out here to brilliant effect. Lightly fried sweetbreads are sprinkled with bonito flakes that undulate like waves, which is as off-putting as it is awe-inspiring. Razor clams are wildly fresh and a sea salt crunch adds textural intrigue. Hamachi marinated with soy and chili is subtle, if uninspiring. The lumache pasta, featuring a soft slow-aged duck ragu and dusting of subtly sweet dark chocolate, though, is nearly transcendent. Guinea hen, too, is wonderful, offering two cuts: a leg that's buttery and tender, slipping off the bone, and a crisp skin that gives way to a moist breast. The olive oil-soaked pound cake, with ricotta cream and basil seeds, is simple and clean, the ideal capstone on a night of decadent cuisine. —Shanté Cosme