Few things in New York are more debated than dining: what's in, what's out, what's overpriced, what's overrated, where to find the best pizza, steak, sushi, tiramisu, cupcakes, etc., etc. New York, The New Yorker and TimeOut NY all feature excellent dining reviews, listed conveniently by neighborhood. Online, two invaluable amateur review sites are MenuPages and Citysearch. Next and HX magazines have good overviews of gay-popular dining spots. OpenTable is great for snagging reservations at many of the tonier establishments. Otherwise, call ahead for reservations as soon as you know when you'll be in town, and check the dress code -- many of New York's finer restaurants require jackets and ties. Also, it's becoming increasingly popular not to accept credit cards at some smaller restaurants, so be sure to ask before you stuff yourself. Unless otherwise noted, price ranges given below are for dinner entrees.
BEST 4: SPLURGE
Napa Valley superchef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Bouchon) brings his elegant California flair to Per Se (10 Columbus Circle, at 60th St.; 212-823-9335; fixed price menus $250), an exquisite and intimate nine-course culinary extravaganza blending New American and French cuisines, with fabulous views of Central Park.
For a sublime combo of true elegance and sheer tastebud delight, it's hard to beat Daniel (60 E. 65th St., btwn Madison & Park Aves.; 212-288-0033; fixed price menus $96 and $155), the eponymous creation of top chef Daniel Boulud, whose ingenious takes on fine French fare are served against a warm, Venetian Renaissance backdrop.
Though it stumbled a bit when souperstar Tom Colicchio left in late 2006, Gramercy Tavern (42 E. 20th St., btwn Broadway & Park Ave. South; 212-477-0777; fixed price menus $76, $82 and $98) is back in perfect form under the helm of new chef Michael Anthony, whose fare is noticeably lighter and higher concept than Colicchio's famed haute-hearty grub. The atmosphere is sophisticated but relaxed, and the superb prix fixe dinners are culinary bargains.
With inventive New French cuisine, minimalist d?cor and a celebrity clientele, Jean Georges (One Central Park West, at Columbus Circle; 212-299-3900; three course fixed price menu $95, seven course $128) is one of the city's hottest dining rooms, and the mothership of international master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Its more casual sibling Nougatine (fixed price menu $68) is a similarly stylish spot for sustenance.
BEST 4: HARD TO GET
Go ahead, just try to get through the door at The Waverly Inn (16 Bank St., at Waverly Pl.; phone unlisted; $13-39), the celeb hotpot du jour that's already being touted as "the Elaine's of the noughts." Though it's not yet officially open, you can get in, so long as you're friends with someone in the uppermost echelon of the city's glitterati crowd. Just don't complain if you're stuck in "Siberia", a.k.a. The Garden Room, where you certainly won't be meeting host (and "Vanity Fair" editor) Graydon Carter.
The TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal) restaurant that spawned a worldwide empire, chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu (105 Hudson St., btwn Franklin & N. Moore Sts.; 212-219-0500; $13-36, fixed price omakase menus $100 and up) is still a hot ticket, serving Japanese fusion cuisine to the city's beautiful people. If reservations prove tough, try neighbor/sister Next Door Nobu (212-334-4445; $13-34, fixed price omakase menus $80 and up), which is first-come first-served for some of the city's freshest sushi and finest Japanese fare.
In the heart of the Village, Babbo (110 Waverly Pl., btwn McDougall St. & Sixth Ave.; 212-777-0303; $24-29, pasta tasting menu $69, traditional tasting menu $75) is a staff favorite at PlanetOut. The dinner-only Italian cuisine is inventive yet familiar, and always delicious -- as good as any we've had the city. The atmosphere is stylish yet unimposing, and you'll feel equally comfortable in jeans and a dress shirt as a suit and tie. The only down side is trying to get a reservation, even after all these years: It snagged the TimeOut NY 2007 EatOut Award for Best Restaurant You Can't Get Into.
With a delectable new American menu, a prime West Village location, and a staff that everyone agrees is just plain "nice," The Little Owl (90 Bedford St., at Grove St.; 212-741-4695; $19-26) is a surefire winner. The problem is that with some great hype but seating for just around 30, the place fills quickly. Call well ahead.