My Holiday Guide to the City

15 December 2010

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 December 15, 2010
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I am happy to report that I will be spending the holidays here in my hometown of New York and I could not be happier.  You see, this is the first time in about 15 years that I have not been on a plane dashing around the globe to spend it with family.  This year Gluten Free Mike’s parents are making their way to the City for a true New York Christmas.  It is also the City where they had their honeymoon more than 50 years ago and celebrated their 50th anniversary high atop it a few years ago.  There is something magical about the City during the holidays.  The buzz is almost electric and from Radio City (just picked up my tickets to the Christmas Spectacular) to the department store windows to Rockefeller Center  – they City really knows how to do  the holidays.

Perhaps it is just me waxing nostalgic but I grew up here (well, the East End of Long Island) but there was a time when I would leave school early and come in nearly every day when I was a budding child actor (big surprise, right?).  My how times have changed and I’ll soon be receiving a Ph.D. rather than a Tony but I wouldn’t change a thing.  It is the memories of another time that make my City magical.  Walking around the City, a familiar sight or smell can instantly bring me back to another place in time.  Yes, things have changed dramatically but some things just never will.

Alright so where am I going with this?  Well, I thought I would take you on a virtual walk through some of my favorite gluten-free or friendly places here in the City.  You may or may not have seen the reviews before but I figured if you find yourself in the City around the holidays you might need a place to warm up with some sustenance (food or liquid) to re-charge those batteries.  So here goes…

If you happen to be arriving at Grand Central Terminal (which is a must to visit during the holidays with its Holiday Bazaar and light shows) fuel-up with a cocktail at the Campbell Apartment.  One of my all-time favorite places to grab a drink.  It can be super busy during the week but weekends are a bit more relaxed.  Their bartenders are second to none and mix a mean cocktail.  There are also light bites available for snacking.  If you are looking for a unique dining experience head to the other balcony of Grand Central and check out Charlie Palmer’s Métrazur.  It’s balcony location affords a unique view of Grand Central Station and you can enjoy the holiday light show right from your table.

If you find yourself in Midtown East for a bit of retail therapy why not head over to the Four Seasons which will be in its Winter phase with decor and food reflecting the season.  They have always been great about accommodating guests with food allergies and you really cannot get more New York than this locale.  I have been dining there since I was a child and would not change a thing about it.  A bit further East is Leona’s at the New York Helmsley Hotel.  Completely renovated and renamed for its matriarch’s namesake it is truly a hidden gem and I have already booked a holiday dinner there for when my parents are in town.  They too have always been on top of accommodating guests with food allergies and the bartender mixes a fabulous cocktail.  Not up for a meal – pop into Harry’s Bar next to the restaurant and tuck into the comfortable surroundings with a cocktail and some great bar nibbles.

If you work your way west to the Rockefeller Center area do not miss the Algonquin lobby bar for a cocktail.  It is old New York through and though.  The cocktails are amazing, the staff excellent, and you might even get a visit from its resident feline ambassador Matilda.  If you are feeling a bit puckish, try the Michelin starred Seäsonal.  I had an amazing meal that was allergy-friendly and overseen by a truly welcoming staff.  I have sent friends there and they too have fallen in love with this Austrian-influenced locale.  They also have quite possibly the most comprehensive Austrian wine list (and wines by the glass) you could hope for.  In the mood for Chinese?  Stop by Lili’s on 57th Street for a dedicated gluten-free menu complete with all of your favorites dishes done gluten-free and every bit as delicious.

Perhaps you’ll be at the Time Warner Center before a brisk carriage ride through Central Park (blankets and cocoa are often provided).  Why not enter the Mandarin Oriental hotel and head on up to the 35th floor lobby overlooking Central Park.  There you will find Asiate where the food is just as impressive as the view.  I had a great meal and the staff were on top of food allergic guests.  If a big meal is not what you are looking for, the lobby also have a fabulous cocktail lounge with the same view and small bites.

Maybe you are more of an Uptown Girl (or Guy) and you want to get your soul on this holiday season.  Well, then you must head over to Sylvia’s – the Queen of Soul Food.  I had a fabulous gluten-free time here and nearly had to be rolled out the door – go hungry.  You want to check out the Cloisters at the tip of Manhattan, well there is Bette Midler’s NYRP New Leaf Café.  While my reviewed experience was not all that great, I have been back several times and if you can get beyond the sometimes lackluster service the location is truly unique and food good.

If the Upper East Side is more your style than don’t miss Peters’ Restaurant and Grille.  An honest to goodness gluten-free diner that has it all from pancakes to Monte Cristos.  This is a must stop location for Celiacs in the City.  It can get very busy, particularly on weekends but worth the wait or if you live in the area – they deliver.  A bit further down is Lumi Italian restaurant which you may remember from the Sex in the City movie.  The food is good and I have always left full.  It is nice that they have gluten-free pasta options.  It is a bit on the pricey side so if a quick pasta fix is more your style head over to Hello Pasta a bit further down and grab some gluten-free spaghetti with your choice of sauce (not all sauces are gluten-free but all are clearly marked).  A little birdy told me they will offer gluten-free penne as well in the New Year.  One of their founders told me all about their training, practices, and attention to gluten-free guests to ensure we can dine without worry.

Finally, what is New York without pizza?  So, my favorite place, Palà, is located the Lower East Side and is not to be missed on your visit to the City.  The pizza is definitely my favorite and the other gluten-free options are equally as good.

Okay, so this was a quick trip around the City.  If you need additional inspiration, check out my Dining Out section or head on just click on the Restaurants category here in the blog for my recommendations and experiences around the globe.

Here’s wishing everyone a truly happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful and prosperous New Year.

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