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11. Anita Lo: annisa
Anita Lo is another of the founding female chefs of New York cuisine, someone I’ve admired for years both in and outside of the kitchen. Her restaurant annisa has been uniquely influential in the downtown scene since it opened in 2000, and its menu, with its vibrant combinations of flavors, has won numerous awards. I had mixed feelings about her other restaurant, bar Q, but not about its signature dish, fried milk. Sadly, bar Q has now closed. As tough as nails, Lo also recently rebuilt and reopened annisa after it fell victim to a fire in June of 2009. Which is a very good thing – New York can’t survive without at least one Anita Lo restaurant at a time.
annisa: 13 Barrow Street (near West 4th Street), Manhattan
12. Paola Marracino: Paola’s Restaurant
I’ve talked before about her heavenly ricotta cheesecake, and there’s really nothing on Paola Marracino’s menu that I don’t rave about. I’ve been a fan of Paola and her restaurant for years, and find her to be an inspiration in so many ways. She’s another one of these sweet Italian grandmother types who happens to make a killer bolognese, tough in the kitchen but soft as butter on the floor. A meal at Paola’s never fails to cheer me up on the darkest days, and I’m amazed that her place remains relatively under-the-radar. Then again, I prefer it that way.
Paola’s Restaurant: 1295 Madison Avenue (between 92nd and 93rd Streets), Manhattan
13. Zarela Martinez: Zarela
Zarela Martinez is a chef, a maverick, and one wild grandma. I took a Mexican cooking class with her this summer at the Gourmet Latino Festival, which was full of spice and spice. ¿Entiendes? Martinez’s career took off in the early 80s and has been going strong ever since; her current place, Zarela, opened in 1997 and still draws a crowd every night. I’ve always felt that Mexican cuisine is particularly female-oriented, and no single chef better supports that theory than Martinez. With her enthusiasm for food and for life, she has all the warmth of a mother and the magic touch of a culinary goddess.
Zarela: 953 2nd Avenue (between 50th and 51st Streets), Manhattan
14. Alex Raij: Txikito, El Quinto Pino
I once spent over an hour at the bar of Txikito, talking with Alex Raij about sherry. Not only does this woman have an encyclopedic knowledge of Basque food, but she knows how to pair it as well. Txikito is a trailblazer, with dishes like trotters and tripe with chickpeas, and Raij helms the kitchen with grace and alacrity. Raij is a woman after my own heart: A true food maven, both inside the kitchen and out. P.S. Her duet of tapas bars in Chelsea are the perfect pre or post (in my case post!) movie hangs if you’re going to see Chelsea Cinemas.
15. Julie Reiner: Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club, Clover Club, Lani Kai
These days, being a creative person in the food industry doesn’t just mean being a chef: In this drink renaissance, cocktail “chefs” are just as relevant as those of the food variety. Julie Reiner , master mixologist, is the force behind a number of influential bars: Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club, and Clover Club, a cozy spot in Carroll Gardens at which I’ve had many a retro tipple. Ever on trend, she recently opened Lani Kai, a “tropical” cocktail bar—not a tiki bar, she’s said—with delicious food to boot. Of course, it was the perfect spot to bring together my Aunt Susie and Mr. Mixologist a few weeks ago, who bonded over rum cocktails and short-rib sliders.
Flatiron Lounge: 37 West 19th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), Manhattan
Pegu Club: 77 West Houston Street (between West Broadway and Wooster Street), Manhattan
Clover Club: 210 Smith Street (between Butler and Baltic Streets), Brooklyn
Lani Kai: 525 Broome Street (between Sullivan and Thompson Streets), Manhattan
16. Missy Robbins: A Voce
Missy Robbins came to A Voce from a stint at Spiagga in Chicago, and she brought some of that city’s classic styling with her. Where many New York restaurants are now rather more casual than not, A Voce remains perfectly coiffed and elegantly turned out, in both food and feel. Missy Robbins herself is a culinary genius. I was introduced to her over lunch one afternoon last summer, when she gave me a lesson in making orecchiette that I’ll never forget. Her straciatella with pear mostarda is both delicate and lush, and reminded me of summers in Italy. I’ve learned a lot from many chefs over the years, but I’d take a lesson from Robbins any time.
A Voce: *Flatiron: 41 Madison Avenue (at East 26th Street), Manhattan
*Columbus Circle: 10 Columbus Circle (between 58th and 59th Streets), Manhattan
17. Audrey Saunders: Pegu Club
Audrey Saunders is another who raised the bar–pun intended–on cocktails in this city. Pegu Club, which she opened with Julie Reiner in 2005, is pretty much a classic at this point, while certain drinks of hers, like the Gin-Gin Mule, have been copied across Manhattan. It’s hard to top her creative mix of tipples, even if the crowd inside Pegu Club can feel cripplingly coked up. But scene aside, even Mr. Mixologist likes a good Pisco Punch at Pegu, and you know how discerning he can be!
Pegu Club: 77 West Houston Street (near West Broadway), Manhattan
18. Amy Scherber: Amy’s Bread
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Amy’s fan. I consider Amy Scherber’s raisin-fennel baguette to be perfection, or as near to it as one can get with some flour and yeast, an airy loaf that works equally well for mushroom bruschetta and as a vessel for high-quality butter. Amy’s Bread churns out everything from buttermilk biscuits to tuna melts stuffed with Murray’s cheese(!), and although I’m a regular at their Bleecker Street location, I’ve often picked up a sweet to have with my coffee at 9th Street Espresso in Chelsea Market as well. In my mind, as in many others across the city, Amy Scherber is the genius of bread. Male or female, no one comes close.
Amy’s Bread: *West Village: 250 Bleecker Street (at Leroy Street), Manhattan
*Chelsea Market: 75 9th Avenue (between 15th and 16th Streets), Manhattan
*Hell’s Kitchen: 672 9th Avenue (between 46th and 47th Streets), Manhattan
19. Jody Williams: Morandi
It’s a Keith McNally restaurant, but Jody Williams is behind the counter at Morandi, putting together amazing pasta, fish, and other Italian masterpieces. I love going with a crowd and splitting some of their delectable dishes; as with any McNally joint, the atmosphere is supremely sexy, but in my opinion, Williams’ menu is a cut above the rest. It’s a delight to sit outside on a summer day, and brunch is just divine (and shockingly affordable). Is there anything that this restaurant does wrong? If there is, I’ve yet to find it.
Morandi: 211 Waverly Place (at 7th Avenue), Manhattan
20. The Nonnas of Enoteca Maria
If you’ve ever heard of Enoteca Maria, it’s probably through a friend, or because you’ve braved a ferry ride to discover this wonder yourself. It’s not the newest West Village spot, nor is the chef anyone you’d recognize. You can’t even take the subway there, because Enoteca Maria is on Staten Island. Its chefs–and there are multiple–are a cast of Italian grandmothers, each serving her own specialties. Even if your own grandmother wasn’t the best of cooks, you can go to Enoteca Maria and enter a fantasy of home-cooking the likes of which most people never know in real life. Only rarely do I feel that food feels distinctly masculine or feminine, but here the female influence is clear, and worth the ride across the river!
Enoteca Maria: 27 Hyatt Street (at Central Avenue), Staten Island
To read the first 10 of my Top 20 Most Notable Female Chefs in NYC, click here.