Caity: I probably go to the Armani store seventy to eighty times a week, but this was my first trip to the restaurant.
Rich: The employee in the elevator knew why we were there. I don't know if that was a compliment ("You dress stylishly and clearly don't need our fashion help") or a dis ("It's VERY expensive").
The best restaurant in New York is
Armani/Ristorante inside the Armani store on 5th Avenue.
Cost, including two Proseccos and two Diet Cokes, before tip
Rich: I felt like everyone we encountered was on the brink of bitchy. Just waiting to be crossed so that they could unleash some catharsis. In that sense, I felt at home in good old Armani/Ristorante. No walk-away ass bitches work there, that's for sure.
Caity: My heart sank when I looked at the menu and saw so many Italian dishes I didn't recognize, because I knew I wouldn't feel comfortable asking for an explanation in that place. ("Bring me two of these!" Mademoiselle, you are just pointing to the word "Armani" on the front of our menu.) As it turned out, though, our waiter was quite playful!
Rich: Did you catch his name? If not, I'm just gonna call him Ruggero. No, wait. Dario. No, I knew a Dario. Our waiter will now be known as Lucio.
Lucio had a deep voice with a sexy Italian accent that I wanted inside of me as soon as he said my choice of prosecco was, "Beautiful." The bubbly was dry, but I sure wasn't ;).
Caity: My Diet Cokes came in tiny glass bottles, which I hate. The soda I ordered sure wasn't cost-effective and neither were the $3,000 Armani suits being sold (discreetly out of sight) yards away from where I sat, sipping my drinks with m e a s u r e d s l o w n e s s.
Caity: The restaurant, located on the third floor of the Armani building, was pretty inside. Big and white and open. Sleek, but inviting. I think more restaurants should be located above ground level, even if it's only a floor or two. It feels like you're in a very low airplane. Removed from the hustle and bustle of other people's tiny, ant-like lives.
Rich: You sat on a giant couch by yourself.
Caity: Removed from the tiny ant-like lives of the people around me—yourself included—who were sitting in regular chairs.
Seated next to us when we arrived was a table of three glamorous matrons who lunch. One of them was in a bright orange Pucci dress. I liked her. She seemed like a nightmare.
Rich: But, like, the best nightmare. A nightmare that would be fun to watch on reality TV. At one point she said, "At Dolce & Gabanna, we had a breakfast meeting and she said we're expanding." And this was apparently funny because one of her friends guffawed.
When their food came, all three ladies said "Pretty. Very pretty!" in rounds.
Caity: I said that when our food came, too, because I had heard them say it and copying them seemed like a safe bet. "A selection of your prettiest items, Per favore!"
The (warm!) bread basket they brought was a bountiful offering to Ceres. When they left it on the table you and I both whispered, "Class."
That free basket of bread was the first and only item we could afford to consume on the menu, but, when in Rome, eat at Armani. We opted for the prix fixe lunch special, which was $44 per person and came with four courses (including coffee or dessert), plus an amuse bouche.
I'll note here that a really fun thing to do while you are in the Armani store, whether for food or fashion, is only pronounce the word "Armani" like ARM'inee—the same way you pronounce the Termini (TERM'inee) bakery in South Philly.
I went dahn ta da ARM'inee store wit my friend Richard awn Tuesdee.
Rich: Is there an ARM'inee in kinuhprussia moll?
For an appetizer, you got the Insalata (salad): Green Asparagus, Arugula, Rhubarb & Almond Vinaigrette.
Caity: It was great!
Rich: Big words coming from a veggiephobe.
Caity: There was one item in it I had trouble identifying, and you said "It's an apple, right?"
Rich: And you said, "I think I know what an apple tastes like." Do you, though? I've never actually seen you eat an apple. I don't think you ever would choose to do so.
Caity: Yeah, that wasn't sarcasm. I meant it in the spirit of "I wonder if I know what an apple tastes like." I do like an apple with caramel on it.
Rich: Everyday is Halloween when you are Caity Weaver.
Caity: Luckily my extensive knowledge of pies eventually helped me solve the mystery: rhubarb.
Rich: Rhubarb is basically like an unsweetened apple. In the apple party, it's the wallflower. My friend's dog was named Rhubarb and one day he chewed up what felt like dozens of my action figures. I had a breakdown.
I got the zupa (soup): white asparagus soup with leeks and yukon potatoes. Mine was delicious. Cream of Lucio.
Caity: When our team of three waiters brought out your soup, Lucio put down your bowl—empty but for a minuscule portion of asparagus—and exclaimed, "Here's the soup!" Then we all laughed (in Italian) and one of his assistants poured it in.
He felt comfortable joking with us because he could tell we were low-class. It was like the scene in Lady and the Tramp when the restaurateur gives them a plate of spaghetti at a romantic table for two. "It is a funny joke to pretend you are people!" Lucio's eyes laughed.
Rich: Next course: You got the Cavatelli Neri (Homemade squid ink pasta with shrimp, escarole and sweet peas).
Caity: When the waiters put down my plate, you and I both fell silent. After they walked away, I whispered what the whole restaurant was thinking: "Rich. They brought me a plate of bugs."
These noodles looked disgusting.
Rich: Pretty horrifying, really. Shiny and black and segmented.
Caity: It was like something out of a nightmare: I put my fork down to skewer my delicious Italian meal, and when I raise it to my mouth, it's crawling with slimy black worms and I'm late for the airport.
Rich: It was like something out of an Italian horror movie.
Rich: I got the risotto "with Red Pesto of dried tomatoes." That risotto was fucking masterful. Not too heavy, blessed with the bite of parmesan, and with the sweetness of tomato. Al dente, if rice can be al dente (can rice be al dente?).
My third course was buttery fish in butter. (Rainbow trout.) There were little purple flowers on it. You asked me, "Can you identify what the flowers are by taste?" I couldn't. I'm gay but I'm not an alchemist. Jesus.
The trout was good, but anti-climactic, really, given how senfuckingsational everything else was. Man, this really is the best restaurant in New York
Caity: My third course—steak—was definitely the weak point as well.
Rich: It seemed bloody.
Caity: That would be the layer of tomato sauce, Rich.
Rich: You asked me if I wanted your blood-soaked vegetables, which you, of course, did not plan on eating. No thanks.
Mmm, I think I'm right.
Caity: You bite into a tomato: "I think I know what blood tastes like."
Our dessert course was also fine: A trio of gelatos and ice creams. A trio, as they say in Italian.
Rich: I don't know which was which. The difference is in the consistency, I believe, and they were all melty and runny, as ice cream tends to get. Hazelnut was aiight, but the strawberry and stracciatella were (I just brought all my fingers to a point, kissed it and released).
Caity: Best of all, we each received a SURPRISE FINALE COOKIE with the check.
Rich: You were in the bathroom when they came. I considered eating both and sending the plate back quickly, but my heart is bigger than my stomach. (Yeah, right. I wish.)
Caity: On my way back from the (completely marble) restroom, I scoped out the restaurant hoping to catch sight of a very minor celebrity. The closest I saw was a beautiful pregnant woman. I still gasped, because pregnant women are celebrities to me. I like imagining everyone being excited for them and treating them with care.
Rich: Before we left, I noticed that seated next to the matrons who lunch was a woman who looked like Iggy Azalea eating with guy who looked like Miguel Ferrer (of Robocop) from afar and Michael Lohan up close.
And I thought to myself, "We are all so fancy." That's what a good restaurant can do.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Rich: YES! It's where I met my new husband Lucio. It will forever be "our spot."
Caity: No. I can't afford it. Maybe an Armani Exchange/Ristorante.
Is it a good first date spot?
Rich: Yes. The Armani says, "I have taste," and the Ristorante says, "Taste my taste."
Caity: No. There is nothing LESS chalant than inviting someone to dinner inside a high-end luxury clothing boutique. "I'm gonna take you to eat in all the finest stores, baby."
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Rich: No. Everyone is quietly judging you and it would only compound your guilt. If you're an exhibitionist, though, go crazy. The elevator man will thank you silently.
Caity: No. I have never felt more conspicuous while being ignored by everyone around me (except Lucio).
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Rich: Since it's SOOOOOOOO gauche, why the fuck not! Go crazy! Bring a trashy-ass Bratz for all I care!
Caity: No. There's room on this giant couch for a hundred dolls, but I would prefer to sit alone.
It's a good place to bring your doll if she needs to be humbled.
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York.
Previously: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty; The Campbell Apartment inside Grand Central; The U.N. Delegates Dining Room; Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café
[Images via Rich Juzwiak]