The Best Restaurant in New York Is The United Nations Dining Room
Rich: I realized I had a knife in my bag on the way to the United Nations. It's a pocket knife—a nice one—and while I've never used it (I've never had to), I did not want to give it up. But I knew we'd be searched. I also worried about leaving it in the cab and having someone pick it up and kill someone with it. That knife is safer on me than not, but I'm not safe with it.
I spent my last few minutes in the cab quietly regarding my knife and decided to place it in the trash underneath some other trash in the hope that when we were done, I could go back and retrieve my beloved knife that I've never used.
Caity: Here is what I thought as I watched you (from across the street) root around in a trashcan: Why did Rich just walk over to that trashcan and start digging in it? Is he looking for cans to recycle for money? Is he looking for food? I bet Rich wouldn't want me to watch him do this. :(
I should have known you were just hiding a knife. One time my mom threw away a huge bread knife right before a TSA screening, and a police officer saw her and asked "Ma'am, what did you just put in that trashcan?" She had tossed the knife in her purse that morning so she could make sandwiches in the car on the way to the airport.
Rich: Not my finest moment, but you do what you gotta do. And what we had to do then was enter the UN.
The best restaurant in New York is
The Delegates Dining Room at the United Nations
Cost, before tip (including coffee)
Caity: It is much harder to travel from the sidewalk on 1st Avenue to the Delegates Dining Room inside the United Nations than it is to travel from, say, the United States to the Dominican Republic.
Rich: I guess that's a good thing?
Caity: Infiltrating the public dining room was a 20 minute, 400-step process. First we had to go to a security gate. Then we had to go to the right security gate. Then we had to have our names (which were both misspelled, even though I submitted them in writing 24 hours prior, per the rules) checked off a list inside a trailer. Then we had to wait to receive our escort.
Rich: He didn't seem to be a prostitute, but I'm sure he's tired of explaining that.
Caity: Then our escort had to escort us to another trailer, where we passed through a metal detector and had our bags screened.
Rich: To get inside the second trailer, we had to walk through a door and then through thick, vertical strips of clear plastic, which I thought were maybe a throwback to the days that this land was used as a slaughterhouse. I felt like cattle.
Caity: I felt like I was being booked into an Italian prison.
After completing our security screening, we were escorted (under what you identified as “torrential drizzle”) across a parking lot, past another security checkpoint, to still another checkpoint where our driver’s licenses were exchanged for visitor’s passes.
After giving up our IDs, we were escorted to an elevator where an elevator attendant pushed a button to take us up one floor. Then we were escorted to a table where we met the woman who would escort us to our spot in the dining room.
Rich: I really want to know if the elevator operators are paid using tax money, because those elevators are not complicated and you really don't need someone to both push the button and show you the way. If someone's already showing visitors the way, that person can push the button, too. What is it, a union building?
Caity: Finally, we emerged from the security labyrinth into the dining room, which was dismal and beautiful. The room looks like a standard hotel conference room, but there are (almost) floor-to-ceiling windows across three of four walls, which offered a great view of Queens through the mist and rain.
Rich: I get the feeling that on a clear day, you can see forever. It's really pretty. And even though the walls are beige, the table cloths are white, so they're striving for class.
Caity: You can tell they're classy because the selection of breads offered (YET AGAIN) from a basket with tongs was huge: You've got your basic breads, your fancy breads, your brown breads, your light brown breads, your gross breads, and even some tasty breads. We both opted for the Parmesan crackers, which were like huge, dry, sauceless pizzas. (Delicious.)
Rich: Thick shavings of Parmesan topped these crispy delights.
Caity: When we arrived for our 11:30 reservation at 11:50 (when they tell you to arrive 15 minutes prior to your reservation to navigate security, they are not fucking around; if anything, they're underestimating), we were the only patrons in the dining room. So it was particularly odd that the next arrival (a young woman dining alone) was seated directly next to us.
Rich: She looked like Martika. I studied her face because it was two feet away.
Caity: We walked up to the buffet and it looked impressive in the way that even the least impressive buffet always does. A bounty for the gods.
Rich: Right. Looked like B wedding (Bo & Hope's) food, ended up being C wedding (Luke & Laura's) food. But it was like: We almost had it all, didn't we? Didn't we almost have it all? Black rice! Cod New England style! Lyonnaise potatoes!
Caity: If the buffet had offered unlimited Parmesan crackers, I would have eaten my weight in them. As it was, I only managed to scam them out of two.
Rich: We had to flag the waitress down for a second one, and when I asked, she said, "Mmm hmm," and emphasized the, "Hmm" so that it sounded VERY judgmental.
Caity: "Excuse me, ma'am? A cracker for my sweetheart."
Rich: After our trip to the buffet, I came back to the table to find that Martika had switched sides and was now seated next to me, which meant that I couldn't pore over her face anymore. Oh.
Caity: All of the food I ate from the buffet was fine. Rice as black as night. Shrimp tempura as brown as a brown sort of night. Manhattan clam chowder, which is really the Queens of clam chowder.
Rich: Not even Brooklyn.
The vegetables were raw while having the appearance of being charred. It was like biting into the stupidest mirage.
Caity: I had a parsnip. I had a triangle of white cheese. I had a cold cut I could not identify (the signage was not great at the buffet).
As is always the case when I eat anything other than hot dogs, I was just killing time until dessert, which was like something out of a (reasonable) dream.
Rich: Yeah, tea party fantasia. It was two tables of confectionery madness. Add a third and it coulda been in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Caity: The tables were not buckling under the weight of the sweets but I think it would be fair to characterize them as "laden.” You described my dessert plate as "a meal" in itself, which was accurate. And still I could have eaten more.
Rich: It was a lot. But I like that you are boldly you (someone who loves sugar).
Caity: I had:
Several macarons (including a lavender!), a fruit tart, a chocolate cannoli, a pistachio cannoli, a lemon tart, a handful of raspberries, a huge chocolate mousse with gold leaf on it, and a bite of your cheesecake because there wasn't room on my plate for a cheesecake of my own. I give the mousse a 7 for overall taste, and a 24 for overall gold. The macarons were the clear standout. Everything else was standard dessert buffet-good.
Rich: The cheesecake was actually a "vanilla cheese cream mini tart." It tasted like a pile of cake frosting. Buttery, but not quite buttery as shit.
This will sound particularly gay, even coming from me, but is there such thing is a bad macaron? I've never had one. Each and every one, no matter the size, shape, or flavor, has been delightful.
Caity: Macarons are pretty hard to make. I think a homemade one could easily go awry. But when you've got the combined baking knowledge of 193 of the world's most powerful nations working toward a common purpose (the creation of an average or above average macaron), that's a recipe for disastrous success.
Rich: Great point. Also, to that point, I would like to mention how...varied ethnically and nationally this place was. I mean, you'd swear it was the UN. On the one hand, that's New York—you're always seeing different kinds of people—but this here was a melting pot turned up to boil. The security guys were African. Our waiter was Indian. Martika was Martika. The guys behind us were French. After she left, Martika was replaced by a pair of Chinese ladies. Very few white people, not that I'm complaining.
Caity: It was like being on the It's a Small World ride at Disney World.
I will say that the UN, at least in terms of low-risk security logistics is really run like a place that is being run by 193 countries simultaneously. A lot of redundancy. A lot of disorganization. A lot of miscommunication. A lot of redundancy.
Rich: The fun really didn't start until we were done eating. That's when everything when nuts.
Caity: We were told that we had to have a chaperone to travel back down to the first floor. I forgot that the employee beckoning me into an elevator was not an employee certified to chaperone me by Miss Porter's Chaperone School for Young Chaps and Ladies, so I got yelled at. As you pointed out during lunch, the land occupied by the United Nations Headquarters is technically extraterritorial, so we really had no idea what the local law regarding punishment for failing to wait for a chaperone might be. Execution? Community Service?
Caity: Would I have to stand outside the UN and hold a sign reading "I Walk Around Like I Can Chaperone Myself, Acting All Tough All The Time"?
Rich: The people who worked there were absolutely frantic. "Escort! Escort! She needs an escort! You cannot be alone!"
Caity: Never have I felt more like Princess Jasmine. "Then maybe I don't wanna be a princess anymore!"
After a few tense, confusing seconds, we got our chaperone (Chaperone! Chaperone!!!!)...
Rich: ….Who supervised the pushing of the elevator button...
Caity: ...And also who seemed to barely know where she was going? Sort of felt like we were chaperoning her at times.
Rich: She was on our team though. Very offended when people came up and stood in front of you while you were taking a picture of me in front of the portraits of ex-Secretary-Generals in the hallway. "That was so rude," she muttered in a mouse voice. ("I KNOW RIGHT? I WANNA BUT THEM PAWS ON 'EM, YA DIG?")
Eventually we were escorted back to the desk where we surrendered our IDs, which, I'll remind you, was not our idea—not our red tape—and yet, we got stuck in it. We stood there for ten minutes waiting for them to find our ID’s in that little cabinet.
Caity: This was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen in my entire life (to that point; seen a lot of funny stuff since then, tho). The cabinet comprised about nine drawers, which were each opened and closed—their contents rifled through from front to back—at least six times apiece. Some of the passports and driver's licenses therein looked like they must have expired decades ago.
Rich: The security officer opened one drawer and I smelled the funk of 40,000 years.
Caity: I suppose people eventually realize it would be faster to apply for and receive a new passport than to wait for the UN to find the one you left behind before you went upstairs to eat Parmesan crackers.
Rich: At one point, the woman tried to give me the ID of someone else whose last name started with J. I guess she figured "Eh, close enough." "That's not me," I said, way more helpfully to her than she was being to us. She seemed kind of pissed. "How dare you not be this person on that ID I selected at random?"
Eventually they found our licenses in the “Delegates Dining Room” drawer. (Ohhhhhh.)
Caity: Next we had to go underground (?!), which we hadn't done to get into the UN.
Rich: A nonstop stream of faded yellow walls.
You remarked before we actually put any food in our mouths that eating at the Ambassador's Dining Room must be like what eating in heaven is like, because of the beautiful view. Well, getting out of the U.N. is what purgatory feels like, I'm sure of it.
Caity: Two hours after we arrived, we made it out. Best of all and perhaps the only good thing about the excursion besides the crackers: Your knife was still in the trash!
Rich: And all I needed to do was to dig through more trash to get it.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: I would go back if I were a UN employee, assuming UN employees get a steep discount. But, even then, there have got to be easier places to eat.
Rich: I would go back with a "real" escort, just as an inside joke to make myself laugh. Once there, I'd have another pile of black rice.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: The view could certainly be romantic in the right light, particularly if you were with someone wasn't strong on New York geography, so you could pretend you were looking at a place more glamorous than Queens. ("You see those buildings across the water? That's Cape Cod.") The security measures are also a quick way to find out if your date is on any government watch list. If you were already inside the UN and were looking for a place to bring a date, you'd be hard pressed to do better.
Rich: Feeling like a fellow prisoner with an object of desire is a recipe for kinky fun. The downside is that you're rarely alone, so unless you enjoy exhibitionism (even of the conversational sort), the U.N. is a shockingly shitty place to take a first date.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: No. The visitor logs are far too extensive. It's a great place to verify if your partner is having an affair, though.
Rich: No. If any one place in New York will have you know that it's a small world after all, it's the U.N. You're better off not tempting fate.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: While the bountiful desserts would provide the perfect props for an elaborate tea party, I have a hard time believing the United Nations would not confiscate, lose, or at least require additional security clearance for a doll. Just tell her about your field trip when you get home.
Rich: No. There's not much for a doll to learn except what it's like to be escorted everywhere, and duh, she already knows.
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 Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café
Top image: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com. Other photos by Caity Weaver.