PACK YOUR KNIVES AND GO
A DIY "Top Chef" Tour of New York City
Craving more Top Chef? We've got the dish on the show's most memorable New York moments—along with smart tips for experiencing some of the city's best culinary spots.
The French Culinary Institute, SoHo
For more than two decades, the French Culinary Institute has launched the careers of top chefs like Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill New York, David Chang of NYC's Momofuku restaurants, Wylie Dufresne of WD-50—and Top Chef season one contestant Lee Anne Wong. Season three chefs had the opportunity to visit the renowned school and create a chicken dish for an all-star judges panel that included FCI founder Dorothy Cann Hamilton and famed alums André Soltner and Jacques Torres. Casey's attempt to label her dish "coq au vin" prompted an outcry from the judges (since the French dish is classically made with rooster, not a hen), and Hung's sous vide bird (cooked in an airtight bag submerged in almost-boiling water) was declared the winner. See what's cooking now by dining at L'Ecole, the school's contemporary French restaurant and home to one of NYC's best meal deals: $42 gets you a five-course dinner with dishes like juniper-smoked rack of lamb or seared scallops—all prepared by FCI students (at 8 p.m., the second seating, Mon.–Sat.). The seasonal prix fixe menu changes every eight weeks. 462 Broadway, 212/219-8890, frenchculinary.com.
Harlem Gospel Choir, Times Square
The legendary Harlem Gospel Choir treated contestants to an impromptu kitchen concert during season five's Christmas episode. As chefs drew knives denoting which of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" would be their dish themes, singers belted out corresponding lyrics. Hosea's 11 Pipers Piping smoked pork dish—a play on the idea of pipers smoking instead of playing bagpipes—stood out from a chorus of mediocre dishes like Ariane's Six Geese A-Laying deviled eggs. Though the Harlem Gospel Choir won't be singing Christmas carols now, you can hear them live at the group's weekly Sunday Gospel Brunch at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square. As you enjoy soulful gospel standards like "Oh Happy Day," chow down on cornmeal-crusted fried catfish, mac and cheese, grits, biscuits, and sausage links from the all-you-can-eat Southern-style buffet ($40 in advance, $42.50 day of show). 237 W. 42 St., 212/997-4144, bbkingblues.com.
Perilla, Greenwich Village
Back in 2006, likable Long Island native Harold Dieterle out-cooked uptight Bostonian Tiffani Faison to win the very first Top Chef title. After the show, Dieterle returned to NYC and opened Perilla, a Greenwich Village bistro that serves seasonal American cuisine. The cozy restaurant's 18 tables fill up fast (make reservations two weeks in advance to guarantee a spot). But many regulars prefer to sit at the bar anyway, where they can chat with bartenders, people-watch through the big front windows, and order from the full menu. Make like the locals: Grab a bar seat and order Dieterle's signature spicy duck meatballs ($13). Dieterle fans should note that the original Top Chef is usually in the kitchen Monday through Friday. There's a chance of spotting him if he comes into the dining room. Or, if you ask nicely—and if the restaurant isn't too busy—the waitstaff might bring you into the kitchen to give Dieterle a quick hello. For more potential Top Chef alum sightings, stop into 24 Prince (owned by season four's Nikki Cascone), Sólo (helmed by season three winner Hung Huynh), or Café des Artistes (where season three's Joey Paulino is chef de cuisine). Perilla, 9 Jones St., 212/929-6868, perillanyc.com; 24 Prince, 24 Prince St., 212/226-8624, 24prince.com; Sólo, 550 Madison Ave., 212/833-7800, theprimegrill.com; Café des Artistes, 1 W. 67th St., 212/877-3500, cafenyc.com.
Astor Center, East Village
Astor Wines & Spirits is a downtown institution, thanks to its vast inventory and knowledgeable sales staff. Astor Center, the swank culinary education and event space above the wine shop, was created to celebrate the tastes and pleasures that come with swirling and sipping vino. It's also where Top Chef contestants cooked for some very harsh critics—each other—in a brutal fifth season elimination challenge. If you're hoping to train your palate to be Top Chef-worthy, take one of Astor Center's one-day wine or food classes. No less an expert than Astor Center president Andrew Fisher helms the class, Elements of Wine: Wine Tasting, Wine Pairing, and More ($75). And in The Fundamentals of Cooking ($125), you'll learn how to wield knives and prep food like a top chef. For a cheaper alternative, attend a free wine tasting at Astor Center, held most afternoons and evenings Wednesday through Sunday. Tip: Buy a bottle of whatever you've sampled and receive 15 percent off the price. 399 Lafayette St., 212/674-7501, astorcenternyc.com.
NEW YORK FOR FOODIES
Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com
Budget Travel Real Deals