In 1979, Esquire coined the term “power lunch” to describe the congregation of high-net-worth individuals for a meal at the now defunct Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue. The pandemic brought those meals to a screeching halt. Now, up and down the city, business meals are picking back up. Almost 50% of New York employees are again showing up to work in offices on an average weekday.
Michael McCarty, founder of midtown’s long-established Michael’s restaurant, says that these days, Tuesday through Thursday lunch hour is so packed, it’s “all-out full metal jacket.”
At Gramercy Tavern, there’s been a similar midday resurgence. William Carroll, the restaurant’s general manager, sees it in reservations and booze consumption. This year almost 22% of tables ordered a liquor-based drink, compared with 16.5% in 2019; more than 42% of tables ordered wine, compared with 39.4% three years ago; and more than 3% more groups ordered beer.
Nearby, at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s plant-based abcV, mid-day business is back to pre-pandemic levels. “A similar amount of business lunches are happening,” says Executive chef Neal Harden. “It seems even people who work from home will meet people for a lunch.”
At the dynamic brasserie Frenchette, co-owner and chef Lee Hanson says he’s seen more large parties booking business lunches.
Here are Manhattan’s most noteworthy power lunch haunts, from downtown new-guard spots to midtown places that continue to bring in the corporate card crowd.
At the year-old Rockefeller Center restaurant from Estela chef-owner Ignacio Mattos, the specialty is North Italian small plates and spritzes. In warm weather, the cozy front patio on the plaza is packed with people from the repopulated office buildings nearby. Most tables order the house bread basket, which contains one of the city’s best olive oil-laced focaccias. There’s a handful of large plates, such as pork sausage with mostarda, but the assorted antipasti, including house-made ricotta, and puffy butter beans with pancetta, rightly, get all the attention.
Executive chef Hillary Sterling put the Manhattan West development on the city’s culinary map with her sublime Italian comfort food cooking at Ci Siamo. Its dining room is convenient for offices in nearby Hudson Yards such as those of SAP SE and Meta Platforms Inc. Along with a strong pasta selection, Sterling offers dishes like greens-stuffed whole trout and chicken with fresno chiles from the custom, open-fire hearth. For dessert, try the affogato and lemon torta with olive oil from legendary pastry chef Claudia Fleming.
Chef Eric Ripert’s fine dining institution on West 51st Street has been specializing in refined seafood since 1986. Banks, tech companies, and publishing houses have come and gone from the neighborhood, but Le Bernardin continues to pack in diners at lunch. There’s a choice of options: In the more casual lounge, guests can order lobster roll or salmon rillette à la carte or opt for a $90 three-course prix fixe. Many of Ripert’s classics, such as his signature paper-thin yellowfin tuna with foie gras, can be found on the $120 menu offered in the main dining room.
Since it opened four years ago, this upscale brasserie from chef-owners Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, who ran the kitchens at Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, has been a downtown destination for steak frites and côte de boeuf at night. The daytime menu for diners from offices around Tribeca focuses on excellent renditions of French favorites such as truffle-topped brouillade—soft scrambled eggs—as well as steak tartare frites and soupe de poisson.
Major Food Group, the team behind the ubiquitous Carbone and the soon-to-open Torrisi Bar & Restaurant, reconceived the iconic Four Seasons power lunch spot in 2017 as a lavish ode to mid-century American cuisine. The Grill continues to make East 52nd Street the place to go for a big-deal lunch, where the menu runs to well-executed classics like club sandwiches, oversize shrimp cocktails, and a selection of dry aged beef.
At the bi-level space in Midtown East, across the street from Jefferies Financial Group Inc. and a stone’s throw from BlackRock Inc offices, chef Alex Stupak specializes in a singular version of Mexican food. His take on a midtown meat course is pastrami tacos on housemade corn tortillas, and the drink of choice is saffron margarita rather than a martini. For the table: a tray of inspired, colorful salsas, guacamole, and crab nachos.
Since its 2016 debut in Flatiron, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s chic, plant-based eatery in ABC Carpet & Home has been slammed with guests ranging from the post-work yoga crowd to executives in need of a green meal. In the restaurant’s white-washed space, executive chef Neal Harden offers dishes such as avocado lettuce cups with roasted yam, and iterations of dosa, the lentil- and rice-based Indian pancake, with condiments like turmeric sambal (the Southeast Asian chili sauce). There’s a slate of functional, fresh fruit beverages that incorporate wellness-supporting herbs and immunity-boosting chaga mushrooms.
The minimalist West Village hand roll parlor Nami Nori helmed by former Masa chefs Jihan Lee and Taka Sakaeda has been a hit since it opened three years back. Lunches tend to be packed, with meetings convening at the counter and in the rear semi-private dining room over temaki (small open-faced hand rolls) with a range of fillings from tuna and crispy shallots to butter-poached spicy lobster.
At this elegantly minimalist Greek restaurant that still believes in white table cloths, the olive oil is neon yellow, and the imported yogurt tastes like fresh milk. The restaurant is known for simply prepared seafood flown in daily from Greece that invariably comes with a hefty price tag. That makes the $45 prix fixe lunch, which offers the option of the grilled whole fish of the day served with the lemon oil sauce ladolemono, a great deal.
With its long-standing proximity to the offices of entertainment agencies and and real estate powerhouses like the Related Cos Inc, Michael’s on West 55th Street is New York’s most enduring power lunch player. Michael McCarty, who launched his namesake restaurant in 1989, was one of the city’s early advocates for seasonal California cuisine. The house favorite Cobb salad is a neatly-arranged plate of grilled chicken and bacon chunks, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and hard-boiled egg, bound together in a tangy balsamic dressing.