When I travel to New York City, I seek out those venues where I can be “one with the locals,” and immerse myself in the culture to get a true sense of an area. More often than not I find these opportunities off the beaten path, in mom-and-pop eateries or neighborhood watering holes where authentic atmosphere and Provincial fare reigns supreme, but nary a tourist can be found. However, sometimes such gastronomic gems are hiding in plain sight, as is the case with Del Frisco Grille New York. With an enviable location at the very heart of Rockefeller Center just blocks away from Times Square and Radio City Music Hall, this restaurant emanates the energy, dynamism and culinary creativity that makes NYC such a draw for locals and visitors alike.
I visited Del Frisco during happy hour on a Friday night, and from the moment I walked in, the energy radiating from both the dining room and adjacent bar area was palpable and infectious. The very spirit of the restaurant set a fun mood and high anticipation for the experience ahead. Although surely there were any number of out-of-towners like myself present, it quickly became clear that many of the patrons were local residents, including those who worked at the famed NBC 30 Rock location and other media, entertainment and financial industry professionals from offices nearby.
Once seated, I took my time to decompress from a busy day in the city amid the eatery’s inviting décor, which featured original artwork paired with warm woods, earth tones and dim lighting reminiscent of a steakhouse. While the dining room had a more relaxed vibe, the bar that shares the open floor plan space was boisterous. The space pulsated with the after-work crowd intermingled with sojourners seeking a spin on classic spirits and sumptuous sustenance, including fresh flatbreads from the open brick-fire oven uniquely built right into the bar area.
In my exclusive interview with General Manager Nick D'Ambrosio, he points out that this bar is a place to see and be seen. "Our lively bar scene is always buzzing with the industry’s broadcast, sports and business elite," he explains. “The restaurant is a favorite for TODAY Show staff, including Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb.”
Another particularly remarkable aspect of the restaurant is its patio area. In fact, Del Frisco is one of the only restaurants in the area with a patio actually facing Rockefeller Center, offering extraordinary views of the Rock Center Christmas tree in the winter and prime people watching in the summer. Ambiance aside, I was at the restaurant to eat dinner so I turned my attentions to the menu of what has become a lauded American grill. While refined comfort food might sound like an oxymoron, here, these two concepts make ambrosial bedfellows.
D'Ambrosio went on to underscore why the food make this restaurant so distinctive, noting, "Del Frisco’s Grille prides itself on offering elevated classics. For example, the infamous Cheesesteak Eggrolls, said to be a favorite of NFL players and often requested to locker rooms; fresh Ahi Tuna Tacos; or the Burger & Brew combo, an ideal fall pairing of the Grille’s signature prime cheeseburger and draft beer. The menu is filled with fun, inventive dishes that are reminiscent of favorite comfort foods with unique twists and quality ingredients.”
D'Ambrosio also points out that, although there are other Del Frisco's around the United States, the New York location rests on its own laurels. “While the Grille concept is expanding, each menu is unique to the location and no two are identical,” he said. “That gives our chefs flexibility to get creative and cater to a local palate. Plus, it furthers the enticement to try out different Grilles in different markets."
One look around the lively venue and it’s clear that the approach has paid off, although accolades garnered by this location—including Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence (2012-2013) and the Best Casual Restaurant NYC's Concierge Choice Award (2012)—make it rather official.
When discussing his goals for the Big Apple-based eatery, D'Ambrosio emphasized the importance of sustaining a top-quality and memorable experience. "Short term, we aim to continue to make every guest experience personal, enjoyable and delicious. Quality food and service are first and foremost, so keeping those at the top of our priority list for each experience will always be a goal. Long term we want to continue being the restaurant of choice for a fun environment with the highest quality food offering twists on American classics."
My dinner experience delivered on my expectations. Some of the “sophisticated comfort food” creations I delighted in included the Deviled Eggs with truffle-chive vinaigrette; Iceberg Lettuce Wedge with bacon, tomato, and blue cheese dressing; Prime Beef Short Rib Stroganoff with pappardelle noodles; and Steamed Brown Bag Fish with farmer’s market vegetables, steamed fingerlings, white wine and basil pesto. A side of Roasted Brussels Sprouts rounded out the entrées nicely.
Other notables on this American grill’s menu includes appetizers like Ahi Tacos with tuna tartare, avocado and spicy citrus mayo; surf options like Bay of Fundy Salmon with arugula-citrus salad; and, for steak-lovers, turf selections like a 16 Prime Ribeye and Prime New York Strip with the preparation choices of Oscar-style, port-foie gras butter or blue cheese.
Of course, a fine dining dinner is not complete without dessert and Del Frisco’s dessert menu is an endearing ending. There's good old fashioned Warm Chocolate Cake with vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sauce but, for a true New York experience, go for my personal favorite: the six-layer Lemon Dodger Cake with lemon butter cream icing and lemon glaze.
Even amid an outwardly impressive food and beverage program, the mark of a truly successful restaurant business—one that will endure and flourish—is how well it retains its staff. Frequent turnover is the telltale mark of back of the house bedlam. With this in mind, D'Ambrosio is eager to explain that, as the Del Frisco’s Grille brand’s flagship location, “We’ve retained 70 percent of our opening staff—an impressive rate especially here in New York. That’s a testament to our value of our employees."
A testament indeed. That value shines through every aspect of the Del Frisco Grille New York and makes the restaurant a can't-miss destination for an exceptional dining experience that’s duly representative of its vibrant locale.