I've been to NYC more than once before, and the thing that tends to stand out each time is the unique eating experiences they offer there. Many of the restaurants are designed from the top down, with deliberate attention paid to everything from the decor to the menu to the uniforms of the people who work there. It makes such a difference, and really creates unparalleled experiences. One of my friends pointed out that this is an issue of necessity; there is so much competition that each business has to do something to make themselves stand out from all the rest.
Two places that stand out from this last visit are Hill Country Chicken (above) and Stumptown Coffee Roasters (right.) Hill Country serves fried chicken and pie in a bright, cheery atmosphere reminiscent of Martha Stewart's kitchen. It all comes across as very clean and somewhat retro. The chicken was exceptional, and the little pies we had were tasty and cute, if a little hard to eat and on the sweet side. We split the banana cream and cowboy pies.
From what I can tell, Stumptown Coffee actually originates in Portland. Their ACE hotel location in NYC is like stepping back in time; the fedora-clad baristas and gold-tinted counters are enough to make you feel like its the 1920's again. The experience is again rounded out by an exceptional product: the coffee was some of the best I've ever had. The day after visiting their ACE hotel location, I made a small pilgrimage to the Red Hook brew room. Even though they were closed, the guys hanging out inside were nice enough to brew me a cup of joe and show me around the roasting room (thanks!)
Next time you're in the city, I recommend putting these two places on your list of must-visits. In the meantime, I wonder how I could get involved designing experiences like these...