On the Waterfront

Dining catches of the day (and night).

Brooklynites and Manhattanites have a thing for waterfront dining even when they can’t get to the beach. Fresh air, showstopping views and good food give the city an edge when it comes to this favorite dining indulgence.

The River Café. (Alan Tan Photography / Shutterstock.com)

The River Café in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood (1 Water St., Brooklyn, 718.522.5200) has commanded the city’s waterside dining scene since 1977: the grand dame of special-occasion dining where venue and views match the caliber of food and service. The beloved restaurant’s very specific dress code adds to the specialness of the experience, and diners reserve well in advance for a waterside table with stunning views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the East River. The prix fixe dinner menu is fine dining at its loftiest with starters including caviar and foie gras, followed by rack of lamb or roast duck. While desserts vary, you can expect the likes of soufflés and other seasonal creations. For an elegant start to your day, breakfast is served weekdays, with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant sits on a pier and, while stationary, you’ll clearly have the sense that you’re dining right on the water. After acknowledging the tuxedoed doorman who welcomes you, be sure to look around the entry ramp where oversized flower arrangements and seafaring memorabilia make you feel like you’ve just boarded a private yacht.

Pilot. (Douglas Lyle Thompson)

Also in Brooklyn, with a dramatic harborside setting, Pilot (Pier 6, Brooklyn, 917.810.8550) is casual, neighborhoody dining set to a breeze. The graceful schooner-cum-restaurant sits aside Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park with a glorious backdrop of passing boats, ferries and water taxis, all in view of the Manhattan skyline. You’ll want to try the restaurant’s citrusy sea bream ceviche or juniper-cured arctic char, each prepared with a commitment to sustainability by star chef Kerry Heffernan. And no one leaves without ordering oysters or one of the signature cocktails like the Get on Up, a spiced-up version of a margarita. Along with some seaside rocking and an occasional stiff breeze to add to the waterfront sensation, you’ll enjoy a mini-vacation in the middle of New York Harbor as you listen to reggae tunes and other beachy faves.

Island Oyster on Governors Island. (Douglas Lyle Thompson)

A secret to many, Manhattan Island has its own satellite island with its own island culture, Governors Island. Sitting between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the island is a gem for parks, picnics and staying cool on a sweltering city day. Here, the seasonal Island Oyster (146 Carder Rd., Governors Island, 917.268.0200) is a casual open-air hangout for bivalves and other seafood while offering an in-city island holiday. Try the blue-toned rummy Permanent Vacation—it’ll definitely put you in a Jimmy Buffett frame of mind. Prepare to get wet, as tables are so close to the water that waves often crash onto diners. For even more fun, there’s pingpong, live music and a kids’ menu. To get to Governors Island, grab a ferry just north of the Staten Island ferry terminal. Stand to the right side and you’ll get close-up views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island during the eight-minute trip. 

If you’re craving some outdoor refueling when you return to the mainland of Manhattan Island from your seafaring excursion, you can make two brief waterfront cocktail-and-oyster stops at Battery Gardens Restaurant (Battery Park, Manhattan, 212.809.5508) or the Oyster House at Pier A Harbor House (22 Battery pl., Manhattan, 212.785.0153) , each with head-on views of busy New York Harbor.

Grand banks docked at Pier 25 in TriBeCa. (Alan Silverman)

Continue your waterside stroll along Battery Park north to Hudson River Park where you’ll reach another boat-turned-restaurant and bar, Grand Banks (Pier 25, Manhattan, 212.660.6312). The beautifully appointed former fishing vessel with its yellow-and-white sails sits at Pier 25 in TriBeCa. Views are guaranteed here as well, but you’ll have to decide which way to face: toward the Hudson River and the burgeoning New Jersey skyline or toward Downtown Manhattan, where One World Trade Center and the cityscape present a photographic background like no other. Menu highlights are the lobster roll dressed with fennel, lemon and dulse emulsion; and potato-crusted soft-shell crabs, a wonderful choice for the gluten-free diner in your party. A delicious dessert, Key lime mousse, keeps the summer spirit going as does the Revolución, a summer-light libation of vodka, mint and bitters. Plan to visit during a weekday, if possible, as the post-work bar scene and weekend crowds create long lines to get on board.

Sunset at City Vineyard. (Courtesy City Vineyard)

If the perfect waterfront sunset is on your bucket list, consider the rooftop at City Vineyard (233 West St., Manhattan, 646.677.8350). The views are equally stunning, and you can try one of City Winery’s eight vintages on tap.

Outdoor dining at Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse. (Courtesy Loeb Boathouse)

You might have started to feel that you’ve lost sight of the greener aspects of New York City. Then Central Park should be your next destination where shady lawns and bench-lined promenades offer a welcoming refuge from the summer sun. Here, the Loeb Boathouse (Central Park, Manhattan, 212.517.2233) continues the tradition of grand park dining with views so elegant they call up images of the Gilded Age or “The Great Gatsby.” Tables by the railing look out over a lake where boaters paddle rented rowboats, a gondolier ferries guests on an authentic Venetian gondola and turtles happily swim in the greenish water. The menu at the fine-dining restaurant is contemporary American with seafood standouts like crab cakes, salmon and halibut as well as choices for landlubbers and vegetarians. Start or finish your meal with a cocktail on the outdoor patio with water lapping at your feet. For a casual all-day alternative, the boathouse’s Express Café features quick choices like burgers, muffins and a coffee bar. You can enter the park from the East Side on 72nd Street and follow the drive north to the restaurant, or hail the Boathouse shuttle that runs from 10 am until closing from 90th Street along Fifth Avenue into the park. (Note: no cars or taxis are allowed).

And don’t forget to bring your camera. You’ll need proof that New York City is much more than skyscrapers and crowds. If you look hard enough, you might even see fish splashing while you dine.