If you want to get married at the New York Public Library, you’ll have to pay $50,000. Just for the space itself. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you’re someone who wants to justify that cost. You’d probably talk about the architecture, which is beautiful, and also, books. But those aren’t the biggest selling points of a NYPL wedding. It’s the fact that, for one night only, you feel like you get the keys to the city.
That’s a rare feeling in New York City, but you don’t have to host a wedding to find it. Just have dinner at Flora Bar, the restaurant located in the basement level of The Met Breuer. When you’re here, eating oysters and jamón and steak, with the museum closed, floors of important art above you, and a dark night outside the floor-to-ceiling windows in front of you, you feel like you’re being treated to a special New York City experience.
If you’ve been to Estela or Cafe Altro Paradiso, the other two restaurants from the same group, some aspects of Flora Bar might feel familiar. There’s the minimalist design, the typeface on the menus that suddenly makes you think you are a person who cares a lot about typeface, and the plates of food that are so much more exciting than their names - like “marinated olives” or “clams with cucumber and jalapeño” - would suggest. Unlike those two spots, however, Flora Bar is not perpetually packed. This is one of the very best restaurants on the Upper East Side, and it’s also one you can somehow always get into.
Unlike Estela, where you’re sitting on top of the person next to you, Flora Bar is big. Maybe even too big. Once you pass through the full, separate bar area, you arrive in a dining room that would be large enough to service at least one floor of a commercial cruise ship. When you spot your server crossing the room to deliver your dishes, it’s hard not to get impatient. Especially when you start to realize how excellent Flora Bar’s food is.
The menu is like the restaurant itself - with dishes so good, you feel like you’ve stumbled on something that shouldn’t be allowed. Take, for example, the endive salad. It’s hidden among more interesting-sounding things like an omelette with caviar and foie gras with chicken liver pâté - but this is quite possibly the greatest restaurant salad in the city. It comes to your table like a fully-constructed Jenga set, with deep purple leaves instead of wooden blocks, and a secret stash of blue cheese and toasted pecans hidden in the middle. We’ve considered making it our phone background screen, just so we never have to be too far away from it.
There are a lot of places where you see a $26 oyster plate, and decide to skip it, while making a mental list of all the unnecessary things you’ll buy instead. Don’t do that at Flora Bar. Start your order with at least a couple of dishes from the raw bar, like the sea urchin and shrimp dish, which comes topped with pieces of nori so you can make your own hand rolls, and the clams, which are covered in a cucumber and jalapeño relish that tastes like vacation on a private island. If your luxury food preferences tend to swing towards land animals, order the jamón Iberico, a truly great plate of ham. And don’t underestimate the steak that sounds like your standard restaurant steak. Like everything else at Flora Bar, it definitely isn’t.
Flora Bar didn’t need to be in the basement of a museum to be special. But the combination of this food and setting make for a restaurant that’s totally unique - and uniquely New York. And you don’t have to host or attend a wedding with a dress code called “Glitter & Glam Black Tie” to experience it.
Flora Bar has an incredible raw bar selection. If this feels like the right place to kick things off, congratulations. You have very good raw bar instincts.
These have the revitalizing properties of a trip to the beach or a cold beer on a hot day or an unexpected back-crack when your friend goes in for a hug.
You use the nori to pick up a perfect bite of uni and shrimp. Two of the tiniest and greatest hand rolls in New York City.
This incredible plate of luxury ham seems like it would be great to share. But then you take a bite, and realize you really need to be alone with it for a private moment. You need a jamóment.
A layer of creamy cheese sitting on top of finely-chopped fennel, with a pool of lemony olive oil. It’s rich and fresh and lemony and we can’t imagine a world in which we wouldn’t want to eat this every day.
Without fail, this salad is what we wake up thinking about when our alarm goes off in the morning after a night at Flora Bar.
These dumplings come in a bowl of flavorful, light broth, and are a nice bite between your appetizers and entrees.
This is the only dish at Flora Bar that we don’t need to order again. The lamb ribs are so heavily coated with a dry rub, that it’s hard to taste the meat itself and you end up with a mouthful of seasoning.
Whether you’re someone who always orders the steak or never orders the steak, get this one. It’s excellent, as are the seasonally-changing accompaniments on the plate. This is our favorite way to round out a meal at Flora Bar.