On the official NYC taxi map, the Upper East Side ends at 86th Street, aside from a small sliver near Central Park, which extends up to 110th Street. The rectangle bounded by 86th, Madison, 110th, and the East River, is (supposedly) Spanish Harlem.
Those are the traditional borders, but the streets north of 86th are starting to look more like the old Upper East Side. Indeed, most sources now consider anything up to 96th Street to be part of that neighborhood. Gentrification will only accelerate as the Second Avenue Subway gets closer to completion. (The latest ever-changing due date is the end of 2016, but it is sure to move again.)
The Milton is typical of the dining and drinking establishments taking root in the upper Upper East Side, where rents are low enough to attract a younger crowd. The owner, Tomas Maher of 13th Street Entertainment, talks up the space’s “downtown vibe”. This neighborhood isn’t yet secure in its own skin, so the proprietors have to compare it to someplace else.
The chef, David Diaz, came out of the same ownership group’s Brasserie Beaumarchais in the Meatpacking District, but the two places couldn’t be less alike. The cuisine at The Milton is out of the gastropub playbook: like the owner, a fusion of Irish, English, and American styles. Appetizers and salads are $9–16, side dishes $7, mains $12–28 (but only two of them north of $18).
It’s not a particularly long menu, with just eight mains and no announced specials. It will be interesting to see if it changes seasonally. Otherwise, The Milton isn’t a gastropub. It’s just a pub: a good one.
This is uncomplicated cuisine, but you’d be happy to have it again and again: a spicy Tuna Tartare ($16; above left) with a spicy kick from ponzu/xo sauce; Deviled Eggs ($9; above right) with lump crab meat and chopped chives.
We continued with the “Irish Joe” ($14; above left), really a sloppy joe with Guiness-braised short rib, swiss cheese, peas, and carrots on a potato roll. The Cottage Pie ($18; above right) features that same short rib with potato, under a thick, slightly leathery hood of fontina and swiss cheese.
I went back another evening and had the burger ($16; above), made with a rich house blend, served on a sesame seed challah bun.
There are just three desserts (all $8). We tried only one, and would gladly have it again: the cream puffs (left) made with choux pastry, vanilla cream, and caramel.
You’ll drink well here. Want wine? There are 22 bottles (half of them available by the glass), ranging from inexpensive ($30s–40s) and up, with a few reserve selections in the low $100s. Wines by the glass are all $13 and below.
Want beer? There are 25 choices in bottles and on tap, ranging from the familiar to the off-beat. When I asked about the McGargles red ale (new to me), the bartender offered a taste.
Cocktails are less expensive than their downtown counterparts, generally $11–13. The two I tried (both $12) were terrific: Off the Heid (Pigs Nose scotch, lemon, pineapple, honey, Velvet Falernum liqueur, Angostura bitters); Long day at the Office (bourbon, Campari, Cynar, vermouth).
Unlike your average pub, The Milton takes reservations, and if it hadn’t I probably never would’ve gone. However, it could have accommodated walk-ins at either of the times we tried it, 8:00pm on a Saturday, 6:30pm the following Friday.
Until the subway arrives, this part of town is a bit of a pain to get to, and it isn’t pretty, with half the street blocked for construction, a condition that will persist for at least another year and a half. But there are lots of cute bars that are well worth looking up, and you might as well start here.
The Milton (1754 Second Avenue between 91st & 92nd Streets, Upper East Side)
Food: British/Irish pub cuisine, through an American lens
Service: Very good for this type of place
Ambiance: A dark, comfortable, burnished wood and brick room