Katsu-Hama is a calm oasis in midtown. The menu features panko-breaded fried pork or chicken cutlets. They offer a number of lunch specials for all appetites, including a seafood katsu option.
The decibel reading for our visit was higher than we would have guessed, because we found the place to be very comfortable, even relaxing. Although we were seated in the front where parties of one or two are placed, we believe the reading fairly reflects the entire space as we checked out the back dining area and found it to be consistent with our experience up front.
Calm is the word that best describes Katsu-Hama. Instrumental jazz played very softly in the background. Nearby diners chatted, in person or, sigh, on their phones, but it wasn’t bad–no screamers. We did pick up some kitchen sounds, but they weren’t jarring or pingy. The space is not live, and the low lighting and soft music really make for a relaxing experience. We highly recommend a visit to Katsu-Hama.
Monday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
11 E. 47th Street (betw. 5th and Madison Avenues), New York, NY 10017
Underline Coffee is located by the 20th Street entrance to the High Line in West Chelsea. The attractive space was busy during our early afternoon visit. While the crowd was mostly quiet, once again we were assaulted by music that was too loud. There were the usual coffee-making sounds, but they weren’t that bad. No, it was just the music. Had the volume been lowered one or two notches, the space could have been comfortable.
Still, there aren’t many other options in the immediate location, and the coffee was good, so you could do worse. With luck, perhaps whoever is working that day may show some restraint. The noise level wasn’t awful, but that shouldn’t be the measure. Underline Coffee is tolerable, but it could be far more.
Monday through Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (close at 6:00 p.m. in winter)
Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
511 W. 20th Street (betw. 10th and 11th Avenues), New York, NY 10011
We went to the Rosa Mexicano located just across the street from Lincoln Center to meet up with friends who were attending a midday performance. The space began to fill up as the other patrons streamed in to what is one of the larger restaurants nearest to the Center.
As soon as we walked in we knew that the space was going to be live, as there was a large expanse of glass in the front of the space on both levels. Fortunately there were curtains and a textile floor covering, but it didn’t appear that the textiles helped to absorb much of the sound.
We were seated on the second level. It was fairly noisy, with the main source of the noise coming from the other guests. This is one of the few times that the noise was primarily due to voices rather than music. In fact, we weren’t even certain if music was playing. If it was, we couldn’t hear it because of the chatter. We suspect that the second floor is louder than the first floor, most probably because the chatter from the first floor was wafting up and adding to the chatter on the second.
Rosa Mexicano was fairly crowded but not packed during our lunch visit. We think the combination of the hard surfaces and the lack of a barrier between the two floors made the second floor hard to tolerate. The space simply wasn’t pleasant, and we would advise that you proceed with caution. There aren’t many options that are as close to Lincoln Center, so either plan to eat a little farther away or pack a pair of ear plugs.
Sunday and Monday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
61 Columbus Avenue (betw. 62nd and 63rd Streets), New York, NY 10028
Photo credit: Jeanine Botta
I discovered Annam Brahma years ago while walking through Queens, searching for a cold drink on a hot day. I’ve returned dozens of times since, alone, with family, and with friends, and I’ve ordered food for large and small parties from the catering menu. Others find the restaurant through reviews or word of mouth or in vegetarian restaurant guides. One of four restaurants in Queens run by students of the late Sri Chinmoy, an artist, poet, and spiritual teacher who encouraged vegetarian diet, meditation, and fitness, Annam Brahma attracts diners from all over the world.
On a recent visit, I placed an order of soup, salad, and appetizers for a party of eight from the catering menu and also ordered a small meal. My meal began with a cup of ginger and honey tea selected from a drink menu, followed by a cup of dal, a savory lentil soup that is very popular. I also ordered a samosa, a potato filled pastry, and bhajiia, a lightly spiced fritter, both served with chutney.
Annam Brahma serves vegetarian and vegan Indian cuisine, but it also features vegetarian Chinese, Italian, and American options on certain days. The restaurant has long featured an international smorgasbord on Sundays, but at the time of this writing the website states that the Sunday smorgasbord is not available. The menu includes Indian breads, desserts, coffees and teas, as well as omelettes, sandwiches, and a delicious selection of vegetarian burgers.
Annam Brahma is quiet enough to lose oneself in a book in a cozy corner or to chat with companions easily without straining to hear or be heard. There is subtle instrumental music playing in the background, but it is never loud or distracting. The dining room is decorated with Sri Chinmoy’s paintings and other artwork (greeting cards featuring Chinmoy’s art, displayed along one wall, are available for purchase). The space is soothing and visually appealing, open and airy with a distinct rustic charm.
To reach Annam Brahma by subway, take the Jamaica-bound F train to Parsons Boulevard, walk up the hill along the two-lane boulevard, turn right on 85th Avenue, and walk five blocks to 164th Street. Alternatively, you can take the 65 bus from the Parsons Boulevard F train station, but it might be worth skipping the wait for a bus and walking. If traveling by car, Annam Brahma is four blocks east of the Grand Central Parkway, and street parking is available. The surrounding Jamaica Hills neighborhood is safe, friendly, and walkable.
Annam Brahma is cash only.
Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
84-43 164th Street (near 85th Avenue), Jamaica, Queens, NY 11432
Telegraph Cafe was fairly busy during our visit, but despite being completely full it was comfortable. It’s a small space with a handful of tightly packed tables to the right of the entrance and stools lining the counter and the front windows. Despite having a large glassed front, the sound level was manageable. We assume that window shades, which had been drawn halfway down, helped to absorb or deflect the sound.
Music was playing during part of visit, but the volume was low so it didn’t add much to the soundscape. All told, given how crowded the space was, we were quite happy with the sound level and would gladly return.
Telegraphe Cafe offers breakfast and lunch items and well made coffees. In an neighborhood that offers few comfortable options, Telegraphe Cafe is worth visiting.
Monday through Thursday: 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
107 W. 18th Street (betw. 6th and 7th Avenues), New York, NY 10011
Tom & Jerry’s looks like a fun place to meet friends for a drink. Located on Elizabeth Street north of Houston, it’s right in the thick of things and yet it isn’t overwhelmed by car or human traffic. But we wouldn’t suggest you meet your PETA buddies there–the righthand wall sports a number of taxidermied hunting trophies (click the photo above to see the stuffed bear on the righthand side).
We stopped by on the early side of happy hour for a quick drink before another engagement. The bar’s space is physically comfortable (taxidermy excepted) and one could imagine aimlessly hanging out with friends, except for one glaring flaw: the music volume was set at 11. Simply put, Tom & Jerry’s is entirely too loud. A nearby table of workmates was shouting at each other just to be heard. The shouting wasn’t the cause of our discomfort–and yes, we were not comfortable–it was the music. Setting the music volume this loud makes absolutely no sense, because scoping the crowd it seemed clear that Tom & Jerry’s is the place you go to hang out with friends or work buddies, not hook up with a stranger (although later on the scene could be much different).
We were terribly disappointed because we wanted to like Tom & Jerry’s, but a potentially comfortable spot was ruined by unnecessarily loud music. It’s possible that the volume is manageable in the afternoon when the bar first opens and crowds have yet to gather. Try your luck, if you wish. As for us, we must recommend that you avoid.
12:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. every day
288 Elizabeth Street (betw. E. Houston and Bleecker Streets), New York, NY 10012
The East Village location of Han Dynasty was less than half full when we arrived for lunch, but it quickly filled up and was at least half full by the time we left. Overall we found the space merely tolerable, which raises concerns for the noise levels when the space is packed. Han Dynasty has lots of hard surfaces with few few elements that could absorb sound, though unframed art work may have mitigated noise a hair. Once again there was one overarching factor for the less than optimal soundscape: the music was too loud.
Yes, it could have been worse–our ears weren’t bleeding, after all–but we found the space to be rather live, and the music (odd choices, by the way) just dominated the soundscape. There were lots of work groups in the place and they were chatty, but their voices were manageable. If the music were lowered a couple of notches, the space could have been comfortable. It was, instead, merely tolerable, and that depended, more on less, on the song that was playing at any given time.
Han Dynasty offers very reasonable and tasty lunch specials. If the place is packed and the music volume is as loud as it is at lunch, the noise level probably will be intolerable. That said, we tolerated the noise level during our visit, but wish it was better. Why not aim for comfortable? We suggest that you proceed with caution.
Sunday through Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Thursday through Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
90 3rd Avenue (betw. 12th and 13th Streets), New York, NY 10003
Our first lunch time visit to the always crowded Veselka clocked in at 78.7 decibels. The reading was higher than expected (we would have guessed that the sound level was in the lower 70s), but we were seated at the counter within a few feet of the open kitchen and our decibel meter obviously picked up all of the nearby sounds (staff chatter, occasional china noises, and a cook singing softly to himself). We were also right next to the area where the waitstaff pick up dishes to deliver to their customers.
Even being in the worst possible seat in the house, the sound level wasn’t that bad. The fact that Veselka does not play background music really helps. On our way out, we quickly recorded the sound level in the nearby dining room. It was 72.4 decibels, which was more than acceptable. The lesson here is that at Veselka you must balance your desire to be seated quickly (counter seats are easier to get) against your desire for a quieter meal.
On our second lunch time visit, the meter registered 75.9 decibels, which again was higher than we would have guessed. There are a lot of hard surfaces in the restaurant, including big windows looking out on 9th street, but the absence of background music makes a huge difference because the space was mostly comfortable. If background music had been playing we think the reading would have easily been ten points higher. With music, the crowded room–there was a wait when we arrived–would have been unbearable. Without music, the noise level was mostly manageable, with the bulk of the sound coming from the many conversations throughout the room that were conducted at reasonable levels (i.e., no screamers).
One other plus: No electric hand dryers at Veselka; only paper towels are provided in the restrooms.
And finally, although we focus on sound levels and comfortability, we would be remiss is we didn’t note that Veselka offers one of the finest bowls of borscht in the city. They are also noted for their tasty and filling pierogis.
Attention restauranteurs, this is how you run a busy but comfortable space: kill or aggressively reduce the volume of background music. It’s an easy thing to do and it offers immediate relief.
Open 24 hours a day
Karczma is a lovely Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that still has a large Polish population. There is a bar in the front with a few tables on the opposite wall, and further back there is a dining room. Unsurprisingly, the menu offers Polish home cooking served by women in traditional dress.
All of the booths in the dining room were taken during our lunch time visit, and there were only a few tables free. Most tables were occupied by couples or groups, so there was plenty of conversation (and beer). Polish music played softly in the background, yet the dining room was perfectly pleasant. No doubt the decor helped, as it featured a fair amount of unfinished wood and was decidedly old school–the antithesis of the Industrial look responsible for much of the loudness at most restaurants today.
If the place is packed it will, of course, be louder. That said, the dining room was over half full during our visit, plus a handful of people at the bar, and it was perfectly fine.
Our lunch was big, fresh, and tasty. Filling doesn’t come close to describe it. Somehow we managed to finish it, convinced that we wouldn’t have to eat until the next day (and we were right). Note that it’s a meaty menu, so it’s not the place to bring your vegan friend.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Monday through Thursday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
136 Greenpoint Avenue (betw. Manhattan and Franklin Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11222