Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >
Sep 10, 1999 03:55 PM

Gramercy Tavern, Uninon Sq or Babbo

  • l

I have narrowed my selection for my one night per year dinner in NYC next month to Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe or Babbo. We are looking for innovative cuisine in a fun environment. Which would you choose?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. well, i don't mean to burst your bubble since you seem
    to have done a bit of research, but if you're looking
    for innovative food in a fun environment, i don't think
    those 3 should be your top choices, except for maybe

    having said that, i can tell you that probably most
    people on chowhound would probably tell you to go to
    babbo of the 3. it's definitely a very happening spot
    right now so it should be fun, especially if you're
    seated downstairs. the food is definitely innovative,
    with stuff like beef cheek ravioli and mint love
    letters, and lots of use of things people aren't
    usually fans of like tripe (surprisingly good),
    sardines (also very good) and sweetbreads and calves
    brains. be careful what you order. not everything
    works. avoid the duck liver ravioli. the two minute
    calamari doesn't work as a main dish. do a search on
    chowhound and read some reviews.

    as far as union square, for chowhounds, some people
    love it, others don't see what the big deal is. there
    was a little debate about the place a little while back
    so you can look for it here and read it. i fall into
    the latter category so i'm a little biased. i would
    call their food the least innovative of the three
    though. but i guess the atmosphere is nice and the
    service very friendly.

    of the three, i personally would probably go to
    gramercy. their food is more innovative and better
    than union square and it's a nice place to have a meal.

    but if you really want to know where i'd go, just off
    the top of my head i'd pick tabla or union pacific.
    union pacific has great, innovative cuisine. however,
    at night the place is a bit dark and serious, so i
    wouldn't call it fun. if you're going for lunch, then
    definitely go there. otherwise tabla, which also has
    great innovative indian fusion fare though not as good
    as union pacific. however, the place is livelier than
    union pacific at night so probably a better bet for
    you. and definitely get the vanilla bean kulfi. hope
    that helps and if you have any more specific questions,
    feel free to ask.


    4 Replies
    1. re: wonki

      Hey! What about Picholine! My favorite, though maybe
      not "fun" but some serious eating is going on. There's
      no better way to end a meal than with Max the
      Fromagier's selection. Now that's fun, sorting through
      the Cashel Blue and the Kalahula.

      1. re: Liza

        I LOVED Babbo, and eating upstairs makes it
        considerably less noisy. If you want an exciting,
        special treat that is also incredibly palate-pleasing,
        I would go for Babbo hands down. USC is consistently
        nice, but nothing outstanding. As for Tabla, other
        than the vanilla kulfi dessert, I was completely not
        impressed and felt the chef was trying way too hard. I
        must admit, though, I've not yet been to Gramercy
        Tavern, so I can't say whether I'd choose it first. I
        don't think you can go wrong with Babbo if you're open
        to innovative Italian food that is better than anything
        you'd expect. For instance, a maple mascarpone
        cheesecake didn't do much for me as a description, but
        remembering the taste still makes my mouth water. If
        you're willing to eat on the early side, you can watch
        the light fade in the skylight and have a relatively
        quiet, undisturbed meal and conversation. Let us know
        what you decide!

        1. re: Liza
          Robert Buxbaum

          How is Picholine. We haven't been there in a while but
          loved it when we were there. However we've had a a
          couple of very less than satisfactory reports from
          friends who have also loved it in the past.

          And now that've posted, my opinion is Gramcercy Tavern
          hands down among the three originally proposed. I
          Haven't been to the other two but once, and I suppose
          that says something, although I don't mean to stay away
          from any of them, it's just that Gramercy Tavern is
          closer to the ultimate place f

          1. re: Robert Buxbaum

            Expect Picholine to undergo some changes: chef de
            cuisine David Pasternak left recently. Terrance
            Brennan has his name on everything, but we feel the
            credit for their three star rating belonged to David.
            Don't know where he'll surface but suggest you try it
            where ever he lands.

      2. Hi, Lori!

        Gramercy Tavern, hands down. Of the three, it's the most
        expensive, but I think it's the best restaurant in New
        York at the moment, and I go there whenever I can afford
        to. Chef Tom Colicchio is really coming into his own--
        he's adventurous, but utterly devoted to urging the
        deepest flavors out of everything he touches. Claudia
        Fleming is Manhattan's finest pastry chef, and the
        staff--from top to bottom--exemplifies relaxed
        confidence and utter efficiency.

        I've lunched and dined there about 16 times, and have
        never experienced one single mishap.

        Union Square is very good, but it can be a bit uneven.
        And Babbo is terrific, but a bit of a "scene"; however,
        most would agree it's the best Italian in town right

        Wherever you go, bon appetit!

        1. One dinner in New York a year? hmmm...This is a tough
          call. I really like all three but, I think I would be
          a little bit more on the wild side. It sounds like
          your leaning towards a Danny M. thing. Have you
          thought about Tabla?

          1. Haven't been to Babbo, so I can't comment on it. But
            given a choice between Gramercy Tavern or Union Square
            for dinner, I'd definitely pick Union Square Cafe.
            The food is consistently excellent, the staff is
            extremely pleasant and helpful, and the space is more
            comfortable. Gramercy Tavern is terrific, too, of
            course!, but a little more on the fussy, formal side
            -- at least in the dining room. Whichever you choose,
            reservations are essential and, on the weekends, hard
            to get. Good luck and bon appetit!

            1. Part of the problem answering you is deciding what
              "fun" is for another person. Babbo is cetainly the
              most noisy and lively of the three, but I think it's
              the one place out of the three where I'd be least
              likely to have fun, because it's harder to maintain a
              conversation there, and the service can be so
              obtrusive (usually in a friendly way) that it's hard
              to carry on a conversation (I was there once for a
              business conversation and we made the mistake of
              ordering the pasta tasting menu -- we spent more time
              telling the cheese grater guy when to stop then we did
              talking to each other).

              I agree with almost everything Gourmet Guide said.
              The service at Gramercy Tavern is the best I've
              encountered at any NYC big-deal restaurant, and there
              is a consistency to the food and the service that is
              admirable and innovative, but not showy; it's not dull
              and formal in my book. It's comfortable and warm, and
              extremely conducive to good conversation, which is a
              huge element in a big-deal dinner to me. But I
              certainly could see someone considering the dining
              room at Gramercy "dull."

              No doubt the food at Babbo is more innovative, but I
              don't think it's as good and certainly not anywhere as
              consistent than the fare at GT.

              (By the way, if you were asking about a non-big-deal
              meal, I'd suggest the bar area at GT as a possible
              solution -- because that area can be fun -- to me it
              easily beats the bar area of Babbo or U.S. You can do
              far worse than ordering a lamb sandwich and a beer at
              lunch there.