I want to take my wife somewhere special for her birthday on Saturday night. I realize that I can't get a reservation in many places on such short notice. The food and an interesting atmosphere are important, wine is not. Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.
Why not take advantage of your reservationlessness and go to a tough-ticket place that doesn't accept them--Next Door Nobu, say, or Pastis, or (mostly) Lupa. Come early or pretty late. Spend the hour or so you'll need to wait for a table hanging out at a nearby bar and make an evening of it.
Why not try Shun Lee Palace? When people think romantic meal they usually don't think Chinese food, but they should. I went here a few years ago for Valentine's day; it wasn't hard to get reservations, and the food, service, and decor were incredible. It is probably the most opulent Chinese meal you'll have in New York.
Shun Lee Palace: 155 E. 55th St. (betw. Lex. & 3rd)