My parents are making the trek from South Jersey to visit me in the city for a dinner. Their idea of fine dining includes Olive Garden, Outback, and Applebees. While I refuse to take them to TGI Fridays for their visit, I would like to take them someplace with a similar vibe for their comfort. Also, so I do not have to hear them complain about “weird and expensive” food.
Any suggestions, preferably downtown?
I think your parents would feel comfortable at the very unpretentious Via Emilia. We had dinner there last night -- first time in their new location, on 21st St., just west of Park Av. S. Of course, we had to have the lasagna. Delicious!! The new space is bigger and, while not any fancier, the contemporary decor is much more colorful. Unlike the previous place, there is a comfortable area where you can wait for a table since the no reservations policy remains. Also, still cash only.
It's not downtown, but this might be one of the few occasions when Carmine's is in order. I'd never send anyone there for the food, but it's no worse than TGIF (I've never eaten at an Olive Garden) and there's absolutely no danger of anything being "too authentic" for the sort of tastes you describe. It wouldn't be unfair to say the atmosphere is "upscale chain", to the extent that's not an oxymoron. It can get a little pricey, but not outrageously so if unless you really forget yourself when ordering.
I like Via Emilia a lot, but the "vibe" is nothing like the chains if your parents' preferences (or aversions, as the case may be) are really that strong.
Your parents sound exactly like mine! Which is why I took them to Via Emilia --but they hated it! They honestly didn't like their pasta--probably because they're used to Olive Garden. The places they did love were Le Zie and Markt--it's going to be nice this weekend so those might be perfect choices.