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Need help choosing restaurant for fiancee's birthday dinner

  • j

I need your help choosing a restaurant for my fiancee's birthday dinner.
Last week in January. Looking for a place with excellent food, good service, and nice decor that takes reservations. Bklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carrol Gardens, Park Slope OK. Max $100 PP.
We went to Convivium in PS last year and loved it, but we have been there a lot over Christmas and want to try something else.
Manhattan OK too.
Thanks in advance.

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  1. I am a broken record for two person birthday dinners in Brooklyn: Garden Café in Prospect Heights. 11 tables, well spaced. Small changing menu. Husband in the Kitchen, wife out front. Caring, but totally unobtrusive service. Not being sweets lovers, we had the cheese plate instead of dessert, but they managed to put some candles in it for the birthday girl.

    1. Also consider Saul. The food is very good and I find the atmosphere more romantic than, say, The Grocery or Chestnut.

      3 Replies
      1. re: eeee

        Thanks. Looked up Saul. Reviews say that portions are tiny. Don't love huge portions you can't finish, just regular size. We don't doggy bag, but don't want to leave hungry either. Any further info on this?

        1. re: Jpand

          I've been to Saul many times and have never left hungry.

          That said, its not the sort of place you go for huge portions...it's not that sort of place.

          I've always enjoyed meals at Saul, its one of the nicer places in brooklyn. I think if it were in manhattan, it wouldnt fair as well, as I dont find the food to be tremendously innovative. Just well prepared and with attention to detail. The best dish I've had there is lamb 4 ways when it was on the menu...that was superb.

          I did the tasting menu recently and except for the final savory dish (a short rib dish as I recall) it was all great. The meat I'm referring to tasted like it sat under a heat lamp a bit too long. Not bad, just a little dry/over cooked.

          I wouldnt call Saul overly romantic...that would be Convivium to me. But the lighting is very nice, the interior is pretty, and its a nice date place.

        2. re: eeee

          It's been a couple of years since I went to Saul in large part because the interior was so minimal and stark. Maybe they have re-done the room but the atmosphere that I remember is the opposite of romantic, besides which the food was unmemorable and expensive and the portions were small. Chaque a son gout.

        3. I like Garden Cafe, but the menu is so limited. It doesn't seem quite festive or romantic enough. Chestnut is not my idea of a celebration/romantic kind of place. Tho I love their $25 prix fixe.
          Thanks for suggesting Saul. Never been but the zagat rating is high. What is romantic about Saul?
          Someone at the office suggested River Cafe. Has anyone been recently?

          8 Replies
          1. re: Jpand

            candidly, it sounds like you are looking for a manhattan type restaurant. We have great food in downtown Brooklyn and plenty of style, but not a lot of glitz (river cafe and maybe Tempo excepted).
            Good luck!

            1. re: jen kalb

              What the heck is a "Manhattan" type restaurant?
              Not looking for glitz, just fine dining. We have found lots of it in Brooklyn. Favorite lately is Convivium. Love Henry's End Al Di La, and NP, but they don't take reservations.
              Birthdays are very special occasions. Just looking for an appropriate place.
              Reverse snobbery is so 90's.

              1. re: Jpand

                There's a River Cafe review recently done by a visitor from London during Xmas week if you do a search. I like the place but I think you'll wind up over your $100pp by a bit if you go. We spent about $150pp last time there (8 mos. or so ago). But, while the place is drop dead gorgeous and romantic, the food is not better than Convivium, Tempo or al di la or Saul (although it has its moments). Jacket required.

                I agree with Jen that Tempo would be the other choice here. If you go on a weekend, when the larger room is in use, it'll be more of the type of place you're looking for. The food is as European eclectic as Convivium with some very nice touches. Strong wine list. The cocktails are good. Nice upbeat vibe with all the touches.

                I'm not a fan of Saul, but the room is also "grown up", albeit more plain, and the food is highly recommended by most of the people I respect. I've been there 4 or 5 times and conceed that this is a contender... I just haven't had a meal there that makes me want to return.

                We seem to like the same places so take a look at Tempo.

                1. re: Steve R

                  Thanks. Really like Tempo too. Last week we were there with a group of 6 and had a first rate meal. Everything delicious,service was great.

                  I thought I'd like to try something new this time. Altho sometimes the old favorites are the best choice.

                  1. re: Jpand

                    Well, in that case you have 2 choices:

                    1- try Saul and report back. Obviously, I have self-interest at heart here;

                    2- go to Henry's End and let Bonnie sing "Happy Birthday". Nothing like turtle soup and elk chops for a birthday.

                    1. re: Steve R

                      Saul is still on my list, but the tiny portions is a turn off. Especially at those prices.
                      We go to Henry's End a few times a month, and love it, but want to try something new. Not a great place for a birthday as they don't take reservations.
                      There are some people who eat at HE 4-5 times per week.That's loyalty for you.

                2. re: Jpand

                  excuse me, I mistook you - it seemed like you were heading toward the conventionally romantic in your last post.
                  Garden Cafe seems plenty romantic to me (as does Convivium)- but you seemed to be looking in the direction of a River Cafe or maybe Tempo...something maybe bigger and glossier...

                  Al Di La, on the other hand, seems too bustling to be "romantic"

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    Love Al Di La, but no reservations makes it a bad choice for a special dinner. Nothing celebratory about standing on line for an hour.

            2. Don't know if the Red Cafe on 5th Avenue would fit the bill. We've always found food to be excellent, and it's a very cozy, intimate place.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Marion Morgenthal

                Thanks for the tip. I'll put it on my list of places to try.

              2. I have to agree that maybe Saul isnt the first place I'd recommend for a romantic bday dinner. My husband and I didnt think it was the slightest bit romantic and I still talk about how tiny the portions were. My scallop dinner entree included 3 small scallops. It was laughable. Since you seem to consider the best restaurants in bklyn a regular night out maybe going somewhere in manhattan might feel a bit more special, or at least different. In that case you should take a look at the manhattan boards for great ideas but i'd have to recommend cru or hearth judging on your taste (which is very simiar to mine)

                1 Reply
                1. re: bhkart

                  I agree with Bhkart on the manhattan suggestion...and Cru and Hearth are too of my absolute favorite places. Though I dont think Hearth is any more romantic than Saul? Better food though at Hearth in my opinion...cabbage stuffed with sweetbreads is the best dish in the city IMO.

                2. $100 pp will get you a truly excellent meal at pretty much any of Brooklyn's best restaurants (Convivium, applewood, al di la, Garden cafe, Rosewater, Saul, Grocery, Chestnut).

                  Have you ever tried applewood? If you liked Convivium you'd probably like applewood even more.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Peter

                    We hated Applewood. Too hip and hippie for us.

                    1. re: Jpand

                      Can you define "too hip and hippie"?

                      1. re: fafner

                        I agree with JPand on this. It is a very personal reaction. Hard to define, you just know it when you see it. Like the Park Slope Food Coop.

                        I find JOYA to be too hip for me (or maybe I'm not hip enough for JOYA). But even with that, and the noise level, the food is good, the price is right, and the place has a good vibe.

                        I find places like APPLEWOOD and the PSFC irritating. Chaq'un a son gout. I'm sure many people love it. That's what makes this such a great country.

                  2. Your tastes seem very similar to mine.

                    We, too, disliked APPLEWOOD. Little children do not a Happy Birthday make, unless they are your own, and in your own home.

                    I thought SAUL was OK, but the portions are very small, and the place is kind of austere. CONVIVIUM sounds ideal, but if you are looking for someplace new, why not try TEMPO. The food is good, the atmosphere is pleasant; quiet with tables not on top of each other.

                    Agree with the OP about GARDEN CAFE. It is unusual and interesting, but hit or miss because of their very limited menu. Also, I felt the service was kind of amateurish the last time.

                    HENRY'S END sends out a Birthday Card with free entree on your Birthday. I love the place, except for the wait due to no reservations. My only complaints are that the same side dishes and garnish are served with almost every dish. And their dessert menu really needs revamping. Eating there 5 times a week must be a drag after a while.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Fleur

                      Fleur, FYI in regards to applewood, I encourage you to give it a second try.

                      While the owner's children may apss through the dining room once during the evening on their way to sleep, the younger child is no longer carried around on the owner's hip during the course of the evening.

                    2. Ginny took me to Garden Cafe for a birthday dinner about 4-5 years ago and I really liked it. But it was limited, it was verrrrry quiet (5 tables max?) and it was not upbeat. He is a good chef and what came out was right up there with most of the better places (not quite Convivium, al di la or Tempo). More self interest prompts me to see if you'd try Locanda in Clinton Hill. Some folks really like it & I remember the room as being a more spacious/well decorated al di la. Unfortunately, my 2 dining experiences there dont provide a memory of the food being up there with the others.

                      Dressler in Williamsburg is similarly good but I dont rate it as highly as the places you're familiar with. Of course, now we're getting out of the neighborhood as well.

                      1. Since we've just about ruled out all the usual suspects in the neighborhoods you named, maybe you're up for Red Hook? It's just across the highway and offers a few great options in 360 and the Good Fork. I especially like 360 and unless you order *a LOT* of wine, you'll get out of there with a tab considerably under 100pp.

                        1. What about bouillabaisse 126? I'll be honest, I haven't been, as it has been hard to resist Saul (Yes, the lamb 4 ways is quite wonderful. Bold flavors have always left me quite satisfied.) But I feel like Saul hasn't really updated their menu in last couple of years all that much (except for a few dishes here and there.)

                          I am becoming more tempted by the menu of Bouillabaisse 126, and have yet to see any disappointing reports on this board. I've noticed the decor of the place walking by - warmly lit, exposed brick. Seems a bit rustic, but certainly not too country. And I believe they are finally doing wine now!


                          1. I organized a birthday dinner at Porchetta on Smith st. and the food and servive were fantastic.

                            1. Thank you all for your great ideas. You guys are really terrific. What a great resource.
                              Haven't finalized where to take the future Mrs Panda for her birthday. I sure do have a great list of places to choose from.
                              Since it will be just the two of us,I prefer a place that takes reservations.
                              I am leaning towards Tempo, or back to Convivium. Although the food is OK, we didn't like 360 at all. Dark, dingy,grungy neighborhood,in your face politics on the wall. No way.
                              Signed up for the birthday deal at Henry's End over the summer. Nice friendly touch. In addition to their great food. Kangaroo anyone? It's really good, but not as good as the elk.

                              1. Your choice of TEMPO or CONVIVIUM is abound to please.

                                I agree with you about 360. All you said, and a very limited menu to boot.

                                HENRY'S END has such a great vibe. The little gestures like the birthday card, and the free main dish on your birthday are really appreciated. That is why it is always packed. That in addition to great food. HE has a loyal neighborhood clientele, and attracts people from other places as well.

                                Has anyone else tried the kangaroo?

                                1. I think Crave in Cobble Hill may be a good choice. It's very small and intimate, and they do a really great tasting menu. I haven't been in a while, but last I was there I really enjoyed the meal and the ambiance. I found the food to be innovative and the ingredients of very high quality.


                                  1. Reporting back. Thanks to all. We loved all your hints. Future Mrs. Panda's brother and SIL took us to Saul. Disappointed, it was just okay. Okay food, okay service, middling decor, and loud music and noise level. Foie gras was rubbery, scallops entree was tiny, $28 for 3 scallops, sweetbreads were good, desserts were good.

                                    Nothing to rave about or make a special trip. Kind of overpriced for what it is.

                                    I took the future Mrs P to Le Bernadin on her real birthday and we had a spectacular dinner. The room is lovely, the food super excellent, the service very professional. Expensive, but worth the price.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Jpand

                                      I'm sorry to hesar about your disappointing experience at Saul. We were there last week and experienced a similar disappointment.

                                      We love le Bernadin, and go there a few times a year for a special treat. I'm happy you were able to salvage the birthday and have a great dinner.