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Where to take hard-to-impress mom on Saturday? Help!

  • m

I need your help Chowhounds!
My mom is coming to visit for a couple days from the midwest (where she's lived for 20-odd years but she's originally from Russia) and I want to take her out to dinner Saturday night. Someplace downtown (east or west village preferably), mid-priced to slightly expensive (entrees in the 25-30 dollar range). Problem is, she rarely goes out to eat and is hardly ever impressed by restaurants because she sees the food as something she can cook at home for less money (fish and pasta especially). This is a woman who once called Italian food, "noodles with ketchup." No, I'm not kidding. People with eastern european families, you can probably relate.

So please offer your suggestions for places with food and atmosphere she may be impressed by. She's not into spicy food, sushi or indian. I've already tried taking her to a nice Russian restaurant (response: "This isn't true Russian food, and it's overpriced"). Weirdly, she did like the atmosphere and food at SEA in Williamsburg, but we went at lunch when it wasn't a madhouse, and the food there is americanized and sweet, not properly spicy. I was thinking of Do Hwa for the atmosphere and the she-can't-cook-it-at-home factor, but I worry that everything will be too spicy. I'm at my wits end thinking of a place. I'm about to give up and wish for the best at Hearth because I like it. Help!

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  1. i'd recommend Lupa...she doesn't have to get the pasta (although it might change her "noodles&ketchup" notion)...you can get a bunch of vegetable and meat and seafood antipasti and the lamb chops, which are a Saturday special...with all the antipasti there, she's sure to like something...

    another possibility is The Elephant, on E.1st St....it's Thai-French fusion...tasty and not too spicy...the shrimp dumplings in red chili oil are yummy...and the duck confit is excellent...

    a third option is La Nacional for Spanish food on 14th...tapas, squid ink paella, and an excellent wine list...cute, cozy, lowkey...

    1. how about WD-50?
      definitely not dishes you'd make at home.

      1. Mary's Fish Camp has an electric New York Vibe. The food has that just pulled out of the ocean quality. Acquiring a table can be a hassle however.

        1. If she's going to be picky no matter what, why not go someplace that's guaranteed to satisfy you? I say, go to Hearth and wish for the best...

          1. thanks all. I love lupa and mary's fish camp, but with lupa, I worry that she'll just think the antipasti are the same cheeses and meats she can find at her grocery store (even though they're so not), and with Mary's, she might scoff at lack of atmosphere and tell me she could just fry up a fish at home. Sigh. WD-50 is out, since I know she's not that adventurous, and, oh yeah, she tends to comment on the small portion sizes in NYC anyway. She's a toughie, and definitely not a chowhound. I don't mean to make her sound like a total curmudgeon, but she's always been skeptical of anyone providing a product or service...she thinks people are always trying to gyp each other. She just doesn't appreciate a caringly-prepared meal and great service like we do. I don't know how I turned out so different. The Elephant and La Nacional are good suggestions...although I've never been to either, I've been meaning to go (especially La Nacional), and will look into them (and maybe we will just end up at Hearth). Thanks!

            1. my mom's the same. an immigrant thing. i can't take her to any indian restaurants because she says she can cook it herself cheaper & better. and she also liked SEA because the decor is more over-the-top and it's very cheap...

              so, i'd say go for production value...

              within your constraints... maybe asiate? spice market (early before the club scene starts)? balthazar? metrazur?

              1. Do you think you will like Chinese food? Not sure how the Chinese food is like in Midwest, but at least this is something she probably can't or rarely cook at home (?) You can order more seafood such as stir fried lobsters, crabs, etc. or ingredients that she does not cook so often at home? and there should be a lot of non-spicy options to choose from.

                Chatham Square 6 Restaurant is a great place with decent decor and service. Food is relatively inexpensive even if you order a lot of seafood!

                If you think Chinese won't be her preference, then let us know and we will think of something else =)

                1. What about Wallse? If she can make spatzle that competes with Wallse's, I want an invitation to dinner at her house. The only caveat about Wallse is that the entrees can exceed $30.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Desidero

                    Curt Guttnebrunner is also in charge of the kithcen at Cafe Sabarsky, where his spatzle is also served as a side with the Hungarian beef goulash. The cost is $25. The pastries there are seriously delicious. Though the dining room at Sabarsky is gorgeous, in my view, the booths are the only truly comfortable seats.

                  2. Thanks again all. Thievery, our moms sound like two peas in a pod. I also took her to Relish in Wburg, but she wasn't much impressed with the food (which I think is always good) or atmosphere (it's a dimly-lit, modernized diner car), but she did stare open-jawed at the hipsters like it was some kind of circus. So yes, I'm going to try to concentrate on atmosphere...either over-the-top like SEA or really homey and warm, like the Place. I'm starting to think that no matter where we go, if entrees top 25 bucks, she'll be too busy thinking we're getting ripped off to taste anything (and she's not even paying...the bf and I are!)

                    kobetobiko...nice thought, but she (predictably) also doesn't like chinese. It's crap in the midwest, but she won't be able to tell the difference. Chinese is also not my favorite, but maybe I haven't had really good Chinese here yet. I'll make a mental note to check out Chatham Square myself!

                    Desidero, Wallse she will without a doubt think is overpriced. Do you guys see the predicament I'm in? Good lord. Wish me luck. Thanks for all your help!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mae

                      If Wallse is too pricey, you could try Blaue Gans.

                    2. You could try Giorgio's of Gramercy. It is a really nice place, great service and great food. It is accessible food, meaning that it is not too way out there, and the ingredients are really fresh. I really liked that place.

                      1. You mentioned your mom thinks of Italian as noodles and ketchup (haha!), but maybe a visit to a non-redsauce Italian place might open her up. Cacio e Pepe comes to mind - it's not expensive, has a nice ambience to it with old people and couples around, and DEFINITELY goes beyond noodles with marinara. There's a pasta dish with blueberries in it, and my favorite is the bucatini alla amatriciana with guanciale. Or if she likes the theatrics, maybe order the cacio e pepe pasta - I've only had a taste, but hopefully it's simple yet tasty enough to change her mind.

                        1. If your mom likes to look at hipsters and adores weirdly decorated places, why not Freeman's?

                          1. I took my Mom to Tea and Sympathy this week and she loved it!

                            1. Why bother trying to impress her? It sounds as if food just isn't her thing and it's not a game at which you will succeed. I'm with thievery and a&w: choose something you like and tell her you know she could do it better, cheaper, whatever. Maybe she will feel sorry for you and actually cook for you (and you can take her around to markets in preparation).

                              1. Thanks everyone. I had a nagging suspicion, but I'm starting to become convinced that those of you who say give up on trying to impress her (and just go where I want) are right. I'm still taking suggestions of course--if anything, I'll find out about cool places I want to try out myself--but maybe someplace like Hearth is the way to go afterall (my new pick is Gascogne, which I really liked). It's just frustrating that I see her pretty infrequently, and I want to wow her with our one dinner out (going out to eat and trying new foods being one of my favorite things to do), but i have to accept it's just not going to happen. She's never going to be wowed by my dinner pick. Is anyone else picking up on the fact that this dinner is a metaphor for the rest of our relationship? Haha. This board has turned into chow therapy. Chowapy? Anyway, thanks guys!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mae

                                  Is there any way you could let her choose? Ask her what kind of food she'd prefer? Maybe throw out some ideas and then let her pick from those?

                                  You definitely have to let us know how this turns out.

                                  From what I've heard about Hearth, at least you and your BF will be happy. And your mom may surprise you.

                                2. i second the referral to cacio e pepe. it's a very good idea for the reasons janethepain stated. regardless, i wish you luck. i'm sure you know by now that the best approach will be to just quietly take her into the restaurant without any fanfare/promises/excitement. know what i mean? that's my contribution to the chow-a-therapy. my parents (american, 1st generation Italian) do not like anything. they are not mean/nasty/rotten either but they also think the best food is cooked at home. so i can relate. you'll have to share you choice as well as her reaction with us. good luck!

                                  1. Danube is lovely, as is Chanterelle. Depending on the time of day, you may be able to get a reservation. I've never been disappointed by Aquagrill either...
                                    Il Buco on Bond St is still quite good. Savoy on Spring and Crosby.

                                    Elephant gets very busy and hectic ( I once had an entire bowl of mussels spilled in my lap from a harried waiter) but the food is inexpensive and good.

                                    i'm also going to back up Hearth. So delicious.

                                    1. Take her anywhere you are sure about good food, tell her not to bother about the rate as you are going to get 15% discount or something then she will be happy as percieved value of the dinner will be much higher to her

                                      1. Hey there,
                                        What a fin post to read. You may want to try Perry Street in the west Village. They are offering their $35 menu 7 days a week as long as its before 6:00PM. You can even look at the real menu which is far more expensive so she'll realize what a good value it is. I found the food at Perry Street to be pretty simple (although interesting).

                                        Otherwise, I love the idea of cooking at home. I think most parents like that and there are of course great markets to be found. You could even make a walking tour of the markets the focus of the day and then enjoy a casual homemeade dinner at home?

                                        Let us know how it goes!


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: JeremyEG

                                          This might come out of left field....but what about doing a dinner at a place like Dinosaur BBQ? Affordable for sure, big portions, and great food.

                                          Make sure to get reservations. You can save the money for a trip to a fun dessert place or a show. The out-of-towners seem to like that.

                                          1. re: JeremyEG

                                            I'd second Perry Street. If your mom can cook like *that*, then I'd like to know if she's single.

                                          2. Thanks so much everyone for all your great suggestions and hilarious tips (telling her I got a 15% discount...so funny!). Letting my mom cook for me isn't really an option, as I'd rather avoid the inevitable lecture about why cooking at home is better than going out to eat. And if she thinks Italian is noodles & ketchup, she'll definitely think BBQ is just chicken with storebought bbq sauce. Letting her pick doesn't work either...she's the most indecisive person I know (she won't even order her own entree...makes me order for her every time). I think I will end up just taking her someplace cute and cozy that I know has good food (most likely Gascogne), and tell her not to expect much fanfare. Freemans is a funny suggestion, but we'll no doubt have to wait a while to sit down, and I want to avoid hectic places, as I'll be stressed already. Thanks for all the well wishes...I'll let you know how it goes!