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Birthday Dinner for 8-12 - Lots of Complications!

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I've been reading this board for years and have gotten lots of terrific advice from all of you but have never posted. I'm posting today because I am stumped!

I'm trying to plan a birthday dinner for myself (turning 31) and would really like it to be
1) a place where we can sit for a few hours and hang out, 2) a place with some style, good service and elements of fine dining. BUT, I don't want anything old-fashioned or stuffy.

The group will be about 8-12 people. Most are 30-31 but there are a few in their mid-20s. I'm a vegetarian and like to have a few choices but am fine with others eating meat (as long as my hubbie can also go veggie to share with me on my bday). The other complication is that a few of the people are full time grad students and are pretty broke. I'm not willing to go really cheap but we do need something that can be affordable for the 1-2 who need to chip in less.

I was thinking Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, etc... downtown. I don't want to do any asian and don't want to be north of 14th Street.

I'm tired of most of my regular places and am stumped-- it's past time to finally send out the invitation! Please help.

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  1. See if you can make a reservation at Inoteca for a group that size. I think it's possible. Another good idea is Alta. It's a small plates kind of place, and the grad students only have to order as much as they want. Both can handle vegetarians (assuming you eat cheese)

    1. I recently had a similar situation with a large group, some vegetarians and others with limited budgets, and we went to Le Zie. It is an Italian restaurant the serves a lot of seafood and, of course, pasta. It has a pretty laid back feel and we did not feel rushed. Also, Crispo has been my go to place for larger parties if they can give you their empire room, a private alcove that sits 10-12 people. You need to request it when making your reservation. It is a little more expensive than Le Zie but has a younger crowd and a little more energy.

      1. That sounds like a good-sized group for Blue Ribbon Bakery's cozy, little private room in the wine cellar. The food is great, and entrees can be pricey, but there is a good variety, with plenty of hearty appetizers, crostini and soups for a limited budget. The smaller plates may also be the vegetarian way to go. Check out the menu online.... the cheese is great. Perhaps you and your husband are willing to cover the wine for the budget-conscious (or for the group)? The room has one long table, so sharing family-style works really well.

        I would also second Alta!

        1. For a cheaper alternative to Blue Ribbon (which I love but, don't think is cheap) is Pintxos, it's a small very cozy Spanish Basque restaurant in the far west fringes of Soho (Greenwich St., near corner Spring beside Pao resto). They serve good tapas, paella (including a veg one)and killer sangrias (red one is better). Prices are reasonable and there filet mignon dishes are yummy too. The owners are nice and the place is quite laid back and we were allowed to chill and hang from 8pm to past midnight there for New year's eve (we were a group of 8)...festive enough for a party. Friends with less money can just order a couple of tapas in lieu of ordering entrees.

          Otto may also work if you can secure a table, your group can just share a couple of pizzas, antipastis, veggies etc. and pay for what you drink and the grad students shld be fine.