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Tough Chowhound challenge - Upscale/non-stuffy/foodie celebration dinner

  • r

I've been asked to find a spot to celebrate my significant other's late-20s birthday. Some considerations:

1) He doesn't want "stuffy."
2) Good food's a must. His dad's the head of a gastronomy society. The parents will be there as well, so a spot like, say...Freeman's might not do it.
3) No limit on price, but we'll need to have a space Monday night for a crowd of 5. Babbo, unfortunately, won't cut it.
4) Ideally - and this is my only consideration (not completely necessary) - it wouldn't be too quiet a place such that I'd have to make a lot of small talk. I just want to eat and keep my head down really.

Places they've liked recently: Cafe Grey, Little Owl, Mas.

They didn't like Veritas, Tocqueville was too just so-so for them, 11 Madison was good enough but didn't earn raves.

I'm thinking Cru, Craft, Landmarc, Blue Hill if the food really merits it over the other places (yes, yes, it's stuffy, I know)....

Any strong endorsements would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you in advance!

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    1. re: chow_gal

      Stanton Social, Landmarc is excellent. The restaurant in the Rivington Hotel was excellent. I forget the name.

      1. re: princeofpork

        Thor is the resturant in the Rivington Hotel (get it The Hotel On Rivington - ha)

        Hearth is excellent too.

        1. re: rdflig

          I found THOR both mediocre and overpriced, so I can't believe the head of a gastronomic society would enjoy it. I'd also tend to nix Spotted Pig, which I found a bit more passable than THOR but highly unexciting, overpriced, and very cramped. So I can help exclude some possibilities, but I feel kind of reluctant to take any responsibility for recommending a place under these circumstances. I had two very good meals at Hearth and look forward to returning, but neither meal was actually great from beginning to end, merely very good and a fair value, with very good service.

      1. re: Andrew P.

        Perilla probably fits all your needs (great food, totally not stuffy, a bit on the noisy side). Plus if the folks are foodies, they probably watched Top Chef, so you could score points with that.

        Other options, Spotted Pig, Po.

        1. re: BW212

          Blue Ribbon could be good if you go early and don't mind potentially waiting a little.

        2. Hearth is a great option. As a second choice, I'd go with Blue Hill - we had visitors in town who don't do small talk and they were so happy with the food there that was all they talked about!

            1. re: lisette

              Too iffy. Today is Scott Conant's last day, and the new chef, Michael White, is not scheduled to take over for a while.

            2. Casa Mono. They've recently revamped their menu and as delicious as it was before they have some GREAT new dishes. Always a favorite of mine.

              1. Union Square Cafe would meet all your requirements....

                1. Both Little Owl and Mas sounded a bit "stuffy" to me, so I wouldn't think the Blue Hill will be too stuffy, and its food is definitely a notch better than Little Owl and Mas.

                  Looking at what they did not like, it appeared that they didn't like the place that serve "small portion"? I am a little confused.

                  I think Blue Hill is great, and Hearth suggested by others are also a good alternative. If you actually thought about Babbo and decided not to because of reservation, then you should try Del Posto, another Batali's establishment. The space is huge and the pasta there is on par of Babbo, just in a much more elegant setting (though small talks are absolutely fine)

                  1. Must it be French/New American cuisine?
                    15 East has top-quality sushi, lovely service without being stuffy. Almost like a neighborhood vibe.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: baconstrip

                      Sorry but i have to disagree about Artisanal. I brought 7 people there from out of town on a Friday for dinner and both the service and food were seriously lacking. I would never go back there and it was not my first time there.

                      I love Blue Ribbon and the Spotted Pig but it wouldn't be my first recommendation...what about Raoul's?

                    2. How about Artisanal? I have been there several times and enjoyed it every time. The food is fantastic and the atmosphere is bustling. Plus, you can probably get in on Monday--if they are open. If they are real foodies, they'll get excited about the cheese. I had a celebration dinner there and loved it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: katsnap

                        We had a good experience at Artisanal. We would order differently next time (the chicken brick didn't do it for me). It is not stuffy, but noisy and lively like Balthazar. It might not be a good fit for someone who heads a gastronmy society!

                      2. If Dad's the head of a gastronomy society, would he be in for Momofuku Ssam Bar and reserving a Bo Ssam? It's the opposite of stuffy, quite hip, and has a good buzz/atmosphere so it's not too quiet either. Also, you'll be stuffing yourselves with marinated pork butt so I doubt you'd want to be making too much conversation, either.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kathryn

                          this was my thought exactly. just had the bo ssam. it was incredible. the food is serious, but the atmosphere is incredibly casual. service is good. laid back but very knowledgeable.

                        2. You're right, this is a tough circle to square.

                          However, I second Union Sq Cafe, which I think is better than 11 Madison Park, in a similar vein.

                          Also consider Danube. Not as quiet as Bouley but with great food and a celebratory feeling to the room.

                          And my sleeper suggestion, the Modern. The food certainly hits the standard. And if you think the Modern might be too stuffy (I think it would be perfect) then the bar-room at the Modern is more relaxed, but with the same food. And plenty of activity so you don't have to keep your head down too far..

                          Notice the Danny Meyer theme coming through here?

                          - Sean

                          11 Replies
                            1. re: Sean Dell

                              You don't find Danube on the stuffy side? I

                              1. re: BW212

                                Danube is definitely on the stuffy side. We had a very stiff and pretty rude server.

                              2. re: Sean Dell

                                Sean, why do you think USC is better than EMP? Many 'hounders seem to think that USC is resting on its laurels...

                                I second the Modern's Bar Room as a good destination. Make sure you specify the Bar Room for the less stuffy atmosphere.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  It's a bit of a toss-up Kathryn. They are essentially similar, but I prefer the room at Union Sq Cafe. And I don't believe it's resting on its laurels, although I recognize that this view is pretty widespread.

                                  - Sean

                                  1. re: Sean Dell

                                    Landmarc (Tribeca): Delicious food, not stuffy, and noisy.

                                    1. re: alc

                                      I "like" Landmarc but I don't love it. I would definitely go back but if I were suggesting a place for the head of a gastronomic society, it wouldn't be Landmarc.

                                      I like the vibe there, but the food definitely did not blow me away.

                                    2. re: Sean Dell

                                      Interesting. I haven't been to EMP yet but I don't really like the room at USC -- I find the murals to be kind of out-dated, tacky. (Same goes for Gramercy Tavern, frankly.)

                                      1. re: Sean Dell

                                        Resting on laurels vs. consistent, tried and true (vs. new and trendy)?? After reading all the recent posts on USC I feel the need to go back, have not gone in such a long time.

                                    3. re: Sean Dell

                                      Definitely the Modern. Also Hearth and Spotted Pig.

                                      1. re: kayonyc

                                        I should add wd-50 as well. It's an experience as well as good food!

                                      1. re: jth

                                        I've had mixed experiences with Red Cat - the skate is always great, the other entrees vary; typically meals have been better when been with parties of 2 or 3 than 5 or 6.
                                        Used to love USC, but went twice in past 3 years and dissapointed on both occasions.
                                        EMP gets great reveiews reccently, but only been 5+ years ago when it was good but nothing great (other than the space).
                                        Love Landmarc for overall vibe, reasonably priced wines but food does not blow me away.
                                        I'd like to throw in a vote for Harrison; been there at least 5 times in past year and a half and always loved the food, the service and the atmosphere.
                                        WD-50 great food, but very tight seating (unless you are all very small people - i.e. size 0-2).

                                        1. re: Love to Eat

                                          Definitely consider Pylos in the East Village - everything we had there was great and the menu allows for true experimentation in terms of ordering as well as staying fairly safe if not everyone is down for foodie type food. Other than that I would second Hearth, Harrison and Perilla.

                                          1. re: jessfood

                                            Giovanni's -- one block from the Metropolitan Museum.
                                            It is not cheap but it is a small, charming place, warm, inviting and damned good Italian food.

                                      2. In addition to Hearth (& since you didnt specify type of cuisine), I'd really suggest Devi. It's creative, excellent food, not stuffy & easy to appreciate, It's also on Opentable.com & open on Mondays. If you're not familiar with it already, take a look at:


                                        1. Momofuko or Saam Bar for inventive progressive asian is a great bet with foodie quality uniqueness as well as down to earth setting and ambience.

                                          1. So, has this event occurred, or are you still entertaining suggestions?

                                            If they weren't wowed by 11 Madison, seems to me Union Square Cafe wouldn't pass muster, either!

                                            When I think of great food, not stuffy, my thoughts turn to Beacon or Savoy.... no pretenses in either place, just fabulous food and a cozy atmosphere.

                                            and I don't think Blue Hill is stuffy. curious why that comment was made!

                                            1. Dont go to Landmarc, Craft is good but not gourmet. I agree on Toqueville it's ok but nothing to write home about. Jean-Georges is where I'd go, it's stuffy but could be dealt with. Bouley or Danube maybe...Le Bernadin I havnt been to in years but was good back then. Del Posto I havnt tried , but maybe you will and tell me how it was.
                                              Buddakan is huge and loud, the food mediocre but a 12 million dollar renovation ,is always a nice place to checkout.