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$500, 3 people, where to go?

Hello! I'm going to NYC in July with my best friend and my boyfriend. I have $500 (or ~$600 with tip and tax) to spend for one dinner and I'm looking for suggestions! I'd like to note that this is a rare opportunity for me (and my friends) because I work for a non-profit which makes me quasi-poor. In other words, this is a once in a lifetime experience!

So far Babbo is at the top of my list. I've always wanted to go there, but even at Babbo $500 is a LOT to spend! So, I'm open to suggestions (even though my heart is leaning me towards Babbo). I looked at Le Bernardin but the tasting menu is so expensive that we wouldnt be able to order drinks.

One more thing... if I end up at Babbo, which would be better:
-The traditional tasting menu with wine pairings plus a salumi plate and a cheese plate...and cocktails :)
-Each of us could order like crazy off the al la carte menu and get a nice bottle of wine (or two) for the table


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  1. i think you should go to Babbo. just do it. there are other places where you could spend $500 easily, but Babbo is so wonderful and it's obviously an experience you'd like to have at some point - not to mention that it really is worth it. besides, if the three of you go, have a tasting menu and some nice wine, it'll be about $500.

    i'd recommed either the pasta tasting menu or ordering a la carte, but stick with the pastas. the secondis have gotten mediocre reviews on here.

    the gnocchi there is just incredible. the best i've ever had. just unreal and perfect in absolutely every way.


    2 Replies
      1. re: funkymonkey

        I also vote for Babbo. You wouldn't be stressed about staying on budget and could really enjoy the meal. One note about pasta dishes. I love all of the pastas I have had there except one - Mint Love Letters. Many people on this board recommend them so they may want to chime in - I would choose the beef cheek ravioli as a filled pasta instead. Maybe my palate isn't that developed but I think the Love Letters are out of balance. Also don't miss the garganelli the texture of the pasta and the earthy quality of the mushrooms is fantastic.

      2. For 3 people at Babbo, $500 is probably about right.

        1. We were just there, at Babbo, last Friday. $500 would be a satisfying budget, imho, for 3 people. Including a bottle or 2 of some nice wine.

          The Black Spaghetti dish with spicy Calbrese sausage is a terrific dish. If you eat tripe, don't pass on their trippa appetizer - it's one of the best out there.

          1. yes babbo- do the pasta tasting menu with wine- you'll have money left to go to peter lugers and eat steaks too... enjoy- fb

            1. You can't go wrong with Babbo. However, if you want to consider a couple of places that aren't easily replicated outside of major cities, I would suggest Nobu or Tabla. They're still expensive, but they won't bust your budget by a long shot.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Marco123

                My choice would definately be Babbo. To my mind your $500 budget for three people would probably just make it. My experience has been, one time we went, we were four people, had the regular tasting menu. With tip came to $660+. But that was with a bottle of wine while waiting for a spot at the bar to open up, and some after dinner drinks. Then I ate there solo one night, at the bar, left the ordering up to the bartender. The bill came to $294, with the tip. The last time there with my wife, we had the pasta tasting menu with the riserva wine option, a couple of pre-dinner and after dinner cocktails, with tip, I seem (meaning at that point, was feeling no pain, due to some outstanding food paired with some great wines) to remember the bill came to around $495 or so. Regardless, Babbo would be my choice for sure. You are all sure to enjoy it immensely.

              2. NOT a Babbo fan, so would stear you away from that. Le Bernardin is a serious choice, and you don't have to do the tasting menu to have what I think is the best seafood in town. Also they have a new som who (Aldo) who is wonderful. After that, I'd say Blue Hill tasting menu, and you'd have enough money in the kitty to order some interesting wine.

                5 Replies
                1. re: psp

                  I had a pretty unsatisfying experience at Le Bernardin recently. The ambiance and decor are pretty stale. Go for Babbo...

                  1. re: ChowDiva

                    I've not been to Babbo, but I will say that my dinner at Le Bernardin two years ago was probably the best meal I've ever had. Yeah, the decor is a bit like a hotel lobby, but the food was spectacular.

                    1. re: ChowDiva

                      Why was your experience unsatisfying?

                      I have never been to Le Bernadin. It seems like everyone I speak with either loves or hates it.

                      1. re: financialdistrictresident

                        Re: Le Bernardin. Put me in the "hates it" camp. Well, maybe hated it is a bit too strong. I was severely disappointed with the food, especially so since, given all the raves and no pans at that time (10 years ago?), my expectations were exceedingly high. No warm welcome, and service was so chilly, they could have turned off the a.c. As for the space, no attempts at camouflage could prevent me from feeling we were dining in the lobby of an office building -- which, of course, is where the restaurant is located.

                    2. re: psp

                      Le Bernardin not worth it? ... I don't know what all the hate is about... not greeted warmly? Bad decor? Bad food?!?!??!!! Wow... haha... just wow.

                      I think Le Bernardin is one of the best restaurants in the city. The decor is not hip and trendy, but it is tasteful seeing as it's a seafood oriented restaurant.

                      The service is great! If you're waiting for your reservation, they have a waiting area where they offer plates of parmesan crisps. The servers are helpful and knowledgable, prompt and attentive. The sommelier is likely to offer you a $50 bottle as he/she (she! that's quite uncommon, especially in a high class French restaurant) would a $150 bottle. And even the coat check person was pleasingly warm.

                      And the food. I can't believe anyone would be severely disappointed by the food. Each dish I had was perfect (or near perfect.) Fresh ingredients prepared correctly to their full potential to bring out their maximum flavors, all brought together to balance on a tiny see-saw on your palate... that's what great food is about! And the dishes are not masked in heavy spices or unnecessary sauces. Simplistic and masterful plating makes each outstanding dish shine.

                      I think Le Bernardin is a perfect spot for a "once in a lifetime" experience (for those of us on a tighter budget... although I pray that I may be able to return some day.)

                    3. Definitely go to 11 MADISON PARK, roomy, beautiful, and fantastic food.

                      1. I have to say, even for Italian, we think Babbo just isn't as good as the hype or at least the tasting menu hasn't been. And if you're spending that much money, you are probably going for that option.

                        If you're up for Japanese, nobu or Megu are both more interesting and we like the food better.

                        If seafood, Oceana doesn't have the youngest atmosphere, but the seafood, especially appetizers - wow.

                        Other restaurants we would probably put before Babbo or le bernadin: Bouley Bakery, Aureole, Gramercy Tavern, Danube

                        But if it were my dream meal, I'd pony up a little more and try to go to per se.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: awwill

                          I agree; I'd definitely go for Aureole, Bouley or Eleven Madison Park. Great food, service and decor.

                          1. re: ellenost

                            I'm very surprised no one has mentioned Cafe Gray just yet. I think you'd get a much better meal than at Babbo for 5 bills. Much better.

                            As for Le Bernadin, what are the nay-sayers paying attention to? It is consistenly one of the best places in NYC, and Eric Ripert may be one of the top 3 or 4 chefs in the City, along with Gray Kunz from Cafe Gray, who just might be the best.

                            Aureole at one time was magnificent, but it is long past its prime. And Eleven Madison Park? Well, it's Danny Meyer, which is to say, all flash for the masses, very little substance as far as food. $500 would be much better spent elsewhere.

                            Blue Hills would probably be my second choice.

                            1. re: funkjester

                              You really should try Aureole again. They have a wonderful new chef who is extremely creative. I've been there a few times since the change in chef, and while I've always loved Aureole, I find the food among the best in the city. Service has always been (and continues to be) extremely warm and attentive.

                              1. re: ellenost

                                Thanks for the info. I need to try Aureole again too. Last time I went (some time ago!) food was very good, service lacked warmth.

                        2. if you are considering Babbo - just do it - worth doing at least once! go for the pasta tasting if you like pasta - you can never go wrong with pasta at Babbo :-)

                          that said, once-in-a-lifetime experience is tough choice. you'll know best whether Italian will speak to you more than, say, French. not sure whether Le Bernardin can be done well for $600 for 3 - unless the booze is very limited (lunch night be good to investigate for an all-out). my point is: you could do the prix fixe but it won't be very representative.

                          in terms of deals, Jean Georges IS a great deal at lunch - two courses for $28 - in the dining room - not Nougatine (front room cafe - not worth it)