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Jul 10, 2007 07:57 AM

Husband turning 40 while visiting Brooklyn

My friends live in Park Slope and we will be visiting them in Oct. My husband and I own a restaurant in NC. My husband is the chef of our restaurant and will be turning 40 and it is our friends anniversary. We need recs for a dinner that will be special and the food has to be fabulous. We know Brooklyn is the new hot spot but we are also willing to go into city. We do not need to go over the top expensive but we want it to be memorable. Please help and thanks in advance.

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  1. I am a bit nervous about recommending a restaurant for a special occasion like that. Especially for a chef, (help). (What if they have an off night?) ;-)
    But, seriously:

    We just celebrated a friend's 45th birthday (an ex New Yorker, who flew in from Europe) and we took him to Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan.
    Our guests were in bliss and we were in bliss. It was one of the best dinners we have ever had in a restaurant. Service, top notch, very, very friendly and the room is just gorgeous.
    (I want to go back as soon as possible, and I am not waiting for a special occasion).
    Yes, it is expensive, but in our minds, worth it.

    In Brooklyn:

    In our experience, Tempo (on Fifth Avenue) serves the classiest food in the Slope. Their ambiance also is the nicest there. They also have an amazingly good wine list.

    Mostly the food is very good, sometimes a bit inconsistent, but we have brought friends over, and they have all loved it.

    The only restaurant (in Brooklyn), that could top Tempo is probably River Cafe, but I cannot vouch for the place, since we have not dined there for years.

    If you you decide on Tempo, ask to be seated in the front room (not the back), and ask for the first round sofa booth in the room. (not the one in the back... although it's not so bad, either.)

    Talk to Robert about the wines.

    Where ever you wind up celebrating, I hope you have a great time.
    And - Happy Birthday -in advance!

    1. You didn't say much about what kind of food he'd like, what kind of food he cooks, and how much you want to spend... but the usual suspects for especially delicious, special meals out in Park Slope are:

      Applewood (my personal favorite)
      Stone Park Cafe
      Al Di La (no reservations taken)

      ...I think that's it. Personally, having celebrated several birthdays there myself, I'd go to Applewood. Order diversely and share your plates!

      12 Replies
      1. re: Peter

        Thanks for the replies. Applewood is my friends favorite place where she thought we would like it. Our restaurant is small and husband is chef while I make desserts and manage front. I was in Brooklyn in Nov and loved A di La. River Cafe menu looks a little old school. Any other suggestions while we are there only for a couple of days?

        1. re: wineandcheese

          I don't think anyone has suggested Convivium. I find their food to be consistently excellent, and the atmosphere (especially downstairs in the wine cellar) is unique and wonderful. I think it's the most "unique" place in the nabe--in a very positive way.

          Another really good option in Park Slope is the Red Cafe--a tiny restaurant on 5th avenue that does a great job on food and tends to fly under the radar.

          1. re: wineandcheese


            If you manage the front and the husband cooks, you really, really should hit applewood -- they have the exact same setup.

            Make sure they know it's a special event and that you 2 own a restaurant -- I imagine David will come out of the kitchen if it's not too crazy and if you want to head back there later in the evening to see the setup than could probably happen too.

            Marion, indeed I knew I forgot one place in my original post -- Convivium!

            I'm a huge fan and their downstairs is one the most special rooms in NYC, but I find it a bit more casual than I expect these folks are looking for (I don't know why -- she hasn't given us a lot to go on).

            1. re: Peter

              I guess I really haven't given much info for what we are looking for. The food has to be fantastic. Almost any cuisine is fine as long as the food tastes like what it is. By this I mean not overly spiced, blackened or masked in any way. Alot of times people tend to over marinate, spice, rub and alter the flavor and what you end up tasting is this and not the beef, vegetable or whatever. Seasonal food simply prepared and artfully presented is what we want. As far as ambiance I would say not kid friendly since we are leaving ours behind. We want to be able to talk to eachother and not be overwhelmed by loud music or very loud space. I looked up the websites for both Convivium and Applewood and Tempo. Can someone please give me a few more comparisons of the three? You are all very lucky to live in a place full of people who appreciate different kinds of food and to have so much available to you. On the south board you might wait three days for a reply!

              1. re: wineandcheese

                It sounds like you definitely want Applewood. Convivium is good solid food, but there's not a focus on seasonal ingredients, and I occasionally find the flavors a little mushy. Never been to Tempo so can't speak to that one, but I have been to Applewood many times and I've consistently enjoyed my meals there. Food is very fresh and very much in tune with what you want to eat now. Good wine list too.

                The only other place I'd consider in your situation is Saul. This is the most sophisticated and well-prepared food you can get in Brooklyn (with a reservation), although they don't have the seasonal focus that you find at Applewood. On the plus side, I've never ever seen any kids here, while I have occasionally spotted tykes at the earlier seatings at Applewood.

                The River Cafe has great views and pretty good food, but I'd never call it "fantastic" -- it's not what you're looking for.

                1. re: oolah

                  Our reactions to Applewood and Convivium haven't been the same as yours. We've only been to Applewood once, so it's probably not a fair comparison, but there was nothing about our one visit that has given us any inclination to return. The food was perfectly fine, but not memorable, and it seemed overly expensive for what we had. Perhaps we hit it on a bad night, or we ordered wrong, but it just didn't do it for us. We've been to Convivium numerous times, and each time have left wanting to go back again--the ravioli with apple and cinnamon could keep me happy for a long time. Convivium also has the same model of husband in the kitchen, wife running the house (when not tending to the new baby girl).

                  So, I guess the message is that there are lots of good choices, and which one appeals most is a very personal thing. I don't think the OP can go wrong with any of the recommended places--and it would be great if they have the chance to try several.

                2. re: wineandcheese


                  Two things that become clear when you read the answers here:
                  1) Park Slopers do have many nice dining options (and that IS great).
                  2) We are very divided - according to our tastes and preferences.

                  I'm sorry if we have confused the issue more than clarify it.
                  Everything is so relative. Places that some people like for special occasions, are places that other's would not choose for those purposes. Just a matter of preference, nothing more...

                  I am going to stir the pot some more (sorry):

                  While we like Convivum, we would not choose it for a special occasion. This is just our taste, it is a bit too casual for that.The food at Convivum did not leave us with an urge to go back, soon. It was good and pleasant, and we will go back, but...

                  Applewood is not on the top of our list at all. We have also heard from friends that they have not been impressed (with the food) there.

                  Now, someone suggested Saul. We used to love Saul, and used to eat there "all the time", sometimes twice a week. Then they raised their prices, and we started to go to Manhattan for weekend dinners again. We did go back to Saul about a year ago, and the food was very good, but something had gotten lost in the translation. This was only one night, but the service, that used to be relaxed and friendly, now was impersonal and oddly contrived, as if trying to be a formal Manhattan restaurant, but not having the whole skill set or experience for that. I am probably unfair, like I said, it was one waiter, one night. (IMO the best staff at formal restaurants manage to be formal, knowledgeable - and relaxed, friendly and humorous at the same tame.)

                  When Tempo opened, we finally got a good reason to stay more in Brooklyn on weekends. They do have misses sometimes, but for the most part we have been happy with them. They do -for the most part- not overly spice their foods, and that is one thing that has kept us coming back. You get to taste the flavors of the ingredients, but still get nice, subtle layers of tastes with many dishes. I was actually shocked when I realized that one of the best sweetbread dishes I ever had, in any restaurant, was at Tempo. I cannot for sure say if it was number one, but comes really close. (but I do not think it is on the menu right now, sorry).

                  My husband does not eat red meat of fowl, so he is limited to Tempo's fish dishes. I am going to be honest here -the quality of the fish is not always consistent (fishmonger?), and that is a source of frustration for both of us. (I used to spend most of my summers on an island, and the fisherman who sold us the island, used to drop by with his boat and throw to us some (minutes ago caught) fish, which we then cleaned and cooked. So I have a very low tolerance for fish that is not super fresh.)
                  But for the most part the fish at Tempo is very good, and sometimes truly excellent. We have brought (fussy) foreign guests to Tempo, who, after eating in some very good restaurants in the city, declared that the fish dish they had at Tempo was the best fish dish they had in New York.

                  I want to repeat that Tempo has an excellent wine list. It "majors" in Italian and "minors" in Spanish -but, wow- what an impressive "minor" that is. The absolute best wine list - I am willing to bet- in Brooklyn, with the exception of River Cafe, but that place is so much more expensive. (And I would prefer many other expensive places -in Manhattan- over River Cafe).

                  I was going to end this by stating that even though we cherish our Slope restaurants, we do choose Manhattan restaurants for special occasions. But that is not entirely true. We usually do (or we cook at home) but this year we celebrated my birthday in Brooklyn -at Tempo, where else. We had a delightful evening.

                  Having said that: (in my humble opinion) if I want to be truly amazed by the food, I do go to Manhattan, and right now my favorite there is (I must be a fool for touting this; it already is next to impossible to get reservations) Eleven Madison Park. But there are many, many good Manhattan restaurants that I have not eaten in, so there might be many places out there that I would love just as much. So many restaurants, so little time.

                  The latest "blow away" dining experience we had did not happen in New York, which makes me sad... (the commute is way too long, involves airplain..).... And it was not even in a super formal restaurant...

                  Oh, I almost forgot: I agree with "brownhound", Al Di La has totally failed to impress us. We are not in a hurry to go back. Maybe in a year, we will test it again... maybe.

                  1. re: FoodWine

                    oops, I meant "WineAndCheese"... our "names" are so similar that I got confused while writing in a hurry...

                    1. re: FoodWine

                      We get to Saul about twice a year, most recently 2 weeks ago. The food was as good as ever and the service was perfect. It's never been anything else but that, although I'm sure they can off nights like any other restaurant.

                      As for Eleven Madison Park, I can tell you for sure they have off nights as well. They definitely had one when i visited last October.

                      We were to celebrate my GF's s birthday. Except for one minor but unfortunate lapse the service was smooth and efficient. We ordered al la carte. The lobster amuse was delicate and interesting although nothing remarkable.

                      My GF liked her foie gras terrine starter well enough. I ordered the potato gnocchi which would have been very good indeed except for the fact that they were served with 2 of the strongest tasting cured sardines I've ever encountered. They totally overwhelmed the gnocci where they came into direct contact; this dish was just badly conceived.

                      Her s main -"Suckling Pig Confit with Cipollini Onions, Plum Chutney and Five Spice Jus," sounded wonderful on the menu. On the plate it was a bit underwhelming. We were sharing portions and I actually liked it better than her, a B+ to her B.

                      My main - "Wild Atlantic Halibut “Piquée aux Truffes” with Crispy Potatoes and Watercress Emulsion" might have been good if it hadn't been overcooked to the point of being a bit chewy. I would have mentioned this to the waiter had he come around and inquired in the first few minutes after serving the food. He didn't appear and while I normally would have gotten up and brought this to someone's attention it seemed like poor form for a birthday dinner. FWIW my GF liked the flavor of the dish - I couldn't get past the chewyness to give it a fair judgment.

                      We ordered from the cheese assortment for dessert. These were simply outstanding. At the point the water took our dessert selections I mentioned the problem with the halibut and we were comped two glasses of very nice dessert wine.

                      Aside from the waiter's 10 minute disappearance service was very good. The meal itself was a bit of a disappointment, especially in view of the price point and positive comments we'd read here and elsewhere.

                      Note - the EMP meal as about $75 more than the meal at Saul. At those prices I expected better.

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        I'm sorry to hear that, Bob. I guess we have been lucky so far.

                        But thanks to your recommendation, we will try Saul once again, and also Applewood, since so many here seem to think it is very good.

                        1. re: FoodWine

                          My particular favorite Saul dish of late is a tuna appetizer that tends to appear on their tasting menu and I think was on the regular menu last I looked. As I recall, it's comprised of raw slices of tuna mingled with tangerine, green apple, I think jicama, and red onion. It's one of the best things I've had there, the two occasions I did the 5 course tasting menu.

                          1. re: Nehna

                            Thanks Nehna, I will try it next time we go.

            2. I'll 2nd the Tempo and Applewood suggestions.

              I like Al Di La fine but for a special occasion like a 40th birthday you probably want a place that will take a reservation. ADL doesn't and unless you arrive when it opens you'll wait up to an hour for a table. The seating is also cramped - not much space between parties and therefore not a great place for a special occasion.

              Restaurant Saul on Smith St. is an absolute winner. Aside from Peter Luger's, it's the one restaurant in Brooklyn to win a Michelin star for the last 2 years. Not cheap but not overpriced considering the quality. Reservations are available on Opentable.


              1 Reply
              1. re: Bob Martinez

                Agree on the Saul recommendation and on Applewood. Just brought my husband's cousin and his girlfriend to applewood, he just got out of cooking school in europe and was dying for some good veal. We managed to get a last minute prime time table on a saturday (kind of surpising) and the meal was wonderful, he absolutely loved it, said it was exactly what he wanted.

                I'm a big fan of Convivium too, or at least my one visit there.

                Manhattan obviously offers loads of options. Some special occasion favorites of ours are Cru and Bouley. Hearth too for a less high end.

              2. based on food alone, i would say a di la (although, as mentioned, no reservations and you may wait 30-60 minutes, although they have a nice wine bar you can wait at)

                based on ambiance alone, i would say river cafe.

                1. My go to restaurant for small birthday dinners (2-4 people) for the past 15 years is the Garden Café on Vanderbilt Ave. in Prospect Heights (just adjacent to Park Slope). Small restaurant (11 tables). Small ever changing menu. Husband & wife team, him in the kitchen, her up front (along with a second server). Excellent food, charming service.

                  For something completely different, there is the River Café on a moored barge in the East River. Great views of the bridges and of lower Manhattan. Impeccable service. You pay for the atmosphere here. The food is more than competent. It will not disappoint, but it won't overwhelm you either.