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Anniversary on a Budget Recs

My boyfriend and I are both grad students, looking for somewhere to have an anniversary dinner. We can spend up to $75pp, but lower is better. Also, really looking for something casual (no fancy dress required). Had dinner at The Little Owl a few months ago and loved it, so I was thinking maybe Red Cat, but I've never been there and I wasn't totally sure if a)we'd be able to make the budget with a bottle of wine and b) it's a casual type place.

Suggestions? Any neighborhood, also pretty much any cuisine will do. Boyfriend suggested "something like the Little Owl"... so I guess American is best.

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  1. We finally had dinner at The Red Cat for the first time during the summer. Our food was nicely prepared and tasty but not particularly special. It is a casual place with very pleasant decor. We were there early, so it wasn't very busy, but I've heard it can get quite noisy. Though I haven't been to The Little Owl, I'm familiar with the space and it is teensy. Red Cat is much larger, i.e., front room with a bar and tables + rear spacious rear room. So, if you're looking for an intimate setting, Red Cat is not it. Regarding your budget, you can check prices on their website, but I think you'll be fine.

    http://www.theredcat.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: RGR

      I'd recommend Orchard - right prices, great atmosphere. Also, I heard that Thor in the Hotel Rivington is really good.

      Took the boyf to The Orchard for his birthday this summer:
      Ambiance: A+
      I was delighted with the dcor (and so was the SO), nice but relaxed and not stuffy, good music but not too loud, lively crowd but not too crowded, beautiful deep orangy lighting, light wood toned tables, some small Japanese screens kind of hanging on the ceiling and bouquets of dark berries up on the wall.

      Staff: A
      Our waiter was fabulous, funny with good recommendations, was there when we needed him, but not too often

      Wine, A:
      Great list, fair prices. We had an excellent red - Akoomi (I think)

      Food overall: B
      I'm torn, b/c I don't think either of us were starving, but...here goes....

      Bread basket, C: included two slices of plain white bread that looked homemade. Unforch, the crust was so chewy that it was almost impossible to rip, so was kind of awkward. Didn't taste like anything special, but was served with an excellent herb butter.

      Flatbread, A-: our waiter recommended the steak tartar or mushroom, we went with the Mediterranean, which worked best with G's lactose-intolerance. The bread itself was flat, firm but not crispy, flaky, and delicious. The topping was wonderful - roasted eggplant, huge chunks of garlic, roasted pepper - melted wonderfully in your mouth with bold flavors. The flavors were so bold, in fact, that by the time I got to the last piece, I wasn't interested in finishing it. It wasn't something you could stick with. I'd try a few others next time, and skip the appetizers.

      Appetizers: I can't really grade the appetizers fairly, b/c they both had onion/scallion flavor, which I hate, but figured would be ok. We got the lobster empanadas, which should have been called Latin-American lobster-cake tempura. I thought they would be pieces of lobster in an empanada crust, but it was more like a crabcake filling, but with lobster instead, in what seemed to be a lightly-dipped batter type of crust. Totally unimpressive/not good. The tuna tartare would have been great if it wasn't infused with red-onion flavor. Service with nicely salty plantain slices and guacamole and crme fraiche. SO seemed to love it.

      Entrees, A+ (well, for mine): I got the handkerchief pasta with duck confit, and it really was perfect. A warm, rich, spiced brothy sauce, with perfectly-cooked delicious pasta. Hearty and lovely. I was sorry to have been so full! It was excellent, and I would go back just for that.
      Greg got the lamb, which was super rare and delicate and very nice. It came with a mint orzo which he didn't seem to like, and I was too full to try.

      Dessert, B+: We got the molten chocolate cake, which they were very nice to bring with a candle. It was delicious, expectedly molten, and chocolatey. However, since that dessert is served everywhere now, definitely no points for originality.

    2. I agree w/RGR's assessment of Red Cat. Other suggestions: Hearth, Apizz, The Orchard, August, and Snack Taverna.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Lucia

        The only one on this list we've been to is Hearth. There was a problem with our main course being served at an incorrect temperature, i.e., not hot enough, but the staff handled it with great aplomb. Overall, I'd say the food was excellent, certainly better than The Red Cat's. Again, this is not an intimate place. Huge front room with a bar area on one end, and it gets quite noisy because all big groups are seated there. I've not seen the back room, but our waitress told us it's mostly two-tops and quieter. I'd describe the decor as "early warehouse," rather plain though the proper lighting saves it by casting a warm glow.

        http://www.restauranthearth.com

        I wish I could make a suggestion, but we haven't been anywhere lately that I think would fit what ssfreshmeadows is looking for.

      2. Hmmm. I suggest Degustation. It's a little bigger than the Little Owl but laid out completly different. The chef is behind the square bar in the middle and you watch him cook. There are only 16 seats in the whole place.

        When I went there were people dressed up and people in jeans. I don't think there is any sort of dress code.

        The food is fantastic and not expensive (nothing over $10 when I was there) and is meant to share which can be fun and romantic. They also have reasonably priced bottles of wine.

        My SO and I went and did the $50 tasting menu with one bottle of wine and left very full with a total bill of around $150. If you didn't do the tasting menu it would be even less- Enjoy!

        1 Reply
        1. re: roze

          For what it's worth, I wouldn't consider Degustation romantic. Yes, the room is nice and lighting dim, but the bar seating makes you a little too intimate with your neighbors. Towards the end of our meal, my fiance's neighbor started to lean into him, which just made us want to leave as soon as possible.

        2. I would deifinitely recommend August. Very romantic and rustic and the food, in our experiences, has been excellent. The no reservations policy can make for long waits sometimes. Also, would you consider going to Brooklyn? My absolute favorite restaurant is Frankies 457 on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. They also have a LES location on Clinton Street. Excellent small italian dishes, great wine menu, and a very romantic environment. Once again, no reservations, but if you expect a wait, it is a great excuse to grab a couple of pre-dinner drinks before hand and one of the nearby bars.

          www.frankiesspuntino.com

          2 Replies
          1. re: BklynYoop

            August has taken reservations for all parties since the end of last year: http://www.augustny.com/events.htm

            1. re: Lucia

              Thanks Lucia! We've gone 2 times in the last year and have just walked in and waited. Was unaware that they now take reservations!

          2. I would suggest landmarc in Tribeca. Request to sit upstairs, it's more quite. Great food and fantastic wine list with only 50% mark up.

            1. Thanks for all the recs -- and as an update, I asked the bf to choose between Red Cat and Orchard and he picked Red Cat. It was pretty much as described, very solid but not spectacular food -- he had scallops and the pork chop, I had tempura green beans and the skate. I thought the space and service were fantastic though. And really, the green beans were almost reason enough to go there in and of themselves. We did find the wine list strangely limited in our budget range, but found a decent bottle without too much trouble. All in all, it was great place for what we wanted.

              1. I know you said anniversary dinner, but since you're grad students and may have a flexible schedule, thought I'd share one of the most romantic birthday lunches I was taken to while in law school at Fleur de Sel. Since it was during the afternoon, we were one of perhaps three tables in the very cozy and warm restaurant, the food was superb, the prix-fix lunch is (I think) $29 pp, we had champagne, it was nice and quite. It was truly a special birthday.

                On another note, you may want to look into restaurants that are BYOB.