Need help choosing casual elegant B-day restaurant
I need help choosing a birthday restaurant for my boyfriend! I have weekend dinner reservations for two at The Tasting Room, Cafe Boulud, and Blue Hill.
-We both love food and eating out but rarely have a chance to go to restaurants of this caliber, so I want to avoid an overly stuffy or snobby atmosphere (although I would like it to be somewhat romantic!).
-I am a vegetarian, he is not. Veggie-friendliness would be a plus, but needn't be the focus (since it's his birthday, not mine!).
-Can we keep it under $200? (we're not big drinkers, we'd probably just get a glass of wine each)
-I like the veggie options at Boulud but am not sure we will fit in with the UES clientele (being outer-borough dwellers in our mid-20s). I'm also wondering whether the Tasting Room will feel quite special enough.
Any comments would be greatly appreciated! Is there somewhere else I should be considering?
We ended up going to Blue Hill last night and had a fantastic meal. At 9, the dining room was mostly full but it never felt crowded. I was pleasantly surprised with the mix of young, casually dressed couples, families, and solo diners. The service was excellent -- we had to wait a little while for the corner table to open up, so they thoughtfully comped our drinks while we were waiting at the bar.
I had called ahead to let them know that one of us was vegetarian, and the server was prepared to explain to us which items on the menu could be made vegetarian. Almost every appetizer on the current menu can be prepared without meat. She also said that they always have a vegetarian entree as well (I'm not sure why they don't just put it on the regular menu -- maybe they wait to see what vegetable looks best that day at the market and then create an entree around that.)
We ordered the tasting menu -- he got a pescatarian version and I got the vegetarian version. The tab came out to $180 with drinks, before tip.
I'm so sorry that I can't remember all the different courses in detail (it seemed unromantic to keep jotting down notes after the presentation of each dish!), but here is what I remember:
homemade potato chips and beet chips -- thinly sliced, very elegant
mini beet burger with ricotta -- loved the biscuit bun that the beets came on
toasted bread with a salty green powder and fresh butter -- I think I overdid it with the green powder, not expecting it to be as salty as it was
beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese -- the beets were on the crisp side. Great flavor, if not the most innovative dish
poached egg with sweet potato tortellini and lady apples - maybe my favorite course. I just loved the blend of salty and sweet.
cauliflower "steak" served over bulgur - they cooked the cauliflower until it was pretty soft. The texture went nicely with the risotto-esque bulgur.
grapefruit salad with candied citrus, custard (?) and spiced bread - delicious, I would have preferred more of this for the dessert dessert.
rice pudding with a dollop of ice cream - the only dish I didn't love, but maybe I'm just not a rice pudding fan. For me at the end of the night, it seemed a little heavy.
I don't remember all the dishes my boyfriend got, but he loved his entree (grilled hamachi) and the lentils in one of his appetizers. I wish I could remember more -- next time I definitely will bring my notebook.
Thanks to everyone for your advice! Now I want to check out Stone Barns as soon as it gets warm!
Nice review, perstephanie. I agree with you that it takes a lot away from enjoying a meal to sit there taking notes. We've even give up taking photos for that reason.
To be honest, we've only been the NYC Blue Hill once and were not overly impressed with our meal though that goes back quite a few years ago.
Our experience at Stone Barns this past summer was totally different. From start to finish, our dinner was superb. And the lovely dining room is spacious and comfortable. I agree that it's best to go there during the late spring and summer seasons when the range of produce grown at Stone Barns itself and on surrounding farms, which they patronize, is greatest.
I know it can't make your price point that you are shooting for but you can look at Gramercy Tavern. They have a great VEGTABLE tasting menu that can be adjusted to be vegetarian and then your BF could have the regular tasting menu. Only problem is it'll be $200 before tip or any booze.
Blue Hill sounds to me like the perfect place for this kind of celebration. It's quietly elegant, and very veggie friendly. Much of their food (both animal and vegetable) comes from the farm at Stone Barns. They have one of the best wine lists in the city, imho. I particularly like their whites.
I vote for The Tasting Room. When you make your reservation, let them know you are making a birthday reservation, and that you are vegetarian and would like something good - they are SO accommodating with requests. Keep in mind that I am making this statement based on my experience when they were in their old space on E 1st Street. I don't see why they would be any different now but I just wanted to add that just in case.
re: scarlet starlet
I had a completely forgettable meal at the tasting room about 2-3 months ago. On the other hand, Cafe boulud as well as Blue Hill are two of my favorite places, with Blue Hill more friendly vibe and darker lighting winning out for a date place.
Some older reviews for reference.
I love Blue Hill. Something happened when I was there that might be of interest to you.
The next table was a group of Vegetarians. The chef asked them to leave it completely in his hands and he would fashion a beautiful vegetarian menu for them. The raves from the next table were ecstatic.
I thought that was a very classy thing for him to do.
All of the Boulud restaurants do a great job with vegetarians (with the weakest being bar Boulud, the new meat heaven property). Cafe Boulud would be my choice, my GF is vegetarian and I am not, and we have always enjoyed yourselves (we are a little older then you but I don't think the difference will matter).