Where to treat my awesome friend to drinks/dinner?
I've only worked in the city since the middle of January and I'm still learning my way around, so I still need some serious help... Tomorrow is my chance to treat my friend to drinks and dinner - not only is her birthday approaching, but she's also well deserving of a fabulous night out for many other reasons.
I'd like to bring her to a restaurant that has a lively bar scene as well as great dining. Maybe a drink at the bar and then a table for dinner? We're both single, mid-30's and appreciate an interesting, diverse and hip crowd (not too trendy). Prefer a destination not overly sophisticated, but definitely nicer than a gastropub. Best if we don't need a reservation. Any cuisine except for Asian, and no steakhouses. I was thinking small plates or tapas could be nice.
I've not dined out enough to know many restaurants, so I can share what I do know... I enjoy Casa Mono but it's too small, I think Balthazar is vastly overrated, Blue Ribbon seems a little too quiet/casual. My favorite restaurant experiences lately have been in Brooklyn (Frankie's 457 and Bocca Lupo). Aiming for maxing out at $15 apps / $27-$30 entrees.
Alternatively, we could stop at a great bar and then walk nearby for dinner. I was thinking about a place like Employees Only, for example, but don't want to eat there.
If you're up for traveling to the East Village, I think drinks at Death & Co. followed/preceded by a dinner at The E.U. may be a good option. While The E.U. does come off as a gastropub of sorts, I don't think it's horribly casual and there will be a diverse/hip crowd there. Reservations are suggested, but I've showed up on a Friday night at 8 and waited about a 1/2 hour or so.
Death & Co - http://www.deathandcompany.com/ try to go here before they lose their liquor license, great drinks in a very cozy atmosphere.
The E.U. - www.theeunyc.com/
Love the look of Death & Co - I forgot about it way down the long list of "to do's".
We ended up at Employees Only and our barman, Seth, was simply FANTASTIC. The crowd got a little touristy/bridge and tunnel ish as the evening progressed and I think he was glad to chat booze with someone who wasn't just looking for a dirty martini. He made a lovely old fashioned and we sampled and discussed the absinthe offerings (the Swiss one is so grand). We also tried some different amaro. (I've only had it a couple of times before and my friend is a neophyte as well.) He was very generous with his time and knowledge and that was GREAT!
I was thinking about Alta but then my friend suggested Spotted Pig as I'd just been there for a snack a few weeks back. We got on the list and went around the corner to a Portuguese place on Hudson. (forget the name) We ordered an octopus appetizer that was pretty gross - fishy! - and came with a horrible arugula salad, but also a giant hash brown with a bright, poached egg on top. Mmmmm it was worth it for the hash brown. Wine prices were stupid and the restaurant felt like a hack, but we needed to wait it out somewhere.
Had a great cask conditioned rye beer at SP. Chef himself came in and went upstairs to a table that was waiting for him. Good thing because I'm still ready to complain to someone about the horrible meal I had at Casa Mono (normally my little *darling* of a restaurant!)
Half our dishes at dinner were great and half were left on the plate. Devils on horseback - bacon wrapped around prunes - was way too sweet and gooey. I prefer the version with marconi almond-stuffed dates. Didn't eat those. Liver crostini was WAY too strong today. I had the dish on my last visit and loved it, but this was very very strong and too much for me. Ravioli dish (was it potato?) was simple and fantastic! The meatball special - shoulder, cheeks and liver - tasted only of liver. Grrrr. Again, too strong (why did we order two liver things? Don't ask me!) The gravy was fantastic as was the fried pig skin on top. A side order of champ (mashed potatoes with green onion or was it chives) was awesome.
Service was lovely for such a busy place. When he noticed the dishes that were uneaten, he offered dessert on the house and comp'd our after dinner drinks. Mind you, we didn't complain - it was our fault for ordering wrong - and so this offer was very gracious. Dessert was some chocolate cake thing - boring, and this AWESOME banana dessert. First, I hate banana desserts as I find them way too cloyingly sweet. This was a crust with a layer of caramel (again, amazing, sooo buttery) and then bananas that were a little green tasting that had been hit with the torch to caramelize them a bit. This all topped with to die for fresh whipped cream.
I'll go back to SP for the cask conditioned beer and that dessert. Wow.
Here's what looks most interesting to me so far:
Still thinking about Employees Only - is the food any good?
Maybe Freeman's but a little too comfort food-ish
Any new recommendations based on this feedback? Maze and Modern might be a little too upscale for a relaxing night...
Since you didn't mention your preference of location, here are a few places that will fit with your requirements:
- The bar room at the Modern (not sure if it will be "too trendy")
- Maze at the London Hotel by Gordon Ramsay
- Perry St for contemporary French
- Suba for contemporary spanish tapas
All these restaurants have their own websites and online menus, so you can do a preview and decide which one appeals to you the most.