Nougatine or Compass, pre Lincoln Center
Nougatine, hands down the better choice...but I assume you've looked at the menu. If you choose carefully, you won't spend too terribly much. The same applies to their wine list. But you can also spend quite a bit.
As an example, I ate there last night-we had the asparagus with a soft-cooked egg, pea soup, sea bass, short ribs, and citrus semi freddo, with 3 glasses of wine (including a pricey Chateauneuf du Pape-hey, I had a hard day) and 2 espressos for a pre-tip total of $163.65. Not to mention the amuse and tidbits with coffe, and the roll and the amazing butter. And the perfect service.
Compass, on the other hand, has a 3 course menu for $35. There is no way you can do that at Nougatine. But it is no where near as good, both in terms of food or service or space. I think Nougatine is one of the best values for the money you can find for dinner. They are also very good at pacing the service based on your time needs.
You can do very well at either - it's a question of which menu you prefer. Each of them has it's fans on this board. Just remember to tell them you have a curtain at (presumably) 8 o'clock and you want to be out the door by 7:30 (at the latest). I always look to have the check by about 7:15 in order to leave a little extra time for getting it finished, getting coats, etc. I don't mind sitting a little longer over coffee, I just don't want to have to wait for them to get their paperwork done. And I don't want to have to run up/down B'way in heels to get to LC. For what it's worth, we had a wonderful meal at Nougatine last week. Haven't been to Compass in a while.