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Unique, casual dining experience

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My wife and I recently took a tip down from Boston and ate at Per Se (somehow got reservations same day) and the Spotted Pig. We truly enjoyed our experiences and are planning on swinging by the SP for lunch on our one night visit this weekend. We are staying in TriBeCa and are looking for another unique dining experince in the lower half of manhattan. We are not limited to the type of cuisine and would rather enjoy a simple, extremely well prepared meal in a casual setting (like SP) than a complex, uninspired meal at an established higher end restaurant (an unfortunate theme in Boston). At the same time if there is place that is more formal, but a unique experience, e.g. WD-50, KC @ Beacon, we'd love to hear about it.
Thanks in advance.

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  1. Upstairs at Bouley is great. Not pubby like SP, but casual and bustling w/well-prepared food.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Lucia

      I second upstairs at Bouley. The only caveat is that they don't take reservation.

      I just got an email today that Danube, Bouley's sister restaurant specializes in Austrian food, is haivng a spring tasting menu (5 courses) for $60. Seems like a pretty good deal.

      1. re: kobetobiko

        kobe,

        Have you been to Danube? I would not recommend it at any price, as the food is pretty ordinary and the tasting menus are not really a bargain (though it does have great atmsophere).

        1. re: rrems

          and far from casual. In fact, it is one of the more formally romantic rooms in the city.

          1. re: rrems

            I have been to Danube, but it was quite a while back, like early winter. I thought the food was fine, hearty and satisfying. Which tasting menus did YOU order?

            I didn't think it was that formal. I found Bouley to be more formal than Danube.

            1. re: kobetobiko

              I found Danube more formal than Bouley and food less satisfying. While I agree that it was hearty and satisfying, it wasn't special enough at that price point. Our server was incredibly snooty too.
              I'd much rather go to nearby Blaue Gans for Austrian. It also fits the casual criterion.

              1. re: kobetobiko

                My partner and ordered 3 courses a la carte, while our friend had the "tasting" which amounted to 4 small courses of limited choice. I realized that he could have ordered 4 full courses for the same price with no limitations on choice. There was nothing wrong with the food, but it was overpriced and not in any way memorable, IMO. They also kept us waiting 40 minutes with a reservation, which in my experience is typical of Bouley restaurants and is a great way to lose future business.

        2. I would recommend Degustation as a more formal restaurant (not ridiculously so, though - you'll see plenty of people in jeans) serving AMAZING, inspired cuisine at a very reasonable price point. It's also a totally unique experience, as you are seated around a bar-kitchen where you get to watch the chefs as they create each dish. On the LES. One of my favorite meals of all time. Here's my review:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/511075

          2 Replies
          1. re: biondanonima

            I agree completely. Degustation is just the sort of place you are describing.

            1. re: biondanonima

              Degustation was just what I was looking for but unfortunately they are closed on Sundays (the day we will be in town). If you have any other options like degustation (bar-kitchen), I'd be interested. Upstairs at Bouley might be an option as well as Momofuku.
              My other idea is to take RGR's LES tour and go to SP for dinner instead of lunch.

            2. Momofuku Ssam (corner of 2nd ave and 13th st) is great, and usually you can walk in and not wait too long. Very casual, bar-type seating but scrumptious food. The pork buns & banh mi are to die for, and the spicy pork with rice cakes great too.

              1. Degustation looks and sounds perfect. I called to make a reservation and they are closed on Sundays (the night we are going to be in town). I'll check out the rest of your excellent recommendations. Momofuku Ssam sounds intriguing. Keep them coming. Thank you all.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Bridge66

                  Hi Bridge66,

                  If you want to have the open kitchen watch-the-chef-cook-in-front-of-you experience, there are two places - Dell'Anima and Casa Mono. The former is a small Italian restaurant and the kitchen table seating is not unlike Degustation. Food is more simplistic but still quite good. Casa Mono is Spanish tapas and very delicious. Both of the restaurants have regular table seatings and kitchen counter seatings where you can see the chefs cook.

                  They are both open 7 days a week.

                  1. re: kobetobiko

                    I haven't been to Dell'Anima but I definitely second Casa Mono. We had an absolutely wonderful meal there.