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Future In-Laws Coming to Town: Dad wants seafood, Mom wants "somewhere famous"

Dad wants seafood, Mom wants "somewhere famous, like Sardi's or what's that place in Grand Central" (uh, there is no famous restaurant in Grand Central?)...and I have a headache.

They're in town for a long weekend due to a wedding, and only available Friday and Saturday, August 1-2. We'll be a party of four.

Dad wants seafood, "you know, crab, lobster, fish" but not oysters or raw bar. Fiance thinks a fish shack or lobster roll place (Mary's, Pearl's, etc) won't be nice enough for them -- he wants to take them out for an upscale experience. Aquagrill may be too casual. Lure Fishbar is probably too cheesy (they go on cruises a lot) due to decor. I was thinking Le Bernardin (so long as Dad OKs the four course dinner prix fixe price) or Aquavit (while not strictly seafood it seems to have gotten some buzz lately and there is a lot of seafood on the menu). Italian (and Esca) is out. They want "French or American seafood" or similar.

So, I'm racking my brains for somewhere that will please both us (NYC foodies who love Babbo/Otto/Lupa, the Momofukus, the Blue Ribbon empire, Prune, The Modern Bar Room, Balthazar, etc.) and them (less adventurous Midwesterners who live 45 minutes outside of Milwaukee and are price-conscious...so much that Dad wasn't willing to pay more than $50-80 for a Broadway show, sigh).

Mom wants to go somewhere "famous," not like the "cute, small places we went last night." If by cute and small, I guess she means Prune, Balthazar, John's of Bleecker, and the Kuma Inn...which is where we took them previously. She requested Sardi's. We're trying to talk her into Keens or Katz's Deli.

If she insists, which is the least objectionable old school NY restaurant? 21 Club? Four Seasons? Delmonico's? One If By Land, Two If By Sea (they have a new chef who is ex-Picholine)? Mom's request for a name-brand restaurant seems at odd's with Dad's reluctance to pay, I know, so we'll probably end up treating her.

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  1. There is a "famous" restaurant in Grand Central: The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar!

    If they like Babbo/Lupa/Otto so much, then why not Esca?

    Let me think.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ulterior epicure

      The Oyster Bar was my thought too, BUT when I asked if her that was it, she said no. I seriously I have no idea what restaurant she may have confused it with.

      Oh, and we asked if they would be OK with Japanese and they aren't too keen on Asian. Sigh.

      It is myself and fiance who love Babbo, Lupa, Otto, Esca, etc. not the future in-laws. I think they might be freaked out by a Batali restaurant. They like red sauce Italian.

      I specifically asked if Italian seafood was OK and they preferred French/American.

      1. re: ulterior epicure

        Esca is a great choice. It is pricey -- but so is the Grand Central Oyster bar.

      2. Your mom is talking about Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant -- also a bit hit with my MIL. I would just take them there -- there are other seafood dishes aside from oysters ad raw bar for your dad. And I find it's just best to take your guests to where they want to go, even if it's not really your thing. You live in the city, but they are here once in a while.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Miss Needle

          Are the non-oyster dishes at GCOB any good? My fear is that we'll go, the food will be bad, and then Dad will grumble about the cost.

          1. re: kathryn

            I haven't had the non-oyster stuff. So I'm afraid I can't tell you. I hope other people will weigh in on this thread.

            Surprising that your mom said it wasn't Grand Central Oyster Bar. Surely they couldn't be talking about Juniors?!?!?!

            Maybe BLT Fish may work. If your parents aren't too adventurous, they have whole fish just prepared with olive oil. But those preps are on the pricey side.

            Okay -- not a top tier restaurant, but what about Landmarc at the TWC? While not famous, it's located at the same mall shared by Per Se. Perhaps your MIL will think it's famous by association. Prices are very reasonable -- your FIL should be happy. Get a table by the window and they'll have a great view of Central Park.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Yeah, we told them that there's a food court, Campbell Apartment, Metrazur, a handful of others. I honestly think she must be confusing it with something like Tavern on the Green.

              I'll research BLT Fish and Landmarc, thanks!

              1. re: kathryn

                I was just going to suggest (with no snark intended) that she's confusing Central Park and Grand Central. I bet she does mean Tavern on the Green. In a similar situation, I've gone for an over-priced drink at a "famous" place, then dinner somewhere else. That usually works.

                1. re: kathryn

                  I think she's confused w/ Tavern on the Green, as well. Grand Central, Central Park...same thing ;-)

                  I'll be doing the tourist thing that same weekend...I'll look for you... I think I would recognize the "taking my parents out for dinner and trying not to stab myself in the head w/ a butter knife" look that will be on your face. My recent trip to Charleston , SC w/ my parents has made me familiar w/ the "no Italian", and "we want seafood except we don't like squid, clams, fish we've never heard of, oysters any way but fried or anything not fully cooked" school of dining. Enjoy.

                2. re: Miss Needle

                  BLT Fish was soooo yummy. So fresh and semi-famous... delicious.

                3. re: kathryn

                  The non oyster dishes are expensive and badly prepared.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Oh god no. The non-oyster offerings at GCOB are AWFUL. Seriously, terrible. I don't really care for raw oysters, but the one time I went there, I enjoyed them more than anything else we ordered, and that's saying something. It's quite expensive, too, considering the quality (or lack thereof).

                    I think Esca probably fits your bill well - I know it's an "Italian" restaurant but quite honestly I don't find their preparations to be all that different from any other high-end seafood place. Le Bernardin would be nice too. Also, I haven't been there lately, but Eleven Madison Park gets raves on this board, and while it's not strictly a seafood place, they do have great seafood preparations (from what I hear) and the space is absolutely magnificent. Jean Georges also does great things with seafood. I can also recommend Aquavit highly - we had a GREAT dinner there a couple of months ago.

                4. Beyond Le Bernardin, some of the best seafood dishes I have had in NY have actually been at Le Cirque. I think this would fit the bill perfectly. Maybe it would be a bit more than your father would like to spend, but I have always enjoyed my experiences there and think it's a great family place for a special occasion. And, they have a great mix of seafood and non-seafood.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: offthebeatenpath1

                    The Branzino at Le Cirque is the best fish I've had in NYC in the past 2 years. However, I'm not sure midwesterners on a budget would be up for the prices.

                  2. Sounds like Le Bernadin is your best bet. It won't win any prizes for the food, but Cafe des Artistes would fit the "famous" and "French" parts of the request. Gramercy Tavern would certainly have some fish options.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cavafan

                      I think Le B may be a bit too avant-garde for them if they don't like Batali-esque restaurants. But I think Gramercy Tavern is a good choice. And Craft may work for them as well. While not in the same league as 21 or Four Seasons in terms of fame, Colicchio is pretty famous nationwide at this stage of his career.

                    2. Or the Palm for lobsters? Yuck, but would sort of fit the bill.

                      1. Hey, kathryn,

                        Dad wants seafood and you're trying to talk them into Katz's?! lol

                        As you know, I'm a huge Keens fan, and as is the case with many steakhouses, they do a very creditable job with seafood. But, then, there is the hefty cost though, since portions are so generous, sharing can keep it more reasonable.

                        With regard to Grand Central, if Mom is a sports fan (or maybe even if she isn't), she might be thinking of Michael Jordan's Steakhouse. We've had dinner there once, and the food was very good. There are quite a few seafood starters and lobster for the main course. Great setting! But, again, the bigger problem where Dad is concerned is, of course, the cost.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RGR

                          Oh, they each made one request for a single restaurant preference -- I'm trying to do them separately, as combining them seemed impossible. I'm thinking we drag them somewhere a little more challenging for lunch, and dinners are theirs to choose.

                          Dad loves both steak and seafood, so Keens may not be fair to him....

                          Complicated even more by the fact that we're all going to a wedding on Sunday, where they have already indicated on the RSVP card that they want steak. Sigh.

                        2. One If By Land is just awful (food and service on 2 occasions last year) and Delmonico's not much better. How about the Sea Grill: It's famous, has a great location and view, very good food and service. It is a tourist haunt that that might be a good thing in this case! You could have drinks outside on the "rink" beforehand.

                          1. I've never been there, but an old boss of mine swore by "The Sea Grill" on 49th St. Maybe others can comment on it.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: michele cindy

                              Actually, I used to schedule a lot of biz lunches there - all my old bosses loved the food, and of course the location is enough to make any tourist jump for joy.

                              Also, I used to like Blue Water Grill in Union Square - I haven't been in a while, but the last time I was there the food was excellent.

                              1. re: biondanonima

                                Thanks! Those two sound very promising.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  I think I read a "down hill" alert on Blue Water Grill - so you might want to search for that. Racking my brains on this one too!

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    I think Blue Water Grill might be good bet. The food was never really that great, but its not too pricey and the space is really nice.

                                  2. re: biondanonima

                                    I was wondering why Blue Water Grill didn't get mentioned earlier. It's big, famous, passably American and judging by the branch in Chicago, should appeal to Midwestern sensibilities as well.

                                  3. re: michele cindy

                                    I've been there once (last year?) but wasn't too fond of the food. But it was quite entertaining to sit next to Sue Simmons and see her all dolled up from the waist up but then wearing jeans and sneakers from the waist down (she's a news anchor).

                                    But I heard they recently changed chefs. So the food may be different than what you read on these boards. And the food is not terrible -- it's just not very inspired or worth the high prices if one is talking solely about food. But I can see how a lot of people (especially tourists) would love the ambiance.

                                  4. Kathryn, I feel your pain. Once a year my godfather visits and he wants a place that "Everyone's going to" and has "great food". Inevitably we end up at any of the hundreds of restaurants you could fit into that category and his first reaction is: "$40 for fish?" or "Price Fix for $80?" Then after the meal I get, "The food was good, but for that money I could have paid my mortgage!"

                                    What I've found helpful is instead of trying to get a place that's going to fit impossible expectations, I've pre-set his expectations: "Do you want great italian in a famous place that will break the bank, or do you want great food in a less trendy space that's more reasonably priced?". I now explain the tradeoffs, and it may be helpful to tell MIL that in NYC people pay more for a trendy place and if that's what MIL wants then tell her you'll book it but she'll have to explain to FIL why it's so expensive.

                                    Since I've started doing that, he's the one making the tradeoffs and all I have to do is make sure we end up at a place that has good food - much less stress. Since then we've been avoiding the Fresco By Scotto's, Cipriani's and the like, and instead hitting up Cosette, Artisanal, Little Owl, and Blue Ribbon.

                                    Maybe this is an unhelpful rant - but thought I'd share what works for me - Good luck.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                                      You think like I do! I've got my fingers crossed that it will work.

                                    2. atlantic grill on the upper east side - perfect place to take in-laws

                                      1. I also think Sea Grill, Atlantic Grill or Blue Water Grill are all good ideas. I would say Knickerbocker for a good, old NY feel, though it is mostly steak their seafood is quite good. And I must admit that I once had a descent brunch at Sardi's I wouldn't recomend it, but it was not bad, and if it gives future-in-law a thrill, why not.

                                        1. Not really a fish restaurant, but I might recommend Ouest on the Upper West Side. It's a crowd pleaser, feels New York-y (even appeared on Law and Order recently), and is actually good.

                                          1. since this blog is a gastronomic pursuit, i too would put food above fame. But having had been a tourist before moving here, there is something to "hitting up" the classics. When they return to the midwest, no-one will care if they had great fish at aquavit. they want to hear if the tartare at '21' is as good as Gekko says. So i would go "famous" just not "famous but bad". 21 is still great and the Boathouse in CP is still good/ok. Dessert and coffee at Serendipity.

                                            1. How about Maloney & Porcelli?, they are located near Grand Central (sort of = E50th st.) they offer great steaks, incredible steamed Maine Lobster (they also have a dish called "Angry Lobster), they have several fish items on the menu and their signature dish is the Crackling Pork Shank, it's a great looking room and they offer a great deal on the weekends called the weekend wine dinner - for $75.00 per person you select a three course meal from the menu (appetizer, entree & dessert) and along with dinner they free pour unlimited amounts of about 4 or 5 different wines (it's all included), I've been there and have eaten next to celebraties so your futire in laws might get a kick out of that. it's not far from Rock Center either.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Jimper

                                                I would have to second the Les Halles suggestion, but I would recommend the downtown location.The service is not euro trash snotty like Park Ave. and better food + beautiful bar. Besides, you can fit it in with some sight seeing

                                              2. This is a tough one, but may I suggest Les Halles (Park Ave locale)? Obviously not the best by any means, but it is FRENCH (which seems to be within their criteria), serves seafood, has the 'star factor', not horrible and it's affordable for our midwest in-law clientele. I have never struck out here and I have been in a few situations like this (ie impossible family from the midwest AND england) and everyone walked away happy.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: malibu

                                                  Le Bernardin might disappoint her -- it's one of my all time NYC favorites, but it is understated, and unless she really gets the food and enjoys the French service, she might wonder why you took her there.

                                                  Another thought: Jean-Georges. There is plenty of seafood on the menu, and many other choices as well. It has a beautiful setting, it's definitely "famous" and you can't ask for a more glamorous New York-y location. Take them to the Mandarin Oriental afterwards for a drink, the view is lovely at night.

                                                  1. re: malibu

                                                    Hmmm. Then again, these are folks that don't watch Top Chef, don't know who Mario Batali is, and probably wouldn't recognize Anthony Bourdain...

                                                    1. re: kathryn

                                                      If your in-laws don't know who Batali is, etc., then they would probably be disappointed with most of the choices on this thread. I would say a good choice would be the Sea Grill on August 1st for Restaurant Week. $35 buys you a three course seafood meal (should make your FIL jump for joy) and your MIL will be happy with the Rockefeller Center location. As I mentioned earlier, there is a new chef, and I haven't read any reports about the place since the change. So it may be a good opportunity for you and your family to check it out and report back to us. And I've noticed that people like your potential FIL tend to be happier with the food if it's a good deal. If the meal costs a lot of money, they tend to bitch and moan about it, even if they aren't the ones paying and even if it's really delicious. My dad is a good example of a person who will bitch and moan if entrees are over $10.

                                                      Another budget option could be L'Ecole. You can tell them that this is one of the top culinary schools in the entire country, graduating chefs like ______ and _____ (fill in the blanks with whom they know). I went there with my ex's parents and his budget-conscious mom was absolutely thrilled, saying it was the best meal she's had at a restaurant, even though she was taken to much better places by her son. The meal was OK, but I think the real reason why she loved it was that she thought it was a great deal.

                                                  2. If cost isn't an issue how about Oceana or Milos. Both have great seafood

                                                    1. Duh, Grand Central Oyster Bar would be perfect and is VERY famous!

                                                      1. The mentions of Atlantic Grill above made me think of Ocean Grill, on the UWS. It's "famous" (if you can call it that) b/c of its cameo in "You've Got Mail", it's a seafood place, the food is not bad and the ambience is special enough for out-of-town guests, and entrees are typically under $30.

                                                        1. Thanks all for your help (esp Miss Needle).

                                                          I checked out Sea Grill's web site and they already have their RW lunch and dinner menus up. If Dad wants lobster, he can get lobster off the regular menu, and if Dad wants to save money, he can order off the RW menu. I've made a reservation for dinner on Fri, August 1 for us, and will report back. I'm hoping they will enjoy the atmosphere and location right on the Rockefeller Center Rink.

                                                          We also have tenative plans for Sat -- Central Park Boathouse for brunch (hope it's scenic enough for Mom, and we can get a table on the outdoor deck) and Keens Steakhouse for dinner. 21 Club was all booked up for that weekend.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: kathryn

                                                            I have never heard anything good about the boathouse. You could also always pick some good stuff up at Zabars and then picnic in Central Park. Then again - this Saturday is the free Bon Jovi concert - the park could be a hassle walking around. As for steaks, given a choice, I would go to Sparks over Keens. I like them both, but for an out of towner, while Keens is old old New York, Sparks has a different kind of mood, yet is still very New Yorky more like you're in a movie feel . Hard for met to explain, maybe others can comment.

                                                            1. re: michele cindy

                                                              "I have never heard anything good about the boathouse."

                                                              Well, then, michele cindy, I guess you've never ready any of my posts. ;-) We have had lunch once each of the past two summers at the Boathouse, and in both instances, the food was very good, In fact, since I had heard so many negative comments about the food there, I was totally shocked at how very good it was. So, now, you have heard *one* good report about the Boathouse. :-)

                                                              Hey, kathryn,

                                                              The outdoor deck is not part of the main restaurant, but rather, it's for the grill, which has a limited menu. The restaurant's public dining room has a ceiling and large doors which, in good weather, are entirely open, providing an unobstructive lake view. If the "soup du jour" is a chowder, I recommend it, as well as the crabcake.

                                                              Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

                                                              1. re: RGR

                                                                Thanks RGR - I am really glad to hear that. It is one of the best locations in all of NYC.

                                                                1. re: michele cindy

                                                                  BLT fish on the top floor -- its upscale, delicious, lots of little treats and "freebies" like the visually brilliant green apple cotton candy at the end, etc..

                                                            2. re: kathryn

                                                              You're welcome. I really hope it works out for you guys. Please let us know how everything goes.

                                                            3. Tha Palm or Park Avenue Summer.

                                                              1. The crab cakes at the Four Seasons are pretty good. Its usually a hit with older folks. Lunch is cheaper and I would go for the Pool room.