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May 14, 2009 08:29 AM

Foodie needs to compromise with boring eater. Help?!

My boyfriend and I will be staying in the Union Square area for 3 days. I visit Manhattan often, but I'm stumped on where to take the new dude to eat. I'm a foodie and his idea of adventure is adding a little extra red pepper to his spaghetti.

Fortunately, he can usually find something "normal" wherever we go. For example, at my favorite Thai and Indian places, he can find basic rice and chicken dishes (hold the veggies!). At my favorite Italian, there is a penne with meat sauce. He does appreciate quality food, it just has to be pretty basic. Things he won't do: creamy sauces, seafood, most vegetables (he can do potatoes, peppers and onions). Even his sandwiches are just bread and meat - no cheese, no mustard.

With that said, do you have any recommendations for delicious, relatively-creative, non-touristy places that will also include some basic items? I want us both to truly enjoy our meals - without him having to eat a plate of rice just so I can have my foodie experience (or me having to eat a hotdog so he can feel comfortable). Is this possible?

We'll mostly be oriented around Union Square and below. We'll be in Brooklyn around lunchtime on Sunday.

The only place we know we're going is John's on Bleecker for my fav pizza.


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    1. re: LeahBaila

      Ha, that would have been helpful, eh? :)

      He can do:

      - Italian (if he can get some kind of basic tomato/meat sauce pasta - i prefer a mediterranean feta/sundried/olives vibe)

      - American/New-American (chicken, steak, pork as long as it doesn't have anything "crazy" on it that he can't take off )

      - Asian (if he can get a chicken/rice or teriyaki dish - my favorite is thai, vietnamese or sushi)

      - I also love tapas, but those options are typically too creative for him.

      Probably safer to stay with the Italian and American angle, and maybe just one asian meal.

      Thank you!

      1. re: 28lemons

        i'm not from nyc, but i'm also a frequent visitor. in june, i'm going to try this small outpost in chinatown called wah fung. i've read that their roast pork and rice for like $2 or $3 is tasty and highly recommended. that seems pretty basic and not too creative, but being in the chinatown area leaves you with plenty other options. it's also very cheap!

        1. re: 28lemons

          When are you coming (this affects ability to get reservations) and what is your budget (including tax, tip, wine/cocktails/etc.)?

          My picks for picky eaters are usually Craft, Hearth, Westville, Blue Ribbon Bakery or Brasserie, Hill Country (most picky eaters are totally OK with BBQ), or Redhead.

          1. re: kathryn

            Thanks Kathryn. I'll be there the first weekend in June (Fri, Sat and Sun).

            Budget is flexible, but to give a general guideline I'd like to keep dinner for two around $100. We'll go cheap on lunches.

            1. re: 28lemons

              First weekend in June...June is typically quite busy as NYC is a popular tourist destination. You'll probably be too late to grab reservations for some place like Union Square Care which books up a month in advance. They'll probably only have 5pm and 11pm left (though you can always call and ask to me put on the wait list).

              Does $50pp include tax, tip, drinks? You can totally do Blue Ribbon Bakery, Westville, Hill Country, or Redhead for that amount. Hearth is a little bit more expensive, and Craft is a LOT more expensive.

              1. re: kathryn

                No, I wasn't including tax and gratuity. Just dinner and 1 glass of wine each. That was probably conservative of me, however, because I doubt we'll only have one glass and I have a sweet tooth, too. :) Thanks again for all your recommendations. You've given me many great options to google!

          2. re: 28lemons

            No worries! :)
            Please see my comments/recs:
            - Italian (if he can get some kind of basic tomato/meat sauce pasta - i prefer a mediterranean feta/sundried/olives vibe) IF YOU PREFER A MEDITERRANEAN VIBE, I'D TAKE HIM TO PYLOS. YES, IT'S GREEK, BUT THEY HAVE SOME GREAT PASTA DISHES AND A MENU THAT WILL SATISFY ANYONE (I PROMISE!). MY FAVORITE ITALIAN IN THE CITY IS L'ARTUSI.

            - American/New-American (chicken, steak, pork as long as it doesn't have anything "crazy" on it that he can't take off ) KEEN'S CHOPHOUSE, FREEMAN'S, NOUGATINE (THIS MAY BE TOO RISKY FOR HIM, THOUGH)

            - Asian (if he can get a chicken/rice or teriyaki dish - my favorite is thai, vietnamese or sushi) BUDDAKAN COULD BE FUN

            - I also love tapas, but those options are typically too creative for him. TAKE HIM OUT FOR AMERICAN "TAPAS" AT THE STANTON SOCIAL!


            1. re: LeahBaila

              Thanks! This is a great selection - I'll check them out!

              1. re: LeahBaila

                Pylos is excellent but there is usually a wait because it is so popular.You can also try to make reservations but they don't take that many. Ditto for Freemans will also have a long wait and they don't take reservations. Keens is typically easy to reserve even at the last minute but might be too expensive for your budget. I think Nougatine may be too refined/complex for a picky eater. Stanton Social is good but a bit overpriced for what you get, although the atmosphere is fun.

                1. re: LeahBaila

                  I just ate at Stanton Social. Whie I love that place, I think most of the dishes there will probably be too flavorful for you bf. Because everything is small, it'll be hard to pull out ingredients and everything is layered with flavor

                  1. re: kelea

                    I respectfully disagree. I think that Stanton Social is the perfect marriage of the OP's love for tapas and her BF's love for American food. Even my "boring eater" mom adored the place.


                    1. re: LeahBaila

                      Thanks to both of you. I checked out the menu and I think it will work for both our tastes. It's definitely still on the list.

                2. re: 28lemons

                  Casa Mono may work for tapas: lots of funky options for you (cocks combs, lamb tongue) and basics for him (diner size plates of pork chop with apples, skirt steak with onion marmalade) It's a place that's part owned by Mario Batali but it doesn't have a "Food Network restuarant" feel. Not too far from U Sq.
                  Have fun!

                  1. re: orthorunner

                    Very interesting... The steak/pork options you mentioned would work for him and I see tons of creative options for me. Nothing like a little bone marrow and watermelon! :)

                    1. re: 28lemons

                      If you are interested in Casa Mono, I suggest going for lunch or early dinner, because it is quite small and very, very popular. Otherwise, you'll face a long wait. You can also try to make reservations but they don't take that many. Last time I was there I ended up spending about $75 for me, including tax, tip, and a few glasses of cava, BTW.

                  2. re: 28lemons

                    I think Supper could be a good choice for you. Good, well-priced Italian food with some very well-executed basic fare. Have a look at the menu and see what you think, keeping in mind that it does change some every day, depending on what's good at the market:


                    Another place that could work well - and that's not as far from Union Square (though still a decent walk) is Cacio e Vino, which makes very good wood-fired pizza and also schiacciate, which consists of two pieces of very flat bread with filling in between. They also have antipasti and salads that are likely to please you.


                    1. re: 28lemons

                      Scarpetta - you can get creative, he can get tomato-pasta and fill up on the amazing bread.

                  3. I haven't eaten there yet - plan to in July for my trip - but I've always heard that Union Square Cafe was very basic, well-prepared food.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: pizzajunkie

                      I used to love USC, but it has sucked lately (in terms of food and service). I won't be going back for some time.

                      I would recommend Otto. It is close-ish to Union Square. The fact that it serves pizza should satisfy the "boring" eater, while the fact that it offers somewhat unusual and delicious toppings should satisfy the foodie.

                      1. re: una mas

                        I actually find the traditional pizza to be the least "worth it" part of the menu.

                        1. re: una mas

                          USC is sucking lately?? ack - now I need to come up with an alternative for my itinerary.

                          1. re: pizzajunkie

                            una mas doesn't indicate how lately she's beem to USC. We went back there within the past year after giving it a pass for many years because we had found the food disappointing. This time, the food was delicious, and service -- which had not been a problem -- remained first-rate! So, while it is possible the food may not have measured up, USC being a Danny Meyer restaurant, all known for their excellent service, it's hard for me to imagine that it "sucked."

                            If you're looking for food that is very exciting, with an interesting mix of flavors and textures, USC is not the place to find it. But if you will be content with what is basically comfort food tilting Italian (though I did have a superb seared foie gras appetizer that a more upscale restaurant would have been proud to serve), you should go ahead and try it.

                            1. re: RGR

                              RGR - thanks - good to know USC is still good! I'm still wavering about what to do with that dinner slot - too many good choices!

                              1. re: RGR

                                My most recent trip was two months ago. It was awful in every respect. It used to be a staple restaurant of mine. I have checked with others I know who used to frequent the restaurant, and they have stopped going because of similar experiences. I have no idea how many times I've been there in total, but I will not be returning any time soon.

                          1. re: chow_gal

                            i second blue ribbon and buddakan. both are pretty good. edamame dumplings at buddakan are soooo good! i still remember them like months later.

                            1. re: chow_gal

                              Blue ribbon would be my recommendation as well. The menu is as adventurous as you want to be, from barbeque ribs and chicken wings to escargot and bone marrow, everything is delicious.

                              It's also a very unpretentious atmosphere, filled with people who love to eat, drink and socialize.

                              1. re: chow_gal

                                Lots of votes for Blue Ribbon! I will check it out. Are we talking about the one in Soho?

                                1. re: 28lemons

                                  Either the one in Soho (Blue Ribbon Brasserie) or West Village (Blue Ribbon Bakery) will work, they have similar menus. The Bakery is easier to get into, as it's a lot bigger (it has ground floor seating and basement seating).

                              2. Do any of you have thoughts on Rhong Tiam or Holy Basil for a Thai lunch?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: 28lemons

                                  We went to Holy Basil once. The food was very disappointing. I've not been to Rhong Tiam, but our daughter and son-in-law went there recently with a group of their friends, and they said the food was only so-so. It does, however, have many Hound fans.

                                  My favorite favorite is Lantern Thai, on the corner of 2nd Av. & 18th St. Delicious food, prompt service, and attractive modern decor. I actually prefer to go there for lunch since it's not too busy and, therefore, way less noisy. They have a lunch deal -- a free appetizer with your main course.


                                  1. re: RGR

                                    Thanks! Just checked the web site and Lantern looks lovely. I'll keep that and Rhong Tiam in the running, depending on which side of town we happen to be around lunchtime.

                                2. Skip John's on Bleeker and get pizza in Brooklyn. You'll get better pizza in Brooklyn and likely better "non pizza lunch" in Manhattan.