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"Experience" Restaurant NOT in Times Sq - cool aesthetics?

I have been searching for the perfect restaurant for over an hour now on Chowhound but can't find exactly what I'm looking for.

I'm considering throwing in the towel and taking my boyfriend to NINJA New York for his birthday but it's gotten such terrible reviews, I'm hesitant.

My boyfriend is very into art and aesthetics and he's turning 26 on Friday (Nov 27th). I'm planning to take him to a Burlesque show at 9pm so we need to be out of the restaurant by 8:30pm.

Details:
- Looking to spend about $30 - $60pp
- His favorites are Mexican and Japanese
- Ideally below midtown, can be in Brooklyn
- An "experience" - not a corny one, but something fun and cool (you know, inherently NYC) since it's his birthday. He's been in the city for 3 years and we've been to your typical wine bars, etc. - I want this to be something special and fun. If it looks cool inside, he'll dig it.

I'm sorry if I'm abusing Chowhound, I'm just desperate at this point!

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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  1. I hate to sound like a snob, but I can't think of any place less cool or more corny than Ninja.
    Locanda Verde (rustic Italian) is both cool and fun (although not particularly interesting aestetically) and would fit your budget. Blue Ribbon Sushi might also fit the cool criteria, I'm also very fond of Hell's Kitchen in midtown (very good, kind of upscale, Mexican, very welcoming but more semi-cool)
    Have you checked out menu pages?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ann900

      What about someplace like Sakagura? It's got a very cool, "hidden"/subterranean thing going on. Aesthetics are very beautiful and the food fits his likes (Japanese -- though it's not a sushi joint). I remember the first time I went there, I was wowed by the initial impression. You go into an apartment building and down into the basement. Then the doors open and you're in this funky sake lounge/restaurant.

      1. re: queenseats

        Sakagura looks really great. Thank you!

      2. re: Ann900

        I know Ninja seems like the worst but I had a friend recommend it so I was going to settle on that if I had to. I actually live across the street from Locanda Verde so that's a tapped out scene. Unfortunately I've been on MenuPages for the past two hours. I'll look into Hell's Kitchen and Blue Ribbon Sushi! Thanks!

      3. How about Yakitori Totto? Not downtown, but definitely an experience. Sit at the bar.

        1. In Brooklyn, but Zenkichi in Williamsburg is really cool and zen inside and has terrific Japanese food. check it out.

          1 Reply
          1. re: eeee

            yeah i would ditto that one too, particularly for a twenty-something of that bent.

          2. If you've been in NYC for a few years you may have already gone to these places, but Buddakan and Spice Market have themed interiors tht are pretty impressive (Meatpacking district) Another different option is somewhere like Degustation; I think they have a $59 tasting menu so it may be on the upper side of what you're looking to spend. There you sit at a "chef's table" and have a prix fixe meal with multiple courses prepared in front of you. From what I've heard, avoid Ninja at all costs!

            1. Morimoto - you'll be on the high side of your budget but the food is creative and good, and the decor is fun. The bathrooms are hysterical. For something more sexycool - BondSt, also Japanese.