Is Busacco 'fun'?
I know the definition of 'fun' is a complicated one, but I am looking for a high-energy place that is not too serious but that has excelent food for a double date with some raucous friends, so I don't want something too serious and quiet. Would Busacco fit that bill?
You might consider the Vanderbilt, as it's definitely a fun atmosphere and plates are meant for sampling and sharing.
What about Kaz Au Nou? It's a little less upscale but different and definitely fun, welcoming and friendly.
I've definitely been to James on super mellow nights, and it's a place that I'd sometimes call "serious" and "romantic." I guess it would depend on the crowd on the given night.
We were in James in Prospect Heights the other night and thought the food was creative and quite excellent, from salads (including a very nice spin on spinach salad) to meat (some nice porky bits, delicious sweetbreads and a lamb burger appreciated by the recipient) and tasty fish and vegetable dishes - it attracts a lhip and lively crowds from families to couples the room is half filled by a big bar (mixed drinks are very good but almost too big and strong). Stylish serving crew, did a good job.
Gripes? we were a party of 6 and couldnt hear from one end of the table to another. 4 would be just about right in that room given the music and liveliness of the crowd. Some of the dishes were pretty salty - and we are pro-salt. Since the dishes generally didnt have starch accompaniments, we sent back several times for their delicious grilled bread to sop up the sauces. Sharing was awkward given the huge plate/bowls they serve everyting in, even when the dishes were order for sharing. And the crust on the otherwise delicious pork belly should have been scored or a steak knife offered - it was too hard to cut.
Notwithstanding these quibbles I think james could work for you - note, no res for small parties - and they are pretty busy.
Busacco has a stylish mellow atmosphere, tables well spaced. Havent been there since Christmas eve, when the chef was different so I cant comment on the food or how it feels now but while it wasnt serious and staid it didnt have a major energy vibe either on that occasion. Id love to hear a report on how it is now.