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Need a special place that is both veg friendly and not too dressy

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I'm very excited to be visiting New York again in September, and once again I could use some advice.

I'd like to plan one or possibly two special dinners but the catch is that my partner is vegetarian (dairy and eggs ok); he's not really into food (he eats to live and I live to eat) but he is willing to accompany me anywhere, and as long as there's at least one non-salad vegetarian dish on the menu, he's happy. (as you can imagine, he eats a lot of pasta primavera when we are at restaurants since most places are willing to throw something like that together.) He's also very thrifty, and even though I will be paying for these "special" dinners, he's not going to be comfortable if the meal costs > $500 for both of us (he doesn't drink, though I think wine is an essential part of a great meal - so that keeps the cost down). And one further complication is no suit or tie required; The most I can count on is "business casual".

Now before you say "everywhere will make at least one veg dish", I want to point out this isn't always true:
a: Pearl Oyster Bar has NO veg entrees. a few salads and sides, and that's it. It looks like no Pearl visit for me this trip :(
b: we had dinner in New Orleans in May at a place with no veg entrees on the menu; when we asked the waiter if they had anything for vegetarians, he said "the door". I think he was trying to be funny, but it still surprised me.

In addition to planning one or two "really nice" meals, I'd like to plan some other meals - places that maybe we could drop in without a reservation, places for breakfast, etc.

I am considering the following places, and I would love to get advice as noted:

EMP: I had never heard of this place but in reading posts on this board it seems to be the chowhound consensus for a splurge "great" meal. So a couple questions: Is no tie or jacket ok here? Will they have any trouble with a vegetarian? What's the cost approx going to be?

Craft: He does enjoy watching Top Chef with me, and so I think it would be fun for him to eat at a restaurant owned/run by Tom Collichio. Again, vegetarian tolerant? Too dressy? The reviews for Craft (on this site) seem to be mixed, but mostly positive, and, if anything, it seems to be getting better lately - at least, that's what I seem to notice as a trend in the postings here, though I obviously haven't read ALL postings and I might have the timeline wrong.

Degustation: I think this would probably be too wierd for him but it sounds intriguing to me, so I thought I would throw this out there.

Any other places I should consider?

I really love tasting menus but I think most places only serve tasting menus if the entire table participates. I would be willing to go with a vegetarian tasting menu - I don't need to eat meat - so if there is a place with an outstanding vegetarian tasting menu (Per Se is out of the question; $300 per person is just too much money) I'd love to hear about it.

I also have questions about breakfast, pastries, but maybe I'll post that in a separate thread. We are staying downtown (near wall street) but don't mind traveling anywhere in the city.

By the way, on a past trip I had dinner at Daniel and I absolutely loved it, probably the best meal ever. I also had lunch at Le Bernadin and it was ok, but not as special as I expected. Though my DC at the time thought it was better than Daniel. And about 15 years ago I had dinner at Vong and thought it was out of this world, though I must admit it was the first time I ever ate at a "special" restaurant so who knows if it was objectively good. Oh, and dinner at Babbo was just "ok" - but maybe it was an off night. I think that's the extent of my NYC high-end places.

Thanks in advance for your help. By the way, I did search for "high end vegetarian", etc, but didn't come up with much; and really, I'm not looking for a vegetarian restaurant - I'm looking for a vegetarian-tolertant restaurant.

Tony

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Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St, New York, NY 10014

Babbo
110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

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  1. With the exception of Masa, EMP -- our #1 favorite NYC restaurant -- is the only NY Times 4-star that does not require a jacket for dinner. Business casual is perfectly acceptable. (Note: No restaurant in the city requires a tie.) The 3-course dinner prix fixe is $95pp + wine (cost depends on what and how much you drink) + nearly 9% tax + 20% tip. When you make the reservation, alert them that your partner is a vegetarian, and they will be happy to accommodate him. Btw, if the cost of dinner is beyond your budget, then do lunch. The 2 for $28 deal is a total steal for cuisine of this exquisite caliber.

    Photos of our most recent lunch at EMP: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

    Another excellent option for one of your special dinners is Cafe Boulud, a longtime favorite. Though it is 4-star Chef Daniel Boulud's second-tier restaurant, in every way, it is first-rate and, imo, outshines the flagship. Executive Chef Gavin Kaysen is cooking some of the most superb food you will find right now in the city. And the beauty of it for your situation is that there are four menus, one of which, Le Potager, is totally vegetarian. Service is polished, the space is lovely, and business casual dress is acceptable.

    Cafe Boulud photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

    4 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      Thanks, RGR, for the info - both suggestions sound fantastic. Maybe dinner at Cafe Boulud and a lunch at EMP would be the right combo.

      And thanks too for the links to the photos, everything looks great.

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      Cafe Boulud
      20 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

      1. re: atjsfo

        atjsfo, I think that would be a day of fabulous dining you -- and even your partner -- would never forget! :)

        1. re: RGR

          RGR, I wanted to give you an update.

          I booked lunch at EMP yesterday online, and a few minutes later I phoned to ensure that the vegetarian request was known and that it would not be a problem. I already suspected that the lunch menu was changing since the "menu" link was taken off the website.

          (aside: last week I noticed that the menu link was missing from the web site; when I viewed the page source in my browser, I saw the javascript command for menu had a flag set - something like 'hidden'; I wasn't sure if this was an error but I suspected that there might be a menu change coinciding with the short upcoming closure of the restaurant. At any rate, I sent an email to the restaurant alerting them to the fact that there might indeed be an error - or that they might want to change their hidden javascript to prevent people from accessing the menu if that was intentional - and I received a prompt and courteous reply that the omission was intentional and that the menu was changing.)

          Anyway, I called and the hostess said they had no problem accomodating a vegetarian. She said there are two options for lunch: a three course ($56) and an eight course ($95). I THINK the three course was described as "prix fixe" and the eight course was described as "tasting menu" but I am not 100% sure of that; I asked if either could be made vegetarian and was told yes, as long as I told them in advance which one I wanted. I hesitated - I really want to try the tasting menu but don't want to make my partner uncomfortable - but took a big breath and say yes, the 8 course menu! I now have something to obsess over for the next four weeks.

          Although I had been thinking about planning two big (that is to say, expensive) meals for our trip, I now think I will limit it to only one. First of all, this is what I really want: to have the "full" experience at one really nice place. EMP sounds exactly like what I want: an exciting meal, with a vegetarian option, getting to try many courses, and having a beautiful setting. I guess I'm really excited about this meal and I don't want to dilute it by planning a second big meal out. Also, I think my partner will find a big blow-out meal more tolerable - maybe even really enjoyable - if it's the one special meal we have planned. I ate at Daniel when I was in NY about three years ago; it was wonderful but at the time - and since - I really wished I could have tried the tasting menu - but I was with two friends, both of whom thought it was excessive - and ever since I have wondered what that would have been like. Now I've found a tasting menu I want to try even more, and this time I won't have any "what if" regrets of not having tried it.

          So RGR, thanks for your advice; also, I really enjoyed your photos, they have given me an idea of what to expect and have contributed to my excitement about this meal. I will be sure to post afterward and maybe even take some pictures. I also thought you would be interested to know about the new pricing for lunch. Although I am sure you will be disappointed in that, I have to say that I am not surprised: I am always surprised that nice restaurants are even profitable at all: there is so much labor involved in every step, so many people, so much service, and so few tables (with slow turnover) that it's a miracle they make any money. So while I am cost-conscious - especially because of my partner's frugality - I don't begrudge the restaurant its due.

          One quick question: Is 20% tip standard for a place like this, or, if the service is as good as I expect, should it be even higher?

          Tony

          1. re: atjsfo

            Tony,

            I appreciate your thoughtfulness in posting. There has been quite a bit of talk and speculation on Chowhound and other food forums about the changes in store for both lunch and dinner at EMP in September.

            I'm glad that you decided to take the plunge and do the 8-course tasting. We've done countless 5-course lunch tastings, all of which have been spectacular, and I have no doubt the larger format will be just as wonderful if not more so.

            As for the tip, 20% is the standard and does not have to be higher. But you can certainly leave a bit more if you feel the service warrants it.

            Looking forward to your report and photos.

            I hope you and your partner have a great time in NYC and Bon Appetit!

            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

    2. Here's some past threads on vegetarian tasting menus, not sure if you found them during your searches:
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/659520
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/680102

      4 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        Thanks, Kathryn. I had not seen those - mostly because I was not specifically looking for vegetarian places and I did not think to look for vegetarian tasting menus.

        1. re: atjsfo

          You're welcome! Let us know where you end up.

          I had the vegetable tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern a year or two ago, and was quite pleased; my now-husband had the regular chef's tasting and actually commented that some of my dishes were better or more interesting.

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          Gramercy Tavern
          42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003

          1. re: kathryn

            Just curious, is the vegetable tasting menu at GT vegetarian? Or can it be made vegetarian, if not?

            1. re: uwsister

              It's not vegetarian but can be made vegetarian upon request.

      2. If you take him to Dirt Candy, he may become a 'live to eat' guy

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        Dirt Candy
        430 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

        1 Reply
        1. re: veggieyummy

          Veggieyummie,

          I looked at the restaurant's website and it definitely looks interesting, but I'm not sure if my partner would like; I may show him the website and menu this weekend and see what his reaction is.

        2. Devi is another great option - it's vegetarian indian and is completely wonderful. Another favorite on this board. Though, I can't quite tell from your post whether Indian food might be too adventurous for your dining companion.

          I also did a vegetarian tasting menu at Blue Hill while my partner had the non-veg tasting menu. Both were completely wonderful. (They are very good at accommodating preferences.)

          I have also always had good response from high-end restaurants when I call ahead. We love to do tasting menus and many (EMP included) were more than accommodating. They just asked me to call 24 hours in advance to remind them so the chef can plan for it.

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          Blue Hill
          75 Washington Place, New York, NY 10011

          1. Thanks everyone for your suggestions and advice.

            As of now, I am leaning toward lunch at EMP since it is so inexpensive and a dinner at either Cafe Boulud or Blue Hill, although I am still considering Grammercy Tavern. Based on what I have read (and looking at their web sites) I am leaning toward Blue Hill because I think he would like it best. I think two meals of this caliber (and expense) will be the limit for this trip (but there's always a return visit).

            I will be sure to post a follow-up after the trip.

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            Cafe Boulud
            20 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

            Blue Hill
            75 Washington Place, New York, NY 10011

            1 Reply
            1. re: atjsfo

              I like Mas more than Blue Hill. Both times I've been to Blue Hill in the city, which were at least a year apart, the only vegetarian entree was a cauliflower steak. Both times it was a thick, undercooked slab of cauliflower with minimal sauce per the usual Blue Hill style. My carnivorous dining companions loved their food, however.

              Devi, which someone mentioned, used to be my favorite restaurant in the city, but recently it was a little off. And then last weekend I went to Tamarind Tribeca, which was divine.

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              Blue Hill
              75 Washington Place, New York, NY 10011