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Ostentatious Celebration Place That Won't Leave Me Suicidal

I rarely seek out this sort of restaurant, so I need help. Mom's 80th birthday is in early January. She wants to bring the whole family to a big splashy meal. Those most upsetting of words were spoken (you know the ones): "The food doesn't matter; it's about the EXPERIENCE!"

Kill me now. Please. Someone.

Last time we tried to do something like this, we hit, god help me, Tavern on the Green. Over my objections, of course. And I can attest that, indeed, the food truly didn't matter. This time I'd hope to do a little better.

Problem is, for my mom, it won't seem "special" enough unless it's a place she's heard of (i.e. no places opened after 1980 or so). She was thinking La Perigord. Please save us from that zombie. She would consider Four Seasons, but I've never eaten there or heard, in the past decade, a single report from there. She loves Union Square Cafe, but I think it's not ostentatious enough.

Thanks for still being here, reading, btw.

Save me from this nightmare. Where should I suggest? (not that they'll listen to me). There needs to be no sweat making a reservation on less than two months notice for a party of, jesus, I don't know, like ten people. Most of whom are either vegetarian and/or allergic to everything and/or otherwise completely impossible to please.

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The Four Seasons
99 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

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  1. Ouch. Something a short walk from the GW bridge?
    Le Cirque? Tell her the remodel is much more ostentatious than the old one she remembers.
    The Carlyle is consistent, but maybe not tawdry enough.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      River Cafe is gorgeous and might fit the bill. I'd also consider - Boathouse, 21 Club, Russian Tea Room, Oak Room at the Plaza, the Algonquin. If she wants to go to Le Perigord, why not?

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      21 Club
      21 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019

      Le Perigord
      405 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

      Russian Tea Room
      150 W 57th Street, New York, NY 10019

      Oak Room
      59 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036

      1. re: bronwen

        Oh, I like the idea of River Cafe! The view is spectacular!

        1. re: bronwen

          I agree: River Café is a perfect choice. Unlike at Tavern on the Green, the food DOES matter, PLUS it's an experience. It has the frilly white lights in the front, so maybe Mom will be fooled into thinking the Tavern is still open (only kidding). But then she'll see the fabulous view of Manhattan, and she'll be thrilled with the choice. Service there is always attentive & professional.

          1. re: boredough

            oh forgot to mention: River Café takes reservations up to a year in advance, so you could book now. As for La Grenouille, the food is very good, but since it is more 'formal', it's a bit stuffier than RC. Still, RC requires jackets for men. Have no idea where you all would be coming from, but if driving, RC has valet parking. If not, it's an easy cab ride over the Brooklyn Bridge, or subway stop a few blocks away.

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            La Grenouille
            3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

              1. re: boredough

                I would recommend La Grenouille. I do not recommend Le Cirque -- was there a couple of months ago (as someone's guest) and I just thought it was far too expensive given the quality of the food. And, I've just read too many things suggesting that if you are not "known", you don't get the same level of service etc. as regulars or famous people due.

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                La Grenouille
                3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

                Le Cirque
                151 East 58th Street, New York, NY 10022

                1. re: MMRuth

                  But MM, you are famous with us. Were you incognito in your Breakfast at Tiffany sunglasses? ..)

                  1. re: Veggo

                    No, I was there with my visting in-laws who are, well, friends of the house. The whole meal was comped.

            1. re: bronwen

              The Russian Tea Room was my first thought. Of course, I think that I was 12 the last time I was there. But they have a vodka flight, so things can't get that bad ;)

              Plus there are vegetarian options.

              OK, two.

              And why won't your family listen to you? Aren't you "the food guy" in the family?

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              Russian Tea Room
              150 W 57th Street, New York, NY 10019

              1. re: guilty

                "And why won't your family listen to you? Aren't you "the food guy" in the family?"

                Geez, I'd figured I'd earned at least that, no? ;)

                I remember once the family was in Memphis for a cousin's wedding. The night before there was some cocktail thing, and afterwards a number of us were standing outside in the parking lot, wondering where to get dinner. I said I knew a place a few minutes away. There was skeptical silence, and then a cousin piped up "Is it any GOOD?"

                "Any good"? Why on earth would I be suggesting a GOOD place? Anyway, we went elsewhere.

                I guess it's just a family thing. I can imagine the pope, home for the holidays, suggesting which prayer should be said over dessert, and having his older siblings brusquely overruling him.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  . . . or rolling their eyes and saying "He always thinks he knows best" under their breath . . .

                  1. re: guilty

                    Maybe so. But people who know me don't often see me pullling rank or trying to force choices. I suggest, often with enthusiasm, and I let go. I don't feel that I have anything to prove. I just like to see people happily eating well. And I'll help make that happen if anyone's interested.

          2. I haven't been but have read a few positive reports about La Grenouille. They also have a vegetarian menu, and kind of seems "fancy-schmancy" enough for the occasion.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              2nd La Grenouille. It fits your requirement of being "known" and fancy - and the food is actually quite good.

              1. re: edwardspk

                La Grenouille was my first thought as well for classic service and decor, good food and right vintage. Another possibility that comes to mind, although it may not meet the well known enough by your mother's standards (being a mere toddler with an early 90s start up) is Picholine (also has a veg menu). If she loves USQ, perhaps you could convince her on another Danny Meyer restaurant. Happy Birthday to you mom.

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                Picholine
                35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

                La Grenouille
                3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

                1. re: Bloombee

                  I think she'll be underwhelmed by Picholine's space.

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                  Picholine
                  35 West 64th St., New York, NY 10023

                2. re: edwardspk

                  la grenouille would be prefect: it's fun, famous, beautifully lit, old school, absurdly bourgeois and classy in a mom's-80th kind of way. i'd love to take my mum there.

                  please do a review if you go, jim!

                  1. re: pork_buns

                    But they don't allow children ....

              2. Do not under any circumstances go to Le Périgord - you're wise to avoid it - we had one of the worst meals there in a long time - it's hopelessly dowdy, the service supercilious, and the food is barely passable. The banquette we sat on was also sticky. Just nasty and a complete waste of a considerable amount of money.

                1. Are EMP, Jean Georges, or Daniel ostentatious enough? They all opened after 1980 but should exude enough fancy schmancy to satisfy maybe? And they're chow worthy to boot. Time for some jedi mind tricks? "Hey, did you hear about this place that just got 4 stars from the NYTimes? Supposedly one of the most talented young chef's in all of Manhattan/Has restaurants all over the world?"

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                  Jean Georges
                  1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Porthos

                    And of the 3, Daniel is the least avante-garde. Would be a good choice.

                    1. re: sbp

                      A 3 year old is not going to enjoy sitting at a dinner table for 3 hours, no matter how sophisticated she is.

                  2. I need to hasten to note that my mom is not at all ostentatious. Just for super special occasions! In fact, heck, if ostentation was her thing, she'd be a lot better at it! Tavern on the green is not for the ostentatious. It's for the down-to-earth when they feel obliged to go up a notch. So my question is how we can pretend we're actually good at this! :)