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Ostentatious Celebration Place That Won't Leave Me Suicidal

Jim Leff Nov 12, 2010 09:20 AM

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.

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

  1. m
    marlynn Dec 21, 2010 03:24 AM

    An oldie but an excellent choice is The Four Seasons! Jean Georges is great.. has a lovely view of Central Park, depending where you're seated. And the food is sublime. A New and fabulous place, with fabulous city views, incredible service, and amazing food is Asiate. I couldn't recommend it more. You enter to a trully impressive and gorgeous Chihuly sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Art on the walls. Soft gold fabric here and there. And, the Asian food lends itself to delicious vegetarian. I don't know about children, but a phone call should take care of that. If your grandmother can be convinced to eat somewhere so young, I can't believe you wouldn't all love it! The River Cafe has a view, the room is not that interesting, the food is good but not great [in our humble opinion] and unless you live in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn can be a long trip if it's a rainy day... this learned from experience. Hope this helps. Please let us all know where you land up and if it was great! Enjoy

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

    Asiate
    80 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

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

    1. sgordon Nov 17, 2010 09:31 AM

      I'll second (or third or fourth) River Cafe - though considering you did it for her 70th, you might not want to do a repeat.

      I'd say give her something new, so she can feel hip - EMP or Del Posto would be my top choices, and they've got private rooms if you're worried about the 3-year-old getting cranky, and they'd both be able to put together nice menus that would cater to all the vegetarians and allergics. Granted, any top-notch place could do that, but I think they'd be the better choices. Maybe DP a little more so than most - since Mario's been part of the "Meatless Monday" trend, there'd be a number of veggie dishes that are tested & ready-to-go, and they wouldn't have to go off-menu. Normally rezzies are done a month out, I think, but for a ten-top they'd probably make an exception.

      -----
      Del Posto
      85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

      1 Reply
      1. re: sgordon
        g
        gutsofsteel Nov 17, 2010 09:35 AM

        I don't know about Del Posto, but EMP requires a "special event" reservation for parties of 10...

        -----
        Del Posto
        85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

      2. buttertart Nov 16, 2010 10:25 AM

        If it didn't have to be a super long established restaurant, Tocqueville has a very nice private room overlooking their nicely-decorated dining room. And I love their food. Has the advantage of not being killingly expensive as well.

        2 Replies
        1. re: buttertart
          MMRuth Nov 16, 2010 05:41 PM

          Went there for the first time on Thursday and really enjoyed the food as well.

          1. re: MMRuth
            buttertart Nov 17, 2010 04:58 AM

            Their lunch is a steal, probably the best fine-dining deal in NYC at the moment.

        2. a
          Amy Mintzer Nov 15, 2010 10:34 AM

          Jim--What about Del Posto? (Not that I've been there.)

          -----
          Del Posto
          85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

          1. steve h. Nov 13, 2010 06:56 PM

            80 is the new 60. Take her and the crew to Daniel. Prepare to be pampered and well fed. After dinner, take mom and the little one on a tour of the kitchen. A lot of nice people work there. You'll be pleasantly surprised if you haven't dined there before.

            1. h
              hungrycomposer Nov 13, 2010 09:05 AM

              This may be totally off the mark, but how about Balthazar? At least it's festive and conspicuously French. Maybe it's too casual, but my 81-year old mom loves it. (Full disclosure: she's a retired chef and almost died when her favorite heartthrob, John Stewart walked in.)

              8 Replies
              1. re: hungrycomposer
                g
                gutsofsteel Nov 13, 2010 11:25 AM

                Balthazar is so loud it's like eating on the subway platform. And it's so so not ostentatious - it's very casual.

                Four Seasons, I tell ya, that't the ticket.

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

                1. re: gutsofsteel
                  g
                  gutsofsteel Nov 13, 2010 02:39 PM

                  None of these places would be appropriate to bring a toddler to.

                  1. re: gutsofsteel
                    MMRuth Nov 13, 2010 02:53 PM

                    I think Balthazar is just fine with a toddler.

                    1. re: MMRuth
                      LulusMom Nov 13, 2010 03:12 PM

                      We took Lulu when she was about 5 months old and she was absolutely fine there (and not a single person minded). Balthazar would be fun, and I'm guessing your mom has heard of it. She may even (gasp!) see a celebrity there.

                      1. re: LulusMom
                        Jim Leff Nov 13, 2010 03:24 PM

                        Toddler is a very mature and brainy three year old. She's the only member of this party whose emotional maturity I can attest to.

                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          g
                          gutsofsteel Nov 13, 2010 03:27 PM

                          Aha! 3 year old is not a toddler!

                          Yes, Balthazar is fine with a toddler - but a 3 year old is not a toddler. And Balthazar is light years away from what Jim i looking for for this occasion.

                          I tell ya matey, go to The Four Seasons.

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

                    2. re: gutsofsteel
                      Veggo Nov 13, 2010 03:05 PM

                      Agreed. Toddler reared his diapers late in the game here in the fine print. That's a game changer. How about whipping up a multi- generational dinner at home in the newly remodeled kitchen to which 150 posters made suggestions?

                    3. re: gutsofsteel
                      h
                      hungrycomposer Nov 14, 2010 10:59 AM

                      I thought Balthazar might be worth considering because the food is good (better at least than at some of these overrated joints populated by the blazer set) and it is "lively" (i.e. noisy) enough so that a potentially "lively" 3-year old would not be a problem. Best of all, Jim wouldn't hear his complaining relatives. And it is an "experience" that might appeal to an out of towner. But no, in comparison to these other places it's not ostentatious.

                  2. 4
                    4Snisl Nov 13, 2010 08:10 AM

                    Perhaps the private dining option at Gramercy Tavern? I bet they would be willing to work out a great menu, given some challenging food issues in your party. May not be the fanciest place or "ostentatious", but, I'm sure your mom would feel special under their watch.

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

                    1. Jim Leff Nov 13, 2010 07:53 AM

                      Just replying to the thread:

                      River Cafe: great idea. I'd forgotten that we actually chose that under similar circumstance for her 70th birthday, and it worked out great. I even liked it.

                      La Grenouille: good back-up suggestion, but the classical french may be a bit restrictive for the diet issues and such, and may feel a bit stiff for the toddler granddaughter. And it seems kind of unanimous that the place lacks serious culinary spark. But it would likely work. And mom will likely open their web page and feel all warm and fuzzy about how "lovely" it is. So...maybe.

                      Picholine: that was my special occasion choice in the late 80's and early 90's. There was a regime change around then, and I never went back. I've never heard anyone say, like, "Picholine is back!".

                      Russian Tea Room: would just feel too much like a "mill". It'd be Tavern on the Green all over again. Same for Sign of the Dove.

                      Union Square Cafe: sorry, but a centerpiece ain't gonna do it.

                      I actually reviewed my last meal at Tavern on the Green (the review actually got me in trouble with the restaurant, which fired some artillery back at me). Click the top link here: http://jimleff.info/writings.html

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

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

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

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Jim Leff
                        MMRuth Nov 13, 2010 01:17 PM

                        I've so bad about posting about places, but I had an excellent meal at Picholine several months ago. And the room, in my opinion, is beautiful -- though not as beautiful as La Grenouille's.

                        Have to say I missed the details about the vegetarians and the toddler, and, unfortunately, La Grenouille asks that children under twelve be left at home with a baby sitter.

                        Good luck with figuring this out!

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

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

                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          r
                          rrems Nov 13, 2010 02:02 PM

                          <I've never heard anyone say, like, "Picholine is back!".>

                          Actually it did get quite a bit of notice a few years ago but lately it's somewhat under the radar.

                          Picholine had gone seriously downhill until about 3 years ago when the chef woke up and came up with a whole new menu and redecorated the dining rooms. It's been wonderful ever since. I'm not sure about bringing a toddler there, but that would be true of all the places being discussed here.

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

                          1. re: Jim Leff
                            b
                            Bloombee Nov 15, 2010 10:17 AM

                            Not pushing it for this occasion (had not noticed the toddler issue)- but there was a re-invigoration of the old regime at Picholine about 2 years ago so - I had stopped going in the early 2000's (it opened in early 90s so it was not a late 80s choice) as well but was pleasantly surprised when I tried it again in 09 after reading about Brennan's attempt to get it back up to snuff, so if you have not been since it would be worth a try sometime

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

                            1. re: Bloombee
                              Spiritchaser Nov 16, 2010 08:59 AM

                              I have to strongly agree with everyone giving Picholine a big thumbs up, we have had several wonderful meals there within the last 3 years, wonderful food, sophisticated atmosphere, and a subdued calm. It would be the first place I would think of for an important celebration such as the one you described.

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

                          2. g
                            gutsofsteel Nov 12, 2010 05:42 PM

                            Four Seasons would be perfect.
                            Le Cirque would work too.

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

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

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: gutsofsteel
                              ellenost Nov 12, 2010 08:47 PM

                              While the food is very good at Le Cirque, I find the service to be very robotic, which is disappointing since I love Le Cirque in Las Vegas for the food and service.

                            2. f
                              fm1963 Nov 12, 2010 01:16 PM

                              Have you considered Per Se? It's a relative newcomer but I'm sure your Mom has heard of it. The East Room, which is elegant and has views of the main dining room and Central Park, seats 10. If you get the 5 course tasting, it's surprisingly competitive with other high end French restaurants (for food at least; the wine expense has to be considered as well). The restaurant takes bookings two months in advance. It's worth a look, IMO.

                              -----
                              Per Se
                              10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: fm1963
                                loratliff Nov 14, 2010 06:05 AM

                                Yeah, reservations two months in advance after you spend 4 hours of your life dialing and re-dialing. Anyway, the res would be too much hassle for the OP—I don't think his party would appreciate it the same way he would.

                                Not to mention, "surprisingly competitive with other high end French restaurants"? It's the best restaurant in the country.

                                1. re: fm1963
                                  g
                                  gutsofsteel Nov 14, 2010 07:08 AM

                                  Three year old at Per Se is not going to work - no matter how sophisticated the child is. It's just too long a meal.

                                  -----
                                  Per Se
                                  10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                                  1. re: gutsofsteel
                                    LulusMom Nov 14, 2010 08:55 AM

                                    As the mother of an incredibly well behaved 4 year old, I totally agree. No matter how great a kid is, or how adventurous they are food-wise, a really long meal is just too much for him or her.

                                    1. re: LulusMom
                                      buttertart Nov 16, 2010 05:45 AM

                                      Not to mention the potential effect on other diners. I'd certainly like to be among the demographic that could conceive of holding such a dinner at Per Se in the first place...as it is, as a two-time diner, I really would not have liked to have been subject to outbursts from children while there.

                                      1. re: buttertart
                                        r
                                        Riverman500 Nov 16, 2010 08:34 AM

                                        But if the child is in the East Room (which is the smaller private dining room), as fm1963 suggested, then you wouldn't be subjected to any outbursts....

                                        1. re: Riverman500
                                          buttertart Nov 16, 2010 08:51 AM

                                          I missed that.

                                2. Jim Leff Nov 12, 2010 01:10 PM

                                  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! :)

                                  1. Porthos Nov 12, 2010 01:09 PM

                                    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?"

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

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Porthos
                                      sbp Nov 16, 2010 08:39 AM

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

                                      1. re: sbp
                                        g
                                        gutsofsteel Nov 16, 2010 08:49 AM

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

                                    2. buttertart Nov 12, 2010 09:42 AM

                                      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. Miss Needle Nov 12, 2010 09:37 AM

                                        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
                                          e
                                          edwardspk Nov 12, 2010 09:52 AM

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

                                          1. re: edwardspk
                                            b
                                            Bloombee Nov 12, 2010 11:08 AM

                                            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.

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

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

                                            1. re: Bloombee
                                              j
                                              Jane A. Nov 12, 2010 01:20 PM

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

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

                                            2. re: edwardspk
                                              p
                                              pork_buns Nov 13, 2010 08:01 PM

                                              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
                                                MMRuth Nov 14, 2010 04:23 AM

                                                But they don't allow children ....

                                          2. Veggo Nov 12, 2010 09:33 AM

                                            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
                                              b
                                              bronwen Nov 12, 2010 09:41 AM

                                              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?

                                              -----
                                              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
                                                Miss Needle Nov 12, 2010 09:43 AM

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

                                                1. re: bronwen
                                                  boredough Nov 12, 2010 11:37 AM

                                                  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
                                                    boredough Nov 12, 2010 12:59 PM

                                                    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.

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

                                                    1. re: boredough
                                                      j
                                                      Jane A. Nov 12, 2010 01:21 PM

                                                      Even the River Club.

                                                      1. re: boredough
                                                        MMRuth Nov 13, 2010 04:18 AM

                                                        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.

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

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

                                                        1. re: MMRuth
                                                          Veggo Nov 13, 2010 03:09 PM

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

                                                          1. re: Veggo
                                                            MMRuth Nov 13, 2010 03:45 PM

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

                                                    2. re: bronwen
                                                      g
                                                      guilty Nov 12, 2010 09:02 PM

                                                      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?

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

                                                      1. re: guilty
                                                        Jim Leff Nov 13, 2010 07:35 AM

                                                        "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
                                                          g
                                                          guilty Nov 13, 2010 07:12 PM

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

                                                          1. re: guilty
                                                            Jim Leff Nov 14, 2010 12:36 PM

                                                            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.

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