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Feb 14, 2011 03:40 PM
Discussion

Low to Mid-priced birthday dinner

Hi, everyone. For the last couple of years, I've taken my girlfriend out for quite expensive dinners for her birthday: First Degustation, then Kyo Ya. They were both fantastic, but I'd rather not spend so much this year. I was thinking of Locanda Verde, but when I looked through the menu, it struck me as quite an expense. Including up to 2 glasses of wine apiece, tax, and tip, I'd like to get out of wherever we go for no more than about $160 for 2 people. I could go below that easily at Lupa, but no way will I get a reservation at a reasonable time there. Plus, I know Lupa and would like to go somewhere that at least my girlfriend doesn't know, and perhaps that neither of us have been to. I thought of La Sirene, but it really is pretty expensive, though good. I also thought of Red Rooster but am pretty concerned at its 3 1/2-star Yelp rating. I've found so far that restaurants with less than 4 Yelp stars may have some clear weaknesses. I guess another thought is Zoma, which some of you consider the best Ethiopian restaurant in New York. I don't see any prices on the menu on either their website or menupages.com, but I'm guessing it's not expensive. How's the ambiance there? What about Taboon? I've read lots of raves here. Is it worth the expense for dinner? You can see that I'm really all over the map here. What I'd really like is something a little outside the box, because that's probably how I'll be able to find something that's interesting but costs significantly less than $100/person.

So what do you say? My criteria are great and perhaps interesting food, including dessert, something good to drink (in the case of an Ethiopian restaurant, that can be tej), at least decent service, $80/person or so including one or two glasses of wine apiece, tax, and tip, and a bonus for halfway-decent ambiance, but that's least important. My girlfriend and I like a wide variety of types of food. I eat more Chinese food than any other kind, so that's probably out for this dinner. No Korean barbecue, either, as we had a great blowout meal at Don's Bogam the other day, so I'd like to do something different for her birthday. I'd be open to cuisines including but not limited to the following:

New American/eclectic
French
Italian
Middle Eastern
Indian, if there's a really great place we haven't been to
Ethiopian
Japanese

I don't really have a lot of restrictions in terms of location, other than figuring on staying in Manhattan, north of the Financial District and up to and including Harlem.

I realize my criteria aren't crystal clear, but I am open to your suggestions. Thanks a lot. :-)

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  1. Have you been to Scarpetta yet? The portion sizes are big enough that you could get two appetizers ($15 or so), two pastas ($25 or so), skip the main, and still have space for a dessert ($11), and come out to about $90-100 for just food cost. With one of the lower cost bottles of wine, you'd be just at $170 or so with tax and tip. Great ambiance, great service, and great bread basket & free chips at the bar, too.

    http://www.scottconant.com/restaurant...

    -----
    Scarpetta
    355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

    9 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Yeah, I took a friend to Scarpetta for his PhD defense. It cost $200-something for the two of us. It's probably too expensive, but I'll think about it.

      1. re: Pan

        How about Le Gigot? or Lyon? Or how about Blaue Gans?

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        Le Gigot
        18 Cornelia Street, New York, NY 10014

        1. re: gutsofsteel

          What do you like at Le Gigot? I've tried their snails and charcuterie plate alongside some oysters. Nice room but I didn't find the food to be special at all.

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          Le Gigot
          18 Cornelia Street, New York, NY 10014

          1. re: kathryn

            I agree that I don't think it's "special enough" food for a birthday, although I've liked their beef bourguignon, cassoulet, and roasted chicken.

            1. re: loratliff

              I like what's on the menu. It's a cozy, intimate place, somewhat romantic, serving reliable classics. I like the gigot, the cassoulet...sitting side by side...

              1. re: gutsofsteel

                While tiny, the room is cozy and romantic, the staff is very welcoming, and the crab cakes are quite good.

          2. re: gutsofsteel

            I've never been to either. I do like Austrian cuisine as well as French, etc.

            1. re: Pan

              Blaue Gans might work very well for you.

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              Blaue Gans
              139 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013

              1. re: gutsofsteel

                Blaue Gans is another great recommendation from gutsofsteel!

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                Blaue Gans
                139 Duane Street, New York, NY 10013

      2. Have you considered doing a birthday lunch? Tocqueville's $24.07 3-course lunch prix-fixe is served year round Mon. - Sat. And the wine pairings are $15. We have done many of them, and they are always superb! A real steal for cuisine of such high quality. Service is excellent and the space is one of the most beautiful and elegant in the city.

        http://www.tocquevillerestaurant.com

        On to dinner options....

        Indian: You might be able to do Tulsi depending on what you order and how much sharing you do. (Portions are generous.) Chef Hemant Mathur was formerly at Devi. This is his own place and, imo, his cuisine is outstanding. Very good service and the space has enchanting decor.

        Tulsi photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

        Nuevo Latino: It's worth going to Nuela just for the Arroz du Pato for two, which is huge and very filling. A couple of appetizers or ceviches + desserts and wine should put you around your budget.

        Nuela photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

        French bistro: La Mangeoire has the distinction of having a 4-star chef in charge of the kitchen. No surprise that the food Chef Christian Delouvrier is serving is splendid. Service is friendly and very competent. The three small dining rooms are cozy and charming. You should have no problem meeting your budget.

        La Mangeoire photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

        http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

        11 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          I have been to La Mangeoire about 8 times. I like it. But splendid it is not.

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          La Mangeoire
          1008 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022

          1. re: RGR

            Nuela is great. I can't agree about La Mangeoire, though. We went in December with high hopes, and it was so average that I have a hard time believing Delouvrier has any more involvement than putting his name on it. I would highly recommend Kittichai, and if you reserve it through Village Vines, you will get 30% off. It's not traditional Thai, so don't expect extreme spicing, but the food is delicious, with a bit of a kick. The atmosphere is really nice. I would not recommend Locanda Verde, as it is very loud, crowded, and the service is so fast you will be in and out before you realize you've eaten. For Italian, I have recently been impressed by Rubirosa, which is similar in atmosphere to Lupa, but the food is more red-sauce. Snack Taverna, Bistro de la Gare and Perilla are other good possibilities. Or how about Riverpark? Celebratory feeling, delicious food and not expensive.

            1. re: rrems

              My one problem with Riverpark is an emotional one. Family members have spent a lot of time as in-patients or at the ER at NYU Medical Center. I'm definitely intrigued, though. I'm not really excited about Kittichai. We like real, spicy Thai, and I'd rather take my girlfriend to a cheap, great place in Queens than spend money for non-traditional Thai that isn't very spicy.

              I'll look more into Rubirosa. I've read good reports on Perilla on these pages. I'll check out their menu.

              Thanks for all your suggestions!

              1. re: Pan

                Riverpark is on 29th St., all the way at the river, overlooking the river. It has nothing to do with the hospital, you don't see the hospital from the restaurant.

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                Riverpark
                450 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  I'm leaning toward reserving it. The menu looks very interesting and is a bit less expensive than most of the other menus I've been looking at. Thanks for always being informative. :-)

                  1. re: Pan

                    Pan,

                    Riverpark is quite wonderful. My sister and I are heading back for my 4th dinner there next week. The food is excellent, decor is very nice (ask for a window table), and service is very attentive. I empathize with your emotional issue being near NYU hospital, but as gutsofsteel correctly ponts out, you will not see the hospital at all. The restaurant is viewing distance from Bellevue Hospital if that is a concern.

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                    Riverpark
                    450 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016

                    1. re: ellenost

                      Not a huge concern, though my father also had a stint there.

              2. re: rrems

                rrems, I'm sorry that you were disappointed with La Mangeoire. Delouvrier is defintely hands-on. He's been in the kitchen the three times we've been there and came to our table two of those times to say hello.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

              3. re: RGR

                I believe lunch is not possible, given our schedules. I really appreciate your suggestions, though.

                1. re: RGR

                  I loved Amma when Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur were there. Is Tulsi similar to what Amma was like and what Devi (though I never got there!) was like? If so, I'm definitely interested!

                  I'll consider your other suggestions, too, but keeping in mind that it really has to be dinner.

                  [Edit: I just looked at Tulsi's menu. Lots of entrees in the $30s is just too expensive for now.]

                  1. re: Pan

                    I've heard mixed reports on Tulsi. It's too new - it's too soon to go for a birthday occasion.

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                    Tulsi
                    211 E 46th St, New York, NY 10017

                2. You could do La Sirene for about $100 total... One app, two entree, and dessert, including tax and tip. It's BYOB so you save a huge amount right there. That's obviously not significantly less than $100 per person, but it is a good meal.

                  What about Joseph Leonard? They don't take reservations, which is tough, but perhaps you could work something out with them for their chef's table (which only seats two). It's an amazing experience, and they give you so many freebies there that you could make it out for under $100.

                  If you wanted to something totally out of the box, you could have your girl dress up like you're going somewhere nice, have a cheap Chinatown meal, but then take her to Apotheke (hidden in Doyers Street, totally chic inside) for a few excellent cocktails afterward. My boyfriend did surprised me with that date a few months ago and it was really fun—I felt silly eating Chinese food in my dress and had no idea why I was doing so, until we went to Apotheke.

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                  La Sirene
                  558 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013

                  Apotheke
                  9 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013

                  Joseph Leonard
                  170 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10014

                  1. I had dinner a couple of months ago at Basso 56. I really enjoyed the food and am thinking of returning, though I haven't yet. My generous friend picked up the tab so I'm not sure what dinner for two came to, but looking at the menu I think it could work for you from a price standpoint. Four-stars on Yelp. Some of the 1- and 2-star reviews are disconcerting, but I guess that's often the case.

                    http://www.basso56.com/menu.html

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                    Basso 56
                    234 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: uwsgrazer

                      How would you compare the quality of your meal to some other Italian restaurants you've been to in New York? The menu itself is somewhat varied but looks pretty classic to me. Do you remember what you ate?

                      1. re: Pan

                        Not exactly, but fwiw that's not necessarily so unusual for me. I think we shared fried calamari and a grilled octopus special to start. I may have had some sort of lamb special. We shared tiramisu for dessert. One thing that struck me was that they had at least one wine from Basilicata. I enjoyed the wines we had when we visited this region of Italy last summer but as far as I know it's not so common to see them exported here.

                        I agree that the menu is fairly classic. My general assessment was that meal quality was high, and good value (based on menu prices, but as mentioned I didn't see the final bill) relative to other places I have been. As noted in an earlier thread it trumps Il Gattopardo, in my book. I also enjoyed my food there better than Lupa, but I only have one datapoint on all these places and so I wouldn't want to draw too broad a conclusion. Noise-level is a fairly big consideration for me. Basso gets points for being more reasonable than the other two, but this may be a lesser consideration for you.

                        Hope this may help.

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                        Lupa
                        170 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012

                        Il Gattopardo
                        33 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019

                    2. How about Ma Peche? Last time I went, the prix fixe was about $50, so even with a couple of drinks each, Ma Peche should still be within your budget.

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                      Ma Peche
                      15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                      22 Replies
                      1. re: H Manning

                        Ma Peche is another excellent recommendation (and another one of my favorite restaurants). From the current dinner menu, I love their seared foie gras; ricotta gnocchi with black truffles; duck breast and sausage with spaetzle; and the steak. Ma Peche also has excellent seafood dishes. I love their sampler of vegetables (carrots with bone marrow, brussel sprouts, and cabbage with beef tongue).

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                        Ma Peche
                        15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                        1. re: H Manning

                          That's a good point. We've enjoyed Momofuku Ssam Bar. Is the general consensus that Ma Peche is similar in concept but somehow finer or more French-influenced, or just slightly more fancy in ambiance (which wouldn't be that important)?

                          [Edit: It's slightly off-putting that they mention no prices on the menu on their website, and their prix fixe, which is shown but without a number attached to it on menupages.com, lists only four items:
                          Fluke butternut squash, yogurt, pepitas or broccoli (satur farm, ny) red miso, seaweed, sesame
                          Ricotta Gnocchi black truffles, chicken jus, chives
                          Duck (Jurgielewicz Farm, Pa) sausage, spaetzle, scallions or dry age strip loin - beets, horseradish, pumpernickel
                          Plate Of Three Cheeses crab apple mustard, baguette
                          All four items sounds very good, but I think we'd want to sub out a dessert course for a cheese course.]

                          1. re: Pan

                            Ma Peche is lighter and a bit finer than Ssam Bar, but also a bit less *unique*. It's still my favorite David Chang restaurant.

                            I believe they now offer a dessert: patisserie apple tart, pastry cream, caraway.

                            You can also get something from Milk Bar on the way out.

                            -----
                            Ma Peche
                            15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                            1. re: Riverman500

                              I hadn't heard about dessert at Ma Peche (other than the Milk Bar cookie if you order the prix fixe at lunch) and the cheese selections. Glad to know. I do love the new pretzel cake truffles at Milk Bar.

                              1. re: ellenost

                                The dessert is on the current dinner menu online.

                                1. re: Riverman500

                                  Thanks for pointing this out. Also noticed that the dinner prix fixe provides choices for the courses. While I adore the ricotta gnocchi and the duck, the lobster and the steak sound great. Definitely need to return very soon. Disappointed to see the seared foie gras is not on the menu; I hope it makes a return permanently to the menu since it's fantastic!

                                  1. re: ellenost

                                    The online menu isn't always up to date (at least that's been my experience with the bar menu, I haven't been to the main dining room for several weeks). Maybe the seared foie is still being offered.

                                    1. re: Riverman500

                                      The menu is dated 2/14, so it appears up-to-date. I have seen them make last minute changes based on availability.

                                      1. re: ellenost

                                        The Ma Peche dinner menu was updated today. They now have a foie gras torchon with onion jam, apple and frisee instead of the seared foie gras. Guess I'll need to make another visit to try the torchon!

                                        1. re: ellenost

                                          Sounds delicious. Thanks for the update ellenost.

                                            1. re: kathryn

                                              I feel the same way; the Ma Peche seared foie gras was brilliant! Hope Tien and Sam put it back on the menu very soon (like next week)!

                                              1. re: ellenost

                                                Well, so much for any thought I had of going to Ma Peche again. :(

                                                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                                1. re: RGR

                                                  Just went to Ma Peche for dinner tonight. What a fabulous way to blow a diet! They have a new prix fixe (foie gras torchon that rivals any 4 star restaurant) with onion jam, apple and frisee; lobster soup with shrimp, kaffir and tamarind that had a wonderfully rich flavor; and the best sliced pork chop ever! Pork was soft, moist and full of flavor--a real winner! Also tried the new dessert: an apple tart with pastry cream and thin slices of raw apple on top. Perfect way to finish dinner. The 3 course prix fixe is $55 and dessert was $8. Great value!

                                                  1. re: ellenost

                                                    i'm addicted to the Apple Pie Cake Truffles downstairs at Milk Bar. i unfortunately work too close and stop by more often that i should.

                                                    1. re: coasts

                                                      I work too close to Ma Peche myself (2 blocks away), and it is very dangerous for my diet. I'm now addicted to the pretzel cake truffles.

                                                      1. re: ellenost

                                                        hmm, i tried them and didn't like them. i go between the double chocolate cookie, the corn cookie and the apple pie truffles.

                                                        i'm also two blocks away...57th & Mad. any plans to check out Michael Huynh's new place on Friday? i was thinking to go by during lunch, but just saw that they'll only open for dinner.

                                                        1. re: coasts

                                                          I'm not familiar with the new restaurant. What's the name of it and where is it located?

                                                            1. re: coasts

                                                              Thanks for the link; the menu looks great.

                                                              1. re: ellenost

                                                                The seared foie gras is back on the Ma Peche online a la carte menu for tonight.

                                                                -----
                                                                Ma Peche
                                                                15 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                                                                1. re: H Manning

                                                                  I saw it and was so tempted to go back for dinner tonight for the seared foie gras and the fantastic sliced pork chop I had last night. It's good to know that the seared foie gras will still be on the menu on, I hope, a regular basis. Bottom line: since the Ma Peche menu changes almost daily, one needs to look at the on-line menu, but be flexible that the menu might have some changes.