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Where should I eat on my 30th birthday?

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Okay Chowhounders, I need some help.

I'm turning 30 later this month, and I want to go somewhere new for a really good dinner. What I'm looking for is a warm, special restaurant. When I say "special," I don't necessarily mean expensive -- I'm interested in any price point, but I don't care much for fanciness for fanciness's sake. I'm looking for the kind of place that inspires loyalty and devotion, a restaurant with SOUL. A warm room, kind service, wonderful food, all around just a lovely meal. Any kind of food will do, in any borough.

Here are some of my favorites (an eclectic and random sampling): Convivio, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Lavagna, Bianca, Craft, Perilla, Korean barbecue (in general), Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles, Parm, Del Posto, North Fork Table and Inn (Long Island), lunch at Peter Luger.

Any thoughts?

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  1. Have you tried Babbo?

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    Babbo
    110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

    10 Replies
    1. re: fm1963

      Uhhh, he wanted a place with "soul" --- that rules out Babbo right away.

      1. re: fm1963

        Actually I haven't been to Babbo (though I have been to (and have loved) Lupa, Otto, and Po back in the Batali days). Soul or no soul?

        1. re: SmallGoodThings

          Imo all the Batali places are soulness traps offering rude hosting, formulaic oversalted food, and lots of loud tourists who are excited to eat at a place connected to someone they've seen on tv. Just my opinion.

          1. re: SmallGoodThings

            Since you liked the other Batali restaurants, I think you'll enjoy Babbo, his most personal restaurant. It's one of a kind. Great food and service.

          2. re: fm1963

            Babbo is ALL soul, contrary to what Simon says. It just might not be HIS kind of soul.

            The service is up/down, I agree to an extent - especially in the bar, it can be a bit perfunctory. Upstairs it's generally always very engaging & friendly. But the food is as soulful as you'll find.

            Other places that might grab your interest:
            Eleven Madison Park (of course)
            WD-50 (especially when dining at the bar, double especially if Jafrul is working it)
            The Dutch
            Minetta Tavern
            The Momofukus (though I'm sure some would debate that...)
            Kyo Ya
            Hearth
            Kajitsu
            Public
            Xi'an Famous Foods (especially the Chinatown locations - not soulful in terms of service, admittedly, but the food....)
            Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle (also not known for service)

            In other boroughs we're not supposed to talk about here lest we anger The Chowhound Gods:
            Henry's End (Brooklyn Heights) - a neighborhoody favorite of many. Just don't go on a Monday, for reasons I won't go into. Also, if you sit in Bonnie's section, you'll realize she's the greatest waitress in all of NYC.
            Convivium Osteria (Park Slope) - super-hearty Portuguese / Mediterranean fare, main dining room is super-cute, wine cellar is super-cozy, outdoor garden in the warmer months.

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            WD-50
            50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

            Eleven Madison Park
            11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

            Babbo
            110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

            Minetta Tavern
            113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

            Hearth
            403 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10009

            Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
            144 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

            Kyo Ya
            94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

            Public
            210 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012

            Kajitsu
            414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

            Xi'an Famous Foods
            88 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

            The Dutch
            131 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012

            Xi'an Famous Foods
            67 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

            1. re: sgordon

              Just to note that the current chef of Kajitsu (the one who earned the restaurant 2 Michelin Stars) is leaving after this month. Getting reservations at Kajitsu has gotten difficult due to this and the restaurant might be booked out for the rest of the month because people want to eat there for the last time under the current chef.

              1. re: Cheeryvisage

                Very true. Sadly, I was unable to get one of those reservations and they're booked up right through his last day.

                No idea what the new chef will be like, but they're coming from a very well-reviewed high-end place (Murasakino Wakuden) that serves the same style of vegetarian Kaiseki Ryori, so I don't imagine the quality will drop. I'm less-than-thrilled they're moving to Midtown, though.

              2. re: sgordon

                I had good laugh from this. True, snotty hosts, loud tourists, celebrity businessmen-chefs, and formulaic food are not my definition of soul. But as always, to each their own and i'm happy that others enjoy meals wherever they find them :)

                I did like Convivium the couple times i went, i dislike the neighborhood so havent been in years. But i should go back there.

              3. re: fm1963

                Yeah, so I got all excited about Babbo, only to find that they're booked all night (duh). WHY does my birthday have to fall on a Friday this year? Well, so it goes. In the meantime, I have a placeholder reservation at Ciano, but I'm still looking...

                1. re: SmallGoodThings

                  You could call Babbo the day before for any cancellations. Babbo has also been tweeting last minute openings: https://twitter.com/#!/BabboRistorante

              4. You're kind of all over the place, but here are some of my favorites: Ciano, L'artusi, Saxon and Parole, 15 East.

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                15 East
                15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

                L'Artusi
                228 West 10th Street, New York, NY 10014

                Ciano
                45 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

                Saxon + Parole
                316 Bowery, New York, NY 10012

                1. Love your handle.

                  For me, that restaurant is Recette. I feel like a bit too much of a cheerleader for it at times, but it really is everything you're looking for. It is a bit spendy, though.

                  For the other boroughs, you should post to the Outer Boroughs board. There are probably a good number of places in Brooklyn, especially, that fit your description.

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                  Recette
                  328 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10014

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: michelleats

                    Thanks! I'd love to check out Recette -- if not this time, then soon.

                  2. If ur in a party of 2 or 3, i would go to Scarpetta and eat at the bar and share many dishes and wines by the glass and tell them its ur bday. Fairly certain u will have a splendid time.

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

                    1. Judging by the places you've enjoyed I'm guessing you don't mind a good piece of meat BUT if you really want to expand your horizons maybe you want to check out Kajitsu. It's a kaiseki restaurant focuing on Shojin cuisine (vegetarian). Just had the long menu there for my GF birthday (she is vegetarian, I am not). Sitting at the counter with Chef creating the dishes right in front of you it's easy to see the passion he puts into his food. Kajitsu would hit all your requirements with the possible exception of the room which skews towards minimalism which some people read as cold.

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                      Kajitsu
                      414 East 9th Street, New York, NY 10009

                      1. Il Buco and Gramercy Tavern are quite soulful

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

                        Il Buco
                        47 Bond St., New York, NY 10012

                        1. Just an observation I have to make. You list korean bbq as a favorite. I love this stuff too, but I couldn't think of a more soul-less spot than the typical korean bbq space. Harsh lighting, perfunctory service and plates of food that almost seem to come out in random order. Perhap they have Seoul. ba doom cha!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bkeats

                            Bkeats -- it's true, the Korean barbecue places I've been to aren't exactly warm places, but they MEAN it, you know? Anyway, I mostly listed them to show that I'm not stuck on Italian...though I do love me some good pasta...

                          2. If you like WD-50 and Korean food (besides BBQ), then try Jung Sik. I just had my birthday dinner there.

                            -----
                            Jung Sik
                            2 Harrison St, New York, NY 10013

                            1. The more I think about it, the more I want to suggest that you go to Kyo Ya for kaiseki. It's a truly civilized place, a kind of sedate retreat for food that is beautiful, artisanal, perfectly balanced, and made from the best, freshest ingredients they can find. If you've never had Japanese food at that level, it will be as much of a revelation for you as it was for my girlfriend and me when I took here there a couple of years ago. And your service will be gracious. They also have sake which is of the same quality as great grape wine.

                              If you want a place with soul that will give you an experience that is pleasurable and relaxing on every level, I think this is the kind of place you should be considering. But if you do go, in my admittedly limited experience (2 meals), I would venture to say that kaiseki is much more impressive there than ordering a la carte. And it somewhat stands to reason that it would be, because if you go for kaiseki, the restaurant is choosing a series of courses that they believe show them at their best. And they will work with you if there's something you just don't like. My girlfriend and I hate raw oysters, so they substituted a wonderful course of amazingly tender baby squid for us.

                              Lately, my favorite restaurant has been Ai Fiori, but while their cocktails, wine, and food are on a really high level, it's not a warm, special room, and while service is excellent there, because of cultural differences, it's not as warm as you will get at an upscale Japanese restaurant. So, with the caveat that you like Japanese food at all (which is not clear from your list of favorites), I'd steer you that way.

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                              Kyo Ya
                              94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

                              Ai Fiori
                              400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018