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Italian restaurant in Manhattan with TV star chefs

We are looking for a good, but not a $100 a head restaurant for my wife's 50th birthday Sunday 7/8. (Because we are taking our teenagers also, and going to a broadway matinee too. I don't have an unlimited budget and I'm not sure what the Broadway tix are going to cost yet).
She wants italian food, but she is not big on seafood. She usually gets veal dishes.
She was looking for a place that was known for TV celebrity chefs, like the one's on Food Network or PBS channels. Not the famous chefs that are known in the industry.
This has made it hard to search when I search for celebrity chefs.
We are not big on wine, so we do not need some special wine list.
The quality of the food is the most important.
It doesn't have to be in the theater district as we will be able to bounce around if we do make a matinee and eat afterwards.
A prie fixe would be nice if the place is on the more expensive side.
I have seen Babbo come up in most of my searches, but that seems to be out because it is so hard to get into.
If a place is really, really, really good and a good value, like maybe $60 a head, she wouldn't mind skipping a celebrity chef restaurant.
She had looked into Becco, but thought they were too big on pasta dishes. She likes pasta, but wants something a little more special for her 50th.
Thanks for your input.

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  1. Maybe Scarpetta. It's owned by Scott Conant.

    1. I should have worded the celebrity chef explanation better. Basically the chefs that have cooking shows. Not the chefs that are famous because they always open the trendy restaurants in the industry, but are not on any cooking shows.

      1. If you get to Babbo early, like 15 mins before it opens you can probably snag a table. Also if you follow them on twitter they post available reservations every day.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ukitali

          Definitely follow them on Twitter. They always seem to have last minute tables for four, especially early or late.

        2. Babbo has openings more often than you'd think - especially early (<6:00) and late (>10:00) tables. If either of those work for you, call them. Certainly doesn't hurt to ask 'em. If you get in, count yourself lucky. You're in for a great meal.

          Scott Conant isn't famous on account of opening trendy restaurants. He doesn't have his own cooking show (though he's cooked on a few others' shows - I remember him making his Pasta Pomodoro on No Reservations a couple years ago) but he's world-class. His restaurants are trendy because he's a great chef, simple as that. That said, his prices are a little higher than Babbo's, and if only for that Scarpetta would be on my list of second choices.

          There's also Manzo, Batali's sit-down restaurant and temple to beef inside Eataly (though there's much more than beef on the menu)

          Other than Batali and Conant, we don't really have any other -specifically- Italian and -specifically- famous TV chefs here. Iron Chef Marc Forgione has some Italian leanings on his menu (there's usually a couple pasta dishes) but really his place is more "New American" - the other ICs in town (Zakarian, Flay, and Morimoto) are even further from Italian.

          Most of the "chefs" on FN aren't even chefs, actually - they're just "food personalities" and don't have restaurants or anything. The only somewhat notable ones who are based in NYC might be Anne Burrell (who doesn't have a restaurant currently) and Alex Guarneschelli (whose two places - Butter and The Darby - are largely forgettable...) - then there's all the "Chopped" judges, but aside from Conant, none of them are Italian.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sgordon

            Conant has FN visibility from judging Chopped and 24 hour Restaurant Battle.

            Italian TV chefs in NYC essentially come down to Batali, Conant, and Bastianich.

          2. There's Becco on W. 46th (Lidia Bastianich)..not sure if she has a show. Has an all you can eat pasta deal that would be good for the teens. They tend to be accomodating if there is not any rsvps left. We showed up early on a theater night, and they accomodated the 4 of us. EVeryone was satisfied.


            8 Replies
            1. re: mak136

              Yes, Lidia has a show. Lidia's Italy.

              1. re: mak136

                I believe Becco and Babbo are both owned by Lidia Bastianich, aand yes, she has her own TV shows and I love her show.

                  1. re: Tommy D.

                    Felidia is the obvious answer. Lidia Bastianich has been on TV forever. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1895599/#Self

                    1. re: Tommy D.

                      Lidia also owns Esca on W 43, for good Italian seafood; its longtime chef, David Pasternack, is well known, an author, and was on a recent Lidia episode on Long Island fishing.

                    2. re: bhungry

                      Lidia owns Felidia. With Joe (her son) she owns Becco. With Joe and Mario she owns Del Posto and Eataly. She doesn't own Babbo. That's Joe's and Mario's.

                    3. re: mak136

                      Becco's the first thing that came to mind. Probably the best fit. While the AYCE pasta is a big attraction, they also have a big impressive looking veal chop, as well as steak/veal specials for 2 on occasion.

                      1. re: fooder

                        The veal chop at Becco really is good. Lidia is at the restaurant very often. Seems like the best choice for the OP.

                    4. Michael White doesn't have his own show but he's on Bourdain, Bizarre Food, etc. His Ai Fiori can be prix fixe, 4 course for about $100 per person.

                      1. Can anyone comment on Piccolo Angolo? It doesn't have the celebrity chef aspect, but it seems to have the menu items we are looking for and the prices seem to be what we had in mind.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: miketttt

                          i had dinner there for the first time recently when a friend who used to live here was visiting and insisted on taking us. i thought it was fine red sauce italian, nothing particularly special and kind of expensive for what it is (he treated so this was a lot less of an issue). if you do end up there, get the meatballs. i also found it very loud.

                          for a similar price and, i think, better food in the same general vein, Da Andrea was considerably better. its nicer inside, atmosphere wise as well - im not sure if they open the front up in summer or keep it closed to keep the ac inside, but given a choice between Picolo Angolo and Da Andrea it wouldnt take me a second to decide.

                        2. Does anyone know whatever happened to Rocco DiSpirito?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mushroomaffairs

                            Reality show ... about blind dating.

                          2. How about one of the restaurants at Eataly? The complex is part-owned by Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich (who's not a chef, but is a judge on "MasterChef"). I've actually seen the former two walking the floor there.

                            1. We did end up going to Piccolo Angolo due to the menu choices that suited us best.
                              We had a great time, and they treated us very special as we had 2 birthdays to celebrate.
                              The veal dishes were just out of this world. The veal osso bucco was just one of the best things we ever had. I didn't think there would be that much meat on it, so i got the veal chop which was awesome also. But the veal osso bucco was huge, which my wife got. And we had the nut sauce pumpkin ravioli which was so unique and rich. Great for dipping with the free garlic and regular italian bread, along with the Mussels Luciano we ordered as an appetizer.
                              (we ate so much bread with the appetizers we were getting full).
                              The desserts were great too. It was loud there as people had said, but we didn't care as it made it more fun for us. The only thing that wasn't really great were the salads that came with the entrees. Mixed greens with a light dressing. Go for the side pasta, (great meat sauce if you choose), or the vegatable, unless you like a mixed green salad. We are usually into romaine,tomatoes, with blue cheese dressing or something similar.
                              And we got to see the last production of "Anything Goes" with Joel Grey before dinner through the tix line at Times Square. What a great show!!
                              And we only had to go 2 stations down to 14th street to get to Greenwich Village. A little bit of a walk from there, so if you can't take the walk, you would have to grab a cab for a few blocks.
                              But all in all, a great day. Thanks for all the suggestions. We might try the others in some future trips to the city. Thanks!!