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Jul 5, 2012 10:51 AM

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.

                    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.