Girlfriend's birthday dinner - Italian mid-range(?) recommendations/narrowing down my list?
I am thinking in the area of $100/pp for food or so. We already did an "early birthday" at Alinea@EMP, but I've decided I'd like to do something for her actual birthday as well. It's coming up soon - we'd go either this weekend or next weekend. I know reservations aren't the easiest, but we're not particularly averse to the 10:30PM (or later) seatings that are still available for most if not all of my restaurants I list on OpenTable.
She's a big fan of Italian food, particularly well-done pasta dishes (much more than I am), so I figure we can do that.
Places we've been that we are considering: Marea(probably our favorite of the list), Babbo(but this is close), Maialino.
Places we haven't been: Torrisi's, Del Posto, Ai Fiori, A Voce(either), Scarpetta, Rouge Tomate, Locanda Verde, Peasant.
Feel free to battle any against each other, make recommendations, or surprise us with a new place. We're horribly indecisive. The one bit of guidance is that we're a bit pensive about Torrisi (in the same way that we are pensive about Blue Hill at Stone Barns) in that we might find it....a bit boring? It looks good, but so many reviews talk about how the mozzarella and olive oil was the best part of the meal, and that seems sort of, y'know, boring.
Of the above, Babbo is easily my personal favorite. Well, it's my favorite Italian place in NYC in general, even moreso than their refined, fancy little sister, Del Posto.
But it's a tough rezzie, for sure, especially so soon, although I'm surprised at how often those late 10:30 two-tops pop up. Certainly worth checking with them, especially if you've got a few days to choose from.
The food at Ai Fiori is great. The ambience, on the other hand... count me among their detractors. I find the room very corporate/bland/cold. Nothing about it says celebration, says fun. I like the food a little more than at Marea overall, if only because I find Marea stumbles on the Secondi. If you're just going antipasti & pasta for savories, and not a full Italian four-courser, Marea and Ai Fiori are pretty much even.
A Voce is fine, but... I wouldn't put it first on my list, by any stretch.
Scarpetta is great. I haven't been in some time since it's kind of becoming a chain, and that's caused it to lose a bit of luster in my mind - and I know, there's no valid for that, but some reason I find myself reticent about them, like the shine's worn off. I also think they're -slightly- overpriced for what they're serving. Like, by $5-$10 on any given dish, give or take. Is the Spaghetti Pomodoro great? Sure, but I could make that at home. It's not the most complicated dish in the world. And for $26... yeah, it's overpriced. $21 would be about appropriate.
LV is great, but I'm not sure it says romantic birthday dinner to me.
Lincoln - definitely consider, though they could very easily break your budget.
Peasant - I love, but they're certainly more "rustic" than many of the others you've listed. Just something to keep in mind.
I've been to both 3 times. Both are excellent, but Ai Fiore has food that has wowed me more. In particular, the vellutata and bouillabaisse have been consistently fantastic, and to my taste, perfect. I've also found their wines impressive, but I wouldn't express a firm view on whether one of these restaurants has better wines on the whole than the other.
One thing to keep in mind is that Ai Fiore's rather corporate hotel-restaurant ambiance is not everyone's favorite. If you'd prefer the decor and atmosphere at Scarpetta, that would be a fine reason to go there, and you'll have a delicious meal there, too.
I think Torrisi would be too small, cramped, and casual for a birthday.
As H Manning points out, Del Posto will be too expensive for you.
I'm not a huge fan of A Voce (the chef just doesn't do it for me).
I'm a big fan of Scarpetta and think it works quite well for celebrations.
Locanda Verde is pretty loud and for next weekend, you might not be able to get in. They only take reservations via phone.
Peasant is probably too casual as well, though it is pretty romantic.
I have not been to Ai Fiori or Rouge Tomate.
Also consider dell'anima or L'Artusi, run by ex-Babbo employees.
It sounds like you're looking for "trendy," but our favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan is I Trulli. It's genuine southern Italian (the owner is from Puglia) and the pasta is made in house -- some of it by his mother. Their garden room has an especially lovely ambiance, but the whole experience is excellent.
If you liked Marea you should probably consider Lincoln which shares the same modern Italian concept in a sleek environment. The pasta dishes at Lincoln are wonderful.
Ai Fiori, Babbo and Scarpetta are also good. Locanda Verde, Maialino and Peasant are fine but more casual than your other options. Torrisi serves updated Italian-American food and isn't particularly known for pasta. The portions are also very small. Rouge Tomate isn't really Italian. I haven't been to A Voce in a long time so I can't really comment.
I like Del Posto but it would exceed your budget.