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Babbo, Esca, Lincoln or La Grenouille

I'm getting a bit overwhelmed trying to select a restaurant for an upcoming birthday dinner for two with SO.

Babbo - we dined there years ago and have been meaning to return. We did the tasting menu (pasta only?) with wine. We really enjoyed it but were too full to really make the most of the experience. We made the mistake of not going on an empty stomach.

Esca - enjoyed a birthday dinner there, also a number of years ago. In this case one of us was feeling under the weather so we didn't really have a complete dining experience. I think we only order a course or two.

Lincoln - have been meaning to try it, especially since we love the new Lincoln Center campus, including how Lincoln Ristorante has been incorporated. We also really like Italian food, if that's not already evident.

La Grenouille - another place we've been meaning to try. I definitely want to order the Dover sole and probably a souffle (I know, it's supposed to be about SO's birthday but he would also enjoy the "French experience"). Everything I've heard about the place (fresh flowers, etc.) makes it sound like a wonderful experience.

The birthday (a Saturday) is just under a month away so I've probably already missed Babbo as an option, unless we sit at the bar which SO wouldn't want to.

We both really dislike noisy restaurants but I don't think that should be a big issue with any of the above.

Any insights or feedback from others that could help me decide?

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  1. Both Babbo and Esca take resevations one month in advance to the numerical date--so on January 23rd, they started taking reservations for February 23rd (assuming that is your desired date). Also the first floor dining room and bar area at Babbo can be pretty noisy, so I'm not sure it's a good choice for you unless you can secure a reservation upstairs. They do have last minute cancellations they post on twitter but it is usually early/late 4 tops, 2 tops do not come up that often.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks, kathryn. Yup, we're aiming for the 23rd so I figure at this point any decent times are long-gone. Good point about the noise. We did dine upstairs last time. I don't recall any particular issue with the noise, though now that you mention it I remember it being a bit much when we were on the first-floor to exit.

      Maybe I'll call Babbo after the reservations line opens this morning at 10. I'm sure they won't have a table and then I can basically cross Babbo off the list for this occasion.

    2. I always say La Grenouille hands down. It is a singular experience and the last of the great old-guard French restaurants.

      That being said, some friends whose opinion I respect have raved over and over about Babbo. I have yet to eat there.

      1. Definitely La Grenouille!

        1. While I've not been to Esca or Lincoln, my vote is for La Grenouille. Although it's been a little over 10 years, it was easily one of the more memorable dining experiences of my entire life. I love Babbo, probably my favorite restaurant, but I just think the ambiance...combined with the food, iconic history, and rarity of its kind sets La Grenouille apart.

          1. Wow, now we really need to get to La Grenouille. Thanks for the endorsements.

            I was just looking at the menu, so many incredible dishes. Not an inexpensive proposition and I'm wondering if it's worth going there for lunch instead one day: $65 lunch prix-fixe vs. $102 for dinner, pretty big difference.

            Does anyone know if they serve the 3-course LUNCH prix-fixe on Saturdays? (Sorry, I know I can just call to ask and / or research the board.) In some ways I'm thinking we might enjoy that more than going on a Saturday night (where it might have a bit more formal feel than we would want). And then for the birthday we would maybe pick Esca or Lincoln, and save La Grenouille for another occasion where a Saturday lunch would work. I guess the atmosphere would be different between lunch and dinner, but a Saturday lunch I would think would still have an indulgent and pampered quality, right?

            1 Reply
            1. re: uwsgrazer

              The only thing that changes from lunch to dinner at Grenouille is the customer base. The service, food and ambience are all the same.

              It's a costly night out, but worth every penny.

              There is no other restaurant like it in New York.

            2. I would suggest Lincoln since you love Italian food. The food is more creative and nuanced compared to the more rustic offerings at Babbo and Esca. The noise level is moderate.

              La Grenouille has a great old world ambiance but, just to manage your expectations, the room is cramped and the menu strictly classic and rather predictable compared to other French restaurants in that price range.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Riverman500

                La Grenouille is a more "stuffy" experience, but also feels like you are going back in time to a different era :) I've only been for dinner so can't compare the two.

                1. re: Riverman500

                  Nice analogy on Lincoln vs. Babbo / Esca. Thanks, Riverman

                  Okay, appreciate the head's up on La Grenouille. It just seems like such a classic that I feel it would be a shame to not at least visit once. But duly cautioned!

                2. This is not a paid advertisement -- I am just a frequent user. The American Express Platinum card and others have a concierge service that can sometimes get you in to restaurants that are typically booked well in advance. We dined at Daniel using their service. It's worth a try.
                  I've never been to Babbo but have only heard good things. Esca's food is great but I wonder if the ambience is enough for a memorable celebration. Lincoln's location, setting, ambience and service are tremendous, but I have to admit I was underwhelmed by the food.
                  La Grenouille is on my bucket list; based on comments here I am going to try it next time I'm in NYC. Why wait? Life is too short!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: snowcone

                    La Grenouille does do lunch on Saturday. Definitely the better deal for the exact same food.

                    1. re: plafield

                      Excellent -- thank you.

                      In that case I think I'm leaning towards La Grenouille for the, now, birthday lunch. As it turns out we have another birthday to celebrate, for which we will likely go to Lincoln for the brunch menu. As for Babbo and Esca I guess we'll play those by ear. But I'm excited to be trying two new restaurants which have been on my "wish list" for some time.

                      Thank you everyone for all the helpful input!

                  2. For me it's a no-brainer.
                    Lincoln -- hands down!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: arepo

                      +1 for Lincoln. Compare to Babbo find it more 'refine'. Somehow, I'm not impressed with Babbo's food and found it over-rated. May be one of the reason why Michelin removed its star!

                    2. Don't hesitate -- La Grenouille is an experience like no other. Definitely go for the Dover Sole and souffle for dessert.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: pikawicca

                        How lucky you are to have these wonderful restaurants to choose from. I'm jealous reading all the comments!

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          I think we'll definitely get there, I hope sooner than later.

                          I noticed oeufs a la neige on the menu. That is one of my all-time favorite desserts (along with Baked Alaska)! I'm pretty sure SO will want the tarte tatin (not to mention the cheese plate), so I can't count on him ordering my second dessert. In that case I'll have to decide myself between either a souffle or the oeufs a la neige.

                          I'm actually leaning towards the eggs. I'm not so sure I really like souffles all that much, it's just that they are special and I figured it was the thing to order at a place like La Grenouille.

                          Any experience from others?

                          1. re: uwsgrazer

                            The souffles and oeufs a la neige are both very good at La Grenouille.

                            1. re: H Manning

                              Which flavors of the soufflés have you tried? Seems like Grand Marnier would be the classic one to get but not sure I love GM or anything, nor passion fruit for that matter. And I wonder if chocolate would ... just taste like chocolate.

                              1. re: uwsgrazer

                                They have a pistachio souffle that is fantastic!

                                1. re: edwardspk

                                  wow, I've really been getting into pistachio lately. I had the most incredible pistachio eclair in Paris last year! Wait, just so I don't get my hopes up unnecessarily, is the pistachio souffle even a regular menu item?

                        2. Just to report back we went to La Grenouille for lunch yesterday and loved the experience.

                          The food, service, ambiance and fresh flowers were all lovely. One of us ordered the salmon tartare, the other pate. I thought they were both good, but I think I preferred the salmon slightly. The piece de resistance is the grilled Dover sole. Delicious! For dessert we went a bit overboard and ordered a chocolate soufflé, in addition to ouefs a la neige (me) and the apple tart (SO, a special). I love, love, love ouefs a la neige; I just wish it was served in more places. Good coffee.

                          While it's a steep price to pay for lunch ($350 for two, including tax and tip) we do hope to return one day. This is in contrast to other nice restaurants we may go to but leave thinking the meal was fine, but not a place we would want to necessarily spring for again.

                          Thanks again for everyone's helpful input in our decision on where to go.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: uwsgrazer

                            So glad to hear you had a lovely experience at LG (but I was pretty sure you would). Thanks for reporting back.