What's the second tier?
Maybe some of you would consider this third tier after splitting out GS and JR below... but anyway, what places are just below these guys? Maybe not quite the 3 star service level or the over the top preparations
Guy Savoy, Twist, Le Cirque, JR, e, Picasso, (Alize?)
I have a 30th birthday celebration reservation at Le Cirque but thinking of switching it out for two less expensive meals or just adding another "half-blowout" at a place maybe a little less spendy. thanks!
I would consider Sage to be below GS and JR in price and complexity but still providing a great experience. Other restaurants that I think are a tier below but still terrific include Scarpetta and Bouchon.
I've eaten at all of your choices except Le Cirque and e. I really enjoyed GS and JR, but they are very formal (delicious, great food and amazing service); I'd say Twist, although still great, is a little less so. I would not recommend Picasso, although it could be worth stopping and having a drink if you are a huge fan of the art.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is JR's little brother, but still excellent. The action is around a food bar -- I don't know how many people are in your group, or if that's your idea of appropriate seating for a birthday celebration. It's very expensive, but a lot cheaper than JR.
Jaleo might be an interesting choice. It's a branch of the Washington, DC restaurant that was in part responsible for the popularization of tapas. The food is very good and very interesting -- not in the class of your listed places, but it's also a lot less expensive. The atmosphere is informal and fun. I think that would be good for a birthday celebration, but others would call it loud.
I realize that this board is not as active as most others but this thread wasn't very helpful, pre-trip. Last couple posts have added some valuable info so I'll jump back in...
We ate at Le Cirque (possibly the best meal of my life, every bit worth the $600/couple), Yellowtail (non-sushi was OK, sushi wasn't good, very bad value-wise), Jaleo (excellent, exactly what I was looking for in a "second tier" place), Public House (awesome beers, couple apps that were OK, great attitude on the bartenders).