Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >
Jan 20, 2014 11:00 AM

Please help me decide on Italian for my birthday

We've been to all Batali/Bastianich restaurants in NYC and love them. We've also been to Lincoln Ristorante, A Voce, Il Buco Alimentari, and a few others I cannot think of right now.
It is coming up on one month before my birthday, so reserving a table will be a priority for my husband. That said, I would like to go to an Italian restaurant that is more uopscale than not, but does not have to be in a league with Del Posto. A few places that have been on our radar for a while (but have never been to) are:
Ai Fiori
da Umberto

Any recent experiences/ thoughts on these places? Any other suggestions? Thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Maybe it's just me, but I don't find Ai Fiori special enough for a birthday, even though I like the place quite a bit.

    Depending on your mood and the atmosphere you're looking for, I would choose either Scarpetta or Costata.

    5 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Scarpetta and Costata are my two front runners right now. If you had to choose one, which would it be and why? Thanks.

      1. re: ttoommyy


        The food overall is just better. This is not to say that Costata has bad food. Just on average, I think Scarpetta has better food (and better bread), even though Costata has some very very exemplary dishes that outshine just about anything Scarpetta has, but when it misses it misses with a huge thud.

        Also, Costata is more steakhouse cum Italian restaurant, if that matters at all to you.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I was leaning towards Scarpetta over Costata, so your input has sold me. What is the ambience like? Buzzy? Loud? Quiet? Austere? I guess I have just never paid much attention on these boards when it has been discussed. Thanks for all your help, Ipse!

          1. re: ttoommyy

            Generally, I would describe Scarpetta as upscale lively. It's not quiet, nor is it loud (esp. if you consider it's right smack in the middle of the meatpacking district).

            If you want a quieter dinner experience, ask for a table in the back room (away from the bar in the front). It's a lovely room, quieter than the front, and with a skylight that even at night seems to hold its charms.

    2. You should also check out Crispo... if you have a large group you can also book the large table all the way in the back of the restaurant. Also you can never go wrong with Barbuto. Check out more of these at

      3 Replies
      1. re: exploringny

        Crispo is too casual and doesn't meet the OP's request "more upscale than not."

        1. re: financialdistrictresident


          I think you missed that the original post is over a year old.

          1. re: rrems


            Sure did . . .was focused on Ai Fiori.

      2. I love Costata for both their Tomahawk steak-the best tasting steak I ever had and their tasty pasta dishes as well. Service very good and a very knowlegeable sommolier as well. Atomoshere is definitely a fun and lively one but not in a frat house way-extremely comfortable.

        6 Replies
        1. re: UES Mayor

          What is a Tomahawk steak? Is that the name of the farm, the cut, or some technique that's used in preparing the steak?

          1. re: Pan

            A tomahawk steak is a larger version of the bone-in Frenched rib eye steak. The bone has been left in to enhance the taste, as well as its presentation (hence the name "tomahawk").

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Thanks. About how many ounces of meat is that?

                1. re: Ttrockwood

                  Way too big for 1 person. The last time I dealt with a steak of a similar size, it was shared 3 ways along with some sides at St. Alselm's in Williamsburg.

                2. re: Pan

                  It varies from restaurant to restaurant.

                  Typically between 36 and 52 ounces.

          2. Choosing between Scarpetta and Costata is like choosing which kid I like more. Obviously, its the oldest!
            Cant go wrong with either. Scarpetta is all about the pastas, and certain apps that stand out, and the chicken. If you feel like steak and crudo however, its def Costata. I would rather go to Costata with a group of 3 or 4 to share that Tomahawk. And Scarpetta to me is not particularly comfortable for groups over 4 FWIW. Enjoy!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Ziggy41

              Thanks @Ziggy41 for the helpful info. It is only going to be be my husband and me and we would like a quieter atmosphere (but not stuffy, by any means). Given this info, would you say Scarpetta is the way to go?

              1. re: ttoommyy

                Btw, I didn't answer your question because ipsedixit covered it well. I think Costata is the quieter of the two, but I wouldn't base my decision on that in this case. Costata overall is more expensive as well

            2. I'm surprised no one recommended Marea. That would be my top choice.

              18 Replies
              1. re: foodwhisperer

                While I am a big fan of Marea, I don't really think that's what the OP is/was looking for.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  The OP's description, says special occasion, more toward upscale, and mentions Al Fiori as a choice and says it doesn't have to be in Del Posto league ( but it can be). So Marea could fit in. I will assume you are saying it is too upscale.
                  I'll stick with Marea. If the OP doesn't pick it, I'll go there on my birthday :)

                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                    Marea is too seafood-centric for what I believe the OP is seeking.

                    Just as White's other restaurant, Costata is steakhouse cum Italian restaurant, so is his flagship restaurant Marea essentially a seafood place cum Italian restaurant.

                    And, really, Ai Fiori is nowhere near the league of Marea. I like both (yes, I guess I'm just a White fan-hound), but Michelin must've had a major flat when it bestowed a star on Ai Fiori -- it's not even really bib gourmand territory.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I agree that Marea is very seafood oriented, but the pastas are really good ( the ones I like are seafood oriented too). I used to like San Domenico, which was in the same space. Esca I always think of as even more seafood oriented ( not anywhere near as good as Marea). I had a great taste of pasta from Al Fiori,at the NY Magazine Food show. So I went to the restaurant and expected a great meal. I found Al Fiori atmosphere, cold, and stuffy, and airline loungey, with a clientele that I wasn't that fond of. The staff had an annoying attitude and the food in general was fair at best.
                      Marea , although "upscale" has excellent food and a great staff. I also like Osteria Morini, but that is totally different vibe from Marea, and not as special for the OP for a birthday. I've never been to Costata, but it is on my list of places to try.

                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                        This is why I like Chow so much; it is amazing to see the big swing in experiences diners have at the same restaurant. While I agree with you about the less then spectacular design or Ai Fiori and I think there are alot of business and tourist types in there but food and (especially) service have been top notch for us.

                        Oh, and I wanted to add. Have you considered SD26? I beleive they were the owners of San Domenica

                        1. re: Spiritchaser

                          "Oh, and I wanted to add. Have you considered SD26? I beleive they were the owners of San Domenica"

                          We've been and thought it good, but not enough to go back for my birthday. I also want to try a restaurant we've never been to. Thanks.

                          edit: sorry. I see you were responding to @Spiritchaser.

                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            Completely spaced on the birthday part of the discussion, I agree SD26 isn't b-day worthy.

                          2. re: Spiritchaser

                            SD actually stands for San Domenica, so yes same owners. Although, probably not the same chefs. A former San Domenica chef cooks at one of my favorite restaurants in the caribbeans

                            1. re: Ziggy41

                              Actually, SD stands for San Domenico, the name of their former restaurant, not San Domenica...

                              1. re: rrems

                                There are two possible explanations for this blunder.

                                a) I simply copied and pasted the previous mention since my hands were freezing, or..
                                b) I was thinking about Dominican Republic while typing as my hands were freezing.

                            2. re: Spiritchaser

                              SO is going to Al Fiori for dinner next week.

                              I've done a search of this Board but not much is recent. Any suggestions for him, Spiritchaser?

                              1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                I'm not Spiritchaser, but when I've eaten there in the past, the Vellutata - and even more so, the Bouillabaisse - have been standouts. But really, I'd just recommend ordering what strikes one's fancy, as everything I've had there has been good. One of the cocktails with bourbon, I think the Fiori d'Arancio, also stood out, and they have a really good wine list, but I can't specifically recommend anything there, as I don't remember the name of the great then-$80 red that we got the night we really splurged.

                                1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                  Either the agnoliti or ravioli are good bets. Crudo is always delightful if you like that kind of thing (some don't).

                                  If you're SO is unsure, the 4-course is a nice way to go, or the Chef's Tasting if you want to splurge. Splurge, I say.

                            3. re: ipsedixit

                              I've had better meals at Ai Fiori than my one meal at Marea. Take that for what it's worth; I imagine you've eaten repeatedly at both.

                              1. re: Pan

                                Thanks so much, everyone. I will do my best to report back on his experience.

                                Also regarding the OP's request, I think SO has been to Costata. It was suggested to me on this Board when I was searching for steak in a certain neighborhood. As ipsedixit posted, it's more of a steakhouse. SO didn't order their signature dish and I didn't hear rave reviews. He's more of a Luger guy.

                                1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                  SO's experience at Ai Fiori . . .

                                  "Service was amazing. Most impressive wine list." This was a business dinner and his dining companions from out of state enjoyed their dinners. He didn't tell me what they had.

                                  SO was "underwhelmed." His crudo de dentice was "tasteless, olive oil was not the highest quality, temperature of fish was too warm." He had the Spaghetti. Blue crab, lemon chilies. SO said $37 for spaghetti "was wrong." Please note, SO doesn't mind paying (Fish & Game, etc.).

                                  They also had desserts. He didn't give me details.

                        2. re: foodwhisperer

                          Ipse got ir right; Marea is too seafood centric. I love seafood, but pretty much have to be in the right mood for it to make a whole evening of it. We did go to Esca one year for my birthday which I enjoyed very much, but that was planned closer to the day and I was craving an evening of seafood. I did originally have Marea on my list, but it was the first one eliminated. Someday though...
                          Husband made a reservation for Scarpetta yesterday. Looking forward to it!

                          1. re: ttoommyy

                            How was your birthday at Scarpetta? I have waited so long to try it and now am disappointed that Conant has left.