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St. Paul birthday dinner for a group?

I've run a search under birthday and I have gotten some ideas that I hadn't even considered before, but I don't eat out (dine-in) all that often and I'm horribly indecisive. I'm wondering if you can either suggest things that I haven't thought of and/or just give me a decisive push towards an option, because right now the plan is for Boca Chica - and while I'm reasonably ok with that option, I feel like I'm settling and can do better.

Details:
*Birthday dinner (mine), mid-June, Friday night
*Group of 12 maximum (10 women, 2 men), will definitely have at least 8
*Most of us will already be in the downtown St. Paul area already so we're looking at downtown St. Paul, West 7th, or Cathedral Hill area
*Two pescatarians
*One picky eater (they are not demanding, but I'd like to accommodate - as long as the place is willing to make a "plain" version of something - a burger or sandwich without the sauce or other accompaniments, we're good)
*One gluten-free (that would be me, not celiac so I'm not rabid about cross-contamination concerns) - and since it's for my birthday, I would like to at least have at least a few options rather than relegating myself to the one salad option that might be available (which means Italian, French, or Asian cuisines that heavily feature soy sauce are probably not great options)
*Not Indian (that would have been my first choice, but it was vetoed right away).
*I would prefer to keep entrees $20 or less. I'm sure if I asked, people would be willing to spend more to go for steak or something, but out of consideration I'd like to keep the price point under $20.
*I don't like overly noisy, but I don't want our group of 12 to be the loudest of the bunch and annoy our fellow diners.

Cheeky Monkey seems like it has real possibilities - would they be able to accommodate our group? Does it meet the criteria above?
Brasa is another possibility, but I worry the picky eater may not find something there.
I briefly looked at The Happy Gnome - entrees are over the price point, but sandwiches are within it...Yes? No?

Anywhere else or does it really seem like Boca Chica is my best option given the above?

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  1. Geez. That's a lot restrictions and it is YOUR birthday. I'd opt for the Indian food. Surely the others can find choices. But then, I'm a cranky old fart who also has a birthday in that timeline. This Gemini has quit trying to please everyone else. It is one meal and YOUR birthday. Life is too short! Dine to make YOU happy on your special day.

    1 Reply
    1. re: justalex

      You know, normally I fall in the "cranky old fart" category and have the "If they don't like it, f*** 'em" philosophy. But truthfully, I care more about spending an enjoyable evening with people I like than I do about getting Indian food on my birthday. I can get myself Indian take-out any old day of the week (and I do have a friend who has already said we'll go out for Indian food another day without the anti-Indian cuisine friend).

      I put the odds of the picky eater actually joining us at about 50/50 right now. So that can maybe be flexible. Price point can be a little flexible. And if push came to shove, the pescatarians can be relegated to eating the lone salad option for once instead of me.

      I can't negotiate on the Indian food, St. Paul location, or wanting to have at least a few gluten-free options to choose from.

    2. Might be pushing your price point a bit, but the Downtowner Woodfire Grill on W. 7th could be an option.

      1. Before I got to the end of your post, I was thinking Happy Gnome. The setting will be better than Brasa (as much as I love Brasa). Are you able to stretch the price limit?

        1. All of the places you've mentioned are in my 'hood. Cheeky Monkey is known for being very good for gluten-free eating. The chef there is pretty passionate about that, but there are lots of gluten-laden options for the rest of your crew too. And they always have good seafood (usually fish) options. And yes, they can totally accommodate a table of 12. You'd just have to call ahead.

          Brasa would certainly work too. Gluten-free friendly, table for a large party and the picky eater could totally make it work. They have roast chicken, for goodness sake. What picky eater can't live off of that? And fried yuca is like eating french fries. I'm sure they'd be fine. If my niece who pretty much exists solely on corn can eat there, anyone can.

          I also love the Happy Gnome and have been a huge proponent of it on these boards, but I'm not sure how gluten-free friendly they are or have the ability to be. That would be my only concern. I'd probably call them to get a feel for that before choosing it.

          Boca Chica would be one of the last places I would ever go on my birthday, or any other day, but that's me.

          Signed, a fellow Gemini :)

          1. Before I got to the end of your post, I was thinking Cheeky Monkey. Your instincts are correct; you can do better than Boca Chica.

            1. If this was 1992, I'd say YES, go to Boca Chica. They were very tasty in their day.

              But you can do better now.

              Have you thought about changing your day to Sunday and going out for brunch instead of dinner? It's easier to eat more cheaply at nicer places that way.

              EDIT: And the picky one can get pancakes at brunch.

              1. Thanks everyone for helping me get over my indecision. Cheeky Monkey it is. Will update after the event.

                2 Replies
                1. re: amishangst

                  Hoping for a nice enough evening for you that you can sit on their back patio.

                  1. re: amishangst

                    I think you'll be happy with your choice. They also have really good desserts and usually a flourless chocolate torte. Seems only fitting for your birthday. :) Have fun!

                  2. I love Cheeky Monkey. But it is very loud when it is busy. I try to go off hours.