NYC Birthday Dinner for Restaurant Manager Son

My son, who has worked his a** off during the pandemic feeding people like me(!) would like me to take him to dinner for his birthday (we’re shooting for Friday, May13). Is there a “special occasion” restaurant you’d recommend that’s not totally on the radar (and definitely not touristy). I’d like to treat him to something, well, special. He prefers meat to fish, but is a curious eater, who really just enjoys great food: Italian, Vietnamese, French, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish are among his favorite cuisines, I’d reckon. Someplace we could dress up on a Friday night…? He lives in Brooklyn; me in Manhattan, but really would travel for the right treat. Thanks in advance!

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Gage & Tollner springs to mind. Or maybe the new El Quixote.

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Majorelle is an upscale French restaurant on the UES that has managed to stay well below the radar. Exquisite cuisine and superb service in a gorgeous space.

Okay, so I don’t know you in the real world (I don’t think) & can only guess at your taste from posts. And I don’t know your son, where he works or where in Bklyn he lives. Given that, I think that the Gage & Tollner suggestion is pretty good. Although the food was neither adventurous nor too innovative, the room restoration is drop dead gorgeous, the she crab soup & other nostalgia dishes are done extremely well, it’s friendly & the wine list is well thought out and very reasonably priced. Its a feel good place.
And, although I’m sure some folks will scoff, we still do special celebrations at The River Cafe. Again, the chef is not setting the eater world on fire, but the food is very nice – all in the best setting in NYC.
In the past, we’ve also celebrated at Aquavit, although now that stars have been awarded, the price has jumped and it’s definitely fish/seafood heavy, not meat.
I hear good things about Benoit, but that’s not a firsthand recommendation.

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Thanks to all…Yes, Gage & Tollner would have been great I think, but alas I’m already too late for the reservation. Haven’t been to The River Cafe in decades, maybe, but I’ll take a look. Acquavit also sounded good, but would be lost on him, I think. I’m holding an early reservation at Wallse, and will look into Benoit. Also looking at Frenchette, Estela, La Vara, and Majorelle looks good, but maybe a little “East Side/Hotel” for this occasion?

I am a big fan of Frenchette but don’t think of that as a particularly adventurous food place. Nothing creative or innovative. Very solid French fare in a happening setting. Friday night will mean a lot of very dressed up people out for a good time. The food at La Vara is distinctive and different. Spanish moorish cuisine. The bill can add up over the little plates. Depending on your budget, Saga is an option that is not yet on the tourist radar. Likely will never be a go to place for the typical food tourists as it’s pricey. But it’s a fabulous setting and the food is very different than anything I’ve had. Set course meal where you only pick the main that will be shared by the table. Great service and the views are killer. Gage & Tollner is also a solid choice. Also check out Francie in Williamsburg. Benoit is a nice spot but I think of it more as either a business or tourist meal sort of place. Great bar area though.

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Again thanks for all…Reminding me what a great food town I live in. “A lot of dressed up people out for a good time” sounds pretty good to me! Francie in B’klyn looks like similar menu to Portale; he loves that! I have lots to chew on, thanks. Will let you know where we end up.

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I love La Vara (and her other places too) but I thought it skewed slightly to seafood when I’ve visited - easily verified by checking a current menu, though.

I don’t think Estela is under the tourist radar necessarily, but of course is excellent. Less lauded but I thought it was a wonderful meal (and setting) was Altro Paradiso in Soho (non touristy). He also has a new place in midtown but that will probably be a zoo.

Sounds slightly boring, but ABC kitchen has perfectly executed food in a lovely space.

Carbone would make for a special meal, but the large portions might limit variety if it’s just the two of you. Also reservations can be a pain.

Wayla on the LES is a delicious meal and their back garden is lovely and festive, but casual. The menu had a marginal seafood bent to the larger dishes when I went, but again that’s easily checked.

For Mexican, I still like Maya for a different style of food (and no tourists), also Toloache, but their ambience varies by location (food is very good at all of them last I ate there). Atla has fantastic modern mexican at a much lower price point than Cosme, but may be more casual than you are looking for. I’ve always enjoyed the food at Empellon too, the midtown location is fancier than the Taqueria.

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Trust me when I say that despite being located in the Lowell Hotel, Majorelle is not in any way a “hotel” restaurant.

We’ve been to Benoit many times. While the food is delicious and the space has attractive decor, we don’t think of it as a dress up special occasion place like Majorelle, The Modern Dining Room, and Gabriel Kreuther.

We’ve been to Frenchette once. We’ve not been back because the noise level was hideously high.

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I love La Vara and would recommend it whole-heartedly. That said: I wonder if you’d consider something less dressup than what’s being suggested in this thread; if your son is a foodie and adventurous, as you say, how about something like the night market in Queens, or the Golden Shopping Mall (Chinese food heaven) in Flushing? Both would be a totally different experience than a restaurant experience, and considering restaurants are his life, might be nice to really break the mold.


Thanks for all! And mig, yes, he would love, love, love the Shopping Mall outing in Flushing. My issue is being able to shepherd that outing. (I was hanging back in another thread that was proposing such an outing of HO participants in June, as I don’t have a clue!)

(Turns out the golden days of Golden Shopping Mall are over, anyway. )

Is the new El Quixote much better than the old one, which I really disliked?

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Haven’t been. However, word from people whose opinions I trust is that it’s good. (We’re not doing indoor restaurant dining, but if we were, I wouldn’t hesitate to have a meal there.)

I haven’t been, but the people I hear from who have love it. It’s a lot more expensive, though, and smaller, and the menu is different.

I am curious to know what would make the difference so that you would one in? We have been dining at restaurants whenever and wherever they have been open indoors and out. I got covid a while back after I had been vaccinated. Looking back at my activity that week, I am pretty sure that I got it on the subway commuting to and from work. Didn’t go to a restaurant in the week before I got it. After getting it and recovering with fortunately almost no symptoms I’ve become sanguine about covid. If it hadn’t been for the on-site testing at work I likely would have never known I had it. I took all the recommended precautions but still caught it. Sort of made me think many of them are pointless.

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Thanks for the question Pan. I wasn’t a fan of El Quixote either! As a health care provider, I would say to follow CDC and local guidelines. If you are up to date with vaccines and not immuno compromised, masking to avoid Covid is less important. You may get Covid, but likelihood is overwhelming that you won’t end up in the hospital or die. That is the point of the vaccines!

If someone chooses to continue to eat outside and/or mask up, it is their right and choice to do so. But it really shouldn’t attract derision if others are comfortable eating indoors. Health choices should all remain up to the individual in our society, as long as there is no “public health “ imperative that dictates behavior for the safety of all of us.

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I’m recovering from a bout of COVID I got from an 8-person indoor seder that happened after everyone had tested negative. One of the participants got sick the next day, thereby meaning she had been contagious although she had tested negative, and ultimately, 4 of us got sick. My sickness was bad although I had had 4 shots. The shots, and maybe the Paxlovid, kept me out of the hospital, but it was a serious illness, much worse than a bout of bacterial pneumonia I had had in the summer of 2019. So my remark is not derisive; it’s from sad, painful experience.

And to answer BKeats, I don’t know what would cause me to eat or drink indoors in a restaurant or bar going forward, because it would be really bad if I got COVID again. A vaccine that is reliable in preventing people from actually catching the disease would be sufficient; otherwise, it’s hard to know what numbers are reliable anymore, with no-one compiling home COVID test results. So all of you will make your choices, but don’t assume if you catch this it won’t be an awful experience.


May I ask how old you are?

I am in my late 40s. I’m terrified of spreading Covid unintentionally to someone who is vulnerable. I have had 4 indoor restaurant meals, 1 museum fundraising banquet and 1 pub night in 26 months. I haven’t been to an indoor meal since December 4th, 2020.

My friends who don’t spend time around people with vulnerable immune systems are going to the gym, opera, concerts, getting mani pedis, and dining indoors. I usually have season tickets for opera, musicals and a concert series. I’ve continued subscribing, but I’ve been returning my tickets, I guess for 2023 . I haven’t gone to any concerts or operas since March 11, 2020.

I think one’s perspective regarding risk depends largely on how old they are and how vulnerable the people in their circle might be.


I am sorry to hear you came down with Covid, Pan. I hope you’re feeling better and don’t have lasting effects. We had a spike in cases the week after Pesach and Greek Easter, up here in Ontario, too.

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