Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!
Welcome back to Ask the Critic! This week, we'll plan an itinerary for a dude who wants to take his beloved on a Valentine's Day restaurant crawl, suggest spots for a mother whose kids are up for great food, and declare our favorite BYOBs in NYC.
Valentine's Day West Village Food Crawl
I'm thinking of doing like a tasting tour for my girlfriend on valentines day of the village. Any suggestions? I guess cute & best village restaurants? Desserts are obviously important too.
First of all, love this idea. So much more fun, and creative, than a normal three-course sit-down deal (and given how much a lot of restaurants jack up their prices on V-Day, you'll probably end up paying less too.)
Truly great meals start with oysters, in my opinion; make your first stop Pearl Oyster Bar. If you're not the raw seafood types, the fried oysters are excellent, too, and their lobster roll one of the best in the city. But try your best not to fill up at the first stop.
My vote for the most charming restaurant in the West Village, for any occasion, is Buvette, Jody Williams's casual French spot on Grove Street. Lovable from the tiny water glasses to the intricate paper menus to the chalkboard of Europe, listing wines by the glass. And conveniently enough, it's best approached as a small-plates spot. Grab a seat at the bar, share a dish of rabbit confit and maybe a prosciutto-parmesan tartine, and chat wine with your bartender. In my line of work, I generally end up picking the date spots, and I've charmed with Buvette more than once.
From there, perhaps a short stroll to the low-lit. rustically charming tapas bar Alta—get the brussels sprouts with crème fraiche and pistachios, and perhaps the lamb meatballs or bacon-wrapped dates. (Unless you'd like to stick with the French theme, in which case, Cafe Henri for crepes?) Then for dessert, Otto for a glass of wine and some of our favorite gelato in the city? Or maybe you'd prefer something more casual: the goat's milk soft-serve at Victory Garden. Or something with a sense of humor: the fantastically topped soft-serve creations at Big Gay Ice Cream.
Alternates: If your idea of dessert is cheese and wine, drop by Murray's Cheese Bar on Bleecker, the phenomenal fromagerie's restaurant outpost. If you prefer Italian small plates to Spanish ones, consider L'Artusi rather than Alta. Mexican? A taco and margarita at Empellon. And if you want a few excellent cocktails in the mix—and bite-sized cheddar poppers, and maybe some weird animal parts—descend a few basement stairs to Fedora.
Best Restaurants For Kids?
What are some good places to take kids for dinner and/or fun food places? Our kids have good palates and will try things at least once. Have already done: Jacques Torres Chocolate, Meatball Shop, Otto, Shanghai Café (soup dumplings), Landmarc, Nyonya. We have a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old. We want them to have good food experiences but also take them to kid-friendly places so we don't impose on adults trying to have a nice dinner. We don't even know if we like that when we're out!
I love that you're not just asking where you can bring your sons, but where you can bring your sons that's actually a great restaurant. You might want to take a look through our old Kids Welcome issues—though that author was bringing along her much younger daughter, it's still a good indication as to which restaurants open their arms to kids (if they're happy to see a 2-year-old, I'm sure they'll be happy with two older boys with good appetites).
A few specific recommendations: Kefi is one of our favorite casual Greek restaurants, positioned nicely between interesting and accessible (that is, mac-and-cheese and taramosalata); it's also inexpensive enough that a family can try quite a bit without breaking the bank. You'll definitely see other families there. Same with Fairway Cafe on the Upper West, an all-American menu that's a real dining value. Mermaid Inn has a kids menu, crayons, and definitely welcomes younger guests. Or awesome Italian-American: Rubirosa or Parm across the street. (Rubirosa should be pretty family-friendly in general. Parm, you might want to go for an early dinner, as it does get a little crowded as the night goes on.) Clinton Street Bakery and Veselka, both on the earlier side of the evening, would also be good bets.
Family-friendly Middle Eastern restaurants we love, if you're willing to get out to Brooklyn: Tanoreen or Bab al Yemen. "Chinatown is very kid-friendly in general," notes our general manager Alaina Browne (proud mother of this guy!)—maybe Jing Fong or 88 Palace for dim sum? I remember loving the rolling carts and dozens of options when I did dim sum as a kid; it made me feel like part of the experience. (And if your sons try something they don't like, replacement dumplings are one rolling cart away.)
I always notice families at New York's great pizza places; somewhere like Don Antonio or Motorino might stretch their boundaries a little (Mom, you're getting brussels sprouts on your pizza?! Really??) and you're sure to have a great meal. And have you ever done a family meal at Katz's? A piece of New York history, and smart with a family: two sandwiches should feed four.
Great BYOB Restaurants
Where is the best BYOB place in NYC?
The Islands, an amazing (and dirt cheap) Jamaican restaurant in Prospect Heights where, if you're eating in, you've got to climb a ladder to the attic. Get the goat, get the oxtail, get the shepherd's pie, bring friends and Red Stripe and settle in upstairs.
And a few more for ya: Sigiri in the East Village for Sri Lankan food (if you've never tried, you're missing out. Get the hoppers). Kaz an Nou near the Barclays Center, an insanely friendly French Caribbean spot. And Gazala Place, New York's only Druse restaurant, with paper-thin pita and excellent kafta.
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Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!