Ask the Critic: Solo NYC Dining, Birthday Brunch, and More
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!
This week, we tackle a few different questions: planning a big family dinner that happens to fall on Valentine's Day, where to eat in the city as a solo diner, and more. Let's get started!
Non-Valentine Group Dinner on Valentine's
My cousin and her husband are coming to New York in February for an academic conference where she's presenting. Her parents are also flying in. When I spoke to her last week, she said the night they have free for dinner is Thursday...February 14th. On top of that, she said we would need to invite her husband's family (that's 4) they are staying with and we'd invite my grandparents in from Long Island. I have no idea how to accommodate up to 12 people (at least one with dietary restrictions) with less than a month to plan (because this isn't a group I could try and book the Chef's Table at The Breslin for). My one idea is John's Pizza in Times Square, but that's not my ideal choice. Part of me thinks there must be some restaurant that would be thrilled to know there's going to be a large party on a night known for 2-tops.
Huge group dinners on short notice, with a group whose tastes may differ, are hard enough even when it isn't Valentine's Day. But we made a few phone calls for you.
Toloache, a classy Mexican spot we love, could do a large party at either of their two locations; Kefi, an uptown Greek restaurant with an extensive and varied menu, could do an early party. DBGB, Daniel Boulud's casual downtown restaurant with a focus on sausages and Lyonnais French fare, is another possibility. Mario Batali's excellent casual spot Otto might still be able to take a large group (they do a special menu for parties of large groups, but the restaurant is in general very affordable). Flatiron barbecue spot Hill Country requires a private room for groups of 10+ but might still have availability.
Any of those spots should be able to accommodate a range of diners, and had availability when we called recently; our advice is to get that reservation ASAP!
Eating Alone in NYC
I'm in NYC for work next week (Wed-Sun) and as it's a work trip I'll be all by my lonesome. I've pretty much got my days filled up, but have you guys got any restaurant suggestions for casual places that won't mind solo diners?
I don't mind eating alone and I find big cities usually have a fair few people doing it, but I don't fancy turning up at a 'date' place and asking for a table for one!
Any suggestions welcome, but I don't want to leave NYC without taking advantage of the variety & quality of restaurants on offer.
Luckily, it's easy to appreciate New York as a single diner. Any casual place won't give you a second glance if you're flying solo. Get hand-pulled noodles or head to Xi'an Famous Foods in Chinatown; grab a slice at Joe's or sit down for a pie at Motorino (you might want to avoid peak hours there); get bagels for breakfast, sandwiches, all that should be no problem. Tons more suggestions here.
Now, for slightly meals. If you're walking in to a "real" restaurant? Just sit at the bar—it's a natural place to eat as a party of one, you've got the bartender and perhaps fellow patrons for company, and you're likely to have a lot more fun than you would at a tiny table. Bonus: Plenty of popular restaurants that couldn't squeeze in an extra two-top should have no problem seating you.
A few ideas: In the West Village, perhaps The Marrow or Kin Shop (Harold Dieterle), Perla, Fedora, or Joseph Leonard (Gabe Stulman), Minetta Tavern, the Spotted Pig (if you avoid peak hours). Otto has a huge bar area and charming bartenders. Parm is a fun place for a cocktail and a fancied-up chicken parm sandwich; I've had a fun meal at the bar of L'Apicio. Blue Ribbon Brasserie, the more casual front room at Gramercy Tavern, Bar Boulud, Craftbar, Hearth, John Dory Oyster Bar: all of those should be good options, too.
Nice Brunch Near Soho
I need a nice breakfast/brunch place for a Saturday in or near Soho (ideally pretty far west; we're meeting at her hotel on Varick) for me, my boyfriend, and my former boss who'll be in from out of town. I'd love somewhere that takes reservations and isn't too lady-twee, since it's also my boyfriend's birthday. I'm going to rule out dim sum off the bat, since I'm not sure how adventurous an eater she is (it's been a while since we've seen each other and we never really ate together much). Any ideas?
It's rightly known as a lively Italian taverna, but Locanda Verde does one of my favorite breakfasts in New York, and by extension, brunch. First, it's an airy, elegant place to spend a morning, a room that's low-lit and crowded at night bathed in light by day. Secondly, Karen DeMasco is a pastry chef with few equals in the city, and her muffin-and-doughnut contributions to Locanda are phenomenal; brunch here must start with a mixed pastry plate. Third: The brunch menu ranges fully from sweet (the lemon ricotta pancakes pictured above) to savory; those in the mood for pasta can order the lumache, those who want eggs have several choices. Fourth, especially if you're celebrating a birthday: You've got a half-dozen brunch cocktail options. And fifth, they take reservations. As to your other criterion: there's no calling Andrew Carmellini's restaurants lady-twee. As of Monday night, they still had availability for Saturday brunch.
Not to play favorites, but for many of the same reasons, The Dutch is another excellent option. Get the soft scrambled eggs with smoked sable and trout and thank me later.
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Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!