Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is contributing writer, former managing and 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're chatting about two group dinner questions: a birthday party with guests who are vegan or gluten-free, and a book club dinner with guests of variously adventurous tastes.
Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly Birthday Dinner
Hi! I'm trying to plan a group birthday dinner for about 8 people, and am running into some real problems. First, I need a restaurant that takes reservations due to the big group size, but the real challenge is that we have a mixed group of eaters -- omnivores, vegans, and gluten-free. I keep running in circles -- "Italian is good for the vegetarians, oh but not for gluten-free." "Asian food for the gluten crowd, but oh, that's a little hard for vegans since there's chicken stock in everything." Do you have any recommendations for a small group dinner, ideally in Brooklyn or lower Manhattan, ideally seasonal/local American fare that would be able to accommodate this eclectic group -- or at least very willing to make substitutions/special requests???
How about Caracas Arepas Bar? The East Village location is tiny, but the Williamsburg location is roomier, takes reservations, and has a rum bar attached.
Arepas themselves are one of the most likable foods I know; who can't get in to griddled corncakes? That base is wheat-free, gluten-free, and totally vegan. And options run the gamut from beefy to vegetarian (and almost every vegetarian option can be made vegan). Bonus: it's cheap! Money left over for birthday drinks (or gluten-free vegan cake, or whatever strikes your party's fancy.)
Book Club Dinner
I have been asked to organize dinner for a book club that I have recently joined. We are a group of 6, some more foodie than others. A couple are vegetarian, a couple are adventurous eaters. Our budget is $20 for mains and I would like to make a booking so we don't have to wait for a table. Ideally the restaurant would be south of 14th st. I think we would eat almost any cuisine. One doesn't like Chinese food (although I love it).
Perhaps Pylos in the East Village? A warm, rustically cozy Greek restaurant that'll take reservations. Entrees run right around $20 (though lamb and whole fish will be a bit more), with sharable starters that should please both adventurous and less-adventurous eaters.
And I recommend Otto quite a bit, but for good reason. Mario Batali's most casual Italian spot manages to feel like a classy, sophisticated restaurant despite the fact that pasta entrees top out at $10, pizza at $15—so you can spend a little more on excellent meat or cheese platters, vegetable sides, or killer gelato.
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Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!