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Ask the Critic: How to Feed the Most Difficult-to-Please Group Ever

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

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 carey@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

Where On Earth Will I Take This Group?

Dear Critic, I'm sure you get a lot of "Where should I take this huge group?" questions, but I've got a doozy. Dinner for my family and my brother's girlfriend's family, who are meeting for the first time. There are 9 of us, including: 1 vegan (who also eats mollusks because they don't have central nervous systems? but not dairy? ... don't ask me), 1 vegetarian, 1 gluten-free fellow, and 1 gentleman who pretty much only eats steak and lasagna. And I mean only. (I proposed Otto, and it got voted down for being too weird, which... yeah.)

Then there are two folks who work in the food industry, so they don't want somewhere completely terrible. And I don't want to do a straight-up steakhouse because A) the vegan, and B) I'd rather the meal weren't super-expensive, because there are so many of us. If I had a group of friends this picky, I'd tell them to just get over it, but you can't really do that with family. And most of them don't live in the city, so I'm definitely on the hook for this one.

Any suggestions for this rather difficult group?

And I thought my family was difficult! Otto is in fact my standby for situations of this sort, but if that's too out there—let's see what we can do.

Lasagna Napoletana For Two ($23)

Lasagna Napoletana at Rubirosa. [Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

When you say "lasagna," I think Rubirosa. (I mean, look at it.) While operating firmly within the bounds of classic Italian-American fare—fried calamari! Caprese salads!—its menu is plenty diverse, and I've never had a dish I haven't enjoyed, from their sandwiches on up. Plenty of meat-free pizzas and pastas for the vegetarians and vegans. It's even in Little Italy (...almost) for out-of-towners who like that sort of thing. Better stroll through the tackier stretches of Mulberry a few blocks south than eat there.

If you'd prefer full-on old-school, Bamonte's is your friend. The century-old Williamsburg restaurant is the rare red-sauce joint that's stood the test of time, with classics you might not've ordered in years: clams casino, chicken francese, tiramisu. Lasagna, check. Vegan pastas, check. Comfortingly affordable prices and ample portions: check.

While not inexpensive, I've had luck with Saxon + Parole for large groups—reassuring American steaks and pork chops for the more traditional crowd, fabulous cocktails and a dry-aged burger for the young New Yorker set, creative salads and ample seafood options for my mom who loves both. (And your vegan-who-eats-mollusks might do well by the seafood platter.) No vegetarian entrees, but plenty of the starters are meat-free, and some are ample enough to make a second course; I'm looking at you, "slow poached egg, toasted hazelnuts, Brussels sprouts leaves, truffle hollandaise." Portobello mushroom mousse for the non-carnivores, chicken liver mousse pots for the rest.

Readers—what was your most difficult group to find a restaurant for? And where did you end up going?

Ask Us!

Email carey@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question. All questions will be read, though unfortunately not all can be answered.

About the author: Carey Jones is the former managing editor of Serious Eats. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones).

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