Besides being asked “when are you cleaning your bathroom” by my mom and “do you have boyfriend” by my local bodega owner, the third most popular question I’m asked every week is this: “ I’m having a party; where can I bring a big group?” And since everyone loves to eat, drink, and be merry with a core group of best friends and peripheral acquaintances – and since it’s easier for me to send a link and not discuss this anymore – I’ve gathered a list of New York’s Best Restaurants For Big Groups. This is a special list, teeming with everything from strawberry-cinnamon baby back ribs in Williamsburg, a Cuban fantasyland in the East Village, stone fireplaces in the West Village, and a really cool picture of dogs. Enjoy.
Oh, NYC Restaurant Week! You come and go every year, leaving us keenly aware of what handful of fancy restaurants are like on an off night. Insipid salmon on every plate and waiters upselling us on pricey plonk only make us hate you more. But we’ve decided to be amenable this year, scouring the BlackBook New York Guide for participating restaurants that have the chops to transcend the mediocrity.
We’ve plucked some of our Top Picks (and a few lucky others) who can’t help but deliver a divine dinner, even if they’re forced to sell it for far less than they’d like. Here are a few of our picks for the most seductive prixe fixes for Restaurant Week 2011.
5Ninth, a delightful townhouse with garden seating, continues its porcine tendencies with a packed-with-pork fixed-price dinner. For appetizing, we’d pick the Lyonnaise salad with anchovy dressing, poached egg, and loads of bacon bits. The main course of house-made papardelle with pork ragu makes us ready to pig out.
10Downing never ceases to offer creative chow, even during Restaurant Week. The heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with mint, almonds, and radish sounds, well, mouth-watering. The curry & coconut pot pie as our main speaks for itself: a puff pastry filled with roasted chicken or veggies, if you must. Maybe not the heartiest of meals, but there’s poached rhubarb and strawberry consomme for thirds.
Bless the person who recommended sacrificing Kittichai’s baby back ribs for Restaurant Week hoppers. Soaked in Mekhong whiskey barbeque sauce, you’re a weirdo if you don’t love it. Skip the salmon and savor the pan-seared branzino and bay scallops, conveniently surrounded by a toothsome coconut turmeric broth.
One If By Land Two if By Sea is the perfect spot for a romantic rendezvous–what with all those flowers, an in-house pianist, and candle chandeliers. Therefore, an uninspired prix fixe would never do, not even this week. We’d request the marinated octopus with sugar snap peas and shiitake mushroom vinaigrette for the first round. For seconds, we’re thinking the sautéed Atlantic rock shrimp with spaghetti, hazelnut pesto, and Thai basil will suffice.
Restaurant Week gets sexy with Yerba Buena Perry on the list. The ceviche Chifa for first course pickings, composed of flounder, scallions, ginger, carrots, cilantro peanuts–the list goes on–makes us wonder if this was a menu glitch. The sea bass chorrillana with yucca puree, tamarind-aji panca glaza, and “pickled slaw,” seems worth the $35 price tag and then some.
If you haven’t yet been to Manhattan’s Yerba Buena (with locations in the East and West Villages), you’re missing out on some of the meanest Latin food this side of Ciudad Juarez. Cuban sandwiches, watermelon fries, and Caribbean roast pork all hit the spot, and don’t get us started on that rib-eye ceviche. Well lucky you, because today’s pop-up perk is a $30 Yerba Buena gift card for just $15. That’s half off, genius! Ariba!
Get up close and personal with the recipes and concoctions that make our mouths water at culinary establishments around our great city. Sit back and prepare to salivate as BlackBook presents: The Dish.
What: Rib Eye Ceviche with cilantro, rocoto, peruvian corn and sea urchin. Where: Yerba Buena Perry, the dimly lit, always bustling Latin bistro. Ideal meal: Yes for girls night on the town and avoiding that lonely feeling on a weeknight. No for having “the talk” (or really any talk) over a meal. Because: Chef Julian Medina’s perfectly tangy, finely sliced strips of rib eye pack a punch. Tastes like: An explosion of Latin zest all over your mouth, with perfectly crispy corn kernels to finish it off. Bottom line: Well worth the $14 cost for an appetizer, but definitely won’t fill you up, even on the model diet. Keep on ordering.
West Village hotspot Yerba Buena Perry isn’t co-owner Christopher Gilman’s first rodeo. He’s been in the business for more than two decades, but his first ownership role came with this top-notch Latin staple. Gilman met his partner Julian Medina (Toloache, East Village Yerba Buena) out of pure coincidence and the two have been working together successfully ever since. Read about Gilman’s menu recommendations, attempts at going green and making friends in the new neighborhood after the jump.
Yerba Buena backstory: I worked at The Palm steakhouse for 23 years. I was most recently the general manager at the 50th and 8th location. A tiny little restaurant opened up across the street called Toloache, which is Julian Medina’s. From day one, I was blown away by how amazing and flawlessly they opened the place. They did everything perfectly except for one thing, they didn’t have their ice machine down pat. So, they’d come and borrow ice from us daily and Julian and I became really good friends. I needed a change, and we eventually partnered up.
Point of Origin: I was born in Boston but I’ve been all over. I started at The Palm as a bus boy in 1984 in Dallas. I’m not from Texas; I want to make that clear. I just made a wrong turn. I was only there for a couple years, got moved up and I relocated to New York to become their food and beverage buyer back in ’91.
Day-to-day at Yerba Buena: It’s very casual and wonderful because our clientele here is all neighborhood people. It’s not the business high-end. We’re building a neighborhood clientele, and we just get to take care of people. It’s so hands-on. The chef is my partner so everything is done immediately.
Uptown or Downtown: I live in the Upper West Side, but I’d love to move downtown. I’ve just been too busy, so I may move this year.
On giving the regulars preferential treatment: We’re so new that everyone who comes in is a new customer. The hardest thing for me is to say no to a reservation on the phone because it’s definitely not arrogance. We just don’t want to lie to people and have them come in to a packed restaurant. It’s a tricky game, because the first time guests are going to be regulars one day. The great thing is that we have a big bar so people who walk in can eat there. And the bar is a scene because we are making some famous cocktails and it’s always a show to watch.
Best meal: The ceviches are amazing, and we have a wide variety. My personal favorite is the Grilled Black Cod, I think I eat that everyday. I like the Parrillada which is a combination plate of steaks as well.
His biggest reality check: Opening night in August of last year was the best night for me. Seeing the decisions we made for the past eight months all coming together and finishing all the construction was surreal. Watching the crowd come in on opening night was just a huge sense of relief and a dream come true. That was the craziest night for me so far, just seeing it all in play.
Go-to joints: I like A Voce in the Time-Warner building, and Marea. I love that place. My girlfriend is a ballet dancer for the Metropolitan Opera, so a lot of times we’ll just meet at P.J. Clarke’s, after her shows.
Hobbies: I ride my motorcycle 12 months out of the year, it’s a Vespa 250. I have to do yoga three to four times a week. All we do is deal with people all day long so just to go into that room and not think about anything is pretty amazing.
On chef/partner, Julian: Julian is an artist. He’s traveled a lot, and when he was building the menu, he just picked out his favorite dishes from all over South America, and put the Julian Medina flair on them. We have a ribeye ceviche which no one else has, and his arepas are just amazing. From the Ropa Vieja de Pato to the watermelon fries, everything has his distinctive touch.
Worst habit? Parking my bike on the sidewalk. And probably overdosing on those watermelon fries.
Going green gone awry: We went and ordered metal straws to try and get rid of the plastic ones, but for some reason some people still want plastic. We’re not an organic restaurant, but we’re trying to do the right thing with everything we buy.