Celebrations

Be it a romantic dinner for two or an Irish wake fit for a county, we'll make sure you're well fed for any occasion.

From birth to death, life presents a series of culinary challenges. Burying dear old dad was a snap, compared to finding a place for the wake. The chosen site provoked a row among the survivors, which included vegans, anti-cholesterol freaks, Atkins acolytes, folks keeping kosher or halal, and others who were just plain peevish about eating. In a worst-case scenario, a friend discovered that 50 distant relatives—most of whom he'd never met—were descending on New York to commemorate Great-grandma's arrival at Ellis Island a century ago. And a call from an older sister clued him in that he was responsible for organizing a giant banquet for a crowd of finicky and frugal Midwestern eaters. He turned to me and I helped him. And I can help you, too.

Birth

Asian restaurants tend to be more child-friendly than Western ones, and the staffs usually ooh and aah over crying babies rather than scowling. So I'd have any baby-related ceremonial meal—whether it be a christening, first birthday, or circumcision—at a Japanese restaurant. If you're flush, secure a private tatami room at Hotel Kitano's NADAMAN HAKUBAI [66 Park Avenue, 212-885-7111], where a trip down a carpeted stairway past a reflecting pond plunked with smooth black pebbles leads to a serene subterranean enclave. Set kaiseki meals ($85-$150, much cheaper at lunch) will thrill your guests with a procession of miniature crockery filled with lively morsels; go a la carte for considerably less cash. Alternatively, ascend to the private rooms at CHIKUBU [12 East 44th Street, 212-818-0715], which peddles superior set meals and sushi, including lustrous raw tuna in every sublime degree of fattiness.

One if by land, two if at Sea: Toast your anniversary at this Brooklyn Thai.
photo: Jay Muhlin
One if by land, two if at Sea: Toast your anniversary at this Brooklyn Thai.


Birthright: Hotel Kitano’s Nadaman Hakubai has private rooms ideal for crying babies.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Downscale, East Village sushi parlors easily hold their own, sans private tatami rooms. A particular favorite is the long-running SHARAKU [8 Stuyvesant Street, 212-598-0402], easy to get to and easy to love, with a menu that goes from boat-shaped platters of sushi to oodles of udon and soba. ESASHI [32 Avenue A, 212-505-8726] is another favorite, an above-average, inexpensive place where you can commandeer a corner.

Graduation

One of the most common questions I get as a restaurant critic—and I love pondering these queries, whatever you may think to the contrary—is where you should ask Mom and Dad to fete you when you graduate from college. If your parental units have money falling out of their pockets, I'd suggest FIVE POINTS [31 Great Jones Street, 212-253-5700], where a little creek trickles through the center of the woodsy dining room, and the menu offers deliriously large hunks of fish and meat, including a double-thick pork chop puddled with smoked-tomato

relish—delish! And don't miss the onion rings, either. If your parents are dazzled by Times Square, I'd recommend DB BISTRO MODERNE [55 West 44th Street, 212-391-2400], featuring an elegant, two-tiered dining room and bistro standards reconfigured from an haute cuisine perspective, including the famous DB burger, stuffed with short ribs and foie gras and topped with truffles. I'd finish out my four years just to get one.

If paying for college has cleaned your folks out financially, you'll want to exercise more restraint. A rear-guard Italian like JOHN'S [302 East 12th Street, 212-475-9531], founded 1908, or BAMANTE'S [32 Withers Street, Brooklyn, 718-384-8831], founded 1900, might be just the ticket. Satisfying tuck-ins like baked ziti and veal milanesa suggest the warmth and familiarity of home without battering the parental wallet. Or go modern and downtowny with a visit to OTTO [1 Fifth Avenue, 212-995-9559]—varying from the usual pizza parlor by offering cracker-crust pies, real vegetables and salads, olive-oil ice cream, and a kick-ass wine list.

New job


Save the date at Bar Masa.
photo: Jay Muhlin
This is the best chance to get your friends to take you out to dinner, but have them do it quickly, because who knows how long you'll have the job? If your friends are just plain wealthy, I'd suggest a luxe Chinese place like PING'S SEAFOOD [22 Mott Street, 212-602-9988], where the Hong Kong chef does more things with lobster than I care to enumerate. If your crowd eschews eating with chopsticks, why not go for that old Tribeca chestnut ODEON [145 West Broadway, 212-233-0507]? The clubby interior and brasserie menu will remind you of France, and the place is open way late.

Downmarket, I've celebrated new jobs at PAM REAL THAI FOOD [404 West 49th Street, 212-333-7500], which is especially accommodating to large parties, and where the fare is as spicy as anything in Queens. For something in an occidental vein, and laughably cheap, try upstairs at the OLD TOWN BAR [45 East 18th Street, 212-529-6732], an institution with edifying literary connections: the original proprietor published Gangs of New York. Bar food includes great burgers and fries, an exemplary tuna melt, and the city's best buffalo wings.

First date

First dates, whether they be blind or sighted, are all about sending signals. Searching for something quiet and intimate? BAR MASA [10 Columbus Circle, 4th floor, 212-823-9800] offers small tables behind a brown scrim, or seating right at the bar, and a menu considerably cheaper than its $300-per-person next-door counterpart Masa, with creative dishes in a Japanese vein and lubrication via sake, wine, and potent cocktails. More modestly, cute old-timer TARTINE [253 West 11th Street, 212-229-2611], at the quintessential Village corner of 4th and 11th streets, specializes in French café fare from a Brittany perspective, with a few wacky details thrown in: their spicy chicken entrée, for example, served with guacamole. Best of all, it's BYOB.

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