By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
So what did I tell my friend who had to arrange a dinner for 50 Midwesterners? I sent him to CONGEE VILLAGE [100 Allen Street,
212-941-1818], which has a warren of private and semi-private rooms. There, he was able to control the culinary scope of the banquet by consulting with the management, so there were no pig intestines or sea cucumbers. And since dishes were shared and there were dozens of choices, no one could complain that there were things they preferred not to eat.
But what if the banquet is for high-society A-listers rather than working-class schlumps? I'd consider reserving an upstairs room at BAYARD'S [1 Hanover Square, 212-514-9454], occupying a stately former men's club called India House. The many banquet rooms are adorned with antique ship models and chests of drawers filled with 19th-century commodities (including hemp!). The menu is luxurious, featuring roast pheasant, poached Dover sole, caviar, and foie gras.
All-aboard: Bayard caters to large groups.
photo: Jay Muhlin
On the other hand, maybe you want a noisy place to forestall verbally picking over the remains of your romance. A frenetic, hopping place like PASTIS [9 Ninth Avenue, 212-929-4844] provides plenty of distractions, but even better is SEA [114 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-384-8850], where bargain Brooklyn-style Thai can be washed down with a Lethe of potent cocktails.
Bummer! But how to react? An Irish wake might be just the thing, and where better than one of the city's new crop of Fenian gastro-pubs, serving food stunningly better than their hard-drinking predecessors. Way downtown, ULYSSES [58 Stone Street, 212-482-0400] provides a double barroom with lots of booths, and a convivial crowd that spills out onto tables on the blocked-off street. The fish-and-chips is superb, and pricier fare runs to steak, lobster rolls, and raw shellfish. In Woodside, DONOVAN'S [57-24 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, 718-429-9339] has long been a favorite for plainer pub fare and pints of Guinness delivered at precisely the right temperature. And I can guarantee the barkeeps will be plenty sympathetic.
How to throw a banquet
We're talking ten or more people here. Always negotiate ahead of time with the restaurant. Visit the premises and pick a table. Pay a deposit to secure your reservation. Above all, customize the bill of fare. Under no circumstances should a large party be permitted to order from the entire menu, or chaos will result. Agree to two or three appetizer and entrée choices, pitching to the strengths of the restaurant. If you're artsy, create a special commemorative menu to hand out at the banquet. Try to negotiate a discount, perhaps by offering to pay in cash. Discuss the dietary and access needs of particular guests.
How to get those difficult reservations
Want to celebrate a special event at some hot-ticket spot? Make friends with the reservationists by being super-polite on the phone. Consider posing as your own secretary. More important, be flexible, with a script that goes something like: "I'm dying to eat there and am completely flexible about day and time. I can dine at 5:30 or 11." Inquire about unreserved walk-in tables or bar seating. If you're willing to arrive right when the place opens, or an hour before it closes, your chances are excellent. But always have a backup place selected.