Gift giving is tricky business. If it were just a matter of selecting items you know will set loved ones' eyes a-glow, it'd be a snap—but it never is. There's your brother's new girlfriend. And your trainer. And that dude from the mailroom who never judges you (or at least doesn't show it). You don't want to clutter their houses (or drain your wallet) with knickknacks they might never use, and clothing sizes? Total minefield.
Stuff is great, but experiences are what make the season shine a little brighter. Give the gift of a night out—with you picking up the check. Even if you're not there to share in the meal itself, a restaurant gift certificate or card is a thoughtful way to say, "Happy holidays, and have some fun on me."
Everyone eats, but we're not all down with the same level of fuss and fanciness. Consider choosing a restaurant group with multiple locations so the recipient has a range of options from a casual lunch to a full-on, pinky-up, once-in-a-lifetime culinary extravaganza. It's one present that's sure to be relished (and Instagrammed), not regifted.
Note: We're only listing New York outposts, but check the websites to see if they can be used at each group's restaurants in other cities.
Michael White's fans are legion and for good reason—his playful, elegant renditions and reinventions of Italian classics have earned him a bazillion James Beard Best Chef NYC nominations (okay, five) and Michelin stars (three), as well as a near-religious devotion to his uni pasta and risotto. A luxurious prix fixe Marea lunch will set your fortunate diner (or you) back $47 before booze, or your giftee might just choose to sip it up in the form of re-engineered Grasshoppers, smoked Coke highballs or Indian-spiced mai tais at The Butterfly.
Restaurants: Marea, Ai Fiori, Costata, Ristorante Morini, Osteria Morini, Nicoletta, The Butterfly
The Dinex Group
Every food lover could use a soupçon of Daniel Boulud in their dining life, non? They could blow the whole bundle (and then some) on a $125 prix fixe dinner at the chef's flagship Daniel, dole it out on daily croissants at Épicerie Boulud or even go whole hog on a suckling pig dinner ($525) for a group at DBGB. Le choix est à eux.
Restaurants: Daniel, Café Boulud, Bar Pleiades, DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Boulud Sud, Épicerie Boulud
Give the gift of ham, ramen, creative cocktails, a fried chicken feast or a big ol' bo ssäm with a monetary entrée to David Chang's planet of restaurants. A Ko reservation is a little bit easier to come by now, thanks to a recent move to a larger space. These gift cards are handy at Midtown's Má Pêche as well, but your giftee is free to embrace the spirit of adventure and stroll into Chang's other outposts on a whim—even in the wee hours of Friday and Saturday, when both Noodle Bar and Ssäm Bar's kitchens stay open until 1 a.m.
Restaurants: Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Booker and Dax, Ko, Má Pêche, Milk Bar
Roman pizza at Marta | Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table
Union Square Hospitality Group
NYC hospitality OG Danny Meyer has every customer covered, from barbecue mavens (Blue Smoke) and pizza connoisseurs (Marta) to music fans (Jazz Standard) and lovers of farm-to-table finesse (Gramercy Tavern). A little something from USHG is also the perfect kick in the pants for diners who want to experience the landmark Union Square Cafe before it closes at the end of 2015 (due to a rent hike). Note: The card doesn't cover Shake Shack, but you can delight the burger lover in your life with one made specifically for the chain.
Restaurants: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5, Maialino, Untitled, North End Grill, Marta
Tom Colicchio made a splash with his flagship purveyor-centric Craft restaurant in 2001, and lo this decade-plus later, the ripple effect still feels fresh. Your lucky diner can go schmancy at the original Gramercy Park location, bop around the corner to the still-cheffy but lower-key Craftbar or pack an appetite and go west to the casual Tap Room or haute-American main dining room of his namesake Colicchio & Sons.
Restaurants: Craft, Craftbar, Colicchio & Sons
Hearth and Terroir
Sometimes a person needs to eat their feelings. Sometimes they need only to guzzle them down. Since this thoughtful card spans both Marco Canora's Hearth restaurant and Paul Grieco's offshoot Terroir wine bars with locations scattered all over the island (the duo will split the empire starting January 1), your enviable recipient need not fret—just sink into a glass of Riesling and a bowl of gnocchi and swim to safety.
Restaurants: Hearth, all Terroir locations except the seasonal High Line pop-up
À la carte: These restaurant groups require separate purchases of cards for various locales but offer one-stop shopping websites.
Keith McNally's Restaurants
Since 1997, Keith McNally's Balthazar has effectively operated as Soho's commissary, serving artful French bistro standards from early morning through the witching hours. The beneficiary of your largesse can dive face-first into a seafood plateau there or perhaps get a baller burger fix ($20 for the Minetta; $28 for the dry-aged, onion-topped Black Label) at the legendary Minetta Tavern. Get even beefier with the bistecca per due at McNally's rustic Italian Morandi for $95.
Restaurants: Balthazar, Balthazar Bakery, Schiller's Liquor Bar, Minetta Tavern, Morandi
So you might not be able to buy them a slot at the front of the queue, but once recipients have snagged a perch in Andrew Carmellini's Downtown empire, they can settle in for seasonal Italian specialties (Locanda Verde), a righteous raw bar (The Dutch) or the best Niçoise salad in NYC (Lafayette, and, yes, we've sampled them all). Glass of vino? Sure. It's not like they're paying.
Restaurants: Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, Bar Primi, Little Park
Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group
Your recipients have to be able to find something they'd care to eat or drink among Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich's stellar Italian, Spanish and bar-centric offerings. From four-star pasta, crudo and a vegan menu (Del Posto) to Ibérico ham shaved to order at the bar (Casa Mono), B&B's stable of restaurants is bound to make just about any mouth merry.
Restaurants: Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Casa Mono, Bar Jamon, Becco, Del Posto, Esca, Lupa, Felidia, OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria
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