Best Birthday Tasting Menus in NYC
It's your birthday! That's cause for celebration—and no matter your age, you can forgo the shots and have yourself a classy party à deux.
But we're not talking a plain old dinner out, we're talking going out with a bang. As in a fancy tasting menu for a milestone year (or Valentine's Day, if you're feeling flush and like to plan).
We're thinking an indulgent 100-layer lasagna at a flashy Italian restaurant, or maybe luscious winter vegetables (and pretty amazing bread) at this buzzy chef's counter. But at any of our favorite tasting menu spots, you're bound for one memorable meal.
For those who love to eat their vegetables: Semilla, Williamsburg
Before we get into the fabulous vegetable-embracing cooking coming out of José Ramírez-Ruíz and Pamela Yung's teensy kitchen, let's talk about that bread. Crackly on the outside and holey and almost custardy inside, it lives up to the hype. Yung brings it out herself, and it's one of the many intimate touches at this 18-seat U-shaped counter where you feel close to the action but still in your own little bubble despite the close quarters. Ramírez-Ruíz and Yung focus closely on produce of the moment, whether it's brioche-wrapped daikon or slips of beet filled with funky bone marrow. You don't see the menu beforehand, which makes the adventures in vegetables all the more fun. $75 a person
For the high-rolling carb fiend: Del Posto, Meatpacking District
Since Del Posto's opening in 2005, Mark Ladner, the pasta virtuoso and longtime member of the Bastianich-Batali restaurant family has been meticulously crafting indulgent carb-loaded treats, like jalapeño-kissed spaghetti with Dungeness crab and 100-layer lasagnas. For the past decade, the lush, dimly lit restaurant is still a temple to and fine dining interpretation of rustic Italian cooking, the kind of place where you can slink into that dramatic little dress and throw on the heels. Linger over dessert from the brilliant Brooks Headley, the only pastry chef who can convince you that Pecorino Romano belongs in cake (and goes well with roasted pears). $126 a person
For the sushi savant: Shuko, Union Square
Already scored Sushi Nakazawa? The omakase counter to conquer next is Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim's buzzy sushi spot. The former Neta chefs are serious about their ingredients—uni flown in from Hokkaido, caviar from Russia, vegetables for tempura from just up the street at the Union Square Greenmarket—and they're all employed with delicacy, expertise and a bit of flamboyance (i.e., mound of caviar on toro). Unlike Neta, here the counter is roomy and lavish (20 people!), so get comfortable and try to refrain from Instagramming each course (but we understand, since it's your party and you can 'gram if you want to). $135 a person
For the flashy Francophile: Daniel, Upper East Side
Boulud is for lovers (and birthdays). Dinner at this UES institution, Daniel Boulud's flagship, is one of the best reasons to get fancy: Everything is elegant and vaguely French, from poularde nestled with foie gras and tatsoi to grilled yellowfin tuna with souffléed sweet potatoes. Let the attentive staff in on why you're celebrating and prepare to be pampered (read: Champagne!), as you should be on your big day. $135 a person; additional $75 or $135 a person for wine pairings
Celeriac and ice cream dessert at Semilla | Photos: Dave Katz/Tasting Table
For the beer-drinking reveler: Luksus, Greenpoint
Peek behind the white sliding doors at the back of beer mecca Tørst, and you'll find chef Daniel Burns composing fantastic, thoughtful, Scandinavian-leaning dishes—all from a closet-size kitchen and with fantastic brews to drink with your tony dinner. There are only 26 seats, but reservations are relatively easy (online), and the vibe is loose and low key, as if you're at Burns's home. The former Momofuku R&D chef brings an eye for detail and enthusiasm for experimentation, the results of which are beautiful dishes, like sweet rock shrimp on rye crisps and wonderful, crusty bread made in-house. $95 a person; additional $45 a person for beer pairings
For Greenmarket goers: Almanac, West Village
Now we all know seasonal cooking, but micro seasonal? Cue Galen Zamarra, who has turned his beloved Mas (la grillade) into this vegetable-forward spot. For the birthday kid celebrating the arrival of blood oranges or counting down the days until spring onions return, this cozy, wood-paneled restaurant highlights the peak of each micro season—and for every appetite, too from a short three course-menu to lengthier, eight-course feasts. $75 to $145 a person
For the frugal foodie: Contra, Lower East Side
The menu changes every couple of weeks at Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske's innovative restaurant, but the price is always the same—a jaw-dropping $55 a person. It's a low investment for one of the more whimsical tasting menus in town and perfect for an intimate but laid-back dinner before hitting a neighborhood bar for your big party. Tower gets all of the ingredients himself and weaves them deftly into dishes, like monkfish roasted with celeriac or simple chicken thigh topped with varieties of treviso and fresh kumquats. The young von Hauske is in charge of desserts, and they dazzle, like caramel popcorn mousse with mandarin granita and a drizzle of olive oil. $55 per person
For the gochujang obsessed: Jungsik, Tribeca
Jungsik Kim had some big shoes to fill (his restaurant is housed in the old Chanterelle space), and this ambitious modern Korean restaurant does the job. Yes, there is Korean fried chicken and bibimbap on the menu, but it's all taken on with attention to detail and creativity untethered to tradition. See: bibimbap, a deconstructed take topped not with chile paste but arugula sorbet. The space is simple yet formal, and a steak won't have your clothes reeking like Korean barbecue, a pretty good birthday gift indeed. $160 a person; additional $110 a person for wine pairings
For an up-close-and-personal meal with a chef: Aldea, Flatiron
While everyone eagerly waits for Lupolo to open, we'll be at George Mendes's gem, thank you very much. Sometimes the hottest opening isn't the smoothest experience—the crazy reservation system, new service hiccups—and Mendes's six-year-old, cleanly designed, unfussy restaurant knows just what it's doing. Mendes bridges his Portuguese background with modernist cooking, and the chef's counter is one of the coziest, most intimate in town. Witness each meticulous plating before it's placed right in front of you. $135 a person; additional $65 a person for wine pairings
For The Third Plate-obsessed: Blue Hill New York, West Village
If you can't make the trip up to the gorgeous Stone Barns upstate, there's still plenty of beauty at Dan Barber's Manhattan outpost. The menu changes not just daily but sometimes even during service, ensuring peak produce with playful execution. Plus, you're getting the same organic vegetables and pasture-raised hogs that Stone Barns is known for. The spare, brick-walled dining room glows in the evening and sure can be romantic for you and your special-occasion someone. $85 to $95 a person
For the inner forager: Atera, Tribeca
Yes, Atera opened nearly three years ago. But, we're crushing on Matt Lightner's theatrical and terrific take on vegetables and TLC for unusual meat cuts like it just opened. Before edible flowers or reserving the whey got big, Lightner was doing it here at his ultra-modern counter, cooking, plating and unveiling his creations right before you. It's a hushed, intimate experience and, hey, probably not too hard to reserve at this point since it's a bit off the radar. Time for a repeat visit. $225 a person; additional $165 a person for wine pairing
For the Roberta's regular: Blanca
Graduate from one of the best pizza parties in the city to Carlo Mirarchi's delightful, albeit very difficult to reserve, chef's table. Call, refresh your web page, do whatever you can because this is still very much a hot ticket. The restaurant itself is more of a glorified kitchen counter, but prime seats (only 12!) are right in front of the kitchen, the perfect environment for the serious eater. Skip lunch and get ready for an onslaught of more than 20 dishes showcasing Mirarchi's innovative cooking, from house-made pasta in shapes he dreams up to meats he ages himself and pairs with a multitude of gelées. $195 a person
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