Save me from another boring Italian meal
June 10, 2009 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Unusual places in Manhattan to take a group of scientists for dinner? Longer version inside.

I've organized a scientific conference at the New York Academy of Sciences that is happening very soon, and one of my responsibilities is taking a group of 10 youngish, high-powered scientists from all over the country out to dinner and maybe drinks afterwards.

The area around the WTC is a bit of a wasteland, restaurant wise, and I swear I'll kill myself if I have to sit through another Italian Science Meal (seemingly the default safety choice of every single academic organization). Last year I took everyone to Sylvia's (the meeting was in Harlem that year) , which was a hit, and I'd like again to take people somewhere unique to New York. We can afford ~$150-200 a head, so mid-priced and down is best.

It would be nice if it isn't ear-splittingly loud, as one of the points of the dinner is networking/talking science, and they have to take reservations.

Given those parameters, what suggestions can you make? Thanks!
posted by overhauser to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
Unusual, huh? I don't know if it qualifies as "unusual," but I feel like most people have not experienced omakase sushi, where you let the chef choose whatever he wishes to prepare. The "surprise" factor might please your scientists. There are any number of excellent places you can go. Since it sounds like you have a rather sizable budget ($150/person should get you pretty far even in Manhattan, unless you all drink like fish), you can go someplace quite nice. I've had excellent food at Sushi Yasuda, on E. 43rd.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:46 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: I suspect a lot of us drink like fish. I certainly do at times...
posted by overhauser at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Any vegans, vegetarians, or squeamish among your group? It's hard to recommend somewhere more "unusual" where they take the food seriously without knowing how adventurous the diners are.

I wouldn't necessarily assume that all ten people are into sushi or would be appreciative of the omakase experience, which is best done sitting at the counter with a small group. Also, Sushi Yasuda is in Midtown East, pretty far from the NYAS.

The NYAS' location leads me to believe you'd want to venture into, say, Tribeca, maybe Soho, to get away from the "wasteland" area. What about Tailor (in Soho)? It's hip, sophisticated, and there is a large communal table set up in the center of the dining room which leads me to believe they could accomodate a group of 10. The menu has quite a bit of "molecular gastronomy" in there, which I am guessing your group might find interesting, and their cocktail menu has a number of drinks that use similar techniques (infusions, fat washing, "solid" cocktails, etc.). I think the food is really underrated.

If you want a more clubhouse type atmosphere for post-dinner drinks, I would reserve some space at Brandy Library. I find the atmosphere relaxing and the couches and chairs comfy. It also doesn't get that crowded in my experience as they do not let people in after they've reached capacity. I would check on to their large party policy, though, as it depends on the day of week.
posted by kathryn at 9:04 PM on June 10, 2009

There was a Metafilter meetup a couple years ago at Cafe Katja. The vibe is nice: exposed brick and warm lighting, bright enough to see, quiet enough to talk, hip but not precious, and chill but not boring. The food was tasty- upscale Euro comfort food- with lots of interesting things we were excited to try, and there was a strange and extensive liquer menu with things like spruce and lavender liquers on offer. I think smart scientists would enjoy exploring the menu; I know I did. It was a great spot- I'd totally recommend it. It's not a huge place so you might ned to see about reservations.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:41 PM on June 10, 2009

Believe it or not, there is a restaurant called Mars 2112 that simulates a Martian dining experience. It's very Total Recall.
posted by hermitosis at 9:51 PM on June 10, 2009

* Savoy is my hands-down favorite for out-of-town guests. Lovely, warm setting; incredibly tasty and seasonal food. They have a second-floor room available, depending on the night.

* Takahachi has very good sushi/sashimi. No separate room but you can ask for a table at the back. (The dragon roll is great!)
posted by dogrose at 10:13 PM on June 10, 2009

Unless the OP provides information about dietary restrictions or aversions, I'm just gonna keep spitballing. (This information would be helpful, of course.) I will say that I've had good omakase experiences at the table, and even though I keep kosher. But you are certainly right, kathryn, that Sushi Yasuda is not convenient to the NYAS - I didn't think to look up its location first.

One potentially interesting place (that certainly has its detractors, though I like it) is Sushi Samba. The fusion of Brazillian and Japanese cuisines might be compelling, and the drinks are pretty cool, too. And their 7th Ave. location is just a quick subway ride from the NYAS.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:17 PM on June 10, 2009

posted by hsawtelle at 10:44 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mars 2112 is a bit Vegas-y, from what I've heard. While I can also respect that the style of food at wd-50 may appeal in the whiz-bang science sense, I personally cannot in good faith actually support that recommendation. (I HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE that kind of nouveau food crap.)

"21" may be a cliche, but if your guests are from out of town, that may be okay. It'd be a bit of a haul to go from the financial district up to 52nd, but not that bad. Delmonico's is another New York classic.

Peter Luger's Steakhouse in Brooklyn is another option -- it's Brooklyn, yeah, but it's not that far.

Delta Grill may not be bad either -- it's technically Cajun, but with a New York twist. They're up at about 47th and 9th, so that'd be another haul, but that'd be worth it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 PM on June 10, 2009

I realize this is a rather silly reason to suggest Churrascaria Plataforma, but my dad is an engineer who often eats with many other engineers and they just went crazy for it. Gone back several times. Also, it has a pre set price so you know what you are getting into, of course minus alcohol. It's cool because they walk around with big pieces of meat all nice and cut you off a price. All the meat you can eat! Obviously not ideal for vegetarians, but there is a pretty cool salad/other stuff bar that is also all you can eat.

I would also second Sushi Samba, one of my favorite places in NYC. However, you can rack up quite the bill very quickly, even though the menu seems pretty reasonable.
posted by whoaali at 11:07 PM on June 10, 2009

I sort of love Rosa Mexicano for just this sort of thing. It's good (ZOMG FRESH GUACAMOLE AND MARGARITAS), but somewhat overpriced, so it's nice when someone else (conference budget!) is paying. They're also good at accommodating large groups.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:43 AM on June 11, 2009

Peter Luger's is good, went there for the first time after hearing about it for years, and it definitely didn't disappoint. Make sure to get the bacon appetizer (one strip per person should suffice), and also bring cash, they don't take cards of any sort.

Though if you want to stay in manhattan, a churrascaria isn't a bad choice for a group. SO MUCH MEAT! Though the salad bars usually have lots of other options hot and cold and usually some sushi, too, so even non meat-a-holics can find stuff to eat there.
posted by Grither at 5:48 AM on June 11, 2009

In the Austrian direction, what about Blaue Gans? It's closer and I think bigger than Cafe Katje. Cafe Katje is pretty tiny.
posted by yarrow at 7:18 AM on June 11, 2009

Herding scientists is basically my job!

...I want to thank you for saying this. It has put the most delightful image in my head which is cheering me up immensely. (Think guys in lab coats being rounded up and chased into a barn by border collies.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on June 11, 2009

Believe it or not, there is a restaurant called Mars 2112 that simulates a Martian dining experience. It's very Total Recall.

Seems kind of cheesy and not high end enough for the requester's price range.

* Takahachi has very good sushi/sashimi. No separate room but you can ask for a table at the back. (The dragon roll is great!)

Actually, they are fairly close to a great, hidden, basement sushi lounge called Sushi Azabu but a party of 10 would have to split up between two of the booths. It's pretty private and also very quiet. Takahachi is a bit casual whereas Sushi Azabu is a bit more upscale.

Mars 2112 is a bit Vegas-y, from what I've heard. While I can also respect that the style of food at wd-50 may appeal in the whiz-bang science sense, I personally cannot in good faith actually support that recommendation. (I HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE that kind of nouveau food crap.)

...which is why I recommended Tailor, since the menu is a tiny bit "safer" and everything on the menu at Tailor actually tastes good. WD-50 is sometimes leans towards doing things for the sake of doing them.

Greg Nog's list is pretty good. Blue Smoke is extremely accommodating to large groups and the service is fantastic. Blue Hill probably will be difficult to book since the Obamas just dined there. Dovetail and Eighty One are quite a hike from NYAS since they are on the Upper West Side in the 70s/80s. Corton seems a little bit out of their price range (although out of all of the molecular gastronomy places in NYC they seem to be pulling it off the best) and since it's so new/hot, I am not you'll be able to get in, especially with a party of 10. I would also say there is a very slim chance of getting into Babbo as they don't do groups that large. I think they have a single table that seats 6 at the most. It's also insanely popular (as in "books up a month in advance" popular).
posted by kathryn at 9:24 AM on June 11, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm taking Kathryn's suggestion this time, but I have to do this fairly often, so I'll probably take advantage of a lot of these suggestions.

If anyone is interested, I'll post afterward and give it a rating.
posted by overhauser at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2009

Please do!
posted by ocherdraco at 1:27 PM on June 11, 2009

I'm late to the party, but if you're looking for unusual, an idea for next time would be Ninja. The food is pretty decent and your meal is served by honest to goodness ninjas. Some of the food is interactive, too. For example, I got some appetizer that was housed on a plate that sat atop an orange. The orange had a sword through it. The ninja instructed me to pull out the sword, and that allowed the dry ice that was inside to seep out through the hole in the orange, giving it a nice mistly cloud effect.

Silly of course, but it's unusual and might be up your all's alley.
posted by soonertbone at 9:01 PM on June 16, 2009

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