Thomas Keller’s Per Se is axiomatically the best choice for a New York client dinner because it is, after all, Per Se. On the other hand, it will set your company back $295 per person.
Expense account dollars are tight as the beleaguered U.S. economy soldiers on. So here, in alphabetical order, are a few joints for business meals that range from good spot for everyday sales dinner to “we dare you to expense this.” And while none of these restaurants is necessarily cheap, we like to think of them all as relative values.
Even Per Se.
1. Adour Alain Ducasse: 2 E. 55th St. Information: +1-212-710-2277; http://www.adour-stregis.com.
What: Fancy Southern French.
Why: Because Chef Didier Elena only charges $115 for his stunning tasting menu. Creekstone beef with black truffle sauce is included, as it should be.
Where: Midtown East, at the St. Regis Hotel.
When: You’re entertaining discerning diners who don’t eat meat. An $85 vegetable tasting is stellar. Pear, apple and radish carpaccio should be part of your daily diet. Pair with a bottle of Dom Perignon 1969 ($3,500) for special occasions.
Private Room: Two private spaces seat up to 16 each.
Sound level: Muted.
2. Ai Fiori: 400 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-613-8660; http://www.aifiorinyc.com.
What: Riviera cuisine.
Why: Because Michael White, an Italian chef, just might run the city’s best Southern French restaurant.
Where: The Setai Hotel.
When: You’re craving a quiet and civilized experience in the dark heart of Midtown, near the Empire State Building. Order the squid ink pasta with shellfish; the noodles are impossibly brinier than the sweet mollusks. Prix-fixe menu is $84; the tasting is $120.
Bar: Yes, full menu.
Private Room: Around 12-32 people.
Sound level: Whisper-safe.
3. Beauty & Essex: 146 Essex St. Information: +1-212-614-0146; http://www.beautyandessex.com.
What: International club cuisine
Why: Because sometimes you want to dance after dinner.
Where: Lower East Side
When: Your client demands a place where he can listen to Rihanna pipe through the sound system while eating umami-packed Kobe carpaccio. Beauty & Essex is one of New York’s more tolerable big-box joints.
Bar: Yes, and free bubbly in the ladies room. An excuse to cross-dress if ever there was one.
Private Room: Yes, 20-65.
Sound level: High-ish.
4. Le Bernardin: 155 W. 51st St. Information: +1-212-489-1515; http://www.le-bernardin.com.
Why: Chef Eric Ripert dazzles with dishes such as ethereal fluke marinated in soy sauce and yuzu. Warning: Sommeliers can be hard to hail if you’re a light spender.
Where: Midtown West near Carnegie Hall.
When: Later this summer; the restaurant’s undergoing a much-needed renovation. Will “The Ripper” raise prices on his $115, $140 and $190 menus after reopening?
Private Room: About 2-80 guests.
Sound level: Easy on the conversations.
5. Brooklyn Fare: 200 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn. Information: 1-718-243-0050 or http://www.brooklynfare.com/chefs-table.
What: A 20-25-course tasting menu of French-Japanese small plates. Lots of sashimi.
Why: Because Cesar Ramirez has a sure eye for raw fish. How about sea urchin with truffles? A single bite of fried langoustine with basil is the salad of the sea. One of the toughest tables in New York.
Where: Downtown Brooklyn.
When: Only when you can leave business at the office. Ramirez asks that guests not use cellphones or BlackBerrys.
Bar: Nope, just a long chef’s counter. Bring your own wine, beer or sake for now.
Private Room: Brooklyn Fare is a private room. You can reserve the entire space for around $330 per person, which works out to $6,000 or so.
Sound level: Convivial.
6. Blue Hill at Stone Barns: 630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills. Information: +1-914-366-9600; http://bluehillfarm.com.
What: Haute-barnyard American.
Why: Located in the old Rockefeller estate barns. Enjoy Dan Barber’s $208 farmer’s feast, which may include meat from the farm’s livestock. Shorter $148 and $108 menus are also available. I recommend the veal brains -- the jiggly, savory, Indiana Jones response to panna cotta.
Where: Pocantico Hills, Westchester County.
When: You’re fixing to use the company car service. A beautiful 30-minute ride from Manhattan.
Bar: Yes, full menu.
Private Room: Seats up to 64.
Sound level: Quiet but not hushed.
7. Brushstroke: 30 Hudson St. Information: +1-212-791-3771; http://www.davidbouley.com.
What: Japanese Kaiseki
Why: Because David Bouley’s French and German sensibilities keep the austerity of Kyoto cuisine in check. So expect egg custard with truffle sauce and pork cheeks with green apple puree.
When: You want a discount tasting menu. Eight courses are just $85.
Bar: Yes, and the small plates served at the counter sometimes best the main dining room’s menu. Fermented tofu and stewed Wagyu are the must-have dishes.
Private Room: No, but private parties are accommodated.
Sound level: Respectful.
8. Corton: 239 West Broadway. Information: +1-212-219-2777; http://www.cortonnyc.com.
What: Artistic, avant-garde French.
Why: Two contradictory things have happened since Drew Nieporent opened Corton in 2008. First, the service has fallen off a cliff. Second, Paul Liebrandt’s cuisine has reached four-star territory. Perhaps that’s why he raised his menu prices to $115 and $155 this summer.
When: When you want the city’s best salad. Liebrandt’s creation, a homage to Laguiole’s Michel Bras, contains well over a dozen different herbs and vegetables.
Private Room: No.
Sound level: Lively until people get their main course. Then suddenly silent except for the “aaaahs.”
9. Cafe Boulud: 20 E. 76th St.; +1-212-772-2600; http://www.danielnyc.com.
What: Global French
Why: Because sometimes you don’t want the formality of Daniel. It’s like the French version of Nobu Next Door.
Where: Upper East Side.
When: You have a hankering for internationalism mixed with Gallic sensibility. Thank Chef Gavin Kaysen for creations like duo of lamb, prepared Indian “Rogan Josh” style.
Bar: Yes, right across the hallway.
Private Room: Yes, can accommodate 18-40 people.
Sound level: Easy on the ears.
10. Craft: 43 E. 19th St. Information: +1-212-780-0880; http://www.craftrestaurant.com.
What: Haute-barnyard American.
Why: Considered one of the city’s best American restaurants. Simple, straightforward cuisine. This is the place that started the “hen of the woods” mushroom craze. The quail with 50-year balsamic is life-changing.
Where: Gramercy Park.
When: For informality in your fine dining.
Private Room: A secluded space actually has a separate entrance outside. Seats up to 40 or so.
Sound level: No stress.
11. Daniel: 60 E. 65th St. Information: +1-212-288-0033; http://www.danielnyc.com.
What: Fancy French
Why: Because Daniel Boulud is your go-to Lyonnais chef in New York. That means he can manipulate meats, sausages and pigeons better than others. Black Angus short ribs with seared Wagyu tenderloin is the right call.
Where: Upper East Side
When: You don’t need an eight-hour tasting menu. Get in and out with the $108 three-course prix-fixe.
Bar: Yes; it serves the full tasting menus.
Private Room: Yes, 8-100 guests.
Sound level: What you would expect in a temple of food.
12. Dovetail: 103 W. 77th St. Information: +1-212-362-3800; http://dovetailnyc.com.
What: The most ambitious American restaurant above West 60th Street.
Why: Because Chef John Fraser earned himself a Michelin star. His other restaurant, What Happens When, closed in Nolita after silly community opposition.
Where: The Upper West Side.
When: You’re hanging with a hedge-fund client who also teaches a class at Columbia University. There are more of them than you think. Feast on the tasting menus ($77-$135), or the a la carte selection ($14-$42). Try the Riesling wine pairings this summer.
Private Room: Seats 10-20.
Sound level: Respectful.
13. The Dutch: 131 Sullivan St. Information: +1-212-677-6200; http://thedutchnyc.com.
What: Steakhouse and American Brasserie
Why: Because this is Andrew Carmellini’s return to form. Poached shrimp aren’t chilled into a bland submission, they’re served warm and head on.
When: You want steaks that are as good as Minetta Tavern without the hassle of getting past a doorman. Yes, it can get loud so ask for a seat in the quieter Sullivan Room.
Bar: Yes, but it’s three deep unless you come in the after-hours, a good idea anyway since that’s when the $17 burger is served.
Private Room: Yes, for 14-60 people.
Sound level: Vivacious.
14. Eleven Madison Park: 11 Madison Ave. at East 24th Street. Information: +1-212-889-0905; http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com
What: Fancy European fare with American flourishes.
Why: Chef Daniel Humm’s offerings aren’t necessarily on a par with New York’s very best restaurants, but the Danny Meyer service machine, under the leadership of general manager Will Guidara, edges this staple closer and closer to four-star territory. The soaring Art Deco room is like a Grand Central Terminal for wealthy non-commuters.
When: For a $125 four-course dinner, with multiple amuses, intermezzos, petits fours and tours of the kitchen. Truly one of the city’s great values.
Private Room: For extravagant parties, private balcony rooms overlook Madison Square Park. The spaces can handle 18, 32 or 50 people.
Sound level: Enjoyably low-key.
15. 15 East: 15 E. 15th St. Information: +1-212-647-0015; http://www.15eastrestaurant.com.
What: Sashimi and sushi and sake and shochu.
Why: Because Chef Masato Shimizu serves pristine sushi one piece at a time. He sauces each morsel, so no need to dip in soy sauce. Savor the temperature contrast: warm fish over cool rice. This is called Edo-style sushi. Eat at the bar and nowhere else.
Where: Union Square.
When: If you don’t feel like blowing $1,000-plus at Masa or Kuruma Zushi.
Private Room: No.
Sound level: Buzzy.
16. Gotham Bar & Grill: 12 E. 12th St. Information: +1-212-620-4020 http://www.gothambarandgrill.com.
What: New American
Why: Because Alfred Portale, having logged almost 30 years at this downtown icon, still has gustatory game. Label Rouge chicken, crisped and with green-olive sauce is worth the price of the $110 tasting menu.
Where: Right across from Strip House in Greenwich Village.
When: Whenever you want to try a clean soubise or a vadouvan curry sauce. Don’t worry, things aren’t as vertical or as architectural as they used to be in the 1980s.
Bar: Yes, and it serves the full menu.
Private Room: No, but can accommodate large private parties.
Sound level: Moderate.
17. Kin Shop: 469 Sixth Ave. Information: +1-212-675-4295; http://www.kinshopnyc.com.
What: The city’s best Thai restaurant.
Why: Because Chef Harold Dieterle’s odd pairing of oysters with pork-belly salad is so intuitively delicious the diner will wonder whether he sources his pigs from Peconic Bay.
Where: Greenwich Village.
When: Your client wants food so spicy her scalp will sweat. The perspirant business traveler can seek relief from the $60 tasting menu’s heat with a $25 beer pairing.
Bar: Yes, a chef’s counter too.
Private Room: No; buyouts start at $6,000-$10,000 before tax & service charge.
Sound level: Gets noisy.
18. Ma Peche: 15 W. 56th St. Information: +1-212-757-5878; http://www.momofuku.com.
What: French-Vietnamese Steakhouse
Why: Because Chef Tien Ho serves one of the city’s finest steaks. He takes a shoulder cut, sous-vides it for hours, then sears it. Tastes like beef that’s been marinated in beef. Not for beginners. Neither is the $450 steak tasting menu (for 4-8 people).
When: You’re stuck in Midtown.
Bar: Yes, upstairs and they serve a “short” bourbon and coke when you don’t have time for a “long” lunch.
Private Room: Multiple options from 2 to 100 guests.
Sound level: Chattering class.
19. Marea: 240 Central Park South. Information: +1-212-582-5100; http://marea-nyc.com.
What: Coastal Italian fare.
Why: Because Michael White is the city’s best purveyor of pasta. And because there are no grander locations than the old San Domenico space on Central Park South.
When: When your client needs to stay in Midtown. Order the orecchiette with ruby-red shrimp and tomato sauce. It sounds light, but there’s enough butter to kill a cow. Some argue that White serves the city’s best Dover Sole. Order a la carte, or go prix-fixe, starting at $91.
Bar: Yes, it’s where you can grab a last-minute dinner as a walk-in. Full menu.
Private Room: Yes, holds up to 16-26 guests.
Sound level: Low-moderate.
20. Momofuku Ko: 163 First Ave., near East 10th Street. No Phone; http://reservations.momofuku.com.
What: Modern American, with hints of Korean and Japanese.
Why: One of New York’s toughest tables. Reservations only taken online, one week in advance, at 10 a.m. Counter-only seating. Set dinner menu is $125; a longer $175 service is available at lunch. Expect really good pork rinds and even better foie gras.
Where: East Village.
When: Whenever you can get in. That in itself will impress a client. Just keep it to yourself that reservations are quite easy to come by if you log onto the site in the afternoon; everyone crowds each other out in the morning.
Bar: The restaurant is a bar.
Private Room: If you count the bathroom.
Sound level: Moderate.
21. Per Se: Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle. Information: +1-212-823-9335; http://www.perseny.com.
What: French-influenced modern American.
Why: Because Thomas Keller’s three-star Michelin restaurant approaches perfection. The tables are so far apart you won’t be able to hear any other conversation but yours. Waiters are everywhere. The flavors are powerful. Cauliflower panna cotta with oyster gelee and caviar defines creaminess and brininess.
Where: Time Warner Center.
When: Whenever you feel like spending $295 for nine courses. Service included. Tables for four are easier to swing two-tops. That favors big spenders willing to pick up the tab.
Bar: Yes. A la carte dishes served in tasting-menu portions at entree prices ($28-$125). Your date will be impressed when you sit down on a couch overlooking Central Park South.
Private Room: The East Room seats 10. The West Room seats up to 60.
Sound level: What sound?
22. Torrisi Italian Specialties: 250 Mulberry St. Information: +1-212-965-0955; http://www.piginahat.com
What: High-end Italian-American.
Why: Because Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone are trained French chefs bringing a fine-dining approach to Little Italy. The nouveau red-sauce fare includes a life-changing pork chop with vinegar made from B&G peppers. Torrisi’s service is more refined than when it first opened up last year.
Where: Mulberry and Prince.
When: You have time to wait in line for a table. No reservations. Four courses will set you back $50 bucks.
Bar: Not really.
Private Room: No. Buyouts start at $6,000-$8,000 before tax and a 23 percent administrative fee.
Sound level: Convivial.
(Ryan Sutton reviews restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This report is the fifth of the 2011 series of Bloomberg Dine & Deal. The articles survey top cities and offer informed tips on good restaurants for business and pleasure. For more Dine & Deal reviews, click here.)