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Ask Casey: Date Night for Parents-to-Be

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My wife and I are looking for a couple of somewhat upscale restaurants for lunch and dinner as we have tickets for a matinee performance of “The Lion King” on a Saturday. However, she’s pregnant so we can’t get too crazy with the fare—no unpasteurized cheeses, no rare fish or steak, etc. Any ideas?

My suggestion is to get out of the theatre district. It’s a tough place, as I’ve mentioned, so your options open up exponentially if you’re willing to take a 5-10 minute cab ride. (Also, I’m sure your pregnant wife would agree that walking too much around Times Square and the vicinity is not the preferred option.) Because there’s a common thread of “approved” items throughout their menus, I’m trending Italian or new American in these restaurants.

It’s on my mind this week, but Gramercy Tavern (42 E. 20th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. South) is absolutely perfect for this—then again, it’s also Michelle Obama’s choice, so it’s a tough table to secure. However, the front Tavern Room is walk-in only, a la carte, and open noon-midnight, so you might get lucky by stopping by for an early lunch or dinner. I’ve gone on at length about the restaurant so I won’t belabor the point. However, I will make one more plug for pastry chef Nancy Olson’s desserts, like a chocolate pudding with salted caramel and brioche croutons…. Now that sounds like something I could swim in, like Scrooge McDuck and his piles of money.

Telepan (72 W. 69th Street off Columbus Ave.) serves a $28 prix fixe brunch on weekends that runs the gamut—smoked brook trout for the adventurous eater, pear French toast for the sweet tooth, or a ginormous burger with a side of thick onion rings. Dinner can either be a la carte or you have the option of multi-course tastings, depending on how the appetites are faring. The lobster bolognese is out. standing. I’m sure you love your wife, but you may not be able to spare a bite for her.

Barbuto (775 Washington St. at W. 12th St.) is a bit more casual than the rest but has such a great atmosphere—huge windows, open kitchen with the roaring oven—that it makes every meal there seem like a treat. Jonathan Waxman has made his reputation on his roast chicken, and I really can’t argue with the voice of the masses there. Pretty much anything involving the open oven is fantastic, as are the ever-changing combinations of bruschetta. Note that Barbuto is dinner-only on Saturdays.

Finally, if you want to sneak in some verboten raw fish and still leave your wife happy—and not go too far out of the way—Esca (402 W. 43nd St. at 9th Ave.) will take care of you. Helmed by Dave Pasternack, one of the foremost seafood experts in the city, the restaurant has an unparalleled selection of crudo for lunch and dinner (if you’ve never had it, go for the tasting of six bites). The rest of the Southern Italian menu is largely fish-centric, as you would expect, but won’t disappoint with vegetables or other carnivorous options if pesce is completely out of the question. We’ve had everything from spaghetti with crabmeat and uni to grilled anchovies to roasted rabbit here, and all have been off the charts.

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