You may tell each other that every night is a special occasion when you’re together. While that’s sweet, sort of, and probably partly true, the fact of the matter is that some date nights are more special than others. Maybe one of you got a promotion, or you met on this very day some number of years ago, or you finally agreed to a firmness level for your new mattress. Whatever the reason, you want to celebrate. Whether you’re looking for a white tablecloth spot where you’ll drink out of wine glasses that cost more than your collection of ornate throw pillows, or a slightly more casual restaurant with food you’ll dream about until you have kids who keep you from sleeping anymore, you’ll find a great option in this guide.
We’re romantics, so we’re not going to analyze the statistical likelihood of find “the one.” If you did, and you both decided to rock some new finger jewelry, then you should celebrate by going somewhere just as statistically unusual, like Shabushabu Macoron - the only shabushabu omakase restaurant in the world. Reserve two of the eight seats at this LES spot, and enjoy a multi-course meal involving high-quality beef and pork cooked right in front of you, as well as plenty of other delicious things, like a scallop-filled omelette and a spoonful of yuba and uni. Dinner here is $128 per person, but you can’t put a price on your “one and only” (and also, it’s a unique and fun experience that’s definitely worth the price).
You passed an exam and now have a new suffix after your name, so you want to have dinner someplace that feels as classy as your new title makes you. The kind of restaurant where servers refer to booze as libations, and they ask you to be more specific when you say you’d like truffles and caviar. You want Daniel, a classic, white-tablecloth French restaurant on the Upper East Side. You didn’t need the new title and a seven-course tasting menu to make you feel special, but they don’t hurt, either.
Despite many reminders, you didn’t take advantage of that limited pre-sale of Hamilton tickets, and so you spent last Saturday seeing the new Transformers movie instead. You can make up for it by getting a table at 4 Charles Prime Rib. This West Village spot serves some of the best red meat in the city, and it’s a tiny space, so it’s regularly one of the hardest places to get into. If you succeed, you’ll get to share a burger as an appetizer, then watch as one server in white gloves douses your cut of choice with jus, and another brings you the best martinis you’ve ever had.
You got engaged! To celebrate something that only happens two or three times in life, you should have an equally special dinner. And it doesn’t get much more special than Blanca. This 19-course tasting menu at a chef’s counter hidden behind Roberta’s is an experience you’ll remember for at least as long as you wear that ring. Each dish is small, and some are incredibly simple (like a single, super-thin slice of pancetta), but all of them are mind-blowing.
Your significant other is about to have a birthday ending with the number “0.” Navigating this one has been an emotional minefield, and you don’t want to commit to a 15-course tasting menu where the staff brings out multiple candle-topped desserts. Instead, show how much you care by getting a table at Lucali. Arrive at 4pm to put your name in, send a car when your table is almost ready (a while later), and then toast the new decade with great wine - it’s BYOB - and some of the best pizza on the planet.
When you think about fine dining, you might think about great sushi, or pasta covered in truffles, or some butter-doused lobster. But you probably don’t think about chicken. Toriko will change that. This West Village yakitori spot serves omakase menus focused on various grilled chicken skewers, like salty chicken neck, wasabi-topped tenderloin, and juicy chicken hearts. Sit at the chef’s counter and you’ll get dinner and a show, as you watch the chef grill and season your skewers right in front of you.
Lilia is somewhat of a unicorn in New York (and definitely in Williamsburg) in that it works equally well for 25-year-olds celebrating their just-booked trip to Tuscany and people whose last trip to Tuscany together was in the ’90s. No matter the occasion or who you’re with, you’ll eat some of the best Italian food in the city.
When you want something memorable but not ultra-fancy - and you wouldn’t mind singing along to some music while you eat - go to Tokyo Record Bar. The seven-course tasting menu (mostly Japanese-inspired snacks) is $50 per person, and while the food is enjoyable and affordable, what makes this place really special is the fact that the soundtrack is chosen by you and everyone else in the tiny dining room. Try to remember the song you heard back on your first date and request that, or just choose something by Beyonce.
Even though you roll your eyes at all the tourists who make driving and/or walking in Dumbo impossible, you have to admit that the views of Manhattan are very nice, and you wouldn’t mind a date night with that particular backdrop. Instead of going to one of the club-restaurants full of people who really wish they could just get into Dumbo House, try Celestine. This Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spot feels like a casual neighborhood restaurant - with affordable natural wines, logs for the wood-fired oven stacked in the middle of the dining room, and old-school R&B on the speakers - but the floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor seating right on the waterfront provide some of the most impressive views in Brooklyn.
You’ve asked her what she wants for dinner enough times to know that she really likes pasta. Now that you’re choosing a place to celebrate the end of her funemployment, you want a place with really, really good pasta. It doesn’t get much better than L’Artusi. Sit at the bar, get a bottle of something red and Italian off the excellent wine list, and share a few of the best pastas in existence, like orecchiette with lamb sausage and garganelli with intensely rich mushroom ragu.
It was tough, but you made the long distance thing work. Now you’re finally both in New York, and you want to celebrate by going somewhere that feels like it couldn’t exist anywhere else. Check out Frenchette, which is a modern take on classic French bistros like the Odeon and Balthazar. There’s a huge list of natural wines and a menu with riffs on classic French dishes (you’ll find everything from duck frites to blowfish tails, and one of the best lobster dishes we’ve ever had). The dining room is packed every night, so make sure to reserve well in advance.
It’s your six-month anniversary, and you do want to celebrate, but you also don’t want to set the bar at a once-in-a-lifetime high quite this early. Sushi Katsuei serves excellent sushi, but a meal at this West Village spot also won’t cost you as much as the down payment on a family-friendly SUV. For $60, you get about nine pieces of really good fish plus a handroll, and in terms of quality and variety, it’s probably the best sushi option in the city for the price.
When you’re ready to go somewhere a few levels up, consider Shuko. The price point here is high, but Shuko is the top-tier sushi restaurant that also feels like a real celebration from the minute you sit down. This Union Square omakase spot is mostly just a big bar around a bunch of sushi chefs, who all seem like they’re having almost as much fun as the people sitting in front of them. There are two menus, and we’d advise you go for the straight sushi and sashimi option (the other is more expensive, with cooked dishes that aren’t as revelatory as the raw fish). As the night goes on and you try more and more from the excellent sake list, this place just feels like more and more of a party.
From the dim lighting to the small tables bunched closely together to the ice cold martinis, everything about this small French spot in Soho is sexy. Which is probably why everyone here seems to be on a date. But while some restaurants are all about atmosphere and don’t put much thought into the food, the menu here - which is handwritten, and changes daily - makes Mimi special occasion-worthy on its own. Dinner will be expensive, but not outrageously so (consider the $65 chef’s tasting menu, with four courses and a dessert).
Having a special date night as a vegetarian doesn’t need to mean justifying your dietary restrictions to four different servers. At abcV, it means eating excellent and filling plates of vegetables, grains, and noodles in a bright, high-ceilinged space, all while drinking a cocktail with lemongrass-infused tequila or mezcal and burnt coconut.
The suspender-wearing bartenders at The Nomad Bar make some phenomenal cocktails that’ll quickly change your tune from “that raise was long overdue” to “another round of the ones with cachaca and jalapeno-infused tequila.” The dark space is packed almost every night, and it’s a fun place to go if you want a little bit of a scene. When you’re ready to eat something, get a table on the second floor and order the bacon-wrapped hot dog with black truffle or the chicken pot pie with foie gras.