Dear Hannah: A Restaurant Advice Column
I haven't celebrated my birthday by going out somewhere since before the pandemic. How do I have a fun birthday dinner for 10-15 people without it costing me all the money I've made in my life and at least one organ?
The Birthday Girl
Hi Birthday Girl,
Roughly once a month I find myself sitting in a busy restaurant thinking, “This would be a good place for a birthday. I should remember this for later.” Then I get distracted by something like a pile of pork ribs or a man who looks like John Oliver but isn’t John Oliver (surprisingly, there are many) and forget what I was supposed to remember.
Now, after retracing my steps and attempting to clear my mind of John Oliver’s charming anchovy-esque face, I think I’ve scrounged up a couple of great birthday picks for you. Whether you want something active like karaoke or possibly just a Russian banquet dinner with a complimentary bottle of vodka, these places are perfect for celebrating a birthday–without it costing more than $100 per person.
I hope the 10-15 people at your party shower you with affection for several hours. I also hope they convince you to do shots like you’re 19 and haven’t been disappointed by Brooklyn men with beards yet. Then I hope they tell you you’re pretty and pay for your car home at the end of the night. Happy Birthday!
THE BIRTHDAY SPOTS
Tatiana Restaurant & Nightclub
This South Brooklyn Russian party spot is one of those New York places you either have never heard of or love so much you might get a tattoo of the address on your knuckle. You don’t come just for dinner, you come for the cabaret show featuring a lot of velvet and 1940’s “Where the hell am I?” energy—right on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach. If you come on a weekend night, there will inevitably be a show of dancers, singers, trapeze artists, and any other niche performer feeling confident that night. You can order à la carte, but Tatiana’s also serves a full Russian banquet dinner for $80 per person that comes with things like plates of lox and herring, pelmeni, and kabobs, as well as a complimentary bottle of vodka and unlimited sodas. Book a prix-fixe meal any night of the week, although it costs $105 per person on Saturdays.
You won’t be the first or last New Yorker to host a birthday dinner at Wu’s Wonton King, a legendary BYOB Cantonese restaurant on East Broadway where king crabs spin on lazy susans. That’s fine—there’s a reason lots of people have birthdays here. Call two weeks in advance and book the biggest round table they have (which fits 14 people). I always order the jumbo bowls of wonton soup, garlic-slick pea shoots, and salt and pepper prawns, but if you want to go big for your birthday, request the whole suckling pig when you call and make the initial reservation. Few things say “Happy Birthday” quite like a crispy-skinned, juicy-the-middle pig on your table. You can also splurge for the aforementioned (very good) crab, but it’ll probably cost $600 on its own.
Dinner and karaoke consistently makes for a good birthday combo, but things can get pricey fast. So if you want to sing the alto part in ABBA’s “Chiquitita,” reserve a private karaoke room at Ms. Kim’s in Flatiron. Each space costs $120 per hour and fits up to 10 people. The difference between this karaoke spot and others is that the food here is much better than it needs to be. Eat some karaage and tender garlic soy chicken wings between sips of the tangy “Pear Planet” cocktail with rosemary syrup and lemon. Ms. Kim’s is fairly new, so most other people probably haven’t figured out how wonderful it is yet.
Forlini’s below Canal Street represents the hilarious intersection of people who have lived in the city for 60+ years, New York State Supreme Court justices, and skateboarders slash models (and not the other way around). It has the look of an underground supper club, with framed portraits on the wooden walls and big portions of veal parm and clams casino on the tables. I’d suggest opting for the $70-per-person set dinner (a price that already includes tax and a 15% base tip) if you have a group of 12 or more. Otherwise, you can order family-style platters of red-sauce pasta and plenty of free bread refills, and you should be good to go.
A meal at this Indian-Nepali restaurant in Jackson Heights can happen in one of two ways. You can sit on the first floor of a bright room on 74th Street, next to a buffet line and lots of delivery people shuffling in and out. Or you can walk down a flight of stairs, where there’s a full bar, a TV blaring music videos, and a slot machine with tape over the place where you’re supposed to insert cash. In short, Delhi Heights’ basement runs like a clubhouse. Get a Taj Mahal tallboy and fill your table with beef and chive momos, bhel puri, and samosa chaat.
A Private Hot Tub Boat Tour Of The Hudson
Should you abandon these excellent dinner ideas in favor of booking a hot tub boat tour of the New York Harbor? Did you even know the phrases “hot tub” and “boat tour” could be roommates in the same sentence? I can’t answer these questions for you, unfortunately. Just be aware that this choice will cost just slightly more than $100 per person and make your friends wonder whether you’re going through a midlife crisis in a chic way maybe(!?). A major perk of the hot tub boat party: You can bring your own alcohol.