A dinner rolls around - maybe it's a last minute group dinner, maybe it's near Columbus Circle, maybe someone is bringing a small child or a difficult eater. Someone's going to recommend The Smith. And you're going to say, "Well... isn't there something else?"
We don't have anything against The Smith, per se, other than its ubiquity - there are four locations in Manhattan, each one bigger than the last, and those OpenTable reservations are always there for the taking, which means someone's inevitably going to recommend it. Like Westville, it's another one of those places that, when suggested in our Text Rex service, almost always results in a reply of, "Yeah, I'm looking for something like The Smith, but not actually The Smith."
In those cases, here's where to go.
You tried to get into Upland, and failed immediately. It's OK - remember, success in life is all about perseverance. You'll get that 8pm for 4 people someday. Anyway, naturally someone has probably pointed out that there's now an outpost of The Smith in Nomad (of course there is), and you could all just go there. But before you wind up eating your sorrows away in the form of a skillet of mac and cheese (it could be worse), consider trying Covina. It's essentially Upland-lite: nice pizzas and pastas and salads and vegetables and roast chicken and so on, in a very pleasant space.
There's a group dinner, it's less than a week away, and members of the party have varying needs. One person's gluten-free, while another is carb-loading for an upcoming marathon, and there's a general sentiment about keeping costs reasonable while still getting drunk. "Should we just get a big table at The Smith in the East Village? That'll probably be easy since Alison has to meet Sean in Soho later?" Well, Alison, what if you just have dinner at Galli in Soho? Sean will be so close by. The food here ranges from a totally solid kale salad to chicken parm with spaghetti, and a whole lot in between. And it's always lively, without being out of control expensive either.
What's that? The group dinner is now a brunch? Do it at Vic's. We still aren't wild about it here during dinner time, but it's a convenient daytime move, especially considering you can make reservations for a large party.
What's that? The group dinner that turned into a brunch has now turned into a meal that's taking place at 4am? Yeah, that probably didn't happen. But if it did, you could do it at L'Express, which is open 24 hours a day. This is a classic French brasserie in Gramercy that we recommend all the time to people who are like, "F*ck, I forgot to make a reservation for this dinner that is happening in two hours." Go for anything from a simple breakfast, to an onion soup on a cold afternoon, to a roast chicken for dinner, to a 3am burger.
If we had to guess, we'd say this restaurant came about when the people behind the Blue Ribbon empire had a conversation that went something like this:
"Yeah, so we should probably open our own version of The Smith, don't you think?"
"I agree. Where should we do it?"
"Maybe the Upper West Side?"
"K. Sounds good."