Thanks to all of you who made suggestions on where to take my chowish but comfort loving parents to eat this weekend. Here's a summary of the weekend's itinerary and our experiences.
Friday Night: Le Souk on Ave. B. A little far from our chosen neighborhood, but we took cabs. I wanted something a little different, but not too different for my francophile parents. This was a big hit. We shared some mezze, including the most tender grilled octopus I have EVER had. The main courses, including grilled quail, grilled lamb chops and chicken b'stilla, were all tasty, well-prepared, and most importantly, they all tasted very different (I hate a restaurant where the same seasonings are used on every dish). The restaurant was a little loud, but not deafening, and very dark. The service was not fantastic, but not really deficient either. We skipped dessert (lackluster when I've had it before) in favor of cannoli and biscotti at La Lanterna di Vittoria on MacDougal street.
Saturday lunch: Balthazar. As I said, my parents are big francophiles, so they liked Balthazar. It was packed, and though we had a reservation, we were made to wait. However, there were seats at the bar, which was fine. The onion soup was really fabulous, the Balthazar salad had a little too much truffle oil. The steak frites were probably the best thing -- incredibly flavorful steak, cooked perfectly and wonderful frites. Duck sheperd's pie was also very good -- tasted like duck bourguignon with polenta on top. Service was very good, but as I said, the restaurant was packed and very loud.
Saturday Dinner: Inside. The menu is very small, but everything was prepared with a lot of care and interesting flavors. I would highly recommend the Ruth's crabapple manhattan -- it was an excellent fall cocktail. The date and almond with bacon bar snack was wonderful, so was the salt and pepper shrimp, but at $9 for 3 shrimp, was somewhat overpriced. I had a special roast pork with collard greens and the best grits I've ever tasted. It was a huge portion, but really wonderful. The pasta was much more interesting than it seemed from the menu, and the salmon was perfectly cooked (with excellent brussels sprouts). The desserts we tried were also very good. Service was excellent, food was very good value (main courses about $15) and the restaurant had a pleasant atmosphere (not too loud). I would highly recommend this place and would go back in a heartbeat.
Sunday Brunch: Five Points. I like this place, but probably better for dinner. I'm not a huge brunch person though. That said, the menu was good, and varied. My mother said it was the best bloody mary she had had, and the fried chicken was almost as good as my mom's. We all overate, and felt a little bloated (mostly from the greasy but tasty french fries served with the burger). As I said, the food was all very tasty, and I really love the restaurant, but I prefer a lighter brunch.
Sunday dinner: Lupa. My first time, and I was very impressed by the food, despite the reports of oversalting. However, we had a reservation, and had to wait 20 minutes to be seated. There was no room at the bar, or in the restaurant, so we were waiting outside, not a big plus in my book. Plus, it was deafening. However, the food was EXCELLENT. We ordered a really good Barbera D'Asti for $20, which is a great price, and shared some of the vegetables for a starter -- summer squash with pecorino and grilled radicchio with scamorza. Both were very well prepared and a nice change from the heavy food we had for brunch. For mains we all stuck to pasta (maybe why we didn't experience the oversalting.) My mother and I had the gnocchi, which was beautifully pillowy. My fiance had a special pork ravioli with black truffles (reminiscent of the beef cheek ravioli at Babbo, with large slices of black truffles, and a relative bargain at $22) and my dad had pappardelle with duck ragu, which was really excellent. Desserts -- tartufo and panna cotta, were also very good. I would definitely go back to Lupa, but I might stick to off times and weekdays, for a pleasanter experience.
All in all, my parents really enjoyed these restaurants, we ate a lot of good food, and the prices were all very reasonable. I would recommend any of them.