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HELP needed with my group dining dilemma; Union Square or nearby, limited budget, outstanding food?!

susancinsf | May 6, 200603:55 PM

Here's the situation: on a weekday in June, I need to plan a business dinner for about 15 to 20 persons, preferably within walking distance or, worst case, a short cab ride from the Hotel Monaco (basically Union Square). Participants will be coming from all over the US, and almost all from outside of California, and will be expecting good food and good wine. There are some sophisticated palates in the group and everyone has high expectations of our fair city...

I've been doing these meetings for a few years now, and hosted similar groups in the past and expensed the food portions, but my agency won't let me do that any more (if I want to be reimbursed). Let's just say we've been in the papers a lot lately.....

However, we can reimburse each individual, for up to $28 p/p, including tax and tip, for food, (alcoholic beverages and wine won't be included, but I anticipate that some folks in the group will pick up that cost for all). Part of my dilemma is that some of the group will be able and happy to pay the difference between $28 and whatever the meal might cost if it is more than that, but there will be a few folks for whom paying much more than the $28 out of pocket is not an option. There will probably be a few vegetarians in the group, and at least one person who can't eat shellfish.

Places we've gone in the past include:

Piperade, which everyone loved and which would still be in the running price-wise, but we went with a slightly smaller group last time, and I think 15 is pushing it there.

LuLu: I just am not enough of a fan to really want to go again. The group does like to be able to talk at dinner, and I find LuLu to be painfully loud.

Grand Cafe: it was ok, and I am curious about the new chef, but now that I can't host and be reimbursed, it won't really work price-wise. The Petite Cafe would but my last visit (not with this group) was marred by bad service, and in any case I'd like folks to be able to get out of the hotel after a full day of meetings there.

Kokkari: just too expensive with my new parameters, not that wonderful anyway.

and then a few places that are out of business now...

So, what I'd really like is someplace with small plates and/or a lot of variety on the menu, so say, if someone can only afford a burger they can order it, or that isn't that pricy to begin with...it would be great if they won't wince at seperate checks for each member of the group (though including a pre-set tip is fine, and they can do just one check for all the alcohol)If not, I'm willing to risk taking everyone's estimate of their own costs in cash and putting the total on my card.

A colleague in a similar bind went to First Crush last year: any opinions? (I've never been). I'm going to look into Myth, which menu-wise might actually work (they do have half portions and a burger), but I think they will want to charge us for use of the private room and I don't think the rest of the set-up will work for a group that big. I have similar questions about reserving the private room at Cosmo Cafe (I think they have a room charge and minimum for groups).

I see Robert recommended Bacar below for someone with a bit more flexibility in budget, would that work? How noisy is it? (another place I've never been).

One obvious solution would be a Chinese banquet, perhaps in one of the side screened off rooms at Louie's, but the consensus in my office seems to be that Chinese is not appropriate for a business dinner where there are unknown palates involved. Should I buck that trend?

What do the Chowhounds think, and what other options am I missing? I feel like the answer is out there, and I am just missing it somehow...

HELP! and Thanks!


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