I've been asked to suggest spots for dinner for 8-10 folks to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday, probably (but not definitely) on a Saturday night. The food should be great and the room and service comfortable and, if possible, fun or even whimsical without being so loud as to drown out conversation. The Laboratorio is out because the emphasis shouldn't be on the kitchen or watching the food being prepared. I haven't been to Citronelle in years, but the last time I was there it felt too formal, and the food was very accomplished but not memorable. (I'm willing to be persuaded, however, that I should give it serious consideration.)
As of now, Palena is my default choice. (Or Yanyu, perhaps.) As for Maestro, I am a bit chastened by the recent mediocre experiences described by James G. and Henry J., and by the possibility that it would run $200 per person, even without high-end wines. (Our crowd does not consist of major wine drinkers, but we certainly would be looking for a few well-matched, moderately priced wines.) I suspect we're looking to spend about half that much, at most.
Baltimore is definitely an option. Should I consider the Charleston or Soignee?
What am I forgetting?
Thanks in advance.