L’Artusi (West 10th Street near Bleecker Street) – After having a bite of their hanger steak, my dad cried that it was the "best dish he'd ever had." This is my favorite "special occasion" spot. Italian-inspired, incredible service, and perfect for sharing several dishes. You can't go wrong with the crudo, a pasta (or seven), the chicken, and the aforementioned hanger steak. Their “Benevento” cocktail is my favorite cocktail of all cocktails.
(Washington and W 12th) Barbuto is a classic West Village establishment by Jonathan Waxman with simple yet completely superb Italian food. You cannot miss their famous pollo al forno: charred, perfect chicken with salsa verde. All pasta dishes are homemade, and the potatoes pair perfectly with the chicken. The atmosphere is a perfect mix of industial-chic meets neighborhood gem.
Blue Hill (Washington Place and 6th Avenue) – Let’s just say the Obamas go here. Everything is sourced from their farm, Blue Hill Stone Barns, outside the city or from other local purveyors. Chef Dan Barber is considered one of the leaders of the farm-to-table food movement.
Spotted Pig (West 11th and Greenwich Street) – So it's really a gastropub, but it's run by April Bloomfield and the burger costs $20, so it's going in the fancy date column. Put you name on the list early and be prepared to wait... but make sure you wait with a kalamata olive dirty martini in-hand in the upstairs bar. Also be sure to order the aforementioned roquefort (!) burger and the gnudi.
(Greenwich Street near 6th Ave) – Quality Eats is the cool, West Village little sister of the midtown Quality Meats fame. Think modern steakhouse for the downtown crowd - a diverse menu with, of course, your usual steak offerings. But also unexpected surprises like baked potato monkey bread and creamed spinach hush puppies.
Wallflower (7th Avenue and West 12th Street) – This spot is the epitome of cozy yet cool. Their cocktail offerings stand out as inventive and utterly delicious, and their food menu is also unexpected and executed perfectly. Both cocktail and food menus typically have me googling ingredients I've never heard of...