Buying a restaurant gift certificate for someone can be as challenging as picking out clothing or jewelry. It's all about fit, matching the person with the right place.
Is your best bud or big sister an expert on authentic ethnic flavors? Maybe an all-American meat-and-potatoes meal would be more like it. And what kind of ambience fits the recipient's personality? Cozy pub or cutting-edge hot spot?
Here's a list of particular places for particular people. Note that amount estimates are for a three-course meal (including beverages) for two:
APPEALS TO: Quiet sophisticates, Francophiles, Anglophiles, tea lovers
WHAT YOU GET: Understated charm; French bistro meets English tea room. Chef-owner Emma Tso covers all bases, from orange French toast to scones to black tea-marinated skirt steak. Brunch, lunch and formal tea service as well as dinner (available Wednesday to Sunday). Tso's dessert, like her ethereal chocolate marquise or tarte Tatin, should not be missed.
HOW MUCH: $50, lunch; dinner, $75-$100
APPEALS TO: Epicureans, grazers, big eaters, history buffs, comfort seekers, pub crawlers
WHAT YOU GET: The 19th century bar from the legendary Brass Rail restaurant in Manhattan was transplanted to this welcoming gastro-pub. Here, chef-owner Kent Monkan puts out an imaginative array of small and large plates: oxtail sloppy joes, franks in blankets, steak frites and a knockout "au poivre" burger.
HOW MUCH: $75-$100.
APPEALS TO: Couples, intimacy seekers
WHAT YOU GET: Cozy and warm in decor and style, Wild Honey on Main stands out with lively New American dishes; favorites include chile-and-pork tostada and citrus-poppy-glazed salmon. A fine choice for an intimate dinner for two.
HOW MUCH: $100. Also may be used at Wild Honey in Oyster Bay.
APPEALS TO: Ethnic food enthusiasts, spice lovers, adventuresome diners.
WHAT YOU GET: At this handsome offshoot of a Woodside restaurant of authentic Thai cuisine, the menu is encyclopedic. Highlights include larb (an explosive blend of ground pork with mint, chili and lime), a fruity-salty-spicy papaya salad with dry shrimp and peanuts and drunken noodles with ground chicken. Note that reservations are accepted only for parties of four or more.
HOW MUCH: Available in denominations of $30 (suitable for lunch) and $50 (dinner).
APPEALS TO: Anyone in need of old-fashioned Southern comfort, diet-ditchers
WHAT YOU GET: The mother-daughter team of hostess Lillian and chef Leisa Dent are all about Southern warmth and soulful, satisfying cooking. On the menu: Toby's Georgia hash (a spicy, pork-laced gumbo), fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, pulled pork and warm banana pudding topped with meringue.
HOW MUCH: Denominations of $25, $50 and $100. $50 would cover lunch; $75 dinner.
APPEALS TO: Oenophiles on a budget, Italophiles, serious foodies
WHAT YOU GET: At this casual gem, you bring your own wine and eat like a true Italian. The ever-changing menu reflects the season and may offer dishes like braised meatballs over polenta, black tagliatelle with baby clams and whatever fish the market offers.
HOW MUCH: $75-$100 dinner; $50 lunch. You must pay by cash or check; no credit cards.
APPEALS TO: Hipsters, romantics, vegetarians, holistic types
WHAT YOU GET: Surroundings are plush, dark, dramatically lit, the crowd diverse and urbane. The menu ranges from sesame crusted tuna to sesame crusted tofu. You'll also find live music and open mic nights.
HOW MUCH: Dinner, $75 to $100. Expires after a year.
APPEALS TO: Comfort seekers, pub crawlers, all-American types
WHAT YOU GET: Newly relocated to larger quarters near the old digs, this handsome contemporary American gastro pub retains its menu of updated classics (chophouse burger, pan-roasted salmon) as well as its unpretentious vibe.
HOW MUCH: $50 lunch, $75-$100 dinner.
APPEALS TO: Salsa lovers (both the food and the Latin dance), upbeat types
WHAT YOU GET: At this festive Mexican restaurant, authenticity informs much of the menu. Chef-owner Alejandro Gonzalez goes beyond tacos and enchiladas, serving such dishes as birria (spiced lamb) and pipian de pollo (chicken in a "pre-Hispanic Totonacan pumpkin seed sauce"). There's Friday night salsa dancing, too.
HOW MUCH: Mayan and Aztec gift coins sold in denominations of $25, $50 and $100, packaged in colorful hand-painted dried squash shells. Dinner $75-$100.
APPEALS TO: Celeb spotters, Italophiles, epicureans
WHAT YOU GET: This quintessential Hamptons in-spot serves up understated glamour, a star-studded crowd and superb Italian food, courtesy of chef Joseph Realmuto. Order pizza from the wood-burning oven, a pasta (like pappardelle with braised duck ragu) or oven-roasted whole fish. Could Steven Spielberg, Paul McCartney and Christie Brinkley be wrong?
HOW MUCH: Dinner $150.