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Restaurants: The gift of eating out

Diners enjoy Thai food at SriPraPhai Restaurant in

Diners enjoy Thai food at SriPraPhai Restaurant in Williston Park. (Nov. 14, 2009) Credit: Kirsten Luce

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:

NASSAU COUNTY

Chat Noir, 230 Merrick Rd., Rockville Centre, 516- 208-8521, chatnoirtea.com

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

The Brass Rail, 107 Forest Ave., Locust Valley, 516-723-9103, thebrassraillocustvalley.com (Food: 3 stars)

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.

Wild Honey on Main, 172 Main St., Port Washington, 516-439-5324, wildhoneyonmain.com/portwashingtonlocation.html

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.

SriPraPhai, 280 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, 516-280-3779, sripraphairestaurant.com

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).

LL Dent, 221 Old Country Rd., Carle Place, 516-742-0940, lldent.com

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.

SUFFOLK COUNTY

Kitchen A Trattoria, 532 N. Country Rd., St. James, 631-862-0151, kitchenabistro.com

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.

Tula Kitchen, 41 E. Main St., Bay Shore, 631-539-7183, tulakitchen.com

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.

PeraBell Food Bar, 69 E. Main St., Patchogue, 631-447-7766, perabellfoodbar.com

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.

Quetzalcoatl, 296 Main St., Huntington, 631-427-7834, quetzalcoatlmexrest.com

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.

Nick & Toni's, 136 N. Main St., East Hampton, 631- 324-3550, nickandtonis.com

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.

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