Recently, there was a query on Chowhound that started a lot of conversation. The poster said he was trying to get his wife to move "to Brooklyn" while she wanted to stay in Manhattan. Each was given one meal to make his case. Cute, I guess, but completely ludicrous given the wide range of neighborhoods and atmospheres in both those enormous boroughs (although, I guess if one is a certain sort of yuppie, and I'm honestly not being snide, there are only about three areas in each that one would consider, and they're not very different at that.)
Anyway, the recs flew thick and fast, and ultimately, the couple had a highly influential meal at Marlowe and Sons. But the whole thing got me thinking: what if you did have to recommend just one place? Of course, luckily, these things are slightly more specific: there's some geographical limitation, or sensibilities to consider, or conservative taste-buds. Certainly, the one place you'd recommend to someone's parents is not necessarily the same one where you'd bring an out-of-town friend.
Were I answering the original poster's question, and wanted something hip-ish, and delicious, with typically Brooklyn insouciance, I'd probably go with one of these:
-Marlowe and Sons (with a drink at Delmano Hotel!)
-Lucali (with a drink at Henry Public!)
-Frankies (with a drink at MiniBar!)
-Roberta's (you'll drink on the deck while you wait and like it)
I'm not saying these are where I'd go, necessarily, for my birthday (in fact, we went to Petite Crevette) but all are festive and wonderful and representative and unlikely to disappoint, whatever someone's expectations.
Manhattan, now, is another ballgame. I asked M, and he said "Supper" (but he always says Supper.) I, on the other hand, might go with Torrisi Italian Specialties. Or Joseph-Leonard. Or maybe Tartine...well, that's for another day.