Let's talk restaurants.

After all, everyone else does. Next to actually eating at restaurants, a favorite pastime for Western New Yorkers is discussing the vast variety of eating places available in Western New York and nearby Ontario.

If you don't believe me, just eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table when you dine out. Chances are, the people seated there are talking about another place they've eaten recently -- or want to eat at soon.

Of course, our fascination with restaurants gives rise to questions -- about all sorts of things. Who has the most exotic food? Where can you take a crowd of 10-year-olds, or get the best steak or roast beef? Sometimes, queries are geographically based, such as where to find the best fish fry within a 10-mile radius of Kenmore.

After decades as a restaurant critic, I have some answers, and that's why The Buffalo News is introducing this column, Ask Janice Okun.

Here's how it works: You e-mail me your question -- to -- giving as much germane information as possible. Then, on the cover of Wednesday's Taste section, I'll give you a few answers and suggestions. Make sure you include your name and phone number, and where you live locally. We will only publish your first name and town, but we need your other information for verification purposes.

So let's begin. Here's a question that appeared in my e-mail recently:

"Do you have any suggestions on where I can have a nice bridal shower/brunch for about 30 people in the city or Southtowns?" -- Carol, West Seneca

Almost any self-respecting restaurant in Western New York can put on a shower, Carol. Just ask at your favorite place and take a good look at the room they're going to put you in. Taste the menu if possible.

But if you're looking for something a little bit different, you might consider the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (3655 South Park Ave., This glorious Victorian extravaganza offers a choice of two rooms seating 30 to 85 people.

This time of year, the venue offers not only food, it offers hope. With flowers and plants all around, your guests will know that spring is coming after all. The gardens will supply tables and chairs; it also provides a list of local caterers it does business with. The Quaker Bonnet is one; Curly's is another.

Another idea for a shower would be Delish Pastry Shop and Cooking School (802 Elmwood Ave., If men are invited (a growing trend), they might enjoy this, too. Debbie Clark offers a hands-on cooking experience here. Guests divide into teams and generally prepare one dish per group with professionals circulating around to help improve those knife skills. All ingredients, music and wine are provided -- even cleanup.

Send your restaurant questions to