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Nov 13, 1997 11:08 PM

Fancy Restaurant for Chowhounds

  • d

I'm about to join an informal food club that will infrequently be going to fancy restaurants.

I wonder which big-deal restaurants in Manhattan are chowhounds most fond of. Although I've admired my meals at Le Bernadin and Bouley, and have been largely indifferent to the fare at Lespinasse, Lutece (even in its so-called prime), and Chanterelle, the one big-deal restaurant I've always felt comfortable about is Aureole. To me, Charles Palmer is clearly a chowhound at heart. His food is gutsy and funny and never boring. I've also greatly enjoyed meals at Gotham, Acquavit, and Gramercy Tavern.

What should be our first restaurant? We were thinking about Jean-Georges or Daniel, but would be interested in any great restaurant not listed above.

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  1. Two places on the high end which you might want to try
    are Marguery Grill on E.65th Street and Verbena on
    Irving Place. I've had dinner at both places within the
    last few months and the food was outstanding. Verbena
    also has a private room for partys but I would stay
    with the main room depending on the size of your party.

    3 Replies
    1. re: J.Knoesel

      What kind of food do they serve at Marguery? Could they handle a group of eight or ten with ease?



      1. re: Dave Feldman

        Mostly American dishes like double pork chops with
        garlic mashed potatoes, beef tenderloin, chicken &
        fish. The preparations are delicious with no weird
        attempts at nouvelle crap. I'm sure they can accomodate
        8. Really cool surroundings!

        1. re: Dave Feldman

          The first official stop in the fancy Restaurant club is going to be Daniel in January. But 5 of us went to Jean-Georges last night.

          The good news: two great dishes -- a refreshing asparagus salad appetizer, and one of the best lamb dishes I've ever had, a rack of lamb in a rich but not unctuous reduced wine sauce. And I was the one lucky enough to order the lamb.

          The bad news: nothing else -- nothing -- was outstanding. And there were some genuine misfires. The hanger steak was a disaster -- tough and not particularly flavorful. It was served barely above room temperature. In fact, none of the entrees were served hot (could this be because the food in the main dining room -- we were in the bar area -- gets served first?).

          The fish was uniformly dull, if nicely prepared.

          The service was professional, if remote. Only when the problems started occuring did a tinge of warmth emanate from the service staff. One steak was taken off the bill when one of us had only a few bites; another steak was returned and didn't arrive back for quite a while.

          Bill came to $74 a person (with one entree excluded). This includes one bottle of relatively inexpensive wine (the list is very pricey), three beers, and quite a bit of sparkling water.

          What's the deal? I was disappointed with Vong (believe me, I'm not a purist -- I love Chinois en Main in L.A.) but why is this place so highly rated? Maybe we just hit a bad night tonight. But I'm not going to rush to go back to Jean-Georges.


      2. b
        Barbara Daddario

        One of my personal favorites is Montrachet.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Barbara Daddario

          Thanks for the idea. Never been to Montrachet. They've had several chef changes, right? Has it remained consistent?

          And any dishes you'd recommend?



          1. re: Dave Feldman
            Barbara Daddario

            Dave - The last time I was at Montrachet was about a
            year ago. I've heard it referred to as "a fancy
            restaurant for people who don't like fancy restaurants"
            I had some sort of lamb dish - don't remember what it
            was called but it was delicious.

            1. re: Barbara Daddario

              I had that lamb too! Yum! The only problem we had with Montrachet was that the atmosphere was just kind of dull...sort of not exciting or excited enough about food...I really can't put my finger on it. From our table we watched a group of boisterous women who were obviously not used to fancy restaurants rack up the bill on the credit card of the one man who was present.

              1. re: E. Cornell

                I had a terrible meal at Montrachet and haven't been back. Enormous slabs of tasteless foie gras (how can you ruin foies gras?) and everything else was just okay.

                My pricey picks would be Jean-Georges, Lespinasse, Chanterelle, Il Mulino.


        2. Dear Dave:
          Envy, envy, envy. I liked Lutece in the one time I ate there during Soltner. The only other $$$$ I was able to get to before fatherhood and car payments was Le Cirque before Jackie O. passed on. Didn't care for it. If I could live through you, it'd be Jean-George first, Union Square second, Daniel third. Actually, given the chance, I'd eat at Cooking with Jazz six times rather than eat at the other places mentioned.


          3 Replies
          1. re: Pete Feliz

            Pete--Oh yeah, I had two experiences with Le Cirque. It felt like high school/Studio 54. One time, we were treated like royalty, the next time like dreck (note that Sirio was there the second time). Definitely annoying, although the food was quite good the first time.
            I've meant to get to Cooking with Jazz. Thanks for the reminder.
            BTW, I think Union Square is an extremely likeable place, with caring service and a pleasing informality. But I do think the food is a notch below Gramercy and Gotham.


            1. re: Pete Feliz

              Pete, do you mean Cooking With Jazz in Whitestone,

              Geez, I generally agree with your taste, but I can't
              STAND that place! Has it gotten a LOT better in the
              last couple of years??


              1. re: Jim Leff


                Cooking With Jazz in Whitestone. We had a great meal (Crawdad, shrimp ettoufe, jambalya, bread puddin' and I can't remember what all else). What can I say? I haven't been back in two years because time and money haven't meshed, but would gladly do again. Sorry you hate the place. Food? Service? The "A" word? Or all of the above?


            2. Dave, I would go to Jo-Jo's but before that I would go to Picholine in Lincoln Center. If I could get away with it, I would try every single cheese on their fromage plate. I think I had tuna there, prepared perfectly rare. Everyone was very friendly, and I think they could seat 8 people.

              10 Replies
              1. re: E. Cornell

                I've got cold feet re: Piccholine. I had a disastrous birthday party there. We were crammed into a small space (there were 5 of us), had horrible service, and indifferent food (although the cheese course was wonderful).

                Maybe we ordered badly, but it seems to me that after swapping dishes, we should have found a dish or two that someone would be excited about.


                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  I too was turned off to Picholine.

                  When they first opened I had a great meal there (a
                  whole fish with a simple tomato, olive oil, basil
                  topping) and couldn't wait to return. I went back in
                  Dec '96 and was extremely disappointed. The food was
                  mediocre, the waiters and decor actually annoying, and
                  yes, the only highlight was the cheese tray.

                  And of the these: Bouley's, Lespinasse, Aureole

                  It was Aureole I liked best.

                  1. re: Janet Traub

                    Ahhh, a fancy restaurant soulmate. Obviously, when going to a big-deal restaurant, expectations are high. I cannot remember a single dish I've eaten at Lespinasse, where I can remember many at Aureole and Bouley. What I remember about Lespinasse are the plates and cutlery.

                    At least the folks at Lespinasse seemed to be trying. I can't say the same of the staff at Picholine.


                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      > Ahhh, a fancy restaurant soulmate.

                      hah, true Dave! There's *almost* no price limit when it
                      comes to having a good meal. And mind you, I drive an
                      old rusty '86 Olds. All a matter of priorities!

                      I'll be driving the bomb down from CT today to sample
                      Marguery Grill (thanks to a chowhound tip) and Le

                      Thanks for all your posts.

                      1. re: Janet Traub

                        Just remember that you owe us a report back, Janet!

                        1. re: Dave Feldman

                          > Just remember that you owe us a report back, Janet!

                          Here it is, finally! Sorry for the delayed response.
                          I've been eating and traveling (actually traveling to
                          eat!) for the last few weeks. Recently returned from
                          Miami and the Florida keys. Followed a few Chowhound
                          tips (I liked Nemos over Norman's). In the keys, don't
                          go to the tony Little Palm Island resort. It has new
                          management and the once highly-rated restaurant is now
                          a disappointment. I'm so glad we didn't stay at the
                          resort. Can you imagine being stuck on a tiny island
                          paying $500/night for a room PLUS big money for
                          mediocre meals? A chowhound vacation nightmare!

                          The NY report:
                          Never made it to Le Bernardin. Our dinner at Marguery
                          Grill was so good, we decided we'd be gluttons if we
                          indulged in 5 star lunch the following day (esp with
                          Thxgiving just a few days away).

                          With a name like 'something Grill', I wasn't expecting
                          anything too fancy. Imagine my surprize when I walked
                          in and found a very small, intimate, subduedly lit,
                          well-upholstered dining room.

                          The food overall was very good. (I wouldn't call it
                          Aureole, but the intimate atmosphere and personal
                          attention made up for it). The best dish was the salad
                          with Maytag cheese and walnuts crisped in rosemary oil
                          served over greens dressed with one of the best
                          vinagrettes I ever tasted. When I remarked to the
                          waiter how fabulous the walnuts were, he brought us out
                          a small plate of them.

                          There were complimentary hor d'vours and a wonderful
                          variety of freshly baked breads (cornbread with a
                          red, dried fruit--cherry or cranberry? and a wheat and
                          a sourdough).

                          For entrees, I had a very good sea bass with a rich
                          veal stock/sauce. My friend ordered the venision rare.
                          He thought it was excellent, but since it was rare and
                          very fleshy, I couldn't appreciate it. Both entrees
                          came with their own mix of excellent veggie side

                          The dessert we shared, a pear strudel with 2 sorbets
                          (yougart and cranberry) was OK. Better than average,
                          but not awesome. If the strudel was served warm, it
                          would have worked better.

                          The maitre 'd, Mario, chked in periodically to see how
                          the meal was progressing. When we told him we were from
                          CT and heard about his place on the chowhound site, he
                          was rather perplexed. It was obviously the first time
                          he had heard of us! I wrote down the URL for him and
                          when he disappeared my friend joked he was probably
                          upstairs surfing the site! But alas, out he came with
                          bottles of the wine we had ordered by the glass and
                          poured us each a comp refill. (BTW, the wine was
                          superb: a Raymond Chardonnay, and a Bordeau)

                          It was a wonderful meal. I highly recommend it. But go
                          on a slow night, like Sunday (sadly, there were only 3
                          parties all night) and be sure to tell Mario you're a

                          Off to London tonight. Gotta make up for the lost meals
                          this year. 1997 was all work, and no chow!

                          1. re: Janet Traub
                            Dave Feldman

                            Janet--You have repaid your debt to chowhound society. Thanks for the great report.


                            1. re: Dave Feldman
                              susan Hancock

                              I come to NYC periodically from Orlando just to eat and loved a lunch I shared at Daniel's with 4 friends. It was on a Saturday-we met at 1pm and were still there at 4pm and felt no rush to leave. We ordered the tasting lunch and usually the whole table has to do the same thing but in this case one of our group could not eat seafood so they made and exception and the chef sent a whole different 8 course meal to her. We ordered a red wine from Chile that was moderately priced but the whole meal with tip was VERY EXPENSIVE and worth EVERY penny of it. I am coming in a few weeks and will do a couple very nice lunches again-I'll let you know how they are. PS I read about you in last week's Orlando Sentinel - Friday edition.

                              1. re: susan Hancock

                                susan, thanks for posting. I'm about to make a reservation for my first meal at Daniel (I tried a few weeks GOD the reservations people are snotty!), and I'll take your advice and do the tasting thang.

                                "PS I read about you in last week's Orlando Sentinel - Friday edition"

                                I'm glad it didn't discourage you from stopping by...that article went all over North America, and I wasn't happy about the tone. Made it seem like I (and all of you) am some unshaven guy in a raincoat looking for the cheapest possible chili dogs and such. Very condescending, and very much missing the spirit of this place.


                    2. re: Janet Traub
                      Michele Fuchs

                      If you want a place near Lincoln Center, Gabriels is great.
                      As for Aureole, I have dined there a few times and I
                      don't ever recall being bowled over by anything, except the
                      the service. Too bad Cafe Des Artiste had a fire, any word on what
                      is going on there?

                2. m
                  Michele Fuchs

                  I'm not one for the "sceney" places and elitist attitudes
                  so my opinions are based on food, service, and overall
                  experience. I am a diehard foodie so here goes:

                  A few of my favorites are:

                  Union Square Cafe, 57 57, Felidia, Patroon, Provence,
                  Sonia Rose, and I could go on...if you want.

                  Definitely gove them a shot!