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One last splurge

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Adam Stephanides Jul 28, 2000 08:25 PM

After living in Manhattan for two years, I'll be moving back to the Midwest in less than three weeks. I'm trying to enjoy as much good food in NYC as I can until then, and while I don't plan to neglect inexpensive places, I do want one more money-is-no-object feast. So where do you think it should be? To give you an idea of my tastes, of the places I've been to my favorites are Jean Georges (but I've been there recently enough not to feel the need to go back) and Gramercy Tavern, with Lespinasse coming in third. (I already have reservations for Peter Luger, so you don't need to recommend them.)

--Adam

  1. a
    Adam Stephanides Aug 4, 2000 11:28 PM

    Thanks to everyone who made suggestions.

    To explain my decision, the nearest thing to a consensus (and it wasn't very near) was Le Bernardin. I'd actually eaten there once, and was underwhelmed: everything was good, but nothing was memorable. It may have been just a bad night, but since I'm not a big seafood fan anyway, I didn't really feel like using my "final meal" there.

    I then searched the boards for various big names, and realized that dining at a fancy restaurant is always a crap shoot: no matter which one it is, there's always someone who's had a bad experience there, either disappointing food or poor service. I finally decided that despite having eaten once at the old Daniel and not been blown away, despite the negative reports here, I didn't want to leave without giving Daniel one more try. I have a reservation; I'll report back on how it goes.

    --Adam

    1 Reply
    1. re: Adam Stephanides
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      Adam Stephanides Aug 10, 2000 06:51 PM

      As promised, here's my report on my "last splurge" at Daniel. I really did splurge, going for the more expensive tasting menu, partly because on my other visit I'd had the less espensive tasting menu and been underwhelmed. This was listed as an eight-course tasting menu; in fact, there was a ninth, cheese course thrown in gratis. In addition, one course was actually a "soup tasting" of four different cold soups, and another was a "terrine tasting" of three different terrines, so the meal couldn't be faulted on the grounds of variety. Nothing blew me away, although the soup tasting and the ballotin of duck came close, but the food was consistently on a very high level (with one exception: squares of six heirloom tomatoes with osetra caviar and lemon and lime zest. It looked beautiful, but the citrus zest was so powerful it drowned out the flavor of the tomatoes), and there were so many different dishes that I didn't feel ripped off. Highlights were the aforementioned soup tasting--sweet corn soup, cavaillon melon soup, lobster borscht (this not as good) and a tomato soup which wasn't on the menu, each one the essence of whatever it was (a couple were garnished with caviar, which you had to fish out or its saltiness again overwhelmed the soup); the aforementioned duck ballotin, silky smooth and delicious; a braised shoulder of lamb with root vegetables and artichoke chips (half of the lamb course), so tender it fell apart under the fork; the Coton de Chavignon (sp?) from the cheese course, a hard aged pungent goat cheese; and the warm almond cake with blackberry coulis and mint-risotto ice cream, one of four desserts (there was also a basket of hot madelines and over a dozen petit-fours).

      A couple of things did bother me: aside from the problem mentioned above, of garnishes occasionally so strongly flavored as too overwhelm the food, a lot of dishes were presented so busily, with garnishes, sauces and oils drizzled all over, that I wasn't sure how to eat them. And I occasionally felt my waiter was condescending to me, but that may have been my imagination.

      To tell the truth, I didn't have strong feelings about my dinner one way or the other. As I said, I didn't feel ripped off, and I enjoyed myself; but I didn't leave with tears in my eyes (as a woman quoted in yesterday's NYTimes said she did at some Paris restaurants) or with the thought that I wished I could go back right away.

      --Adam

    2. j
      John Aug 4, 2000 02:58 PM

      What about the tasting menu at Danube? Every time I've been at a restaurant where Bouley is cooking, it has been exceptional.

      1. d
        Dan-o Jul 31, 2000 02:15 PM

        I would go to Babbo and together with some kick-ass wine, order up a four-course (app., pasta, entree, dessert) feast and laugh afterwards that you've just had every bit as good a meal as anywhere in N.Y.C. and not spent nearly the amount of $$$ (especially Lespinasse, J. Georges, etc...)

        9 Replies
        1. re: Dan-o
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          Rex Jul 31, 2000 05:40 PM

          I agree with Babbo, but I recommend you get the all pasta tasting menu. The entrees at Babbo are simply not that good while the pasta is fantastic.

          1. re: Rex
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            Adam Stephanides Jul 31, 2000 08:00 PM

            I would love to try the pasta tasting menu at Babbo, but unfortunately you can't order it if you're a party of one, which I'm likely to be. Actually, you can't even sit at a table if you're a party of one, or so I was told on a previous visit.

            --Adam

            1. re: Adam Stephanides
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              Elaine Jul 31, 2000 08:55 PM

              Is this party of one problem a problem others have encountered frequently at NY restaurants? I for one think that's a terrible policy. I frequently travel alone for business (and occasionally for pleasure) and like to check out restaurants I've heard about in different places and would be extremely angry if I encountered this problem. Dining solo is a lifestyle choice like any other and entitled to respect! Admittedly, a restaurant might make less money but on that rational should never admit a party of three, since the same table could be given to a party of four. Sorry for sounding off, but when I read this I got mad!!!

              1. re: Elaine
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                Gary Cheong Jul 31, 2000 09:48 PM

                Elaine - this may or may not be a problem at other restaurants, but we are talking Babbo here. The place is always packed and reservations are not that easy to come by. If a restaurant is not that hectic, and there are available tables, then I see no reason to refuse to seat a party of one. I do understand your annoyance and where you are coming from.

                If Adam wants to eat at Babbo solo, maybe he can do what my friend Ming Tsai (from Blue Ginger) does when he comes to tape his show here. He grabs a seat at the bar and orders what he wants.

                1. re: Gary Cheong
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                  Adam Stephanides Jul 31, 2000 11:48 PM

                  I have actually eaten at Babbo several times at the bar (and had to wait each time for a seat at the bar). They still won't let you order the pasta tasting menu, though.

                  I've never had a problem making a reservation for one at any other restaurant, though I've often had to eat at a weird time, like late at night. (Well, I had a problem making a reservation for one at Nobu, but that wasn't because I was a party of one, it was because it was Nobu.) I can't say that I've tried it at another restaurant as hot as Babbo, though (if such a restaurant exists).

                  --Adam

                  1. re: Adam Stephanides
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                    Michael Aug 1, 2000 12:31 AM

                    That's weird. Why do you think they have decided not to serve a pasta tasting menu at the bar? Overly close quarters or something?

                    1. re: Adam Stephanides
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                      Gary Cheong Aug 1, 2000 10:17 AM

                      I suspect it might have to do with the kitchen being so busy, and the quantity involved in making a pasta tasting for one is not practical. I've been to some restaurants that do not offer a tasting menu unless the whole table orders it.

                      But if Babbo wants to bend over backwards to serve you, maybe they can check to see if anyone else is ordering the pasta tasting at the same time and combine your order with it.

                      1. re: Gary Cheong
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                        Jim Leff Aug 1, 2000 12:14 PM

                        Wow, great idea, Gary. I never woulda thought of that.

                        But then again, it'd take an uncommonly flexible waiter and restaurant to agree to something as unorthodox (though totally logical) as that. But if I were a waiter, I'd be trying to think up those sorts of creative solutions in order to enhance my service.

                        ciao

                        1. re: Gary Cheong
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                          Adam Stephanides Aug 1, 2000 10:50 PM

                          Yes, I've been to many restaurants that require tasting menus to be ordered by the whole table. But at all of them but Babbo, the table could be a table of one. Maybe pasta is different, as you say. Babbo also offers a regular tasting menu, though, and I don't believe that that can be ordered by a party of one either.

                          Your suggestion is ingenious, and as Jim says, I never would have thought of it. However, while I have no complaints about the service at Babbo, nobody there has ever given the impression of being willing to bend over backwards for me.

                          --Adam

            2. n
              Nancy C Jul 29, 2000 03:25 PM

              Verbena on Irving Place. Make sure you get a garden table out back... do the chef's tasting menu, with wine.

              Romantic, beautiful, good food. NY at best.

              Nancy

              1. e
                Elaine Jul 29, 2000 12:44 PM

                I second the vote for Le Bernardin - I've never had a dish there that wasn't sublime, and some things (memorably, an onion soup with lobster chunks that sounded like a huge mistake but was subtle and spicy and rich and perfect and of course the always incredible tuna tartare) are dishes of a lifetime. Another plus is that the restaurant's midtown location and age make getting reservations at a decent hour pleasantly simple. Downsides are the room (sterile midtown that looks dated without looking venerable) and the somewhat stuffy (jacket required) ambience.

                Another suggestion is Chanterelle - the cooking is a bit more inconsistent - dishes range from the outrageously inspired to the only very good, but the room is gorgeous, tables nicely spaced, and the staff incredibly gracious and easygoing for this type of restaurant. The sommelier is charming and understands budgetary constraints without any attitude and the waiters' reverence for the outstanding cheese course is a beautiful thing to behold. I have had the most satisfyingly elegant yet relaxed meals of my life at Chanterelle.

                1. p
                  pat hammond Jul 28, 2000 09:18 PM

                  Adam: What about Le Bernardin? I live in the midwest too and have a fish monger here in St. Louis who does her best to keep me happy. But if you love seafood, there's nothing better than eating it closer to where they fished it out. I hear the preparation there is unequalled. That would be my choice, anyway. Where out here are you moving? I'll soon be moving to Maine! pat

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