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Apr 19, 2001 09:09 AM

Jean Georges, Daniel, Le Bernadin, Bouley Bakery or Alain Ducasse ?

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I am having a big celebration coming up. And I've never been to any of the top French NY restaurants mentioned above. Which one would recommend ? Food is number one priority here. Please give me your recommendations !!

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  1. Only been to Daniel and Le Bernardin and they are both great, but I'm sure the others are as well. All of these places have websites, so perhaps you should go to them and find which menu you like the most.

    websites are:

    Note that Le Bernardin is virtually all fish. So, if you want a multicourse tasting that incorporates meat and fish, better off to go to one of the others.

    Money is probably no object, but if it is, beware that Ducasse will probably cost twice what the other places will ($160 pp for a 4 course meal), but the upside is that the table is yours all night.

    Lespinasse is also another 4-star place which you might want to consider. Don't think they have a website, though.

    Good luck, you really can't lose with that list to pick from. Let us know where you finally go and how it went.


    6 Replies
    1. re: jbergman

      Jeff gave you some good coaching. I've only been to the first three. You'll enjoy the food wherever you go. What kind of atmosphere do you want? I would add that LeBernardin and Daniel are a little quieter or conservative (not necessarily bad) and Jean Georges more "hip". eg, you would be more likely to see a known personality at JG and the dress of patrons is more relaxed.

      1. re: chuck
        yvonne johnson

        i agree with you: "LeBernardin....a little quieter or conservative... and Jean Georges more 'hip'"

        i was at LB a few years ago and if it's not changed in tone since then i'd say that the excessive formality, and dowdy room would kill the joy in any celebration. i think there should be a happy medium between stuffy and oily (the latter evident at tabla). JG seemed to hit the spot: has a nice airy room, cheerful atmosphere and i was happy with the food and service (visit around 2 yrs ago, before i became a chowhound).

        1. re: yvonne johnson
          Caitlin McGrath

          Yvonne, I am quite sure you were a chowhound two years ago (even though you weren't on this site); you just didn't know that's what you were called [g].

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath
            yvonne johnson

            awww, that's sweet. but i'm beginning to question my chowhound abilities. if Banjara's naan is indeed made with Bisquick (recent posts on kohinor/banjara), i'll never be able to show my face here again. that crazy woman who likes Bisquick naan! (i guess i can always blame my formative diet of deep fried pizza)

          2. re: yvonne johnson

            I, too, went to Le Bernardin a couple or three years ago. The food was excellent but not incredible like some of the food I used to eat, for example, at Jojo in its heydey or the unfortunately long-closed Cena - except the desserts, which I do remember being extraordinary at Le Bernardin (sorry, I don't remember WHAT the desserts were, only that they were great). The atmosphere was very corporate, and I found the waiters excessively and disturbingly servile, as in: "Is everything OK?" "Yes, everything's great." [expression of concern and perhaps fear:] "Are you sure, Sir?" "YES, YES, I'm sure! Everthing's just fine!" I don't like my waiters to behave like indentured servants. I respect waiters as professionals and want them to behave with the dignity befitting a knowledgeable professional. It was an uncomfortable experience for me, but no doubt would stroke the ego of some nouveau-riche business executives who feel self-important because of their sudden wealth. I was in no rush to go back, and have not.

            I'm sorry that I can't comment on the other places listed here, but I wish you a wonderful celebration!

            1. re: Michael L.

              I've seen the atmosphere at Le B. criticized a lot here, and I just wanted to note that it all depends on taste. The room is old-fashioned, but the tables are widely spaced, and I personally find the lack of chic - both in decor and service - incredibly relaxing. It's easy to get a table at a normal hour, the waiters are formal, old-fashioned, but not without a sense of humor, and while you have to wear a jacket, it's nof a place where you'll ever find yourself unhappily comparing your last year's dress to the just off the runway number on the 94 .lb Prada model at the next table. I've celebrated numerous birthdays here, both for family and friends, and the quiet (you can hear your whole table talking!), comfort, and lack of rush have made for some great meals. I go here when I want fish, or when I'm with people who really only eat fish, or when I need a dinner reservation at 8:00 on less than two week's notice. It is a lovely part of the New York scene...

      2. I'm not really qualified to comment except to say that I ate in Nougatin 18 months or so ago. Nougatine is basically the bar area at Jean Georges which is adjacent to the open kitchen. The food comes out of the same kitchen as Jean Georges and it was sublime - crab salad with cumin tuille and mango salsa; monkfish braised with carrot, orange and cardamom; the famous chocolate fondant, all washed down with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Service was fabulous, except they cleared away my half finished glass of wine when I went to the loo, but it was replaced immeadiately.

        The Jean Georges room itself looked fantastic, very clean and modern.

        Jean Georges was there that night, dressed in whites and standing around in the kitchen, but looking far too impossibly well groomed to actually have been cooking. There was definately a buzz about the place, a feeling of being somewhere special, but I guess that could have faded with time.

        A safe bet for a great night out in my estimation.

        Steven Shaw at says that "I recommend Gramercy Tavern more often than any other restaurant, and I find myself mentioning it in the same breath as Lespinasse, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, and Daniel", so that may be worth adding to your list. Link to full review below.


        2 Replies
        1. re: Andy Lynes

          Jean Georges and Nougatine actually have different menus and are served by different kitchens. (The open one upstairs is Jean Georges.) Nougatine's menu is a bit more casual. Both are excellent.

          It is possible to sit in Nougatine and request the JG menu.

          My most recent visit was a few weeks ago. The positive buzz is still there, in my opinion. Beautiful space, lovely food, terrific service.

          1. re: Andy Lynes

            We ate at Jean Georges about a month ago and had mixed feelings about it. Two of us had the foie gras with lentil appetizer and it was sublime. The other appetizers were just so-so. I had lamb as my main course; it was tough and tasteless, although the accompaniments were fine. Two others had the veal chop which was pronounced fabulous. My husband had the sweetbreads about which he was not terribly enthusiastic. I didn't pay much attention to the desserts, since I don't like sweets. In fact, I passed on dessert, but they nevertheless brought something not on the menu "compliments of the chef." When I told them to thank the chef, but that I did not want dessert, the waiter almost blew a cork -- insisted on leaving it on the table,etc.

          2. I've been to the first 4 and have would rank them in the following order

            1) Jean-Georges
            2) Daniel
            3) Le Bernardin
            4) Bouley Bakery

            Le Berbardin was too stuffy for me. Jean-Georges and Daniel were both transcendent experiences. I would give Jean-Georges the slight edge because it did seem more chic. I felt that the presentation and and the food was also a notch better. Especially the appetizer--my langoustines with fennel risotto, black truffles, and fresh chestnuts brought tears to my eyes.

            1. If food is the # 1 priority then you must go to Ducasse. It simply is the best dining experience in the US. But there is the matter of the bill...

              1. Hard to say which one you would find the "best." A lot depends on your experience eating food at that level. They are all very different experiences. My personal favorite of the group is Bouley Bakery although I haven't been in a while. But here's a snapshot of each one.

                Bouley Bakery-Is the most intimate of them and the most casual by far. You don't even have to wear a jacket here. Cooking is based on domestic products mostly farmed by small farmers or day fisherman. The menu usually has dayboat codfish prepared in a fruit sauce like persimmon or quince. Cooking is very subtle and for my money Bouley is the most talented chef around. But there is a level of inconsistancy there that can be troubling. But if you go and are willing to relinquish control of the meal to the kitchen and spend 4 hours having dinner, you can have the meal of the great meals of your life. Not the greatest wine list and poorly (high) priced. Some people get snippy service. You need to know how to talk to them.

                Jean-Georges-You have to give J.G. credit as he invented an entire style of cooking based on flavored oils and emulsified sauces. In fact his contribution is so profound that his kitchen is starting to spin off sous chefs who are opening their own places and cooking in that style. More festive than Bouley and slightly more formal. Place has a good NYC feel and the comment someone made about seeing celebs there is accurate. Eating in the bar (Nougatine) is also very good and much more casual than the main room. They let you order from either menu in Nougatine. Expensive wine list and I've never found the choices to be that inspiring.

                Daniel-More like a big party for posh people. The most "birthday" like of the places. You couldn't possibly be overdressed here. I've had some superior meals here and I've had some mediocre ones. But when the place is on it can't be beat. Even though the place gives the illusion of a formal French restaurant, they are serving 400 meals a night compared to a place like Ducasse which serves just 68.

                Le Bernadin-Formal and clublike. Lots of wood paneling.
                I never found the place warm including the service. I don't think the cooking here is at the same level as the others. I frequent this place much less than any of the others, maybe once every 3-4 years. But I happen to be going on Wednesday. Not a place that normally comes to my mind when I'm thinking of going out nice.

                Alain Ducasse-The closest thing you will find to a 3 star French dining experience in this country. In fact, it's an exact replica of it. By fat the most formal of all but it is also relaxed somehow. I have a feeling I would like it better for lunch. It's not the place I would choose if I didn't have a number of 3 stars in France under my belt. They probably practice the most "perfect" cooking here though I wouldn't say the food id the best.

                Hope this helps.