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Special meal in Manhattan; Daniel, Per Se, Jean Georges?

Trying to decide among the biggies for a special night out for two. We don't get to spend the big bucks very often, so I want to make a well-informed choice. One of the above? Bouley? Something else?

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  1. I love Bouley and Jean Georges. I've been to both more times than is financially or physically healthy. I've always left feeling amazing. The food is truly remarkable. I think the ambience at Bouley is more romantic and, frankly, prettier. Jean George is very minimalist in its decor. While I appreciate a simple space, I think Bouley is a more memorable space. The food is, well, very comparable, in my opinion. Both chefs borrow from Asia, and both rely on wonderfully fresh and seasonal ingredients. I suppose you could make the case that David Bouley is more likely to be in the kitchen at his namesake than Mr. Vongerichten, if that means anything

    That being said, I found per se to be in a different league. I know many people accuse per se of being overrated, but in my dining experiences there I was never once disappointed. The food is impeccable. I can recite for you every course I've eaten there, a testament I believe to Mr. Keller's brilliance. The service, I found, to be professional yet engaging. The sommelier was all too eager to guide us and discuss our thoughts. The view, too, doesn't get any better. All in all, it's my favorite restaurant in the world.

    To be perfectly candid, I'd rather eat at per se once than Jean George or Bouley twice.

    I notice you've left Le Bernardin off your list. Is that an aversion to all fish? I think it's the only other Manhattan restaurant in the per se category.

    I realize many will disagree, and none of your choices would be disappointing. I assure you that!

    Happy eating!

    6 Replies
    1. re: tsb2001

      No aversion to fish. Would you put Le Bernadin over Per Se?

      1. re: bladerobbins

        I'd put Le Bernardin second to per se in terms of food. The fish dishes are better than those at JG or Bouley (the decor is a little corporate in my opinion, but that's a product of its midtown location, I think). However, there are some days when one simply doesn't want to eat fish. For a complete package, I might say Bouley over LB and JG, with the concession that the food at Bouley might be marginally inferior. I think the decor puts it above the other two.

      2. re: tsb2001

        I'll second this. For me, per se was an experience above and beyond the others. Granted, it was the first (and one of the only) place my wife and I had done a tasting menu, as we were completely comfortable with them handling her dietary restrictions. They will do anything for you.

        Again, you won't have a bad meal at any of those. I would say though, that the service at per se was pitch perfect. Whereas I couldn't say the same about Jean Georges and Daniel, at least in my experience. Le Bernardin was closer to per se in terms of graciousness and tone of service.

        1. re: DaveS

          DaveS, if you don't mind me asking, were they pretty understanding about your wife's eating restrictions? My boyfriend has some as well, which always makes us nervous about doing tasting menus.

          1. re: bladerobbins

            Absolutely. The waiter spent a lot of time with us going over the menu, asking my wife what she couldn't have and what other things across all the menus appealed to her. And the replacement dishes were every bit as good as the dishes on the menu. They were really fantastic about it.

        2. re: tsb2001

          I agree 100%. I've eaten at all 3 restaurants and while Bouley was a B/B- for me, and Le Bernadin was an A+, Per Se creates its own category. tsb2001 is exactly right - I'd rather eat at Per Se once than two or three times at any other restaurant.

          Second choice is also a no-brainer for me - Le Bernedin over Bouley.

        3. From someone that gets to NYC once/twice/year Restaurant Daniel is my all time favorite. I have been to NYC over 35 times and I have been to Daniel at least 10/12 times. I absolutely love the atmosphere, room, food and service. Marcus the Maitre De is an outstanding young man. I have his # if you need help getting in. I like most of the other very fine restaurants in your wonderful city but I really like Daniel.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Littleman

            I agree. I've been to Daniel, Jean-Georges, Bouley, Le Bernardin and The French Laundry...Daniel's service (all 8 times or so) has been the perfect balance of attention without being overbearing. I liked it better than TFL. Daniel is my standard for service and I have yet to find a place that's better.

            The food is very luxurious but creatively, I'll admit, it's not on par with Jean-Georges. The madelines are hauntingly good though.

            1. re: Porthos

              Agree w/Daniel; it's one of our all-time faves anywhere. That said, jean-Georges never disappoints. We like fish, but have not have an over-the-top experience there. The fish is impeccably fresh and well cooked, but not exciting.

          2. I have not done Per Se yet, but have been to French Laundry and there is no doubt in my mind its one of the best restaurants in the US. On par with Michellen starred places in Europe. Plus, its uniquely American. As they say, 'when in Rome...." Daniel is fantastic, but its French. One should try to eat the very best cuisine one's own culture has to offer.

            (Also, if I want French I go whole hog and hit Le Grenouille -- red banquettes, gorgeous flowers, classic haute cuisine, class service. Now that's how a NY French restaurant should be.)

            I think Jean Gorges is overrated. I've been going to his places since he first started infusing those oils -- JoJo and all its progeny. It gets old.

            Per se. Take me.

            1. Per Se definitely. Havent been to JG. Really enjoyed Daniel but Per Se is in a whole different league. I love Bouley and would rank it similar to Daniel. I enjoyed my dinner at Cru, however, as much as any of them, including Per Se.

              1. Funny story about Bouley...My father had his birthday dinner there in July. We were debating whether or not to get the wine pairings with the tasting menu. The sommelier came over to offer his advice. He was very much in favor of the wine pairings (as expected) and gushing over how well the paired wines went with many of the dishes. To be honest, no one in our group was a wine expert so we asked him for an example. He raved about the pairing with an egg dish. The only problem was that it wasn't on the tasting menu. Ok, well one slip up is allowed. He then described the delicious pairing of another dish...that also wasn't on the tasting menu! Anyway, we did end up getting the wine pairings and it was a delicious meal in a beautiful space, but I thought it was pretty funny that the sommelier didn't really know the menu.

                1 Reply
                1. re: eca

                  Per Se is the one. Crisp but friendly service in an awesome space. Impeccable food, service and wine. The wine list is extremely impressive at Daniel but overwhelming. Also, Daniel feels a little too "upper Eastside establishment" to me while Per Se has a bit more modern and relaxed California vibe. Much better to my taste.

                  Le Bernardin is not my style. The fish is fabulous but the atmosphere and service, particularly the sommelier staff, seems stiff and formulaic. I feel like I'm on an elegant assembly line, delicious but impersonal. In contrast, the Per Se sommelier came up with some innovative suggestions (I gave our general taste preferences and price guideline, he did the rest). He also removed the labels of the wines we particularly liked and put them in an envelope for our future consultation. Very helpful and friendly.

                  So, sign me up for Per Se.

                2. Having been to Daniel, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin and Bouley (have not been able to snag a reservation at Per Se yet), it really depends on your taste. If you love seafood, Le Bernardin is the way to go. I love Daniel and Bouley -- the food, service, atmosphere. Bouley is more of rustic romance, and Daniel is more opulent romance. If you love bread, Bouley has the bread bar with at least eight breads to choose from. I'm not a fan of Jean-Georges. While I appreciate what Jean-George is trying to do in terms of being very innovative with flavor combinations, I don't like his food enough to want to eat an entire dish of it.

                  1. i just had a fantastic meal at bouley saturday night and i wrote a review of it...


                    1. Daniel (Daniel Boulud), Le Bernadin (Eric Ripert) and Bouley (David Bouley) seem, from the above, to be more or less on a par. The funny thing is, I think each one personifies his restaurant, physically as well as philosophically, in a way that can't be said about Per Se or JG. Is that why they are placed a rung below Per Se or JG, above? If so, I think this is a pity.

                      While Per Se is an amazing place, I would really prefer the comfort of either Daniel or Bouley any day, coupled with the knowledge that each chef is directly connected with the kitchen. Great food is also about a great experience, and there is nothing quite as ghastly as the trek through the Time Warner Center to get to Per Se. Le Bernadin is the best for fish, so you have to allow for that eccentricity when comparing to Daniel and Bouley.

                      JG doesn't match those above, but we're talking major leagues for all of them, so it's an individual decision.

                      My vote, in order, is Bouley, Daniel, (Le Bernadin if fish is your thing), Per Se, JG.

                      - Sean

                      1. Go for Per Se if you can get the reservation. Thomas Keller is probably considered the best chef in the US. I spent probably over $500 at Daniel and was not impressed with the food. I even got more upset when they were serving me Asian Veggies as something exotic which I can probably get at a $5 lunch box place in Chinatown.

                        1. I will chime in with all the others who say Per Se. Single best meal of my life. I have been to all the restaurants you have listed btw. Per Se is a level above...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: tpigeon

                            Agree about Per se, but your meal would have to be a month or so from now, otherwise you have very little hope of getting in.....

                          2. Actually Per Se takes reservations 2 months in advance, and one must call 2 months to the day if you hope to get a reserve. Although I have gotten off the wait list in the past.

                            My first choice would be Per Se. 2nd Choice would be J-G.

                            I have had numerous meals at Jean Georges and the chef has been there every time I have had lunch there. I think the room is beautiful at lunch time with the sun streaming in the windows. The service is even calmer and the experience is even better than at dinner. At lunch you have the ability to customize your own meal or tasting menu as the structure is $28 for 2 courses and then $12 for additional courses - I consider it a choose your own adventure!

                            I have tried Daniel several times and don't feel that it is as strong as Le B, JG or Per Se. The room is big, service is formal, I question the ability of the kitchen to produce for so many covers, esp if you are not "known" to the house.

                            Bouley used to be my favorite high end restaurant, esp for dinner. I do not feel it is as strong as it used to be and many items on the menu have not changed for years. If you have not been before, then they will all be new to you, but I think it shows an element of coasting that concerns me.

                            Le B is wonderful for fish and service is impeccable. My only complaint is that the room feels corporate. Not my idea of romantic. (Bouley is certainly romantic.)

                            Per Se, JG, Bouley and then Daniel, in that order would be my rec.

                            Enjoy your dinner!

                            1. If you want a truly extraordinary meal at an equally extraordinary price, my vote is Per Se (can't be beat if price is no object--figure $800 - $1,000 per couple). For a great meal at a more reasonable price ($250 - $400 per couple), I would recommend Aureole, Bouley or Danube. I'm not a big fan of Le Bernardin (great for a business dinner though). Also quite good is Eleven Madison Park.

                              1. I'm a 22-year old food lover and am desperate to try Per Se. Can I just go for the $210 tasting menu and skip the wine? Will they look at me funny? $210 is a special occasion. $500 means I won't be able to pay the rent...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Odelay101

                                  they won't look at you funny at all. two ideas, though:

                                  1. bring your own bottle of wine (call for corkage costs - i have no idea what they are)


                                  2. choose an inexpensive bottle. i was amazed that per se's wine list included so many bottles in the $50-$70 price range.

                                2. The short answer is you can do as you please, it's your money and you are the guest. The food you receive will be the same as those that order wine get.

                                  Just keep in mind that the $210 does not include tax and also you may end up wanting more than tap water in the end. I don't drink (much) and my wife and I ended up spending $600-650 all-in, including the fois gras supplement for an unbelievable experience. You will enjoy it most if you don't feel you are breaking the bank to do so.

                                  1. Thanks everyone. My boyfriend and I are deciding tonight. I'll post a review after we go.

                                    1. for tasting. go for either Bouley or Jean Georges

                                      1. I think a lot of it depends on how much you care about the formality of service. If you do a lot, go to Daniel or Jean Georges. Otherwise, go to Bouley, where the food is excellent and the service a little less stuffy.

                                        1. I am reviving this one? A year or so later..1- is Per Se worth 800-1k per couple? It's now 275.00 per person! 2- Does this include wine or is it extra? 3- Is the 5 course lunch pri fix worth it or should I take the plunge? I have been dining at JG for a long time and I want to try something new and exciting. (Done Daniel and Le Bernardin). Is Per Se worth double the fare of Jean-Georges?????

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ny.foodie

                                            Have you tried Aureole? I think it is simply divine. And for a frame of reference I too have been to Daniel and Le Bernardin.

                                            1. re: ny.foodie

                                              The $275pp at Per Se includes the gratuity but *not* wine and tax. We have never been, and we're still not convinced that it would be worth spending $800. Actually, for us, it would a bit less because I don't drink. But still....

                                              We had dinner for the first time at Jean Georges in October. We had the tasting menu of his signature dishes. I thought his cuisine was excellent though I was not wowed by every dish. Surprisingly, what did disappoint me were Johnny Ianuzzi's desserts. Way too much going on on the plate, so that it became a jumble of flavors with nothing really standing out.

                                              We also had dinner at Daniel in October. The cuisine was superb, but we had some serious service issues which I've discussed elsewhere on this board.

                                              I'm not a fan of Le Bernardin. Period.

                                              Have you been to Eleven Madison Park since Chef Daniel Humm arrived? Regulars on this board know it's our favorite NYC restaurant right now. Chef Humm's sensational French-inspired cuisine is innovative without being far out, and each time we dine there, he continues to amaze and excite us. We just did the 11-course Gourmand menu, and it was one sensational dish after another. (Note: The amuses and the mignardises bump it up to lucky 13!) Honestly, I can't imagine that Per Se's 9-course tasting menu could be better than this. True, it's expensive ($145pp + $115 for wine pairing + tax + tip), but a bargain compared to the cost at Per Se.