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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.