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Top 5 Upscale Restaurant Choices (Not Sushi)

I'm taking a survey on top 5 upscale choices. I've got a big birthday coming up, and am pretty much set on Le Bernardin and/or Eleven Madison Park but would appreciate other suggestions. Aside from Per Se and sushi, looking for all fantastic options, price not an issue, any type of cuisine. Thanks!

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  1. I love both Union Square Cafe and davidburke & donatella

    1. In addition to Eleven Madison Park, I would recommend Aureole, Bouley and Danube. Happy Birthday! While I think the food is good at Le Bernardin, it's too corporate in atmosphere.

          1. Aureole for classic, upscale.

            1. Babbo, Jean Georges - Yes, I know, real original :).

              1. Thanks...I appreciate all the suggestions so far. Keep them coming.
                I wanted to try somewhere new. I've been to Babbo, Aureole, David Burke...I've heard a lot about Cru and so that may be an option. Also, I didn't realize Le Bernardin is closed on Sunday so I may need to cross that one off the list or rearrange my plans.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ChowDiva

                  It's generally not a good idea to do top restaurants on Sunday since it's usually "chef's night off".

                  1. re: Porthos

                    I agree. Though I have no empirical evidence since I never dine in good restaurants on Sunday or Monday for that reason. I once put a thread on Not About Food about this and got virtually no response. Last year, Mark Bittman wrote in the Times in support of this: With the top chef in the kitchen, "they taste constantly, berate even their top staff for not getting the seasoning right, micromanage shamelessly" Besides, with the top chef and the chef de cuisine away, when 50 orders come in at once, a line cook might cut corners. If he does this with the top guy there, he's out of a job.

                  2. re: ChowDiva

                    Actually, I have to disagree with Porthos's contention. One of the signs of a top restaurant is the ability of the kitchen staff to function at a high level even if the executive chef is absent. We often dine out at better restaurants (for example, EMP, Veritas, and Fleur de Sel) on Sundays and have not found any diminished quality in the cuisine.

                    So, if you decide to go to Eleven Madison on a Sunday, you don't have to be concerned. Even if Chef Humm is not in the kitchen -- though he very well may be -- the cuisine will still be first-rate.

                    Btw, we were recently at Gramercy Tavern on a Sunday evening. Chef Michael Anthony was there. He was in and out of the kitchen making sure that everything was running smoothly.

                  3. Then why have a head chef at all? A night out at one of those places is so expensive, I'd rather the chef be present to taste the sauces and to watch over the prep than a kitchen that is running on autopilot. Maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.

                    If RGR feels that it doesn't matter if the chef is in the kitchen or not, I can't argue with that. I've taken care never to make high-end reservations on a Sunday just as I take care not to have sushi on Sunday or Monday. Personally, I don't like taking that chance.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Porthos

                      Why have a "head" chef at all? I'm not sure how much you know about how a restaurant kitchen is run. Although I'm not a professional, I have done an amateur stage, so I've had the opportunity to get a bit of an education in that regard.

                      The executive chef creates the menu and is responsible for the overall operation of the kitchen, including ordering supplies, scheduling and assigning kitchen staff, etc. Once the staff has been trained to the executive chef's satisfaction, things should run like a well-oiled machine, generally under the day-to-day hands-on supervision of the chef de cuisine. In instances where chef/owners have more than one restaurant, the chef de cuisine handles everything, and the chef stops in every so often to make sure all is running smoothly.

                      For example, at Per Se, despite the fact that people are spending a boatload of money to dine there, Thomas Keller is not personally preparing their meals. While he was hands-on when the restaurant first opened, at this point, that's now the job of his chef de cuisine.

                      So, I think your feeling of "taking a chance" on Sunday dining at upscale restaurants is totally misplaced because even if you go to a top restaurant during the week or on a Saturday, the food you are eating is probably not being prepared by the executive chef himself. In fact, he may not even be there.

                      1. re: RGR

                        I do know chefs like Eric Ripert still taste the sauces as they come out and are still active in the day-to-day operations. That's the quality control that I was referring to. Also, I understand the Chef de Cuisine is in charge in many restaurants, but as I understand it, Sunday night is their night off. So who's in charge on Sunday evenings?

                        1. re: Porthos

                          The Sous-chefs are trained to take over when the top two chefs are out...including in the kitchen of LB and in most high end kitchens here in the city and do a good job of it too.

                          1. re: nyufoodie

                            That's the x-factor that I try to eliminate from my dining experiences. There is a huge talent gap between a sous-chef and the chef de cuisine. For my money, I'll try to go when the A-team is on.

                            Chef's aside, I also thought another reason not to dine at high end restaurants on Sunday evening was that meat and produce delivery was limited.

                            My stance is based on a NYT article I read many years past. It made sense to me and I've never had the urge to test it.

                            1. re: Porthos

                              sorry rgr,
                              porthos gets the nod here.

                              on a different tack, i'm glad you revisited GT.

                              1. re: steve h.

                                I do understand the arguement but I,as well, have had some of my best dining experiences on a Sunday.

                                1. re: steve h.

                                  steve h., As I said, we have dined many times at upscale restaurants on a Sunday -- places where we've also dined on other days -- and never found the food to be in any way inferior.

                                  I'll also add that in the upscale kitchen where I did my stage, the executive chef was not always there during service. We were also regular patrons over many years (dinners and lunches), and the fact is, we could never tell if he was or was not in house during our meals because the food always maintained the same excellent quality even when the chef de cuisine or one of the sous chefs was in charge.

                                  But, hey, if you and Porthos prefer to think that upscale kitchen staffs can't perform at peak level when the executive chef is absent, and you prefer not to dine on a Sunday for fear of getting a less than stellar meal, that's certainly your right. :-)

                                  As regards GT, I have said that with the arrival of Michael Anthony, I would be willing to give it another chance. Our dinner that Sunday was in the Tavern Room, which I hadn't been to since the restaurant first opened and my husband had never been to. We both thought the food we had was excellent. Still on my "go to" list is the main dining room. We last dined there in the fall of '04, when we had the very disappointing tasting dinner I've referred to in past posts. Since Chef Anthony's Tavern food was so good, it bodes well for the cuisine in the dining room. But we shall see....

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    howdy rgr,
                                    i really enjoy the tavern side of gt (pretty fond of the bar, too). great spot for lunch. here's hoping you give esca and le bernardin another chance. :-)

                                    1. re: steve h.

                                      Hey, steve h., It was the food, not the service or ambiance that took G.T. off our list, so the arrival of Michael Anthony was a definite incentive to try it again.

                                      As regards Esca and Le Bernardin, in addition to the fact that neither has had a recent chef change, the service at Esca was very brusque and at Le Bernardin too icy + the seating at Esca is uncomfortably sardine-like and at Le B., dining in an office building lobby is a major detraction. Thus, with so many more appealing return options available -- for example, we will definitely be going back to Urena -- another visit to those two is not in the cards.

                                      1. re: RGR

                                        no worries. i have every confidence that, over time, you'll come around.

                                        1. re: steve h.

                                          At my (advanced) age, I have learned never to say never. So, you could be right. :-)

                      2. You've been missing out. Do Bouley.

                        - Sean

                        1. Jean Georges
                          Per Se
                          11 Madison Park
                          (in that order)

                          1. My favorite upscale French restaurant is Daniel. Truly lovely room, attentive service, fabulous food. Granted, the price is high but, for a really special occasion, the experience and the food seem to be worth it. Some people say they think it's snobby, but my husband and I never have felt that. It just seems totally correct to me. I think the staff does their best to make sure you're comfortable, whether you're waiting at the bar for your table to be ready, or during the course of your meal. I've seen Daniel make the rounds of the dining room late in the evening, stopping to chat at nearly every table. Last time we were there, we mentioned that we were going to Paris for the holidays and he wrote us a list of his favorite brasseries and bistros. And no, we're not what you'd call 'regulars,' although I'll admit that we have dined there four times in the last two years. (We've had a lot of things to celebrate.)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Deenso

                              Daniel is closed on Sunday, I believe, and I think that Jean-Georges is too.

                            2. If you like Jean George, I was surprisingly impressed by Perry Street. A very quiet, dimly lit, modern design showcase kind of room. One of the best meals I have had start to finish with absolutely no weak links. The service was impeccable and the bill surprisingly reasonable

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: rathbone

                                I really enjoyed my experience at Perry Street as well. I loved the ambiance, and the food and service outstanding. If anyone else looking for a new place to go for a special occassion...try Perry Street!

                              2. i like la grenouille for a really good high end french
                                per se

                                dont love daniel.. it was nice but not my thing have been to places i liked better

                                1. bouley
                                  11 madison park

                                  in that order...

                                  1. Perry Street is nice but i don't know if it's special occasion enough. Veritas might be, although it's rather low key. Gramercy Tavern may not be ready yet. food-wise, Daniel is more interesting tahn Chanterelle, which is a bit of a snooze and stuck in time-warp a bit IMO

                                    since you want to go on a Sunday, this knocks a few places off the list. are you looking at a very plus/luxurious experience or focusing mostly on food - e.g. I might go to Le Bernardin for food but i hate the dated '80s decor. haven't been to Bouley recently either but never liked the room anyway (even though i've enjoyed the food). ditto Cru - drab, drab and food's getting mixed reviews lately. Danube will be cozy and romantic - and the food solid but possibly not blow your mind if you are familiar with Austrian-inspired dishes.

                                    on the other hand, i liked Robuchon's food (and it can be very special or even amazing) but the room is not that fab and you really want to eat at the counter anyway.

                                    11Mad could be very good food but again, didn't love the room - always found it a little cold

                                    some other options:

                                    Counter Dining Rm upstairs is very good food and rather plush and sexy, actually (i was surprised). They have a nice black truffle menu right now. oh, and the bison was excellent

                                    if you want an elegant room and good service and like very classic food, you might like Gordon Ramsay - although the critics found it boring. i liked it, although innovative it ain't

                                    personally, i really like Tocqueville (open on Sunday too) and they know how to make a special occasion special - that's where i celebrated my last b-day - but i'm friends with the owners and have worked with them too.

                                    BUT, if money is no object and presumable you have a little time to celebrate (weekend and all), why not go to what might be some of the best restaurants in the US right now - Robuchon at the Mansion (not Atelier) or Guy Savoy in Vegas or Alinea or Moto in Chicago?
                                    (hell, that's where i'd go)

                                    or Stone Barns - a lot closer, although this time of the year, the menu might le somewhat limited

                                    1. bouley abosolutely!! so lovely.
                                      i havent tried it, but have heard some incredible things lately about blue hill... a little different than the traditional top guys: bouley, jg, eleven madison, babbo, per se, etc.

                                      1. Bouley
                                        Tribeca Grill
                                        Avra...the freshest and best in fish!!

                                        1. L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. We were there a couple of days ago had the 9-course tasting menu and it was one of the best meals we've ever had. The scallop was a wow that melted in your mouth and the best we've ever had. So was the Langoustine. They gave us the mash potatoes to go with the Kobe beef dish and it was the best mash potatoes ever!!!

                                          At the risk of making a blasphemous statement, we prefer L'Atelier over Per Se.

                                          1. Why hasn't anyone mentioned the Dining Room at the Modern?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Unpossible

                                              Because, while the food is great, the garden side room is too stuffy and formal, and the bar side, as good as it is, and by far the better place to eat, doesn't ascend to the heights. It's a bar, after all.

                                              That's why.

                                              - Sean

                                            2. Union Square and other Danny Meyer restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, etc.) are favorites. Chanterelle was delicious but the dining room was too formal for my taste. Montrachet while no longer trendy/hot has always been a favorite.

                                              1. I loved a voce when I took my boyfriend out for his b-day. It was truffles season and we had the best eggy pasta with truffle shavings. Chanterelle is terrific.

                                                1. I do not recommend Le Bernardin. We suffered through a very disappointing dinner there. The food was stunningly mediocre, and the service was rude. It was so embarrassing, since my husband and I chose the restaurant, and the couple who dined with us are serious (international) foodies. The only thing that saved the evening was the sommelier, who was very professional and recommended some glorious wines. Le Bernardin is not as classy as it pretends to be -and stunningly, people buy into the hype.

                                                  What made things worse was that we had been to per se just a few months earlier, so the contrast in food quality and service, which were sublime at per se, was shocking. Our poor guests had wanted to go to per se, but could not get a reservation.

                                                  Another thing that bothered me at Le Bernardin was that I did not see a single female waiter on the floor. And, while I absolutely do not mind formal restaurants (I actually sometimes prefer them), at Le Bernardin the formality felt so contrived that it created a forced and disingenuous atmosphere, at times intentionally rude.

                                                  At Le Bernardin being formal seemed to be a goal in itself, while at per se (our idea of heaven, except for the price) the goal clearly was to make and keep its patrons happy.

                                                  We like (in no specific order)
                                                  Eleven Madison Park, we like all Danny Meyers restaurants. We like Bouley, Chanterelle (really friendly people), Jean Georges and Aquavit -and, though totally different, and way more casual, we like Spice Market. A friend of mine celebrated her 30th birthday at the Modern and absolutely loved it.

                                                  We even like March (we had way better fish there than we had at L.B.) even though it's a bit tacky. (The romantic "couples" theme gets a bit thick.)

                                                  Happy Birthday ChowDiva.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: FoodWine

                                                    Thank you FoodWine for your suggestions. I'm hoping my bf will take me to Eleven Madison Park for my birthday as I've been dying to go. The dinner I was inquiring about was a meal I'll be having with my mother. She does not eat meat and is always impressed with fancy restaurants as she doesn't dine out often. I will continue to look into the places you've suggested.

                                                  2. Check out PRUNE...it's on 1st st between 1st and 2nd ave......next to Le Elephant.....incredible...Gabriella Hamilton breaks down the incredible truth of simple food done extremely well........enjoy...small joint so call ahead