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Eleven Madison Park, Babbo, or Bouley--Help me choose for my 30th birthday

My dad and step-mom are coming to town to take my SO and me out for my 30th next month. Restaurant is up to me, and the only guideline I've been given for price is that I'm not allowed to choose Per Se. Fine with me! So, I've narrowed it down to the 3 in the title of this posting. Obviously, I've researched 'em all on this board (and elsewhere, tho' nothing compares to Chowhound reviews!). My question: would you say that one of these is a better pick in terms of a) atmosphere b) fish/seafood options or c) some other criteria that I'm not thinking of?

Thanks in advance! Will report back (tho' the big day is not 'til July)

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  1. What a nice invitation, and I love your Dad's caveat not to book Per Se! Leaves you great options.

    Here's my read:

    Babbo is jumping and festive, and the food is very very good, particularly the pasta. It is packed with atmosphere, the branzino that I ate there was very good (but I would say no better than at a dozen other restaurants in NYC), and good luck getting a reservation.

    Eleven Madiosn Park is excellent, with all the hallmarks of a Danny Meyer joint. Very good service, and good food. The fish there is always in top condition. I had branzino there too, and it was better than at Babbo. But not much, to be honest. The room is big but a little corporate for my liking.

    And then to Bouley. The atmosphere is warm and quiet. The food is unebelievably good, particularly the fish. Bouley has a way with fish. I had cod there this week for lunch. Now cod is a mild, somewhat bland fish, but it has a lovely flaky texture and you have to cook it carefully. Mine was perfect, and was beautifully executed and composed with mushrooms and peas, and other tasty things. I think it is very grand and celebratory, without the highly caffeinated feeling of Babbo. The food is a notch well above both Babbo and EMP.

    How 'bout this. Go a little early and treat yourselves to a drink at the bar in Danube, which is around the corner (the champagne cocktail with elderflower cordial is yummy). Then walk around to Bouley and be pampered for your birthday.

    Have fun, wherever you go.

    - Sean

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sean Dell

      thats 3 tough choices. Ive been to EMP and had a great meal but as the above poster mentioned its kind of like eating in a huge bank. if it was me i'd go with Babbo. Heard so many great things, you really cant go wrong. I guess same goes for Bouley, but since i like italian more than french, thats my answer. Enjoy.

      1. re: Sean Dell

        I had a superb dinner at Bouley last weekend (so good that it made me wonder why I hadn't been back to Bouley in nine months). I also do like Eleven Madison Park; I am taking a cooking demo class at Macy's Degustibus with Chef Humm in two weeks. I've never been to Babbo, but I'm not a big fan of Mario. I love Sean's suggestion of getting the Danube cocktail first--it's one of my favorites!

      2. Before getting too excited see where you can get a Rez. For a birthday I'd pick Babbo but it books solid either 30 or 60 days ahead.

        EMP may be a bit corporate but the food is outstanding under the new chef.

        1. Since you mentioned fish as a criteria for choosing, I would be remiss if I didn't urge you to consider Le Bernardin - no one IMHO does fish better.

          That having been said - I love both Babbo and EMP - but I love Babbo more - just stick with appetizers and pasta and desert which are where all the magic is. If you select Babbo remember that reservations are 30 days in advance to the exact numerical date - resy lines open at 10:00 AM - start calling at 9:59 AM and put your phone on speed dial - 212-777-0303.

          4 Replies
          1. re: livetotravel

            If you're truly into a nearly 100% seafood menu, I would second the Le Bernardin suggestion. It's hard to beat, although if you do the top of the line tasting, you'll be approaching Per Se prices, but it'll still be cheaper. My next choice would be a toss up between EMP and Bouley, although I would choose Bouley for the seafood preparations too.

            1. re: streamwise

              Ditto on Le Bernadin. We finallly ate there for the first time this Spring (we go everywhere else, I don't know what took us so long to go there). It was amazing. Really incredible. Wiped the floor with Bouley where we'd just been two weeks before. And considerably cheaper than Per Se. (I actually liked the food a bit better too). Also the servers were very friendly and fun at Le Bernadin...which I didn't expect. I can see why it is one of the only 3 star Michelin starred restaurants in NYC.

              1. re: BW212

                Wow, thanks to all who have responded so far. I really appreciate the suggestions and tips, and I think I'm edging towards...well, no, that wouldn't be fair to say yet. For the moment, I'm just really enjoying reading what all of you have to say, and am intrigued by this new suggestion of Le Bernadin...

                Anyway, will make a decision soon, but just wanted to thank you all for your feedback in the meantime. More is always welcome, too. And Sean and Ellenost, you've got me thinking that I might have to do something else worth celebrating soon so I can go try that elderflower cocktail at Danube no matter what!

                1. re: emileat

                  Can't help with the birthday rec's, sorry, but another great elderflower drink is the orange-elderflower soda at Perry Street. The cherry-yuzu soda is also great. Go for the $24 lunch prix fixe, which is a great deal. See Brian S's post from last November, which is what tempted me into going: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33944...

          2. Do Bouley - the tasting menu - 5 courses is fantastic. Do their signature seafood in green broth, the lobster is the best you'll ever have, the cod is wonderful, and if you like foie gras at all, it's superb. Plus, they give you all sorts of other things. We had at least 5 desserts the last time we were there

            1. I'll join the chorus and say that if you are not going to go to Le Bernardin, it's Bouley all the way.
              And the elderflower cocktail at Danube is delectable, and served in that oasis of peace and professional service that is the front room of Danube.
              Happy 30th.