Bernardin, Atelier, or Per Se
Out for a no-holds-barred, 10 (or more) course evening. Have always wanted to try Bernardin and have been to most of the great NYC restaurants except the above. Been away from NYC for a few years and seek guidance. We are omnivorous and prone to take the wine pairing. Please advise. Many thanks!
Bernardin doesn't really have the same type of over-the-top tasting menus that the other two have, so I don't think that is the best choice. For an anniversary, I think Per Se would be better, if only because you will have much more room and quiet than at Atelier, which is more chaotic and cramped.
re: Phil E
May prove moot. I just called Per Se and there is no availability (Aug. 18), though I am on the waiting list. I had forgotten the rat-race that is NYC reservations. Bernardin, on the other hand, will only take the reservation on July 2. Living here in Boston is a bit of a bummer, but at least I can always get into where I want to eat.
You obviously have picked 3 of the best restaurants in NYC, and it really depends on what kind of dining and food experience you are looking for for the dinner. Each of them provide something differernt and have some weaknesses. I will give you a quick comparison of the three:
Le Bernardin - very seafood focused, so you really have to love seafood to enjoy the whole meal. When I first ate there I thought the seafood was quite magical. However, after I had dined in other restaurants which did not specialize in seafood but still capable of creating same level of seafood dishes, I will only consider going to there when I have major seafood craving.
The weakest link of this restaurant (compared to the other two) was service IMO. The servers did everything right, being very attentive, fulfilled every request, but to a point where I felt a bit robotic. This was the least one I enjoyed in terms of atmosphere. Just didn't feel relaxing. Didn't feel warm but a bit "cold" service instead. May be it was just me, but I enjoyed the food much more than the restaurant itself (if you know what I meant).
So overall: Pros: Great seafood and has the most seafood varieties (duh...)
Cons: Stiffy atmosphere, cold service (not sure if you want this for an anniversary dinner...)
Per Se - This is probably the most "balanced" restaurant among the three foodwise. The seafood, vegetables, meat, desserts are all flavorful and quite flawlessly executed. The restaurant was also very nice and accommodated every request my companion asked for. Service was friendly but the atmosphere was still a bit stiff (may be because when people dress up they all put on a poker face?:D) I didn't think that all their dishes were great or wowing though. The good ones were great, but some others were not that impressive.
Overall: Pros: Great balance meal; Accommodating; Great service
Cons: Quite stuffy atmosphere, hits and misses in the tasting
Lastly, L'Atelier de Joel Robouchon - This restaurant is the one that I visited most often among the three. Food is a bit one-sided: lots of foie gras and game dishes which IMO were their strengths. Almost all the foie gras dishes and beef and games were delicious. Seafood was the game breaker. While their shellfish like sea scallops and lobster were quite flavorful, the fish dishes were bland and uninspiring. That's why I prefer to order a la carte small plate tasting than the tasting menu because I learnt my lessons and only picked the dishes that I like. If you like beef, you have to order their kobe beef. This is the only one in the city that I considered closest to the kobe beef in Japan. It immediately put those steakhouses who claimed they offer wagyu beef into shame. Some of the dishes have very unique combination of ingredients that I haven't seen in other restaurants (such as the eel and foie gras, sea urchin with lobster gelee, etc). I love that fact that the atmosphere is so causal and friendly. You can literally walk in in jeans (though shorts won't be appropriate) and enjoy high-end food in a relaxed environment. This is a BIG plus for me. The staff are super-friendly, and will get to be friends with a few of them very quickly. By the way, desserts here are hands down the best among all three (and I sometime just go there for desserts!)
I wrote a mini review of the dishes there awhile back, and if you are interested you can take a look:
Overall: Pros: Great food, flexibility + variety of the menu, causal and friendly service
Cons: unimpressive fish dishes
So here you go. I hope this will give you a sense of what you can expect from each restaurant and pick the one that best fit your preference for this anniversary dinner. While Per Se is fully booked now, cancellation is quite common so you may still have a chance. So don't give up if you decide to go to Per Se~
I hope you have a wonderful anniversary dinner!
I found l'atelier de joel robuchon to be uneven. foie burger was a standout .. others i had were perfectly ok, but not memorable. Free Range Caramelized Quail stuffed with foie gras, truffled potato puree,Asparagus with Morels cooked in arbois wine, soft egg and shaved ham,King Crab with mozzarella and avocado salad
Thank you for your well-considered replies. We are seafood fanatics, so LeB would work. I would, however, prefer my place at Per Se, should one be offered. I love the Philip Johnson building that contains l'Atlier but may save that dinner for a more appropriate time to sit at the bar and see the pyrotechnics first-hand. Your descriptions helped very much in formulting this conclusion. I am sorry, however, to hear of the stiffness of the waitstaff at LeB, as this is an oft-repeated concern of my partner. I may inform the maitre d' that we stand a little less on ceremony that most of their clientele and ask that we be given one of their livelier waitstaff, should we end up there. All told, Per Se if offered. LeB if not, and l'Atelier for lunch the next day!
I am very flattered but I am in no authority to judge the best or the worst. I am simply sharing my humble thoughts about my dining experience, based on what I think tasted good / bad. I love fine dining just as much as I love the food from a good street cart or a hole-in-the-wall place. There are more hounds that are experts in different areas and I certainly learn a lot myself by reading their posts!
Back to your question about Daniel. My last visit was more than 1/2 year ago but I would be very positive that they are still serving top-notch food with impeccable service. Daniel is no question up to the par of the above, and depending on what's on the menu, Daniel can surpass them. If you do a course by course comparison, I will say there are dishes that Daniel do better than Per Se, and vice versa. The flavors were more complex than Per Se and Le Bernardin IMO, but that's not saying it is better or worse. It just depends on what kind of food (or mood) I am looking for for that day. I think consider Daniel's service to be flawless in delivery. That said, the place is just so grand that there is always a bit of stiffness (i mean, this is a place that I will really dress up to go to). After knowing that they have cameras all over the place to watch the diners for "seamless service", I actually feel a bit creepy to know that someone is watching my every move while I am eating. It probably doesn't matter to most people, but it's just something that I rather not know.
Without question: Per Se. In addition to the main dining room, they have a small room that holds 8-10 people just off of the main dining room (same view), but you can reserve up to 1 year in advance. It's not that much pricier than the main dining room. If you're with a larger group, you could try that. Otherwise, keep your fingers crossed. It is more than a dinner, it's an experience!
I haven't been to Atelier yet, (although I've heard good things about it), but it sounds like despite the great food, it wouldn't necessarily be the best place to celebrate an anniversary. (If you're looking for an over the top experience).
Unlike Kobetobiko (whose reviews I really enjoyed reading), I found the service at Le Bernadin to be amazing- knowing what you needed before you needed it - and very nice friendly and actually fun. (unlike at a certain top restaurant that rhymes with "douley."
And the fish I had there was mind blowing. Really delicious. You will NOT be disappointed if that is where you end up having dinner.
That said, Per Se is an EXPERIENCE in the dramatic sense of the word. Your truffles will be brought out in boxes for you to smell before they are shaved, etc. Great food, but not necessarily better than Le Bernadin. If you have your heart set on going there, you may want to call late in the day, just to see if there was a last minute cancellation.
I hope you have a great anniversary!
Thank you for your kind words. I do agree with you the Per Se and Le Bernardin will be better if the OP is looking for THE one night memorable experience. Afterall, L'Aterlier is causal enough for impromptu meals, so it may not be the celebratory sort of restaurants. Your assessment is absolutely spot on!