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Restaurants Report: Le Bernardin, Blue Hill, Bouley, Gramercy Tavern, Yasuda, Balthazar, Clinton Baking, Daniel, Aquavit, Eleven Madison Park...

Here is the complete list of restaurants that I've been to over the past week (per chowhound collective wisdom), and the grades:

Aquavit: 8
Balthazar: 7
Blue Hill: 6
Bouley: 7.5
Clinton Street Baking: 7
Craftsteak: 6
Daniel: 8.5
Esca: 6
Eleven Madison Park: 6.5
Gramercy Tavern: 9
Le Bernardin: 9.5
Stanton Social: 6.5
Sushi Yasuda: 9
Wd-50: 7

Had the tasting menu and/or the most famous dishes according to chowhounds at each restaurant.
Restaurants that charge more are judged on a correspondingly harsher scale

I know, some of these grades are very controversial. Feel free to ask me questions! I don't have time to type up full reviews for each restaurant for now, but hopefully as I answer questions I can gradually tell you about my experience.

Thanks hounds!

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  1. i'd like to hear your about your experience at yasuda...did you do omakase?

    also, out of curiosity, why did you rate Esca so low? i've never been there, but i'm a big fan of batali and would like to try Esca sometime in the future.

    10 Replies
    1. re: musicl1

      Yasuda: Yeah, did omakase in front of Yasuda san. We ate until we almost passed out, and the bill after all said and done was less than $200.
      Honestly, there isn't much to talk about: if you like sushi, make a reservation now. I can only speak for the seats in front of Yasuda, though.

      Esca: Did the tasting menu with crudo tasting. The crudo was unique, but not fresh enough to be worth $25. Aside from that, the tasting menu was a disaster. Nothing was dramatically overcooked or undercooked, but the menu just wasn't well designed. The flavors, if any, were not balanced. The progression of the dishes didn't feel right. And everything was just generally uninspiring.
      I am a big Batali fan too, at least from my experience at Del Posto and Otto (no time to try Babbo yet). But Esca was really not up to par. Service was fine, wine was solid, but the food was bad enough to turn me away for good.

      1. re: JohnnyBooy

        that's pretty impressive that it came out to less than 200 after tax and tip i'm assuming. did you get alcohol as well? i plan on going there sometime as long as i can get in front of yasuda and was expecting to pay at least 250, so it's nice to hear that your bill came out less than that.

        that's too bad about Esca. definitely make reservations for Babbo...it's worth the one month wait.

        1. re: musicl1

          250+ is what it usually costs me, but I am an eating machine. I think normal people are in the 125-175 range.

          1. re: tpigeon

            from the way it sounds, the bill came out to 200 for more than one person, not just him. thought that was impressive.

            1. re: musicl1

              Yeah it was for the two of us. Everything included, less than $200.

              The thing is, we are usually huge eaters (for example, we were full, but not stuffed, after Per Se's tasting menu, which I heard is pretty notorious for having lots of food).
              We ate until we were thoroughly stuffed at Yasuda.
              We didn't drink anything, not even sake.

        2. re: JohnnyBooy

          I'm thinking of going to Yasuda for an omakase dinner in the next couple weeks. Did you specifically ask for a seat in front of him when making the reservation? Thanks

          1. re: skgchow

            Absolutely. When I called the six seats in front of him were booked for 23 days ahead.

            1. re: JohnnyBooy

              That's great to know. I'm going to call right now. Thank you!

              1. re: skgchow

                If Yasuda isn't available that night, I would recommend sitting in front of Yoshi. He is amazing. God I love that place.

      2. Any stand out or memorable dishes?

        Have you been to the "country" Blue Hill? If yes, how would you compare the two restaurants?

        Hounds appear to love/hate Le Bernardin and wd-50. You rated Le Bernardin the highest at 9.5, that's a lot of love. Please tell us more.

        I have only been to Aquavit/Bouley/GT (ages ago for all 3), Balthazar, and Clinton Street Baking so I am very interested in more detail about your experiences (especially EMP, Daniel and GT which are on my "list").

        14 Replies
        1. re: financialdistrictresident

          Memorable dishes: Honestly, I can't think of any particular dish that stood out, although every dish at Gramercy Tavern was at least solid, and every dish at Le Bernardin was at least excellent. If you ask me about specific restaurants I will definitely try to pin point more.

          Blue Hill: No, just the city one. Bad experience (and I'm speaking strictly in terms of food), but given the great reviews I will definitely try again, and hopefully go to the country one some day as well.

          WD-50: Very creative, but not all the dishes worked. 7 was more for the creativity and courage than the taste. Worth going, though.

          Le Bernardin: Food was excellent in every way. Service was absolutely professional (although not very personal). Had both the Chef and Le Bernardin tasting menus, it's too bad they took away the fluke tasting and surf and turf (the one with kobe beef). But overall, I could hardly find fault in this restaurant. The tables were slightly crammed, though.

          Have to go for now, will definitely add to these, plus talk about Aquavit / Bouley / GT / Balthazar soon!

          1. re: JohnnyBooy

            Thanks for your thoughts. I've been to Aquavit and may return for the foie gras I saw a recent post about. Unless their menu has changed, it's too much herring for me. Enjoyed GT ages ago and curious to try again now that there is a new chef. Balthazar, Schillers, Pastis, Artisanal, etc. had enough of the NYC French bistro scene.

            Most interested in your opinion regarding EMP and Daniel since I've never been and they are on my go to "list."

            1. re: financialdistrictresident

              Will write more later, but EMP was a tragedy. I gave up Jean Georges and Annisa for it, and it was one of the worst meals I had this trip.

              Atmosphere: excellent. Tables were spread out, great ambiance, nice and quiet, high ceiling so the room was very soothing.

              Service: very solid. Not completely polished like Per Se or Le Bernardin, but not bad either

              Wine: not spectacular, but good

              Food: terribly boring. We ordered all the "right" or "famous" dishes: Foie gras, gnocchi, lobster, suckling pig, duck, chocolate-caramel tart with sea salt... nothing worked.

              To be fair, nothing was overcooked or too salty, but everything was frighteningly boring. The duck was perfect cooked, but the flavor was ordinary. Same goes for the suckling pig: it's just a block of nicely packed, nicely braised pig meat. In fact, it tasted very much like a block of pulled pork meat. It was not terrible in taste, but I went with quite high expectations.

              If I had this exact meal at a neighborhood restaurant for about $50-70 per person, it would have gotten a 7.5. But given the price and the hype, it was very disappointing. I am determined to give it another try (and I plan to order the exact same dishes), but judging from this past experience alone I wouldn't even take EMP over Gotham Bar & Grill or worse the Four Seasons restaurant.

              1. re: JohnnyBooy

                Thanks, really appreciate your thoughtful response.

                It's like the melt in your mouth duck I had at The Modern - Dining Room, delicious but not exciting.

                Trying to decide where to go next. Our recent dinner at Falai was one of our more exciting meals this year. Degustation was a runner up.

                1. re: financialdistrictresident

                  Do you mean the Long Island Duck Breast from Modern?

                  If so, I definitely prefer that to the EMP duck. It really was that ordinary.

                  1. re: JohnnyBooy

                    I don't remember. I believe it had roasted plums. The sauce was delicious.

                  2. re: financialdistrictresident

                    Hey financialdistrictresident,

                    I definitely recommend GT. Michael Anthony is excellent, the food was fresh and tasty. The place is crowded and loud, though. But aside from that, can hardly find fault with the food (except maybe dessert, which is on the weak side).

                    Daniel is a good experience, but it definitely fades when compared to the other top french restaurants in town. That said, it's good enough that I plan to go back, if only for the variety.

                    For Appetizers, both the lobster and scallop are quite good.
                    Main dish: Sea bass is excellent. Short Ribs are also good, but the other meat are not quite up to par.

                  3. re: JohnnyBooy

                    I agree mostly about EMP. I thought it was very overrated, especially the suckling pig.

                    Gramercy Tavern under Michael Anthony is much much better than EMP.

                2. re: JohnnyBooy

                  Do you remember what the surf was on Le Bernadin's Surf and Turf dish? That was the best seafood dish I've ever had in my life.

                  1. re: BW212

                    The Surf and Turf is "White Tuna and Seared Japanese Kobe Beef "Korean BBQ Style"; Fresh Kimchi; Lemon Brown Butter Emulsion"

                    It's too bad they took it away, along with the progressive tasting of fluke.

                    1. re: JohnnyBooy

                      Thanks! I don't think it was white tuna when I had it a while back (maybe they changed it?). But however they prepared it was wonderful.

                      Oh I just wanted to add about Eleven Madison Park - the one thing we were disappointed in were the desserts. I had that tart with chocolate and I salt. It was disappointing. But almost all of the savory dishe were stellar

                      1. re: BW212

                        You're right, they did change it. It used to be Escolar I believe.

                        1. re: JohnnyBooy

                          I am pretty sure the surf and turf was Dorado last time I had it. Btw, the piece of kobe beef they served with it was very mediocre, ultra fatty with nothing other than richness to offer. almost everyone in the group ordered it, and i had the feeling they had just run out and were forced to serve sub-par pieces. Anyway, I would say Bernardin in general is rather plain and overpriced. Why bother cooking good fish anyway. And while I agree, Yasuda is amazing, it is still far inferior to good sushi in vancouver, while costing much more.

                          1. re: Loquax

                            Yasuda is not inferior to even the best sushi in Vancouver. I will leave it at that.

              2. I was consideringh either Bouley or Gramercy Tavern for a special 40th bday celebration. We want to go tasting and noticed GT has a veg tasting and non-veg tasting. But, Bouley's tasting looked great too. You rated GT ahead of Bouley. Why? Where would you go for that one special night? Seafood and desserts are my favorite...don't eat red meat. Also, how does Telepan compare?

                4 Replies
                1. re: DCGUY5

                  Quick answer (I will elaborate later): Bouley is an excellent restaurant except for the food. I would chooe Gramercy Tavern over Bouley in a heart beat, but I wouldn't do the tasting menu (at GT) because I don't actually see much value in it. It is one of the few restaurants where I didn't do tasting menu.

                  The problem is that many good dishes at GT are meat dishes (short ribs, pork, lamb)... so if you don't eat red meat, you may want to consider Bouley after all.

                  Telepan is a fine restaurant, but in my view it's not even as good as Bouley.

                  1. re: DCGUY5

                    Hi DCGUY5 - I put GT over Bouley because the I thought Michael Anthony was a genius with braising and poaching meat. I also enjoyed the freshness of the dishes. Bouley is a completely different restaurant, and I thought the food is not as creative as it tries to be.

                    Another thing about having a special night is that GT is more crowded, louder, and in general a happier place. Bouley is a more intimate, reserved space. Depends on what kind of "special" you are looking for!

                    1. re: JohnnyBooy

                      In terms of the pork at GT, they actually cook it sous vide, and separate the loin and the belly so they can cook it at different temperatures, and then finish it (I believe in the oven). It's amazing and so flavorful. It's Ossabaw pork from Flying Pigs Farm.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Ah! sous-vide! I thought it was slow-poaching.

                    1. re: FoodWine

                      Heh, guess we differ.
                      If memory serves me right you're a big fan of EMP too, so we really are polar opposites.

                      1. re: JohnnyBooy

                        I know... it is really interesting how vastly tastes can differ... (...or maybe we just happened to experience off-nights in these restaurants, you and I, who knows.)

                        As you probably know, what you wrote about (the food) at Eleven Madison Park, I could have written about Le Bernardin, except the food at LB was (partly) worse than "terribly boring". One of our guests had a salmon appetizer and it was oily (in a bad way) and a bit fishy (in the bad kind of "salmony" way). The look on the poor woman's face was that of total disbelief and disappointment. She did not complain to the staff.

                        All the members in our group at LB that night are more than familiar with salmon -in all its forms of preparation. As a matter of fact, we have cured salmon ourselves, numerous times. So there was absolutely no room for interpretation -or differing tastes (vis-a-vis salmon): That dish was purely too bad to be served in a restaurant that is supposed to be in the "top tier" of NYC restaurants.

                        A few of the appetizers at LB were very promising, but all the main courses were just abysmally boring -and bland. It really felt as if they came out of an assembly line, with not an ounce of inspiration put into the creation or preparation of the dish.

                        We would have all more than loved to love LB; after all, we are really, really big on fish & seafood.
                        I have said this before: I/we love subtle tastes & pure, subtle, refined layers of tastes, but bland is not another word for subtle or refined.

                        Total opposite experience at EMP: subtle, refined, creative, even impeccable. I am actually getting hungry while writing this, remembering some awesome flavors and textures...and realized that it is time to go back.

                        I have to confess that I do not really understand what you meant when you wrote that the "wine was not spectacular, but good".
                        -You had a sommelier recommend the wine and did not like it?
                        -Or you chose the wine, and did not like it?
                        In both cases, that does not mean that there are not awesome wines on EMP's list.

                        The wine list at LB is arguably better than EMP's wine list, and the sommelier at LB is certainly better (impressive, we loved him).
                        But EMP's wine list is very, very good, with a broad selection of prices and choices from different regions, including some rarities. The wine list is also very well thought out with respect to the menu.

                        The "sommeliers" at EMP seem to vary in their (depth of) knowledge about wine. During our several visits, their recommendations have been either "right on the money" (I actually have had guests tear up out of happiness with the perfect pairing) to "almost there".
                        We do know a lot about wine (especially my husband, who is a total oenophile), and we know certainly enough to manage to choose a wine without the help of a sommelier, but we really enjoy picking their brains and being challenged, so we always ask for their opinions & thoughts and many times choose some of their recommendations.

                        I partly agree with you about the service at EMP; it is very solid, even though not completely polished like Per Se.
                        At EMP the service has been warm, friendly, professional and very attentive. Our water glasses have never been empty there (one of my key tests of the level of service), and our servers have been very, very respectful and responsive to any special restrictions in a patron's diet. It also seemed there was always someone there when we wanted or needed something.

                        But the service at Le Bernardin was the opposite, abysmal, and largely the reason why we gave it a 4.
                        It was rude, indifferent and chaotic -and partly hostile. (except for the sommelier). We were a group of well dressed, respectful people, who did nothing to deserve such a treatment. We were not loud, we did not stand out in any bad way.
                        Maybe, because of some of us have an accent, the servers felt that we did not need to be treated with respect.

                        The service was so stunningly poor, that I still have a hard time believing it. Never seen anything like it, not even in a local "joint".
                        Just a few examples:

                        We had to wait for basically anything we requested - when at EMP, for example, they almost anticipate a request, and it is "immediately" brought over.

                        At LB our water glasses sat empty a lot, and once for a looong time -EVEN AFTER WE ASKED TO GET SOME MORE.
                        Our waiter just stood there, not bothering to see to that we got the water that we had had to ask for. After a while I looked at him and pointed out that we still did not have more water. He did not move a fin, and in a very blasé tone responded: "It is coming". Clearly letting me know, that he did not give a hoot.
                        THIS is supposed to be a top restaurant in New York City.

                        At one point our WINE glasses were almost empty for a while and our waiter was nowhere to be seen, and no-one made a gesture to help us. (and no, we did not drink the wine "too" fast).
                        So my husband took the bottle that sat on the table (an awesome burgundy that did not need to be decanted), and started to pour for our guests. Suddenly the waiter was there, rushing over -and in effect ripped the bottle out of my husband's hand. When my (too stunned to react appropriately i.e. to get angry) husband tried to jokingly make light of the incident (we had guests, after all), the waiter muttered something in a really disrespectful and hostile tone. *)

                        After that he ignored us as much as he could.
                        And when he had to bring something to the table, he just short of slammed the plates down, without so much as a word of explanation of what was on the plates.

                        I do not care how much some waiter (at even a fancy restaurant) hates self-pourers. It is our night, our money. If the waiter does not accept - tough - but he/she better not show it in ANY way or form. He is there to serve us, and to cater to our needs, not the other way.

                        And after all, we had let the waiter pour the wine up to that point. Only when he failed to pour more in a timely manner, did my husband attempt to pour the wine himself.

                        My biggest regret now, afterward, was that I did not ask for the manager to come over and enlighten him about how we were treated.

                        It was not just that one waiter, the service on the whole was somehow very clumsy and slow and ill timed. And indifferent.

                        The sommelier was the one good thing at LB, and had everyone at LB acted in the professional manner he did, I would have given the place higher scores, maybe a 6.5 or 7 ... even though it would still have made me mad to pay those prices for the food we got.

                        *) A total contrast to that one abruptly aborted attempt to "self-pour" at LB, was one of our visits to per se: At one point (at per se) my husband took the bottle and was going to top off our glasses. Our waiter was immediately there, and in a VERY FRIENDLY AND GOOD HUMOURED manner (and smiling and relaxed) offered to pour. But he asked if we did prefer to pour ourselves. When we confessed that we sort of are self-pourers, he was more than happy to let us do that. (And yes, we tipped well, even on top of the built in tip. Self-pouring has nothing to do with not wanting to tip for service.)

                        Anyway, sorry you gave up other restaurants for a disappointing experience. We have not been to Jean-Georges for a long time, it is time to go back. I remember liking the place a lot, but the food was a bit uneven. The wait for the reserved table was outrageous, though. But they were friendly, and were classy enough to give us champagne while we waited, and a very nice table when we finally got seated.

                        Here are our experiences of some of the other restaurants you liked:

                        It has been a while, but we really liked Aquavit. I actually have plans to re-visit pretty soon.

                        Balthazar was OK, pretty friendly and quite efficient service, even though they were jammed.

                        The old Bouley, in the original location, was awesome -and we had one of our absolutely best restaurant food experiences there. The new one is good, but has not made us go "wow".

                        We love Gramercy Tavern.

                        Glad that you seemed to have a good "restaurant week", over all.

                        1. re: FoodWine

                          It's been many years since I've been to LB but have to agree completely w/ FoodWine. I was shocked and sorely disappointed w/ the food and service. The fish I ordered was very underwhelming and undeserving of any accolades. Worse than the mediocre fish was the horrible treatment my guests and I received from our waiter. It was lunch time and we were dressed in business attire and very polite. The only thing we weren't was caucasian. He slammed our glasses down on our table and treated us w/ the utmost contempt. He never came around to fill our water glasses or to see if we needed anything. I should've complained to management but left vowing never to return.

                          1. re: liv2eat2008

                            It does seem like Le Bernardin has off days, especially service-wise. But I think if what you experienced is the norm the restaurant would never become this highly regarded, right? I believe in the power of the market to punish underperformers. =)

                            1. re: zen123

                              We had spectacular service at Le Bernadin. Up to snuff on every detail, nice and even fun. Not stuffy at all.

                              1. re: BW212

                                Yeah, I also received wonderful service at Le Bernardin. Not terribly personal or warm, but exceedingly professional and courteous.

                              2. re: zen123

                                "But I think if what you experienced is the norm the restaurant would never become this highly regarded, right?"

                                I seriously often wonder... Emperor's new clothes, maybe?

                                Besides, to call the sub-par, unprofessional and outright rude & hostile treatment we were subjected to at LB, an "off day", does not "quite" cover it.

                                An "off day" is when things, unintentionally, go wrong: when the service is off rhythm because of some unintentional event/detail, when not all the fish the fishmonger delivered is as fresh as it should be, etc.... (in a high end restaurant, that fish should not -under any circumstances- leave the kitchen, though), etc...

                                i.e. = unintentional things - not intentional rudeness or intentionally ignoring patrons' needs. (when the waiter just stands there, sees the problem and should, according to all standards of good service, immediately rush to rectify a mistake he sees - for example an empty water glass, that has already been brought to his attention).

                                As it comes to the food: When 2 out of 4 appetizers are good and one is sub-par and 1 just nothing, and when 4 out of 4 main courses are abysmally bland and boring, that also is not an "off night". After all, our choices included a wide selection of dishes and fish.
                                I have dined in good restaurants, where some dishes were very good, and maybe one was just OK, mediocre or boring. That is an off night.
                                Not when 6 out of 8 courses are abysmally uninspired.
                                Not when all main courses just lack inspiration and are bland and boring. (I do love subtle, I do not need strong flavors).

                                Usually, when a (good) restaurant suffers from an "off day", the staff in a friendly manner apologizes and shows that they know and care. Oh, wait, this happens in local joints, too! -Actually it is quite the standard. A smile and a few friendly words, letting the patrons know that the staff/restaurant cares, is all it takes.

                                I have a great example of an "off day", where the staff more than saved the day, and made me want to come back. (I did, and became a regular):

                                A few years ago, I happened to be in the area, and decided to have lunch at Gramercy Tavern. It had been several years since my last visit, so I was in effect a new customer.
                                I sat at the bar. I ordered both an appetizer and a main course and a glass of wine.

                                It took a while. The very nice waitress came over, twice, and apologized that it took so long and explained that they were a bit backed up in the kitchen. I had not even complained, but maybe the waitress saw that I was really hungry and I felt and maybe looked (?) a bit weak. The second time she came over, she also let me know that my food would arrive in just a moment.
                                -Oh yes, and my water glass was never more than half empty ;-)

                                Finally the food arrived and all was good. When I was about to pay, the waitress let me know that because of the long wait, my lunch was on them. (I of course tipped them well).
                                That totally made my day, and despite of the delay, I walked out of there with a big smile on my face, a smile that lasted for a long time.

                                After that, I became a regular, both for lunch and dinner, and when I worked in the area for a while, I had lunch at GT as often as I felt I could afford it.

                        2. re: FoodWine

                          I also thought le bernardin was overpriced, but I don't think the food was so terrible as to deserve a 4.

                        3. Interesting. Thank you for posting.
                          I like the scoring. It provides some measure of relativitiy.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: RCC

                            It's fascinating -- this thread.
                            It just goes to show how subjective this entire dining thing is.
                            For example, the poster gives Blue Hill the lowest rating on the list and WD-50 a higher one.
                            To me, Blue Hill was a down-to-earth experience with delicious food in an unpretentious atmosphere. I would be proud to recommend it to anyone.
                            OTOH, my rating for the other one would have been a big fat (just like the Emperor himself) zero.

                            1. re: idia

                              Agreed - and one can be somewhere on an off night, or just not like it for reasons that others might love a place. Curious to read more about the OP's EMP experience.

                              1. re: idia

                                Blue Hill: I was really looking forward to it. In fact, I gave up Babbo for Blue Hill because I could only get reservations for both on the same night, and I wanted a more intimate, quiet, relaxing atmosphere for that particular night.

                                The problem: the place wasn't as intimate as I thought it would be. The tables were a little too close, and the light was quite bright for some reason (compared to, say, EMP at night). So it was pretty awkward with four people nearly inches away, hard to have a good conversation.

                                The place was also very loud, maybe it was just that particular night? I don't think it would have been as loud as Babbo, but it was definitely louder than EMP, Per Se, Le Bernardin, maybe even Daniel.

                                Service didn't quite fit the restaurant. It was bit colder than average. Courteous, but cold. We expected warmer and more personal service to fit the image.

                                But here is the main problem: the food. It was just ordinary. I couldn't find the freshness that people raved about (on the other hand, I can't stop thinking about how fresh the food at GT tasted), and everything was just so decidedly average. It's edible, but I wouldn't even go so far to say that it's delicious. Maybe it's just an off night?

                                That said, I would still recommend Blue Hill over WD-50 to somebody else. WD-50's service might have been even worse than Blue Hill, and not all the dishes worked. But it got a 7 because it actually tried to do something different, even if it didn't work.
                                Looking back, I think the reason why we enjoyed WD-50 might have to do with the fact that we were eating at a lot of restaurants in such a short span, so things started to get a little boring. I guess against this background the eccentricity of WD-50 was accentuated.

                                1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                  Re Blue Hill:
                                  "Service didn't quite fit the restaurant. It was bit colder than average. Courteous, but cold. We expected warmer and more personal service to fit the image.
                                  But here is the main problem: the food. It was just ordinary. I couldn't find the freshness that people raved about "

                                  I appreciate your comments.
                                  Ironically, we found the service to be so entirely warm, knowledgeable and friendly that I cannot but assume that perhaps we lucked in with a wonderful server or that you ended up with one that wasn't.
                                  We actually tipped her higher than our norm.
                                  We happened to hear the next table -- a foursome who announced themselves as vegetarians -- wondering what they should order.
                                  In no time flat their server came back and said to them, "the Chef would be privileged to make a special meal for this table if you would be willing to put yourself in his capable hands." Of course they were more than pleased and were complimentary to all their "special" dishes the entire evening. I gave them high marks on that personal service.
                                  Yes, I agree the tables are a bit close and the lighting not the Per Se or Le Bernardin romantic, but then again Blue Hill is not getting the top 3 star ratings either.
                                  Lastly, I am one of those finicky, fuss-budgets who really only likes very fresh ingredients and foods. (For example: I am an avid label reader and detest chemicals added to foodstuffs.) That is why I found Blue Hill to be a breath of fresh air (and fresh food!)
                                  I do admit that I am not a person who likes my food loaded up with heavy sauces to "enhance" the flavor. Perhaps that is where you and I part ways with Blue Hill when you say their food was "ordinary and average."
                                  Simple and natural to me is an aphrodisiac.

                                  1. re: idia

                                    I think if I was given your service Blue Hill would have been rated much higher. My service was cold and rather curt.

                                    I disagree slightly about the lighting and table part - just because Blue Hill isn't getting a top 3 star rating doesn't mean it cannot try to create a more intimate and personal environment. In fact, I went there particularly for a quiet, personal and intimate neighborhood-y experience, but didn't get the relaxed, laid-back, warm feeling that I was looking for (on the other hand, I found the service at Eleven Madison Park quite warm and the environment quite intimate, however harsh I've been to the food).

                                    I judged Blue Hill on what it tries to do (according to the website): "a neighborhood restaurant that maintains the classic attributes of warmth and affordability, while delivering superior food and service." It is for that reason that I couldn't excuse my feeling of lack of warmth and intimacy. And the lighting and table definitely contributed to that.

                                2. re: idia

                                  EMP: I will elaborate on my post above:

                                  Atmosphere: excellent. Tables were spread out, great ambiance, nice and quiet, high ceiling so the room was very soothing.

                                  Service: very solid. Not completely polished like Per Se or Le Bernardin, but not bad either

                                  Wine: not spectacular, but good

                                  Food: terribly boring. We ordered all the "right" or "famous" dishes: Foie gras, gnocchi, lobster, suckling pig, duck, venison, chocolate-caramel tart with sea salt... nothing worked.

                                  To be fair, nothing was overcooked or too salty, but everything was frighteningly boring. The duck was perfect cooked, but the flavor was ordinary. In fact, it was a little on the dry side, and the portions were so big that the dish got exceedingly boring near the end.

                                  Same goes for the suckling pig: it's just a block of nicely packed, nicely braised pig meat. It was not terrible in taste, but again, a little on the dry side. In fact, it tasted very much like a block of pulled pork meat. Aside from the skin on top, I had trouble distinguishing this dish from any ordinary pulled pork meat.

                                  It was really a tragic experience. It's too bad because everything else was so solid (service, atmosphere, wine...) but the food wasn't even as good as Bouley, which, I believe, is an insult to many hounds.

                              2. Stanton Social is one of those things that is suggested every other post around here.. Can you describe your experience,it seems so out of place on that list..

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Daniel76

                                  I wanted to try something different, so went to Stanton Social for brunch.
                                  We ate a lot: pulled pork sandwich, kobe beef slider, lobster roll, frencn onion soup dumplings, donuts, lemon blackberry pancakes, Breakfast Bruschetta, lobster benedict...

                                  The place was nearly empty, so we had very good service, contrary to people's experience at night.
                                  But here is the problem: everything (and I mean every item) sounds a lot better than they taste. I believe it's a combination of cheap ingredients, old ingredients, and mediocre cooking.

                                  Which is too bad, because think most items are great ideas.

                                2. Curious: did you actually prefer the food at G. Tavern to Daniel, or did you grade that way because Daniel is more $$$?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: danna

                                    Hi Danna!

                                    We had the tasting menu (the $165 one) at Daniel, but just the regular menu at Gramercy Tavern (as I mentioned above, it's one of the only restaurants that we didn't get tasting menu at because we felt like the Autumn menu was too narrow), so it wouldn't have been fair to judge them on different scales.

                                    So in answer to your question, even though they serve different style of food, if I have to compare, I definitely prefer Gramercy Tavern to Daniel (well, definitely is too strong a word. I don't mean to say that GT is a LOT better, just that it is certainly a little better, if that makes sense). I really like Michael Anthony's braising and poaching style. His rack of lamb is excellent, and his rack of pork is probably the best pork I've eaten in a long time.

                                    On a side note, although prices do factor into my grading, in general, I try to avoid giving a lower grade to a restaurant with better food but charges more. Technically I should, but I just feel like that would be too confusing. But of course, if the prices between two restaurants are too different (say, Clinton Street baking company and Eleven Madison Park), then prices might make a difference (yes, the implication is that if CSBC and EMP charge exactly the same, I might prefer the food at EMP after all. But they are too different anyway).

                                    Gramercy Tavern's normal menu is 82, tasting menu 110. Daniel is 98 and 165 (or 185). In general I think these prices are similar enough to be on the same scale. =)

                                    Hope that helps!

                                  2. Perhaps OP should have given his rating in this form:

                                    Out of a possible 30:
                                    ____ for food,
                                    ____ for decor,
                                    ____ for service
                                    ____ for the final bill


                                    JohnnyBooy, can you tell us more about your experience at Balthazar, Aquavit, and Clinton St. Baking Co. especially in terms of food? Aquavit's been on my to-go list for ages but my boyfriend isn't a huge fan of the cuisine-type. I'm a huge fan of GT and like EMP a lot., and also like Clinton Street but for me, maple butter makes up for the pain. I've only had nice (but harried) service at Clinton St. but I can see how it would be an unpleasant experience if you were there for weekend brunch. I also think WD-50 is interesting but just doesn't work a lot of the time, although the desserts are really impressive, and just plain "work" better than the entrees. I only ever go for desserts now. I had a similar experience to yours for brunch at the Stanton Social but rate it slightly higher. The menu is uneven and it's overpriced for what it is.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: kathryn


                                      Balthazar: went there for brunch. Decent service, all the egg bistro dishes were very good. Here is the problem: some dishes (including the waffles and french toast) arrived slightly cold. I think the restaurant can do much better when it's not busy, but since that never happens, it ends up having to serve poorly executed food. If you are lucky and gets a fresh batch of everything you order, I think you'd have a very good experience.

                                      Clinton Street Baking - almost identical to Balthazar. The pancakes were good, but were not as fluffy as I hoped for. They also arrived slightly cold. Again, the restaurant's probably too busy to execute well. The drinks also arrived slightly cold. Sweet dishes (pancakes, french toast... etc) were solid, egg dishes were good, other meat dishes were barely average.

                                      Aquavit - Herring was very interesting. Lobster roll was decent. All the seafood dishes were well executed, but it just didn't blow me away. I wanted this restaurant to really sell Swedish food to me. In the end, it was a worthy experience, but it doesn't make me think "oh, I can't wait to try more Swedish food / Aquavit dishes".
                                      8 is a very high score, though. I don't give that out easily. If you think you might like Scandinavian food at all, definitely give it a try.

                                      1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                        My last trip to Balthazar was one of the worst meals, that's food and service, I've had in Manhattan.

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            Boulliabaise---not balanced or particularly delicious--- and I forget what I had first. There were four of us, and no one enjoyed the meal. The service was mediocre, too--supercilious and not attentive....when we left, we agreed we'd never bother to go back---it was that sort of meal. Not such a big deal, there are so many other places to go.

                                            1. re: howboy

                                              Where do you usually go for Boulliabaise?


                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                My husband had a v. good one at Square Meal on Friday.

                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                  I make it myself. I've had great ones out before...one in New Orleans that stands out. The one at Balthazar was a concoction anyone could have thrown together...just disappointing.

                                        1. re: kathryn

                                          IMHO - getting more like that "Z" "guide" every moment - just sayin' is all...
                                          and I'm still in shock over the EMP comments - which, again IMHO, is the best pound for pound, price point to price point restaurant in NYC. After 6 different occasions in the last 3 months I have experienced just pure elegance and eloquence - nothing to mark down at all.

                                          But on a 1 shot basis any restaurant can have an off day - like great food reviews/reviewers always indicate - only multiple experiences at a single restaurant, all under different conditions, can really tell you what to expect.

                                          Thank you JohnnyBooy for an altogether interesting post.

                                          1. re: livetotravel

                                            Hi livetotravel!

                                            I do agree that restaurants can have off days, but I don't quite agree with the implication that I always have to go to a restaurant multiple times to judge it. Inconsistency itself is a vice, no?

                                            That said, I always make an effort to go back to restaurants that suprisingly disappoint me (even before I go back to restaurants that I like), so I plan to go back to EMP very soon. This time, my expectations are going to be even higher!

                                        2. (this post was in response to a question about my grading method)

                                          I have kept that in mind. I graded restaurants on their own - how well it performed according to what it tries to do. For example, how successful is Clinton Street Baking Company as a breakfast / brunch place? How good is Daniel as an extravagant haute French restaurant?
                                          I didn't compare the restaurants directly, so to speak. I kept relativity in mind, but as a whole I rated restaurants on how good it is by itself.

                                          That is why Blue Hill, for example, was so low: my experience was that the food didn't taste fresh, the restaurant was loud and crammed, the service was cold and curt. That only mattered because I thought Blue Hill is trying to be a warm, intimate, laid-back neighborhood joint with fresh food (according to the website, it is a neighborhood restaurant that "maintains the classic attributes of warmth and affordability, while delivering superior food and service").

                                          Clinton Street Baking Company, meanwhile, was loud, crammed, with cold and curt service, but since it wasn't trying to be warm and intimate and personal, those attributes alone didn't take points off. On the other hand, the fact that the hot chocolate arrived slightly cold did.

                                          It is also for this reason that WD-50 was rated so high. I thought the food was not even as tasty as EMP, but it was very creative and judging molecular gastronomy on its own I thought it deserved a 7. I only wished it tried a little harder to make the dishes work! Alinea, for example, is closer to that ideal.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                            Thanks for the clarification. Another question: it's safe to assume that not every reservation was for a weekend evening at 8PM. So how did you factor in the level of service and overall atmosphere versus the time that each restaurant was visted?


                                            1. re: Chinon00


                                              In terms of service, I did not take any points off for Balthazar or Clinton Street, just because they seem to be always busy. Stanton Social got a little extra points for the great service. All other restaurants, I did not give any excuses. The reason is that I think these restaurants charge enough to be put to a certain standard. The proper way to handle a busy night is to add more staff / train them better, not tolerate worse service.

                                              In terms of atmosphere, I don't believe going to a restaurant on a weekend evening hurt any restaurant that I rated. In fact, I went to Le Bernardin on a Friday night and EMP on a Saturday night, and the atmosphere was just fine.

                                              I went to Blue Hill on a Tuesday night, so the disappointing atmosphere and service was definitely not due to the weekend

                                          2. I may not have caught it in the thread, but were you at Clinton Street Baking Co. for brunch/breakfast?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: RCC

                                              Yup! Went there for breakfast. Why?

                                              1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                                Just wondering.

                                                We've been to CSBC many times for brunch/breakfast and once for dinner. Major disparity in our levels of satisfaction as we continued to go back for brunch and are in no hurry to go back for dinner.

                                                1. re: RCC

                                                  I have never tried dinner at CSBC, but the menu alone sounded medicore enough. =)
                                                  The breakfast was enjoyable, though.

                                            2. I was also less than impressed with Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park, and found them quite ordinary and boring. Blue Hill, particularly, was a bit snobby and the atmosphere not as relaxed as I would have liked. It was so noisy (maybe it's not noise but rather the two tables literally pressed against ours) that we had a hard time carrying a conversation.

                                              Eleven Madison Park, on the other hand, disapointed greatly with the duck and suckling pig, which I found to be as good (and as bad) as any other duck and suckling pig that I eat at chinese restaurants.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: zen123

                                                I did not like the food at EMP at all. I found it sorely disappointing in taste.

                                                I love GT and Le Bernardin as much as the OP does. Michael Anthony is really an excellent chef.

                                              2. Finally visited EMP. (After been turned away from Gramercy Tavern. Even the bar area was doubly packed there.) I have to agree with others here in saying I wasn't overly impressed with how the food tasted (although I did enjoy some of the items, but given the $145 price range, with coffee being extra ...)

                                                I had a great time though and really liked the ambience and the service. I saw this handsome wait staff worked the room like an accomplished artist. I had to try very hard not to ask for his signature.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: newportt

                                                  I thought the ambience at EMP was fantastic. It's a shame that the food did not resonate with me at all

                                                  1. re: JohnnyBooy

                                                    We recently took our international friends, who come to New York at least twice a year, to EMP. This is the same couple that we had - unfortunately- decided to take to Le Bernardin during their last visit.

                                                    This time I was pretty nervous, since I felt it was our fault that they had to suffer trough the abysmally bad service and bland, boring (and partly bad) food at Le Bernadin. We, after all, had really thought that LB would be good, and trusted the raves & good reviews. My husband had dined there before, a long time ago, when Gilbert Le Coze was still in the kitchen, and had liked the food a lot.

                                                    So this time I asked our friends not to be angry with us if they did not like the food at EMP.

                                                    The two experiences were like night and day for them. They absolutely loved everything at Eleven Madison Park. Our guests (and we, too) were so happy with the food & the whole experience, that they got giddy. We all did. At one point we just laughed, out of joy. I am afraid that we got a bit loud at one point, and when I apologized to our sommelier, she just smiled broadly and said it was fine.

                                                    At one point the female quest of ours, who had tried to be brave and gracious during that awful dinner at LB (and after), confessed to me, that she is still stunned at how mediocre the food at LB had been, and that she was still angry at the rude service at LB.

                                                    Except for two delicious veal sweetbread starters, we all had fish at EMP. Every single fish dish was better than what we had had at LB.

                                                    I am happy for all of you who like LB and have had good experiences there. Trust me, I wish I/we had had your experiences there. Nothing would be better for us than if there was an upscale fish restaurant that we loved. Yes we love sushi, but we do love fish cooked, too. I usually give a restaurant several chances to prove themselves, but the treatment at LB was so over the top unfriendly, that I just cannot bring myself to go back. (Unless a friend or business acquaintance insists -and pays).

                                                    Likewise, I am sorry for the fact that some of you did not enjoy EMP. I am sorry for the disappointment, and for the fact that I might have been one of the people who steered you there. So far I have just loved the place, and enjoyed every bite (of subtle and refined flavors, and yes, also layers of flavors) I have taken there.

                                                    But this thread (among others) just goes to show how different tastes are, and that asking for advise even in a "forum" like this, does not guarantee that the results will be satisfying for the inquirer.

                                                    1. re: FoodWine

                                                      "But this thread (among others) just goes to show how different tastes are,"

                                                      Agreed. I recently just had the opposite experience.
                                                      My girlfriend and I just accompanied two out of town guests to EMP (it's their choice. Since I have only had one - albeit very disappointing - meal at EMP, I did not feel that it would be fair for me to discourage them from going). And while they praised the setting, they told me after the meal that they were both thoroughly disappointed with the food (they had no problem being honest since it was their suggestion and not mine). I didn't ask them to elaborate but they were overtly disappointed at the fact that one of their few meals in the city was "wasted", in a way (we couldn't get into Per Se, which was their first choice. But they took EMP over Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Daniel... etc).

                                                      I also wish that I had the experience at EMP as yours, since I think there is a lot to like about EMP (let alone the fact that I am a pretty big Danny Meyer fan). But after two disappointing experience I don't think I will be returning any time soon.

                                                      1. re: Singar

                                                        Yes, and what makes it even more interesting is that -even though we so disagree about EMP - we both seem to like Gramercy Tavern a lot. (and Jean Georges & per se?) Go figure...

                                                2. One vote for disappointment with EMP. And I am normally a big fan of RGR's recommendations. Maybe I was just expecting too much from the food.

                                                  What restaurants are you planning to go to next?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: PeteM

                                                    Probably Jean Georges or Daniel? I want to go back to Blue Hill as well.