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Jun 12, 2008 07:01 PM

Itinerary Coming Together--Comments?

Our long-awaited weekend trip (celebrating anniverasry w/o kids) is fast approaching and I'm still obsessing about the food. This is what we've got so far:

Lunch: Bouley (non-negotiable)
Pre-Theater: Casellula, Bar at Modern, Tia Pol (depends how hungry we are and where we are)
Post-Theater: Dessert? Marseille? Balthazar? (if we just want dessert, any suggestions either in theater district or Chelsea?)

Breakfast: ? Staying in Chelsea, might pick up something small in Chelsea Market
Lunch/Brunch: Balthazar? Casa Mono? Cafe Sabarsky? Not sure where we'll be yet.
Dinner: Gramercy Tavern (currently have a 10pm reservation,on waist list for earlier, still also considering EMP)

Morning: LES Food Excursion (probably w/o Katz since we were there recently)
Dinner: early dinner at Momofuky Ssam before heading home

The problem with rarely eating out is it is so difficult to narrow down the choices. I'm pretty happy with this line-up but happy to get any feedback. Anything we should add? Take out? Breakfast suggestions in Chelsea (near 10th Ave & 20th)? I'm a little nervous about all the late night plans, because we usually don't eat that late, but it just seems to be working that way.

Thanks for any help!

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  1. Hi Hungryin theBurbs

    It's great to see that you already did your homework and came up with an itinerary. I think it looks terrific! To answer your questions:
    - If you are doing Tia Pol, you can skip Casa Mono and go to Balthazar for lunch. Otherwise, I will pick Casa Mono for Sat lunch.

    - For Sat breakfast, if you are visiting in Chelsea Market, 202 at Nicole Farhi has a nice brunch. Of course there is Amy's bread for bakery. Outside of the market, Cookshop has great brunch.

    - For Sat dinner, I will recommend EMP over GT, if you can get a reservation.

    Sunday looks good!

    Have a great trip!

    5 Replies
    1. re: kobetobiko

      Thanks for your thoughts. I have spent way more time than I should thinking about all this. Big thanks should go to RGR, Kathryn, and a few other NY hounders for comments on earlier threads that helped me get this far.

      The Casa Mono v. Cafe Sabarsky lunch really depends on whether we decide to go to the Met Museum on Sat. Since I'm not sure, I'm leaving it open. Is it possible to get in to Casa Mono for Saturday lunch w/o a reservation (maybe around 2:00)?

      To help me decide, can you tell me why you would pick EMP over GT?

      1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

        Hey, Hungry,

        First, let me say that kobe always gives the most excellent advice. :-)

        With regard to Casa Mono, you should have zero difficulty getting a reservation for 2 p.m. on a Saturday. In fact, you can probably just walk in. Not only is that a slow hour on any day, but on the weekends the city empties out (natives on vacation, heading for the beach, etc.). But, of course, it's always good to play it safe and reserve.

        We have not yet eaten in the dining room at G.T. since Chef Michael Anthony took over though we have done so in The Tavern twice (most recently a few days ago). His food there is delicious but it is different -- more rustic -- than the menu in the dining room. That said....

        I must put in a word for EMP, which regulars on this board know is our favorite NYC restaurant. We've been there countless times, and the reasons kobe is recommending it are: Chef Humm's French inspired cuisine is spectacular; the wine program under the supervision of John Ragan, is superb, so much so, that it just won the James Beard Award; service is very cordial, yet polished; and the space is gorgeous! There is certainly nothing at all wrong with G.T. But for a celebratory dinner, in my view, nothing beats EMP!

        P.S. I'm thrilled that you will be taking my LES tour. If you have been to Katz's for the pastrami, you could still go there and, instead, order a knoblewurst sandwich. Yum! Also, if you don't mind a sugar overload, after Economy Candy, check out Sugar Sweet Sunshine, on Rivington, b/t Essex and Norfolk, for the fabulous cupcakes.

        1. re: RGR

          EMP is more ambitious, and feels a little more glamorous in comparison to GT's upscale farmhouse decor. They have beautiful vaulted ceilings and gorgeous lighting. Not to say that GT is shabby, but EMP feels slightly more like an "event" or "destination." The food at EMP is definitely more ambitious, a little more conceptual, a little more playful, and sometimes uses foams/emulsions/what have you. Note also that if you do the Gourmand tasting menu, you will be stuffed by the very end, and walk out stumbling around 1am.

          If you want something a little more low key (and also less expensive), Gramercy Tavern is also a very good choice. Nancy Olson, their pastry chef, has been putting out some amazing items this past year. I would give them the edge in terms of desserts. The food is definitely more seasonal and ingredient focused. For example, I recently had a fantastic flatiron steak there, that was cooked simply, fork-tender, and very flavorful. Not a lot of heavy creams and such here. They do happen to cook a lot of items sous vide and then finish them in the oven. Also, if you are a vegetable fan, Chef Anthony has a way of making vegetables shine.

          I love both restaurants but for very different reasons.

          1. re: kathryn

            Thanks. I read your response to DH. We found it very informative, but it didn't make the decision any easier. DH finds your description of GT very appealing--more the kind of place he likes than EMP. One way or the other, we'll decide soon let go of the other reservation. I hate hogging reservations, though I now have a slightly better understanding of why people do this.

      2. re: kobetobiko

        Seconding Cookshop for brunch.

        Note that Balthazar and Cookshop are very popular lunch/brunch destinations, so reservations are highly recommended. Both take walk-ins but the waits can be long.

        Inside Chelsea market, you can also have brunch at Sarabeth's (although I prefer the atmosphere of their other locations better) as well as Ronnybrook Milk Bar.

      3. You have a great itinerary. Fri: while I love Tia Pol, the chef recently left, so I might be a little wary of going at this point. Casellula is very good.

        Chelsea: Amy's bread in Chelsea Market is good. I also hear the Green Table is good if you'd like to stop for brunch. La Bergamote also has great baked goods and is closer 10th and 20th. Billy's Bakery is also very good if you're in the mood for sweets for breakfast.
        Lunch: Casa Mono and Cafe Sabarsky are both very good. I wasn't that impressed by brunch at Balthazar.

        Looks like a great itinerary.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Lucia

          Thanks. It's good to hear something positive about Casellula. I didn't find much discussion of it, but it looks like the kind of place I love, and we are likely to just want a glass of wine and some small snacks before the theater. I love cheese, so it is right up my alley.

        2. I like your list too. I would give a thumbs up to Balthazzar - its great late at night especially. A scene - a great room to be in and people-watch. good french bistro food.

          For the theatre district, I would maybe suggest Bar Americain (Bobby Flay's) on 57th? We've walked from there to theaters on the north end of the area. It's a great menu - fun, wonderful impressive room, and good service.

          YOu should be able to get in Gramarcy Tavern before 10? Did you call of just use open table? I'd call or go somewhere else. The bar there doesn't take res and is more casual.

          11 Replies
          1. re: shellie

            Once again, as I did on another thread, I have to disagree about Bar Americain. A far better option in the Theater District would be Benoit, Alain Ducasse's new bistro. Delicious food and great atmospherics.


            With regard to your comment about Gramercy Tavern, you don't seem to realize that getting a prime time table at what is one of *the* most popular NYC restaurants is extremely difficult. Whether you use OpenTable or call the restaurant directly, in order to have a chance at something before 10 p.m. -- most especially on a Saturday evening -- you have to reserve well in advance or get really lucky at the last minute.

            In any case, in NYC, a 10 p.m. reservation on a Saturday is not considered to be particularly late. We recently had a post-theater reservation for 10:30 at Benoit. I have seen people seated at Jean Georges after 10 in the middle of the week, and I've heard that even Per Se offers a 10 p.m. reservation -- and that's for a meal that can take 4 hours! So, there's plenty of late dining going on here.

            1. re: RGR

              Thanks, I'm not sure if this post was directed at me or Shellie, but I am very aware of the difficulty of getting certain reservations. We have the same issue here in Philly. I know I called a hair too late to get an earlier time at GT. I also know that 10:00 isn't that late for NYC, just a little late for us. I was able to get an 8:00 reservation for EMP for the same night (6/28). The real issue is that DH leans towards GT while I lean toward EMP (based on current posted menus), though we know either will be great, we just have to commit.

              Thanks for the Benoit suggestion. I have explored it also, and I know it's more convenient, but I've always wanted to go to Balthazar, and since we won't be out of the theater until around 10:30, I 'd like a real late night place (unless we decide we're not that hungry and just want dessert, in which case I'd still like suggestions for that).

              1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                Hey, Hungry,

                Sorry for the confusion. My reply was directed at Shellie.

                You've scored an 8 p.m. reservation at EMP for a Saturday night, and you're thinking of turning it down?! Oy! You can't do any better than that, especially if you are considering the Gourmand, which can take 3 - 4 hours. I say, twist the DH's arm, and go there! lol

                We've never been to Balthazar. But Benoit would definitely be a good late night pick. When we arrived a little after 10:30 (it was actually after a concert, not the theater), the place was still hoppin' but with a noise level that was, happily, not uncomfortably high. And, as I said, the food was excellent. It would also be a good spot if you only want dessert.

                1. re: RGR

                  I know! I'm sure I could twist his arm, but I've made all the other food decisions and this is the only thing he's really expressed a preference for, so I feel like I should defer. He tends to prefer more "comfortable" surroundings to "glamorous" ones.

                  If we do choose EMP, we likely won't do the Gourmand, though it looks so fabulous it's hard to turn down. I've had more than one experience of getting uncomfortably full from tasting menus and ruining the whole evening. I think we'd likely do the four course option. If we go that way, any particular reccomendations? I was thinking something like each choosing an app, each choosing a fish, and then sharing the duck or something like that. What are the "don't miss" dishes?

                  You've got me leaning towards Benoit. We'll be on 48th, getting out around 10:30, so I imagine we can get there pretty quickly.

                  1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                    Well, given that explanation, I can understand letting him have his preference. However, I do think his impression of EMP is misguided. While the space is gorgeous, the ambiance is very relaxed and comfortable, which is due to the attitude of the very cordial staff.

                    Chef Humm's portion control on the Gourmand is exceptional. I have done it twice this year and walked out both times feeling not at all stuffed, just perfectly satisfied. Wine consumption can make a difference, of course. I drank only a bit of sweet wine with the foie gras.

                    If you choose the 4-course option, I think your instincts are on target. The prix-fixe menu may also be different by the time you get here, but you can't go wrong no matter what you choose. The duck is a signature and is always on the menu. Definitely not to be missed!

                    Benoit serves until 11 p.m.

                    1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                      Hey Hungry, good call on nixing the Gourmand menu at EMP if you've got a small appetite, imo. I did the Gourmand a few weeks ago and just found the food too much. Having made the mistake a few years ago of doing the Babbo tasting menu (or whatever is the appropriate name) with a less than empty stomach, I made sure to arrive at our 6 p.m. (post-matinee) EMP reservation as hungry as possible. Even so, it was just too much food for me. Thank goodness we skipped the wine pairings! I once did the Le Bernardin tasting menu and, while I don't recall having been as stuffed as I was this most recent time, it was a lot. I guess the conclusion I draw is that I'm just not cut out for tasting menus. Rather disappointing since I love the idea of trying different things but I was already feeling full after only EMP's third course.

                      As I know EMP service has been a popular topic here of late, we followed people's advice and planned for a full four-hour experience. When the wait staff asked about any time constraints at the start of our meal I made a reference to planning for a four-hour experience. (While I did not explicitly state that two members of our party already had a car scheduled for 10 p.m. I felt we were fine in that the server replied something to the effect that they recommend at least three hours for the meal. In fact, while I don't think it was intentional, I do remember feeling a bit self-conscious that maybe I had overstepped by stating just how long we planned to stay.) Anyway, I think the cheese course was served a bit after 9 p.m. I was watching my watch a bit and figured we were probably fine but as time passed and our service seemed to slow as the number of diners had picked up over the last hour or so, two guests unfortunately had to leave before they could be served dessert. It was actually a bit of a mad rush for them as they were concerned about the car not waiting since the clock had already struck 10. Service was prompt once they saw half of our party leaving and they even packaged the mignardises to go. The remaining two of us stayed for the dessert. We asked for coffee which seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to brew. We had finished our desserts (or as much of it as I wanted to eat, in my case) by the time coffee arrived. This was rather disappointing since we really prefer to have both simultaneously. I suppose because coffee isn't included on the Gourmand menu maybe they don't offer it to avoid potential confusion. In any case, all in all the evening was very nice. The room is beautiful and service was very good, particularly before the room filled up. I just don't plan to feast on any meals with more than, say, seven courses, at most, in the future.

                      By the way, I appreciated Hounds' prior input (particularly kobe's) before my big EMP experience.

                      1. re: uwsgrazer

                        Thanks for your perspective. I had a similar experience at Babbo and learned that I cannot manage a tasting and wine pairing, much as I love to try so many different things. We have decided to forgo EMP for this trip (though will definitely try to make it there soon) and stick with our Gramercy Tavern rezzie, even though it's a bit late. My parents arrived to watch the kids and we leave tomorrow morning. I'm looking forward to eating my way through your fair city this weekend!

                  2. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                    My favorite spot for just dessert is Cafe Fiorello, across the street from the Metropolitan Opera (I go to the opera much more frequently than I do Broadway). It's not exactly in the theatre district, but if you're willing to travel to Benoit it's not that much farther. They have my favorite cheesecake in all of NYC and the best chocolate mousse EVER.

                    1. re: biondanonima

                      "Travel" to Benoit? Hungry's theater is on 48th St. Benoit is on 55th. I wouldn't exactly call a 6-block walk traveling. Fiorello is b/t 63rd & 64th. From 48th, that's a little more like traveling.

                      1. re: RGR

                        Whoops, didn't see that they were going to be on 48th - I was thinking farther south. Anyway, I still stand by my Fiorello rec - I think the mousse is worth travelling for!

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          We haven't been to Fiorello, so I can't comment on the desserts.

                          I thought the baba au rhum I had at Benoit was seriously delicious. Saturated with rum and topped with whipped cream. In fact, they left some rum and a sauceboat of whipped cream on the table so I could add more!

              2. For Saturday breakfast in Chelsea, I often go to Le Grainne Cafe, 183 9th Ave @ 21st St because I think very highly of their French toast and have liked everything else I've happened to have there. I've been to 202 in Nicole Farhi, it's fine, but I prefer Le Grainne Cafe. Sarabeth's in Chelsea Market is also a safe bet (but just a guess, what with my never having eaten at this particular branch of theirs).

                As to something like a bite of pastry, I've been pretty happy with La Bergamote, 169 9th Ave @ 20th St, although the raisin danish is just OK. Billy's Bakery, 184 9th Ave @ 21st St, is also fun. I don't love their chocolate-chip cookie, but I'll pretend that's not what you're planning for breakfast. Amy's Bread once sold me the worst sticky bun ever (bland, stale white roll with sticky stuff on top), so I'm afraid to go back.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rpk

                  Thanks. We are likely to want just a small, simple breakfast, so the pastry suggestions--and no, not cookies :-) -- are great.

                  1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                    Hey, Hungry,

                    For a simple breakfast of seriously delicious croissants and pastries, I highly recommend Madeleine Patisserie, on 23rd St., b/t 6th & 7th Avs. If you decide you'd like something a bit more substantial, have a quiche. One is enough for two. We've tried all the combinations, and they're all excellent though my favorite is the salmon and dill.

                2. So Hungry,
                  Please write us a report when you are done. You have been so discerning in the planning that your responses to what/where you actually eat should be discerning and fascinating.