A truly fabulous dinner for two: please help me choose the place
My mother is coming in to town from southern California to spend Christmas with me. She hasn’t been here in over 20 years, and I would like to treat her to one really fabulous dinner while she is in town. As long as it’s manhattan, neighborhood doesn’t matter. I’m thinking max $150/person for food only. Restaurants I’m considering: degustation, convivio, eleven Madison park, and craft, although I’m definitely open to other options. I haven’t been to any of the above, but have been dying to try them all, along with a few others that are too pricey. Also, I’m a little concerned about the timing of the visit and availability of reservations. I’d love to do make this our Christmas eve or Christmas dinner, but that’s not mandatory. Thank you in advance for your advice!
Reporting back on your Christmas dinner at Jean-Georges:
I was very pleased with the ambiance and service, but a little bit disappointed with the food. Perhaps I expected too much.
The experience started off very nicely with a glass of sparkling wine from one of my favorite small vineyards in Napa: Domaine Carneros. They also make a very good pinot noir. We were offered a choice of French roll or rye bread. The French roll was a bit tough and dry, but the rye had a very nice crust to it with a pleasant chewy texture to the bread. The butter was fantastic, and we ate a bit more bread than we should have only to enjoy more of the butter.
The amuse bouche: delicious cauliflower soup with a piquant hibiscus accent, fresh bite of salmon with a bit of creme fraiche, and a dried clementine with chili salt and lime gelee. I enjoyed all three of mine, although my mother nearly choked on her clementine, as it was so tart. Not much later, the same happened to someone at a neighboring table.
I ordered the JG signature tasting menu, while my mother ordered the Christmas menu, affording us the opportunity to try twice as many items. Each had its highlights and its less than stellar offerings.
From the signature menu:
1. Egg caviar: scrambled egg topped with whipped cream and a generous amount of California caviar. Really fantastic, beautifully proportioned, and a lovely first course that was perfect with my last bit of sparkling wine. That was what I thought until I tasted the caviar dish from the Christmas menu, which blew my caviar away.
2. Sea scallops with caramelized cauliflower in a caper-raisin emulsion: scallops were a little bit overcooked and rubbery, but it was very tasty and otherwise well prepared, but nothing to write home about.
3. Young garlic soup with fresh thyme and sauteed frog legs: The soup was light and fragrant, and the frog legs had a perfect crispy skin and perfectly tart seasoning that beautifully complemented the soup.
4. Turbot with Chateau Chalon sauce: It was so salty that after the first bite, I promptly finished my glass of water and actually sent it back. The staff was extremely apologetic and very promptly brought another. Version 2 was much more appropriately seasoned. It was delicate and light, but it somehow seemed to be missing something.
5. Lobster tartine, lemongrass and fenugreek broth, pea shoots: The lobster and pea shoots were simply prepared and well done, but completely overpowered by the broth. Wouldn't order it again.
6. Broiled squad, onion compote, corn pancake with foie gras: The highlight of the tasting menu, in my opinion. The squab was perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper and curry and had a beautiful crispy skin. The onion compote and preserved lemon really made the squab phenomenal. Really, you can't go wrong with seared foie gras. Throw it on a corn cake, and call me happy. It seemed slightly out of place, in that the dish was complete without it, but I'm certainly not complaining.
1. Egg toast with caviar and dill: Phenomenal. Really, the best caviar dish ever. The brioche was impossibly thin and light, the egg unctuous...a gorgeous combination that makes the mouth very happy.
2. Kanpachi sashimi, sherry vinaigrette and toasted pecans: A nice combination, but the condiments really overshadowed the fish. I would expect nothing but stellar quality sashimi, but truly couldn't tell. It very easily could have been mediocre fish, and as long as it wasn't rotten, I doubt even the most discriminating palate could tell. It was good, but I didn't feel it was a very good use of the fish.
3. Nishiki risotto with porcini marmalade and five herbs: Savory and rich, everything a good mushroom risotto should be. No complaints here.
4. Crispy black bass, roasted Brussels sprouts and spiced apple jus: I love Brussels sprouts, and they are really highlighted in this dish. The bass was nicely prepared and delicious, but the Brussels sprouts and the Brussels sprouts puree were the star, in my opinion. My mother isn't as big a fan as I am, and consequently, was not very excited about this dish.
5. Maine lobster and potato gnocchi, smoked butter and pickled chilies: Fantastic. Far superior to the lobster tartine served with the signature menu. Just a very well balanced dish that highlights the lobster beautifully.
6. Roasted venison, quince-madeira condiment, broccoli raab and Cabrales foam: Two thumbs down. The venison was terribly overcooked and dry, with no flavor. Especially disappointing because the squab in the signature menu was so fantastic.
The desserts, though...oh, they made for a memorable finish. The buche de noel was so delicious. Chocolate and coffee and little bits of crunch. The passion fruit and coconut over meringue with kiwi and mango, so refreshing, almost effervescent. And we had the chocolate and autumn dessert tastings, which were also great.
All told, the experience at Jean-Georges was positive, but it just wasn't the stellar start-to-finish dinner I'd hoped for. Perhaps eleven madison park next time...
Degustation is not very "lovely Xmas Eve"-like. Counter seating, so, if your mother is not down with that, X it.
11Mad is considered a higher level than the others.
On that level and price you can go pretty much anywhere except Per Se.
For the nicer places considered more along the 11Mad lines, JG, Daniel, Bouley would probably be the most obvious.
I think if you book now you should be able to book something for one of those days.
If you want a lower level, though not necessarily low, well, the options open up.
Agree entirely, my decision would be between:
EMP, Bouley, Jean George & Daniel.
Though the Modern and Picholine would be close runners up, and while I haven't been, suspect that Aureole might make that second round cut as well.
As others have said at $150 per person for food alone, you can go essentially anywhere in the city except for Per Se, so really enjoy!
umai, i'd probably pick on the basis of where you think your mother would be most comfortable spending christmas eve. does she enjoy very glamorous, grand spaces or is she more into warm and cozy spaces? there is excellent food to be had at many restaurants in town; to me, on a special occasion like this, it is the atmosphere that really distinguishes between a good and wonderful meal.
so.. that said, picholine has pretty good food, though i would not rate it on par with some of the other places you mention. (there are a few misses on the menu, like the fabled uni mousse, which uses sub-par uni in my experience.) the dining room is formal and, in my opinion, it and the service are mildly stuffy.
you might find it helpful to check on opentable to see a list of restaurants that are open on christmas eve.