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What does everyone think is the best tasting menu, short of Per Se?

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Taking wife out for early V-Day dinner on Thurs. Per Se is best tasting menu experience we've had in NYc, but she feels like dropping $500 on food is "grotesque" in this economy.

So what do people say is the best tasting menu short of Per Se (and I suppose Masa, pricewise) in NYC? Meaning I guess that dropping $200-300 on food would be less grotesque.

Nothing is jumping out at me -- we've eaten at Daniel, Aquavit, Bouley, the Danny Meyers, the JGVs, the Blue Hills, etc, although not necessarily recently. So would be very grateful for some hot tips to guide my choice.

Fairly neighborhood agnostic but would like a pleasant, somewhat romantic, not stodgy room.

Signifier -- the caviar tapioca ice cream cone thing at Per Se is deeply loved. So a decent but not ridiculous number of plates with some tasty amuses etc.

Many thanks for the help.

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  1. Cru has a great tasting menu, and a VERY deep wine list to boot.

    1. Just had a wonderful 8 course tasting menu at the new Bouley ($155 pp). A few of the courses had choices, and they are very gracious about allowing substitutions. It's almost a brand-new menu from the "old" Bouley, so if you enjoyed Bouley before, you'll love it now!

      1. Have you been to Blue Hill Stone Barnes? It is such a great venue. I have eaten at Masa and highly suggest it, but it is more like $400/person now.

        1 Reply
        1. re: taboo

          $450 for food alone, I think.

        2. My personal favorites (after Per Se) are Eleven Madison and Jean Georges. Not sure when you last were at Eleven Madison, but if you haven't been since Chef Humm started a few years ago, that would be my pick for blow me away tasting menu. We also just recently had a tasting menu at Veritas which was terrific and they have one of the best wine lists in the city.

          1. If you like caviar and (I am guessing) seafood, how about Le Bernardin?

            1 Reply
            1. re: kobetobiko

              Mmmmmmmmm...Le Bernardin.....pure decadence

            2. Really, if you have the means to afford it, go to Per Se if that is what you like.
              If your situation has been compromised by the environment, that is another case.
              If not, do not let all the talk keep you from enjoying your life.
              Seems you have eaten at most big names but Le Bern has been mentioned and as much as I and most everyone I know was so underwhelmed by it a few years ago that we could not understand the exceedingly high praise, a few trusted people say that it has improved markedly in recent times. So, even I would be willing to give it another shot.

              Another poster mentioned new Bouley, that would interest me, as well.

              Have a good one whatever you go with.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dietndesire

                Picholine has a wonderful PF for $115....Best meal I've had in NYC in the past year.

              2. Have you tried Le Bernardin's?

                1. Thanks for all the tips. I have never been to Le Bernadin and am inclined in that direction.

                  The only thing dissuading me is a friend who really dislikes the place. His reasoning while inarguably true however isn't overly convincing: Fish is, well, fish. And Midtown is Midtown.

                  Does anyone find the room unpleasant / stodgy / corporate? It's a V-Day dinner after all.

                  The Fish is fish doesn't bother me a bit and in fact the menu looks incredibly appealing...

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Jack Barber

                    Hi Jack,

                    Clearly for any restaurants, even the best of the best, there will be people who don't like them. You will find plenty of people who say Per Se isn't all that, Jean Georges is boring, etc., so only you can tell whether you like a restaurant or not after you have experienced it.

                    That said, for someone to say "Fish is just fish", I will have high doubt on their knowledge about fish. This is the same as saying "steak is just steak". There is a clear difference between a good steak, a great steak, and a steak that leads to you close your eyes to savor the moment. So that comment to me is totally negligable (sorry if I sound harsh but I am passionate about seafood ....).

                    As for the environment, It is normally a bit stuffy because you see a lot of midtown corporate people or non-couples there. But given that it's Valentine's Day (and a Saturday), I think the restaurant will be decorated with more romantic flowers and the diners are going to be mostly couples, so I won't be too concerned with the ambiance.

                    My only concern for you is whether you can still get a table this close to V Day.

                    I have included two most recent reviews of Le Bernardin's tasting menu for your reference:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/589834
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584350

                    1. re: kobetobiko

                      As you said kobetobiko, there will be some that say even the best of the best arent all that. Here I go, Le Bernadin was a big disappointment the last time i went there. It had always been my favorite fish restaurant, making fish perfectly. The last time there the fish wasnt anything special, even cooking time was off, one was overcooked and one was undercooked. The meal was very expensive and i would have been happier at Acqua Grill , or Manhattan Ocean Club. Jean Georges has not failed me yet.

                      1. re: kobetobiko

                        I hate to put a downer on this discussion. I think it is next to impossible to get a reservation at any of the restaurants under discussion three days before Valentine's day. Even thursday is a stretch. Having said that, (and I do wish you luck) I second and third Le Bernardin. The tasting menu is superb, service fabulous.
                        I just read On the LIne, Ripert's new book. In it he mentions that Valentine's day is the busiest of the year with a waiting list 120 long. Your description of Le Bernardin as stuffy ( I don't agree with stuffy either) is probably more apt at Lunch then at dinner.

                        1. re: sethd

                          Per the original post I'm not going on Valentine's Day but rather tonight/Thurs. I learned not to go out in Manhattan on Valentine's Day about 12 years ago.

                          Tables for 2 are available at any place mentioned so far on this thread -- I checked yday, thank you recession -- in the event you're in the market.

                        2. re: kobetobiko

                          Kobetobiko, thx for the links. Agree, looking at the menu fish does not appear to be fish. We're set for tonight and very much looking fwd.

                          Thx all for the suggestions + info...

                      2. Sorry one other Le Bernadin question -- is the bar pleasant for a drink or two before dinner. Or should go elsewhere pre-game. Thx...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jack Barber

                          Le Bernardin would be a great choice.

                          On the other hand, if you want to try something a little different, look into Kyo Ya or Sugiyama.

                          I would also recommend Degustation. The experience is quite a bit different than others you are considering. It is less expensive and "fancy" than others that have been recommended. I personally love the food and the experience of interacting with the chef's as they cook for you. You can eat decadently for $75 a person, w/out drinks. The room is very pleasant, and you will be sitting directly next to other diners, but also next to your date, which makes for easy sharing.

                        2. I just went to Daniel earlier this week and was disappointed with the 6 course tasting menu with paired wines ($270 + tip). Only 2 of the 6 were really good, 3 were just ok and one was not good. Wine pairing was ok but the pours were short. Despite the fact that my date got the vegetarian tasting menu, we were provided the same wines for each course. The room was very loud. Service also seemed mechanical and not meaningful. We were asked to sit in the bar until our table was ready. It was conveniently ready as soon as the cocktail server walked away with our cocktail order. We weren't sitting there more than a few minutes. We were then quickly shuffled to our table being told they would bring the cocktails to our table. Each time our course or wine arrived, a server would quickly say what the food was near one person and the other could not hear what was said. Wine was presented to one person only with no explanation. At the end of the meal, all of the servers disappeared. Given the price, I really expected a lot more on both sides of the house. At the end, it was a really expensive disappointment.

                          1. Le Bernadin . Tasting menu 180. We have gone there often, and have to say it is our favorite restaurant . a few things to note in making your desicion . it is all about fish. simple yet with incredibly complex flavors.the room to some may be considered stuffy,but far from it , we find it romantic and aperfect choice for valantine day. the staff is exceptional, the service perfect. one pearl if you like sea urchin look for the sea urchin ravioli with cavier. may be on the tasting menu or a la carte as a 90 dollar supplemant expensive yes but perhaps the single greatest dish we have ever had[including the cone at per se] one last comment . we have dinned at masa twice and consider this to be bar none the most overrated restaurant .

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: garysusan

                              The Chef's Tasting Menu is now $185. There is no sea urchin ravioli with caviar listed on any of the current menus.

                              We have been to Le Bernardin, albeit many years ago, and the last word I would ever use to describe the space is romantic. No matter how much camouflage they tried to employ, I had a difficult time escaping the feeling that I was dining in the lobby of an office building, which is exactly where the restaurant is located. As for the reception personnel and service tableside, icicles could have dropped from the ceiling.

                              1. re: RGR

                                first le bernadin rgr i certainly can respect your comments and impression. true it is on the ground floor of an office building[per se and masa on the forth floor time /waner], but once inside the restaurant all knowledge of this for us is lost. we have experieced nothing but the finest service on a consistent basis. my advice to you is give it another chance. try to get lost in the incredible fish,have a good bootle of wine and sit back /relax and watch the flow and precision of the restaurant in front of you / with that and if you are luckly enough to be there on a night when sea urchin ravioli is on the menu[agree its not there today] you may just found it romantic jan9139 i would think both / perhaps when one pays over 1000 dollars to dine for two it feels mandatory to praise given what you just spent/ but the truth for us is no way / the sushi although very good for us was not the best /certainly not yasuda/ eating at the sushi bar[the only way to go] i found romantic, susan thought i was out of my mind/ the non sushi courses are at times inspiring but overall uneven and inconsistent/ overall a major dissappointment / no question if you have this kind of money to spend and can get areservation go next door to per se

                              2. re: garysusan

                                I'm interested in what you thought of Masa. I could never afford to dine there, but I was just wondering if it doesn't get mentioned too often hear because of the stratospheric price, because its not that much better than, say Yasuda, or because its simply an over-rated place for the super-wealthy (as in, different from Per Se, which seems to be exceedingly expensive but all about the food, or possibly Urasawa, in La)

                                1. re: ian9139

                                  I was fortunate to dine at MASA and wow is all I can say. One of the most decadent, unbelievable meals ever! It was a great experience overall.

                              3. Value-wise I recommend Payard. 72$ pp plus $40 for wine.