Le Bernadin or Eleven Madison Park?
Hi, I'm new to posting and need some advice:
We will be in NYC in a few weeks, and had made reservations at Le Bernadin. We live in San Francisco, and just had a meal at Aqua, our city's finest restaurant for seafood, and it is making us reconsider Le Bernadin. I am a slightly picky eater, don't like shellfish, but love exquisitely prepared, non-unusual raw fish (no sea urchin, octopus) and am a little less enthusisastic about, but like, cooked fish. Le Bernadin has been on our to-do list for years. But, after a meal of fine fish that was only good but not amazing, we are reconsidering. My husband is eyeing the suckling pig tasting menu at EMP. Is every course pork? We want a true fantastic dining experience, not concerned with price for this one meal, with one slighly picky eater (for instance, don't like foie gras, rabbit, veal, quail, caviar), and are questioning a full meal of fish. Is EMP a good choice?
For another meal, we are contemplating Ssam Bar vs. Ko (if we could get in, that is). I prefer the look of Ssam Bar menu, but like the sound of the Ko dining experience. Also not a fan of potentially waiting for hours at Ssam Bar since they don't take reservations. Thoughts? Should we do both, and forego Le Berandin and/or EMP?
Welcome to Chowhound!
Eleven Madison Park is our favorite restaurant in NYC. So, of course, I'm very biased in favor of the cuisine served there. We did the suckling pig tasting menu last week. Yes, each course has some facet of pork, and every course was sensational! You can read the discussion about it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/617239 .
When it comes to accommodating diners likes and dislikes -- and, of course, allergies and dietary restrictions -- EMP is extremely accommodating about making substitutions. In addition to the superb cuisine, the wine program is first-rate, service is very cordial and polished, and the space is gorgeous!
With regard to Le Bernardin, like you, I am very picky about what I will and will not eat in the fish/seafood realm. We had dinner at Le Bernardin a few weeks ago. We were a party of four. There are two tasting menus, and the three others chose the Chef's Tasing, which had several dishes that did not appeal to me. However, I was able to have to regular other tasting menu, to which I added one dish from the regular menu (in order for the two menus to have the same number of courses), and with the assistance of our captain who helped me decide, I also replaced a dish I didn't like for something on the regular menu that appealed to me more. So, as you can see, the staff is most accommodating to diners likes and dislikes. All of the dishes I had were excellent, and several actually blew me away with their deliciousness.
Service at Le Bernardin is pleasant and professional. The one negative for me is the space. I think there are too many tables too closely spaced for a restaurant of this high caliber. Furthermore, the decor holds no appeal for me. It is, in my mind, a failed attempt at camouflaging the fact that the restaurant is located in the lobby of an office building.
I have not been to any of the Momofukos.
I've eaten at both and some of my favorite dishes at Le Bernardin involved shellfish (lobster, crab). But if you like exquisitely prepared raw fish and keep an open mind about cooked fish, you'll find it a fantastic experience with extremely refined, sophisticated flavors but very expensive. I prefer bolder flavors and a bit more variety in my meals, so overall I prefer EMP's menu more, but I can appreciate Le Bernardin's food. Note that both LB and EMP serve lunch on weekdays, and EMP's lunch is two courses for $28 (a great value).
BTW, Ssam Bar has a much shorter (or no wait) for lunch (especially on the weekdays) or dinner on the early side (before 7pm). You should be fine, especially if you are a party of two and willing to sit in the slightly cramped counter area (which is long and reserved for diners). I wouldn't put your wait at 1.5-2 hrs unless you show up with a party of 6 on Saturday night at 8pm.
I will second everything the esteemed RGR and kathryn said yesterday. However, did want to point out that the chef at EMP (Daniel Humm) originally worked in SF (Campton Place) and perhaps you have already experienced his style of cooking. AFAIK, Eric Ripert of LB does not yet have a SF outpost...
Le Bernardin is my favorite restaurant in New York City. I do feel the food is a notch above Eleven Madison, but you are right in that it is seafood based, so if you don't love seafood, then it may not be the place for you. I did go to Eleven Madison several weeks ago again upon suggestion that it may be "on par" with Le Bernardin and I was completed underwhelmed. In terms of food quality, food service, and wine service, Le Bernardin is superior, hence the 4 stars given to Le Bernardin and I think 3 stars to Eleven Madison.
If you don't want to be given anything that you wouldn't prefer to eat, you can always order the a la carte menu at Le Bernardin. They let you choose 3 items from each part of the menu. I always order off the a la carte menu rather than the tasting menu.