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Aug 3, 2009 10:20 PM

What is as good as daniel...but not as stuffy?

I am having trouble finding a restaurant that has the same quality food as gramercy tavern, daniel, or bouley also has a warm and somewhat hip atmosphere. Gramercy comes the closest out of those I think, but I find that places like EMP or Le Bernadin are a bit stuffy and cold. If anyone has any suggestions that would be great!

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  1. I just dined at Daniel for the first time last Saturday and found the atmosphere to best absolutely wonderful and definitley not stuffy. Granted it is a place where you dress up in your finest but the waitstaff and food was wonderful. I think any of the finer restaurants you mentioned can be stuffy if you are with uptight people-whom I would never dine with anyway.

    7 Replies
      1. re: UES Mayor

        Daniel "not stuffy"? cmon!! Only way for it to be stuffier is to make it black tie!

        1. re: Farfalle

          I think different people mean different things when they say a place is stuffy.
          Everyone who thinks that a dress code means that a place is stuffy, would find most formal restaurants stuffy. On the other had, lots of us think that dressing up when going to a great restaurant is plain good manners and has nothing to do with stuffy.

          For me stuffy is, when people behave a certain way; mostly, when the staff does not know how to be both "formal" and natural & friendly at the same time. And when the staff (mistakenly) thinks it is their place to "educate" the patron, or to react (in any way) to minor etiquette mistakes by patrons. In other words: when a restaurant is way too self important to be really focusing on making the patron feel comfortable and pleased.

          1. re: FoodWine

            I think you have perfectly defined "stuffy".

              1. re: FoodWine

                I think stuffiness is about the overall atmosphere. Some places like Babbo are casual, loud, and boisterous. Others like EMP are more formal and refined. Dress plays a role in that, and so does service, but both are undeniably contributors to atmosphere. And yes, I do find any place with a dress "code" a little stuffy. It seems to me that telling patrons how to dress is no different than educating them and correcting their etiquette, which we agree is stuffy.

                1. re: FoodWine

                  Totally agree. And at Daniel, the staff can smile and joke, but also explain every ingredient and preparation. They are pros who are comfortable enough to relax a bit - if you are relaxed. I suspect they are more formal for those who want that as well. As it should be.

            1. I agree with UES Mayor. It is the company you are with. I have been to all the places you have mentioned and did not find any of them stuffy. Just go for the food and the wonderful service and you will have a great evening.

              3 Replies
              1. re: taboo

                Yes, your both righ...but if you had to pick one top restaurant in Manhattan to take someone for a 30th birthday and that person wasn't really into frills where would you go? Last year we went to Blue Hill and it was wonderful!

                1. re: mitalia55

                  EMP would be my choice. I had a terrific dinner at EMP about 10 days ago. There were many tables with people in their 20s and 30s. I think a 30th birthday celebration would be great at EMP. For a special touch, let the reservationist know it's a birthday celebration because they'll write Happy Birthday on the menu.

                  1. re: ellenost

                    If you're looking to dine at that level, absolutely, go for 11 Madison. It's easily as good as Daniel, perhaps better, and much less stuffy, although I do agree that it's not as welcoming as Gramercy Tavern (service is excellent, just not quite as relaxed as GT).

                    It's not *quite* at the level of 11 Madison and Daniel, but Telepan has a very friendly atmosphere and, based on my last couple of meals, may be a peer to Gramercy Tavern. Alto and Babbo are certainly worth a look too, and even at age 25 you really can't go wrong with Gotham Bar & Grill.

              2. Most of the places you mention (with the obvious exception of GT and Blue Hill) are French. I think everyone is responding with EMP because it really is some of the best french food with the least stuffy setting. Are you looking for the best, most relaxed french restaurant, or are you looking for the best food you can get in a hip/ relaxed atmosphere?

                Will any cuisine do? or are there some parameters?

                5 Replies
                1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                  I am gonna go with the best food in a hip/relaxed atmosphere. No particular cuisine and no real parameters.

                  1. re: mitalia55

                    I've just realized my use of the word 'hip' probably discounts my advice on the subject... but the best food in a relaxed atmosphere for my money is Casa Mono.

                    1. re: Spends Rent on Food

                      You find Casa Mono relaxed? For lunch, maybe, but it's a bit chaotic for dinner. Loud, crowded, cramped, open kitchen contributes to the heat emanating from the counter seats. But the food is great.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        I do, but I take 'relaxed', especially in the context of this thread, to mean less formal, more fun.

                    2. re: mitalia55

                      If you're looking for the best food, imo, Gramercy Tavern's doesn't hold the proverbial candle to the sensational cuisine at EMP.

                      With regard to ambiance, EMP is not hip, but as has been pointed out, it does get a mixed-ages clientele, including 20- and 30-somethings. Despite the grand space, the overall vibe is warm and relaxed, which is due to the staff, all of whom are very cordial, as well as professional. They put in a lot of effort making sure patrons feel at ease and are enjoying themselves.

                      In short, EMP would be an excellent place for a 30th birthday celebration.

                      P.S. EMP does not require jackets, which adds to the relaxed feel. In fact, you can dress quite casually, including nice jeans. The only verboten items: short, t-shirts, and sneakers.

                  2. Momofuku Ko seems to best fit your criteria. Obviously it's a difficult reservation to get, but it's one of the only restaurants that serves top-level food in a very casual setting. If you have an adventurous palate, wd~50 would also be a good choice.

                    If you liked Blue Hill NYC, taking the trip out to Blue Hill at Stone Barns would be great as well. It is in a beautiful location, and it is especially pleasant when the weather is nice. It almost feels like an East Coast version of the French Laundry, and I feel that the food is significantly better than the original BH and compares very favorably to top restaurants in Manhattan.

                    31 Replies
                    1. re: hcbk0702

                      We have been to Blue Hill Stone Barns twice. The first time, two summers ago, I came away singing its praises. However, our return visit this past May was an entirely different experience. The food had none of the excitement of that first dinner, there was way too much repetition of certain ingredients, and one course had to be sent back because if was served barely tepid when it should have been hot. There was also a decline in service as staff members often provided incorrect information or had no knowledge at all of what was on our plates. Having to send food back and dealing with poorly-trained staff are unforgivable lapses in a restaurant of BHSB's supposed caliber.

                      1. re: RGR

                        Thanks for all the responses! I ended up making a reservation at EMP because all the reviews are great, the tasting menu looks amazing, and looking at photo's of the place it looks a bit more relaxed that daniel or Le Bernardin.
                        Hopefully I made the right decision!

                        1. re: mitalia55

                          You made the right decision! I am sure you'll have a great time!

                          1. re: mitalia55

                            You did! EMP's awesome. Dont you worry mitalia you did very well.

                            May I suggest the suckling pig, duck, beef, and lamb are all amazing. Get the souffle for dessert. Everything they do is special.

                            1. re: steakrules85

                              wow...that all sounds amazing I can't wait!

                              1. re: mitalia55

                                I hope you got reservations, because EMP just got four well deserved stars from Bruni!

                                1. re: a_and_w

                                  I am very happy that EMP got its due and that great rating. However, I really hope this does not cause a uge uproar and it to become an IMPOSSIBLE reservation now. But it seems like whenever a great review such as this comes out and people read it that is what happens unfortunately. The place is just incredible and has always been pretty easy to get a table. Let's hope that doesn't change at all.

                                  1. re: steakrules85

                                    I just checked on OpenTable. EMP is now almost as hard to get a reservation for dinner as Per Se (glad I got in for the Gourmand dinner three weeks ago).

                                    1. re: ellenost

                                      That is terrible... and so it begins!

                                      1. re: ellenost


                                        Even worse is that EMP is no longer under the 1,000 point reservations =(

                                        I knew it was just to great of a place to stay undiscovered before long. Oh well this stinks immensely.

                                        1. re: steakrules85

                                          There are very few either very early (5:30) or late (9:00 or later) dinner reservations still available for the next 28 days.

                                          1. re: ellenost

                                            Ellen.. shhh. EMP is not really that good.. um yeah.. not good at all. Don't believe the hype people. lol

                                            1. re: steakrules85

                                              Have you tried Tabla (next door to EMP)? I had dinner at Tabla last Friday night, and it was excellent. Tabla is also offering the 1,000 OpenTable points.

                                              1. re: ellenost

                                                Nope. I think my next dinner will be at either Craftsteak, The Modern Bar Room, or Scarpetta.

                                        2. re: ellenost

                                          EMP seems to have a lot of tables open 28 days from now (their advance booking limit) on OpenTable. (It was easier for me to get a primetime table at EMP than Babbo.)

                                          1. re: dump123456789

                                            Before the 4 star rating it was so easy. You could be sitting in your office at 2pm and be able to book a table for 4 that same night at 6:30 (and get a 1,000 points for it on opentable). Sucks how things just change so fast.

                                2. re: mitalia55

                                  I love EMP and think you've chosen well. But I wouldn't say it's that much more relaxed than Daniel or Le Bernadin. For example, while RGR is correct that jackets are not required, I personally would feel out of place without at least a blazer or sportcoat at dinner.

                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    Yes, many people wear jackets to EMP but that doesn't meant the place is 'stuffy'. It's definitely a fun and celebratory night out. The staff is wonderful and will adapt to the 'feel' of your party. My husband and I like to be chatty with the waitstaff, and our waiter was more than friendly and pleasant with us, but quieter with other tables that were looking for a different experience. We were there a few months ago, and had one of the best meals we've ever had. everything was perfect! Congrats to them on the 4-star rating today!! We celebrated my 30-'something'th birthday there, and I couldn't have picked a better place.

                                    1. re: twiggles

                                      I agree 100% with twiggles. I could have written that post myself.

                                      1. re: FoodWine

                                        Thanks for the correction, but I still say EMP is more in the category of Daniel and Le Bernadin than, say, Craft or Babbo. And yes, a part of that is the pressure I feel to wear a jacket, though this may be my bias as a Californian. Also, my experiences at EMP apparently haven't been as warm as Twiggles's. I've found the service a little cold (albeit thoroughly competent) and the dining room very quiet (not necessarily a bad thing).

                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                          "Also, my experiences at EMP apparently haven't been as warm as Twiggles's. I've found the service a little cold...."

                                          Having dined at EMP countless times, "cold" is absolutely the last word I would ever choose to describe the staff and service. The managers and foh staff are some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you will find in any fine dining restaurant in this city.

                                          That said, as Twiggles pointed out, they are very attuned to signals sent out by patrons. If diners engage them, they are very responsive and warm. On the other hand, if they have the impression that diners prefer to be left alone, they conduct themselves with that in mind. So, my guess is that you gave them the distinct impression that you preferred the latter. Thus, they were, as always, professional but reserved (not cold). If you had been "chatty" like Twiggles, I can assure you they would have responded in kind.

                                          1. re: RGR

                                            You guess incorrectly. I'm a very chatty person and usually engage servers. I did not get the vibe the staff at EMP were chatty. Before one meal, for example, I grabbed a drink at the bar and complimented the bartender on the potato chips. "Love the chips," I said, "I hear you guys make these yourselves." "Yes," was all he said and turned away. I contrast that with the experience I had at WD-50 where I complimented the bartender on the flatbread and got a fascinating explanation of how it was made.

                                            I've only dined at EMP only handful of times, so I defer to your greater experience as a more reliable indicator of the place. Even so, I think it's a little lame to dismiss my exeprience as somehow my fault.

                                            1. re: a_and_w

                                              Once you were seated in the dining room, did you try chatting with any of the managers and/or servers? Or did you ascribe the behavior of the bartender to all the rest of the staff, presume you would get the same type of reponse from them, and so didn't bother to try?

                                              Knowing EMP's staff as I do, it's just hard for me to imagine that if you had engaged them, they would not have responded in a warm, friendly manner.

                                              1. re: RGR

                                                I found the rest of the staff a little warmer, but still on the coolly professional side. I'm sorry my experience defies your imagination. As I said, I like EMP and can accept that your experience of warmth is more typical. But you are wrong to insist this was my fault for sending the wrong vibe or not engaging them sufficiently. It was the staff's shortcoming, not mine.

                                                1. re: RGR

                                                  RGR, I'm a big fan of yours, I am. But you seem to be a very frequent guest at EMP, who is recognized by the staff and treated as a regular - as well you should be. Consider that your experiences there may not be typical.

                                                  1. re: small h

                                                    I don't frequent EMP as often as RGR (maybe only 3 times a year), yet in all of the times that I've gone to EMP (probably about a dozen times), the one thing that keeps me coming back is the best service in all of Manhattan. I am thrilled that the food (based on my recent Gourmand dinner a few weeks ago) is now also at the top of its game.

                                                    1. re: ellenost

                                                      I am more than willing to give kudos to EMP, where I've had some very fine meals (years ago, before it was quite so exalted). I just question the whole "if it didn't happen to me, it didn't happen" thing. A restaurant is not a static entity. The service changes, the food changes, the atmosphere changes; different people come away with different impressions. It's super-terrific if you had an ethereal experience. But the fact that someone else did not does not necessarily indicate that that person did something "wrong."

                                                      1. re: small h

                                                        I can't argue with anything you've said here.

                                                        Oddly enough, one criticism I've read on other forums since Bruni bestowed the fourth star is that service at EMP is *too* friendly, i.e., at a 4-star restaurant it should be more reserved.

                                                    2. re: small h

                                                      small h,

                                                      I won't deny that we go to EMP frequently, and that we are known to the staff. However, it's not as though we dine there in some bubble. There are tables all around us which gives me the opportunity to watch the staff interact with other diners and, often, to overhear conversations. I've made my assertions regarding the staff's cordiality based on that rather than on how we are treated.

                                                      1. re: RGR

                                                        Of course, and I in no way intend to discount that you are accurately representing what you've seen and heard. I've also found the staff to be very cordial. But isn't it possible - I know, it's just CRAZY! - that someone might not have had the overwhelmingly positive experiences that you've had? It's a restaurant. On earth. Where nothing is perfect.

                                                        1. re: small h

                                                          Exactly. I appreciate RGR's passion for a restaurant he/she loves. But it's absurd to keep denying my experience, particularly when I acknowledge that EMP is great and that I may have had bad luck.

                                3. Second Blue Hill and would also recommend Hearth.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    Blue Hill is excellent and I went to Hearth a while back and don't remember being too impressed.

                                      1. re: a_and_w

                                        I've never considered Blue Ribbon in the top tier of New York restaurants.

                                        1. re: ChefJune

                                          It's not on the level of Daniel, Le Bernadin, or Per Se perhaps. But I think it's on par with Blue Hill and Grammercy Tavern. At most, a tiny step below and certainly very relaxed.