HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


Le Bernardin or EMP

OK, so I was planning on going to EMP next week for the Winter Tasting Menu. But now I see I can get in to Le Bernardin and try their Tasting Menu. It would be my first time at either restaurant.

Thoughts? Advice? Recommendations???


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. If you have the money and like seafood, do Le Bernardin. With rumors of its lease running out in the coming year and Chef Rippert possibly moving on our retiring it is an experience that EVERYONE who loves haute-cuisine should experience. This is not to say that what Humm is doing at EMP is not impressive, just that Le B is a landmark "experience" restaurant the likes of which are rarely found.

    1. For my 50th birthday I went to Le Bernardin and had the Chef's Tasting Menu with
      Wine Pairings. By far the best meal of my life. It is expensive but worth experiencing
      at least once in your life.

      1. Both are great, but I'd pick Le Bernardin. Don't miss the wine pairings.

        7 Replies
        1. re: hcbk0702

          To expound upon my reply a bit, Le Bernardin is the easy choice if you love seafood. Much of the food there is subtle and delicate and if you're not a seafood lover, it might come across as boring (which is completely wrong IMO). The sauces and preparations serve to elevate the fish, not to mask or compete with it. That is the fundamental mantra of the restaurant; as such, no seafood dish at EMP I've tried has come even close to the best dishes at Le Bernardin. If you're in the mood for something besides seafood, then obviously EMP would be your choice.

          Another consideration is the wine service (including wine pairings if you choose to get them). Le Bernardin eclipses even Per Se in this department and handedly beats EMP. Aldo Sohm won the "Best Sommelier in the World" award from the Worldwide Sommelier Association competition and frankly, I don't think there's another sommelier in the US who could legitimately compete with him.

          However, if you're looking for an airier room with breezier service and a more casual vibe, EMP fits the bill nicely. The service and atmosphere at Le Bernardin is a bit formal.

          1. re: hcbk0702

            Thanks! I'll think I'll stick with EMP this time, though there is a fear of missing Eric Ripert forever if the rumors of LB closing are true...

            1. re: Jeffo405

              I believe the lease will expire in 2011. It's very likely that they'll get a new one before then, but if not, perhaps Ripert will use the opportunity to move Le Bernardin to a new location in NYC. I'm almost positive that he does not intend to retire for a long time.

            2. re: hcbk0702

              I don't even drink - I still prefered the Le Bernardin experience - and the service at both restaurants (at lunch at each) was very similar - not quite Per Se quality, but every bit on par with the rest of New York's 4-star restaurants.

              1. re: uhockey

                I've been to French Laundry, but not Per Se. The service at French Laundry was very professional but not stuffy. A bit formal, but with a touch of California Casual. That sounds like EMP to me. Le Bernardin is sounding a tad too formal, though I don't mind formal if the food is stellar.

                1. re: Jeffo405

                  Per Se and TFL are rather similar, at least in regard to the captains - I found their service VASTLY superior to EMP. I consider EMP's service more akin to Manresa or Jean Georges, Le Bernardin more similar to Daniel, Charlie Trottter's, or The Dining Room at the Ritz.

              2. re: hcbk0702

                Actually I've known Aldo since he was at Wallse. I've even taken a Riesling wine class with him. He is brilliant and would be the only reason why I would ever return to Le Bernardin. Unfortunately even as wonderful as Aldo is at picking the perfect wine, I am still not rushing back to Le Bernardin (I've dined at Le Bernardin at least a half dozen times).

            3. Easy choice: EMP without any hesitation. While Le Bernardin is very good, it's kind of boring (and I happen to love seafood). It has a corporate/stuffy atmosphere that is fine if you are at a business dinner. Service is stiff.

              On the other hand at EMP, Chef Humm's cuisine is wonderfully creative. The service at EMP is (IMHO) the finest in NY. I had a brilliant New Year's Eve dinner at EMP, and have another reservation in two weeks. I would definitely keep the EMP reservation.

              4 Replies
              1. re: ellenost

                Thanks, ellenost! Your is a contrarian view, but it sounds like I would prefer the service at EMP. (Plus it's closer to my hotel!)

                1. re: Jeffo405

                  I hope you enjoy EMP and report back (especially since I'm going the week after you, and would love to know your thoughts about the new winter menu).

                  1. re: Jeffo405

                    ellenost is not the only contrarian with regard to Le Bernardin vs EMP.

                    The cuisine at Le Bernardin is excellent, and I didn't find the concept of all fish and seafood particularly boring though I do prefer a more eclectic menu. However, I have never liked the space because despite all the attempts at camouflage, I can never shake the feeling that I'm dining in the lobby of an office building, which is in fact the case. As far as service goes, when we were there in May, it had warmed up from the extreme iciness we had experienced at our one previous dinner there quite some time before. But I would still consider it reserved.

                    Regulars on this board know that EMP is our favorite NYC restaurant. Thus, I agree totally with ellenost. In addition to Chef Humm's exquisite cuisine and a stellar wine list overseen by Wine Director John Ragan (whose pairings are always superb), you will not find a more welcoming, gracious, and enthusiatic staff providing polished service than the one at EMP.

                    Enjoy and please report back.

                    1. re: RGR

                      Go for EMP. Le Bernardin is great, but it's not mind blowing in the way some restaurants are. It does feel a bit stodgy, and everything is perfect, but it's not too daring, it seems. I had the chef's tastings and wouldn't put it in my top 5 meals of last year. Top 10, for sure.

                2. I think both are fabulous. From solely a food perspective, I think you should pick based on how much you like seafood. Le Bernardin is a seafood restaurant. So if you're somebody who likes a meal that has seafood, poultry and meats, EMP is the easy choice. But if you're content eating courses of perfectly prepared seafood, Le Bernardin would win.

                  Personally, between the two, I would pick EMP because I like a more varied tasting menu.

                  1. Another vote for Le Bernardin. Don't skimp on the wine.

                    1. OK, I JUST ate at Le Bernardin this past Wednesday. I had the Chef's tasting at $185. I have eaten at EMP numerous times. Unequivocally, eat at EMP. Humm is a better chef than Ripert frankly. None of the staff at Le Bern speak perfect english, making learning about food and wine tough. The staff at EMP is professional, always "on" and always makes your experience incredible. LB threw petit fours on the table without even telling us what each was. Also they didn't send you off with a little sweet something like other restaurants do. The room looks like a hotel lobby, the bathroom looked like a hotel bathroom, complete with ice in the bottom of the urinals. I thought I was at a ballgame. The Gourmand menu at EMP is unbelievable, and you will feel like you had the best dining experience possible. You will learn about wine and food like no other restaurant. Also each dish is explained in painstaking detail. Staff at Le Bern are smug, staff at EMP are gracious. No comparison.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: threecrayons

                        "Humm is a better chef than Ripert frankly"

                        EMP is undeniably a great restaurant, but I don't think you can mention Daniel Humm in the same breath with the likes of Ripert, Keller, JGV etc yet. If he can maintain or elevate this level of excellence for another decade or so, then you can talk.

                        1. re: hcbk0702

                          Agreed - and I'd go one better - Ripert still cooks in his kitchen and has been doing so for the entirety of Le B's existance. Keller, JGV, Boulud - they are involved, but rarely in their kitchen (though I did see JG and Daniel on my visits to their namesakes, so they are clearly involved.) Humm is great and still up and coming, but only time will tell - same with Kruether.

                          1. re: hcbk0702

                            Humm is young, I will give you that, but I think what he is doing is exciting. LB is a nice restaurant, but I did not get the sense that what Ripert was doing was new.

                            And I think I can talk right now, because I know what I am talking about. I have eaten at French Laundry and Per Se, JG. Without a doubt Tom Keller knows what he is doing, same with the other guys. Ate at Daniel and it was not good. This was after the reno. Every time you come back to a great meal, you have to come back to EMP.

                        2. I hesitated to get involved in this discussion as it is a very personal and passionate debate, but I think an important point is missing here. I have been to LB four times, the last time many years ago, with both the original chef, Gilbert Le Coze, and subsequently with Eric Ripert, and it seems to me their philosophy has always been simple preparations that emphasize the freshness of the fish. To me this is a lot of bullshit. I can buy a perfect piece of fish at Citarella or Lobster Place or others, and do a simple preparation at home that is delicious so I don't need a restaurant to do it for me. When I go out to a high-end restaurant, I want creativity, something that is a WOW, something I could not imagine attempting myself. I get that at EMP, Picholine, JG, SHO, etc. To me, LB is just making an excuse for lack of creativity. Between the two, I would choose EMP.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: rrems

                            Saying a simple fish preparation at home can match Le Bernardin's dishes is akin to saying simply cutting up pieces of fish and putting them on rice can match Sukiyabashi Jiro. They are worlds apart in terms of ingredient quality and culinary technique. Ripert is well-known among chefs for being an outstanding technician, as would be expected from someone who trained with Joël Robuchon in the glory days of Jamin. Home cooks will not be able to reproduce any dish on Le B's menu remotely close to the standard of the restaurant, especially when it comes to the sauces. The preparations are anything but simple.

                            1. re: hcbk0702

                              That's what they would like you to believe, but not what my experience has been. Ingredient quality was just my point. There is a limit to that and there are good fishmongers in Manhattan where the quality is equal to what you get at LB. And how do you know what I can or can't cook at home?

                              1. re: rrems

                                If you can source the same exact quality of fresh sea urchin, langoustine, hiramasa, Osetra caviar, escolar, A5 Kobe beef, can reproduce their truffled foie gras stuffing, completely clear and technically unimpeachable consommés, dozens of complex sauces with the same skill and practiced balance of their veteran saucier, and have a wine cellar full of grand cru Burgundies from the greatest producers, I suppose you would have a point?

                                On a dinner menu spanning well over 30 seafood dishes, I'd say there's one or two preparations that could be classified as simple. This isn't Esca.

                            2. re: rrems

                              There's a reason Le Bernardin has been around so long.

                              If you haven't tried LB, by all means do so before going to EMP.

                            3. Never have been to LB but EMP is probably pound for pound the best fine dining restaurant in New York.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: steakrules85

                                Maybe "dollar for dollar" but to compare it food, setting, and service-wise to Per Se....no.

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  I knew you would come back with that lol. But I have not been to Per Se so I cannot comment. But yes, I am speaking "pound for pound" it is tough to beat EMP price-wise for the amazing quality of food, service, atmosphere, and professionalism they display. A 6 course tasting there costs $125 and it really turns out to be more like 10-11 with all the freebies they provide ya.

                                  1. re: steakrules85

                                    I need to get back to EMP, admittedly, and if I lived in NYC I'd certainly do so - his menus have been sublime in pictures recently.

                              2. I have to admit, I didn't realize this would be such a provocative subject - but the replies have been very entertaining. I think two things are swaying it for me. First, it sounds like I would enjoy the service and atmosphere at EMP. And second, I'm looking for a dining experience that goes beyond seafood (as much as I appreciate the skill and effort that are required to prepare and serve seafood that is cooked exactly right). And one more thing: I really want to try the EMP's foie gras prepared Mille-Feuille with Big Eye Tuna!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Jeffo405

                                  Le Bernardin has something similar (combo of foie gras and tuna) that I was not impressed with the last time I dined there. IMHO, you're making the right decision to stay with your EMP reservation. If you get the chance, do try the11 course gourmand menu at EMP; the only other dining experience in NYC that can match it is Per Se. (for $100 more). I was lucky enough to experience both within three weeks of each other this past summer.

                                  1. re: Jeffo405

                                    I went to Le Bernardin once and did not like it. I sat at the bar and they forced a jacket on me still. I'm as big of a food/service snob as anyone, but their service just felt to me as too old-school stuffy snobby French.

                                    I had the chef's menu with Kobe beef supplement. While the Kobe beef was even better than the one at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, it wasn't by much. As for the other dishes on the menu, I think I would have had a better time ordering stuff off the prix fixe that sounded better. The gourmand menu at EMP is tailored to your tastes though. You can tell them what you like and they'll find a way to feature it.

                                    As for using longevity as a measurement of a chef, I hate using longevity to measure any kind of genius. I know of too many too gifted people in various disciplines that cannot survive for long because this world is not for them. Some of those viewed as the top chefs of their time burned out, including Robuchon (before he reinvented himself) and Marco Pierre White. Humm is about 34. Pascal Barbot is about 29. His place has been ranked top 20 the past two years serving two dozen or so diners a night. I don't see him changing and I don't see why him doing it 10 more years should make him more established as a chef.

                                  2. I would have never guessed that a place built around seafood could be that good but we think that Le Bernadin might be the best meal we've ever had. Considering that we've eaten all over the U.S. at FL, Charlie Trotter's, Daniel etc., I'm still shocked that I can say that.

                                    1. Someone upthread claimed that Le Bernardin had a superior wine service. I don't think I agree. Le Bernardin may have a better collection of GC Burgs in the cellar, but unless you're going to be ordering Rousseau Chambertin with your dinner that's basically irrelevant to you. Despite the accolades, I'd pick EMP's wine service over any restaurant in the city, including Le Bernardin, for all but a tiny stratosphere of people. (And Le Bernardin doesn't allow corkage, while EMP's corkage policy is a reasonable $35, meaning that if you really want to have that Rousseau Chambertin you're better off buying it at auction and bringing it to EMP).
                                      EMP has the best BTG service in the city, I think, and it's half bottle selection rivals Landmarc.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: dzop

                                        By wine service, I meant the overall knowledge and expertise of the wine staff and head sommelier, Aldo Sohm, and their ability to choose wine pairings or several bottles with your meal. In that regard, Le Bernardin is clearly ahead. EMP does indeed have one of the best BTG lists in the city and their corkage policy is much better than nearly all other high-end restaurants.

                                        You certainly don't need to spring for Rousseau Chambertin/Clos de Bèze, Roumier Musigny, or DRC Romanée-Conti to get your Burg fix at Le Bernardin. There's a good selection reasonably priced half bottles of premier cru and villages AOC wines from top producers, including Roumier's MSD 1er Clos de la Bussière and Chambolle-Musigny, Fourrier's Gevrey-Chambertin VV, Bachelet's Gevrey-Chamberin VV etc. Luckily, both restaurants have excellent half bottle lists.

                                        1. re: hcbk0702

                                          "By wine service, I meant the overall knowledge and expertise of the wine staff and head sommelier, Aldo Sohm, and their ability to choose wine pairings or several bottles with your meal. "

                                          I guess this is where we have to disagree. For the vast majority of diners at these restaurants, they will have -a bottle- with their meal, not the tasting menu with pairings or a multibottle orgy. In that scenario, the BTG and half bottle selection becomes critical, and EMP is much superior to LB in that regard. When I go out with my non-wine-loving family and I'm limited to a single bottle or BTG pairings, the high-end treatment you'll get at LB if you're racking up a $300 wine bill is pretty much irrelevant.

                                          And if I'm going out with my wine-loving friends, I'd still rather go to EMP so we can bring the big guns. Basically, outside of a expensed meal, I can't see how someone who cares about wine would pick LB over EMP. Either I'll make use of EMP's liberal corkage policy (and you could be ahead of the game just by swinging by Crush or Chambers the day before your meal and picking out an older bottle at retail) or EMP's better low-end selection if you're only going to drop ~$40pp on wine.