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Birthday tasting lunch - Bouley or GT?

I'm trying to decide on a place to celebrate my birthday with my boyfriend, with a 5 course tasting meal - which we've never done before! It will be a weekday lunch-time in Feb, and at the moment I'm between Gramercy Tavern and Bouley - both have great menus at a very reasonable price ($50 ish). Other suggestions are welcome though, around that price range, and anywhere in Manhattan is fine. We're not major foodies, but we do want something really special.

We're also looking for somewhere for a nice brunch on a Sunday - has anyone had good experiences at Cibo? We'd be looking at Midtown/ East 60s for the brunch, and around $30 a head or less.

Thanks for any help!

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  1. I think the most spectacular lunch is to be found at Eleven Madison Park. It's a relative bargain at lunch and the room during the day is so beautiful, with the huge windows facing the park and the light coming in....couldn't be lovelier. The food is excellent, the service is the best in the city. My favorite time to go there is lunch on a weekday.

    3 course prix fixe is $42, plus amuses, wonderful breads and butter, sweet nibbles after your savory courses, etc etc.


    1. Bouley is a great choice (as is EMP). There is a very recent post about a wonderful lunch at Bouley.

      1. EMP is a great suggestion. Another good weekday lunch option is Jean-Georges. They have a great option of building your own tasting menu with as many courses as you want for $14.50 per course (minimum 2 courses). So you can easily have an excellent 4-course meal (3 savory dishes plus an $8 dessert) in your $50 range. In my opinion, both EMP and Jean-Georges would be better options than Bouley or Grammercy Tavern. Not that either of them are bad, it's just that in your price range at lunch, you can go to a 4-star restaurant.

        And Happy Birthday! Hope you enjoy your celebration, wherever you pick.

        1. EMP, as suggested by g-of-s, is a great choice but you won't be able to do their tasting menu for your budget.

          Another non-tasting recommendation would be Jean George, you could do 3 plates and dessert (before tax, tip, booze) for about $50.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Spiritchaser

            Not true. Their 3-course prix fixe lunch is $42.

            1. re: gutsofsteel

              What's not true? If you are referring to EMP, the 3 courses for $42 does not include dessert. The tarts cart is $12. In any case, the o.p. says she wants to do a 5-course tasting menu. At EMP, it's $68 which, as Spiritchaser points out, is beyond the stated $50 budget.

              Btw, the costs at Jean Georges are now 2 plates for $29, $14.50 for each additional plate, and $8 per dessert.

              1. re: RGR

                So it comes to $54 for the $42 3-course prix fixe plus dessert. I'd call that pretty close to the $50 budget. Plus there are the amuses, and wonderful bread and butter, and little sweets thrown in, and a palate cleanser....it's a lot of food.

          2. I am not a fan of the food in G.T.'d dining room. The dinner we had there was the most disappointing meal of '09 for me. (I do like the Tavern Room, though.) We've been to Bouley once and had the tasting lunch. It was fine, but not close to being stellar.

            EMP's 5-course lunch Gourmand is $68. Imo, well worth the extra dollars. We had the current one last week.

            Photos can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

            Happy Birthday and Bon Appetit!

            1 Reply
            1. re: RGR

              I completely agree about Gramercy Tavern and their different dining rooms. The Tavern side was much better.

            2. As the writer of the "extremely favorable Bouley review" mentioned in another post in this thread, I have to vote for Bouley. My meals at EMP have been decidedly underwhelming- the wine list/service is terrific (and that's something I know about) but I find the food lacking. GT is not what it once was.

              Like others say, J-G is a good option for lunch.

              As for Brunch, I'd suggest Orsay. (73rd or 74th and Lex). They have the old chef from La Goulue (sp?) now, and the food is excellent in a precise, old school, UES way.

              1. Another vote for Jean Georges. As noted above, it will be ~$50 for 4 courses.

                1. Del Posto now offers a fanastic prix fix on wed-fri, for $29. It includes a couple of amuss, an appetizer or pasta, a secondi, a dessert, and then a flood of petit fours. If you want an extra course, I'm sure you can ask them for a supplement, though it's a ton of food as is.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: quizkiddonniesmith

                    I've tried the revamped $29 lunch at Del Posto and while it was a good value, it is still far, far behind both JG and EMP, which was their target. The pastas were the standouts (especially the garganelli Bolognese), the desserts were pretty decent (dark chocolate tartufo), but the amuses and petit fours were incredibly weak. One of the amuses was mediocre (Roman stracciatella), another one was pretty bad (fried saffron risotto), and two of the petit fours were flat-out dreadful (dehydrated grapefruit and a small lemon tart) which left me thinking there were severe execution errors in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the service was quite stilted as you could tell our server was haphazardly making descriptions up of the petit fours (he was clearly wrong) as if he had just forgotten his notes while walking up the table. Really great bread basket though.

                    1. re: quizkiddonniesmith

                      Thanks so much for all the suggestions everyone! Now I'm even more undecided!

                      So my current thoughts are:

                      Bouley - really unsure, because the menu looks amazing and as you say dzop and ellenost, there are some great recent reviews. But I've also read some really negative ones, so is it too big a risk to take for a birthday meal? Also I should mention we're coming from the UK for a long-weekend so it really is special!

                      Gramercy Tavern - I'm suprised about the lack of enthusiasm because I gathered from this forum that it was verrrrrry good and popular.

                      Jean-George - As people have said, it's obviously a wonderfully rated restaurant and the lunch is a steal.

                      EMP - again amazing reviews. But the only worry I have (with JG too maybe?) is the atmosphere - I suppose I'm looking for special but not too formal, and we are a young couple (early 20s) so I don't know if that affects which restaurant is recommended?

                      Sorry if this is at all confusing!

                      1. re: baileyscupcake

                        Take a look at the photos of JG, I've never felt it to be stuffy and the same can be said about EMP especially during daylight hours. GT would be far and away, IMO, the least stuffy/casual and maybe not special enough.

                        1. re: baileyscupcake

                          W/r/t Bouley, I think there has been a sea change in the restaurant since the "reshuffling of the deck" of David Bouley's restaurants. Make sure the reviews you're looking at are recent.

                          1. re: baileyscupcake

                            I had a wonderful dinner at Bouley for my birthday in August. (But I'm one of the unwavering Bouley fans for more than 10 years).

                            1. re: baileyscupcake

                              Bouley is uneven. Don't risk it. GT isn't special enough for this purpose. Jean-Georges is not as festive as EMP and it's definitely stuffier. Also I never feel that lunch is as leisurely and relaxed at Jean Georges like it is at EMP. Of the four....EMP is the best choice. It is not stuffy at luchtime at all. The service is of course very professional, but also down to earth and friendly. You can't go wrong there. And room....is just spectacular during the day.

                              1. re: gutsofsteel

                                But the food at EMP is mediocre and the menu is like an uninventive "whos-who" of all the fads in high end NYC restaurants. I'm going to half guess this without looking at their menu: for starters: squash soup, tuna tartare, beet and goat cheese; for mains: sausage, bone marrow dish, pork belly, and wait for it, wait for it....ROAST CHICKEN!!!!!

                                Honestly, i got 4 of the above dishes without looking.

                                Yawn. Don't waste your money.

                                1. re: dzop

                                  Have you even been there or looked at the menu? The food at EMP is exquisite. They just got 4 stars from the Times, and if you read the many, many posts on CH about it, you'll see that the vast majority of people who have eaten there have been nothing but delighted.

                                  What was the point of your post - to trash a restaurant with which you're not even familiar? Why?

                                  1. re: gutsofsteel

                                    Gotta agree with you on that G of S. There is absolutely no way a person with an interest in fine dining could trash talk a restaurant like EMP. I will concede that it may not be everyone's cup o tea but the commentary from the OP is completely out of line.

                                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                                      Really, 4 stars, from the Times! Well, that's infallable.

                                      I have looked at the menu- both at the meal I ate there over the summer and just when I made that last post. My criticism: which is that the menu is largely uninventive and simply a checklist of current food "fads", is borne out by a menu which I described above. Pork belly was innovative when Wylie Dufresne put it on his menu 7 years ago.

                                      Most people are influenced by the publicity surrounding a restaurant and experience a placebo effect when eating a place like EMP. I'm confident, based upon my past experiences eating there and the current menu, that the food for a weekday lunch is not on the level of J-G, Bouley, or even Cafe Boulud.

                                      On the other hand, the wine list and wine service is EXCEPTIONAL. IMO, it's the best in the city, especially BTG. What other restaurant in NYC serves Vin Paille or Belle Pente Pinot BTG? (Hint: no one). And prices are very reasonable compared to Daniel or J-G.

                                      I mean, really. Another roast chicken? The first 25 restaurants serving roast chicken didn't exhaust the point?

                                      1. re: dzop

                                        Many, MANY people love chicken and want it done well. Myself included, and believe me I am a very critical, experienced eater. I have had wonderful meals at EMP, and I am talking only about the food. I think it's quite a stretch to assume that everyone who loves it is a food lemming influenced by publicity and fads.

                                        What would you have them serve in terms of meat instead of chicken, pork, and beef, lamb and venison? Snake guts? Buffalo eyeballs?

                                        They do in fact need to turn a profit.

                                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                                          If you're going to serve chicken, do something other than roasting it. Every restaurant is serving roast chicken right now. It's a fad. Do something different/interesting. Serve something I can't make at home.

                                          You once again sidestep my point, which is that the current menu at EMP is basically a checklist of current fads in restaurant food. There are other parts of the pig other than it's belly. The aforementioned roast chicken. And christ, beet and goat cheese salad?

                                          Also, there's repetition of ingredients. Eg, meyer lemon is used multiple times.

                                          While I personally had weak food at EMP (as have most of my "eater" friends), I recognize that all restaurants are inconsistent and YMMV. But the crappy menu is more objective than food quality. Put EMP's lunch menu up against J-G, and the difference jumps out at you. It's a derivative restaurant, and it caters to a certain, more media-influenced clientele.

                                          1. re: dzop

                                            Sure, roast chicken is a fad. Sorta like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Easy come easy go.

                                            Meyer lemon is in season, it's a really nice treat on a menu.

                                            But whatever. Don't go. Easier for the rest of us to get reservations.

                                            By the way for what it's worth the last several lunches I have had at J-G have been mixed blessings.

                                            1. re: gutsofsteel

                                              I agree with you about that J-G is uneven, but as I said, food quality is so subjective and inconsistent that it's hard to draw conclusions. Besides, I'm disappointed in probably 75% of the meals I eat out, even at the top places. But I like the J-G menu. Hopefully the food is living up to it.

                                              1. re: dzop

                                                I agree wtih you there too - I am also disappointed with most of the meals I eat out, especially at the top places.

                                                Get thee to Europe more often, of course of course.

                                              2. re: gutsofsteel

                                                Roast chicken, on the whole, isn't a fad. Roast chicken served at high-end restaurants is absolutely a fad that started with the economic crisis. Or maybe it's just pure coincidence that it was on the menu at a whole bunch of restaurants I ate at in the past 6 months (eg, Centrolire, Commerce, Craigie on Main (in Boston)).

                                                Haven't seen meatloaf on the menu of anywhere outside of the 21 Club, but maybe that's just my bad luck. Meatloaf is delicious.

                                              3. re: dzop

                                                I will give ya this - the beets and goat cheese thing is pretty stupid.

                                      2. re: gutsofsteel

                                        Given what the original poster said they were looking for, I have to agree with gutsofsteel. While I have personally not found either Jean-Georges or EMP to be stuffy - especially at lunch - EMP is a little bit more casual, yet still feels like a special occasion. And the food is fantastic. Stop second-guessing and make a reservation at EMP. You'll be quite happy.