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A Belated Trip Report - Great Eating in New York - October 2009

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txgrl99 Mar 19, 2010 10:50 AM

First, I’d like to apologize for the belated review. I should lose my Chowhound card. : ) Second, I’d like to thank all the amazing ‘hounds who helped make our trip to New York so incredibly memorable. You are world-class! We went to Sushi Yasuda, EMP, Ippudo and Degustation.

Our first major restaurant experience was undoubtedly the best: sushi at the bar in front of Chef Yasuda as Sushi Yasuda. This is truly one of the most special meals I’ve had anywhere, thanks largely to the man himself. We ordered the omakase and let Chef Yasuda bring it on. He regaled us with stories of seaweed quality and when and where they obtain various fish, etc. It was fascinating. (This is in between our “oos” and “ahs” of eating some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever had.) He’s right about the seaweed, too. His is crisper and more delicate than I usually get. I tried sea urchin for the first time – it literally exploded with flavor. We had about 15 pieces, and tuna roll (he told us how most restaurants use spicy sauce to literally cover up sub-par fish). He asked us if there was anything we didn't like, and my husband cited squid or octopus. Chef Yasuda replied that the squid was very fresh that day, and we must try it. He was right. After he made about 60 cuts in it, it was perfect and not the least bit chewy, which has always been my husband's problem with raw squid in general.

He also made us a sprout hand roll. It is the first hand roll I’ve had that I actually liked. Once again, I credit the quality of seaweed. He hilariously told my husband he had his sushi in a “submission hold,” and proceeded to correct our use of chopsticks. Love it! When we were leaving, he asked where we were from. When we said Austin, he gave us the Longhorn “hook ‘em” sign. I would do a lot for a picture of that. It was a highlight of a trip filled with very good eating. We are considering a special trip to New York just to eat there again.

I will post more later when I finish my write-ups.

Cheers!
Shannon

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Sushi Yasuda
204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

Ippudo
65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. hcbk0702 RE: txgrl99 Mar 19, 2010 01:09 PM

    Glad you enjoyed Yasuda. I've always thought it delivered the best value among the upper-tier sushi-ya in NYC.

    For that return trip, if you did the EMP lunch, the Jean Georges lunch is the next one to try. For lunch, I like JG more than EMP, but you can't go wrong with either.

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    Jean Georges
    1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

    1 Reply
    1. re: hcbk0702
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      txgrl99 RE: hcbk0702 Mar 20, 2010 08:54 AM

      We actually did EMP dinner, but I will definitely put Jean Georges on the list for the next trip. Thanks!

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      Jean Georges
      1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

    2. t
      txgrl99 RE: txgrl99 Mar 20, 2010 09:32 PM

      Our second meal of note was dinner at Degustation. Right away I liked this place. It has a very intimate feel, with diners eating at a bar directly in front of the chefs. I loved watching them work. It is also a nice mixture of casual and upscale. We had the five-course menu paired with Spanish wines, all of which were very good. The menu: deconstructed Cobb salad, which was nice if not all that inventive; fried egg with pork belly (a huge pork belly fan, I really liked this dish and thought the egg and pork belly worked well together); fried cuttlefish with squid ink risotto, lamb shank with zucchini, potatoes and garlic, and for dessert, a caramelized crème soaked brioche. I thought all the savory courses were good, but perhaps not so good that I would remember them nearly four months later without notes. The brioche, however, was in a class by itself. I can actually remember the taste and texture as if I had it last week. It was almost like eating bread brulee, if that makes sense. Kind of a cross between French toast and cream brulee. We talked about it for two days straight, I swear. Service was excellent – competent and friendly. Our server was my favorite of the trip. She was even kind enough to recommend some bars in the area, which was unfamiliar to us. All and all, we had an excellent experience and wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Degustation.

      1. t
        txgrl99 RE: txgrl99 Mar 20, 2010 09:51 PM

        We had a nice casual lunch at Ippudo. From everything I read, it seemed like you could wait a while there. We arrived around 11:30 and got lucky, I think. When we left the restaurant, it was wall to wall with people waiting. Of course, we had to start with the Hirata pork buns. Anything with luscious, fatty pork is probably going to be a winner with us (see pork belly at Degustation), and these were no exception. The texture of the bun itself is almost like a sponge. That sounds really unfortunate when in fact it is quite tasty. I could see myself eating about 20 of these in one sitting given the opportunity. Afraid we would covet the other’s dish, we un-creatively both ordered the Akamaru Ramen. Now, we may have ramen like that here in Austin, but I haven’t found it yet. Suffice it to say, these are not the ramen I made in my college dorm room with a hot plate. A flavorful broth, plus, it included more delicious pork. What’s not to love? The price point seemed a little bit high to me (around $45 for our meal and two drinks), but my husband wasn’t about to complain, since it was pretty much the cheapest meal we had in New York. : )

        We walked a couple of blocks over to Chickalicious for dessert. Now, I can’t remember if we went to the Dessert Bar or the Dessert Club, but it was the only one open before 3 pm on a Saturday. My husband had a cupcake he liked a lot (red velvet). I didn’t get to taste it, though, because I was too busy hoarding my dessert – a warm custard in a milk sauce. Now, if there is one thing I love enough to give pork competition, it’s a good custard of pretty much any variety. This one was stellar. It had the texture of flan, but with more of a crème brulee flavoring (presumably another theme in our visit). Another place I could make a habit of visiting.

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        Ippudo
        65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003

        1. t
          txgrl99 RE: txgrl99 Mar 20, 2010 10:27 PM

          Our last meal of note was at Eleven Madison Park. I’m afraid those of you on the board are definitely going to take my Chowhound card away from me, but we didn’t have the world-class experience here I expected. From everything I read, I expected this place to rival some of the great meals I’ve had, if not La Grande Cascade (Paris) and Guy Savoy (Las Vegas), at least Gary Danko in San Francisco. I am very disappointed to say that was not the case. Excellent service and generally good food were marred by an excessive wait and a sub-par entrée. I also think perhaps my expectations were a bit overly inflated.

          Things got off to a very rocky start when we had to wait 45 minutes past our reservation time, which was at 9:45, the only time I could get when I called exactly 28 days in advance (or whatever their reservation policy allows). At around 10:05 my husband asked about our table, and the hostess said they were clearing it. When he went back 15 minutes later, she was gone, and the replacement hostess had no idea what he was talking about. This did not engender goodwill. So we were not seated until 10:30. I swear, I almost got confused and thought I was at Babbo (I’ve railed about my horrendous experience there on Chowhound previously), except unlike Babbo, the staff seemed to feel genuinely sorry about the wait. I was somewhat mollified by the fact that everyone around us was perturbed and starving, so we weren’t being singled out. Then again, that make me think perhaps they need to work on their reservation system in general. They kindly offered us champagne to make up for the wait, which it did not, but I appreciated the gesture.

          Making this meal a Chowhound fail of mine, I did not take notes, so I don’t have perfect description of every course. We were celebrating my birthday and I decided for once I would try to enjoy the meal without extensive picture or note-taking interruptions. I was determined to give the place a fair shake despite the wait, and not let that fact ruin our evening. So I forced myself to get happy pretty fast.

          We each ordered the three-course meals, as it was very late and I knew additional courses would put us there well into the night. I ordered the $100 supplement pasta with white truffles. They did not skimp on the white truffles, which I completely understand is what drove up the price, and I appreciated that. The pasta, however, was good, but not the other-worldly taste sensation I expect for an additional $100. (Before I get pilloried for that, I am a huge fan of white truffles and have had amazing pasta dishes with them, one here in Austin that I remember vividly 6 years later. So to paraphrase a saying we have here in Texas, this was not my first white truffle pasta rodeo.) Still, I was generally pleased with the dish if not blown away.

          The entrée is where it really went wrong for us. The three of us made the mistake of all ordering the same thing – lobster with chestnuts. The description just sounded so amazing on the menu. The lobster was overcooked and rubbery, and the chestnuts were hard and undercooked (there were also raw chestnuts which tasted exactly as I expected; I’m obviously not criticizing those).

          Dessert was good, but unmemorable. I quizzed my dining companions before writing this, and none of us remember what we had. I did enjoy a lovely class of Chateau d'Yquem, which I must admit improved my outlook greatly. Service was superb and everything I would expect of a restaurant of that caliber. They did not rush us, in spite of the fact we were there quite late due to our late start. Clearly the waitstaff is made up of consummate professionals.

          Considering everything wonderful I’ve heard and read, I would be willing to give EMP another chance if I lived in New York or visited frequently (as frequently as I would like). In fact, I feel a little bad criticizing such a Chowhound beloved institution, given my respect for the Manhattan ‘hounds. However, given that I only make it into town about once every two years and consequently have precious few meals to enjoy in your great city, I doubt we will be back. I initially planned to go to per se or Daniel, and I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t spend the extra money to do so.

          Other than an acceptable but unmemorable brunch at Locanda Verde, that was our only disappointment. Place we wanted to try but ran out of time: one of the Momofuku restaurants.

          I would like to thank the New York ‘hounds again for your unfailing generosity. People in the city (in the restaurants and out) were lovely. It’s a grand city with superb eating, and just remembering our trip makes me happy. We can’t wait to come back (and go to Sushi Yasuda!).

          16 Replies
          1. re: txgrl99
            r
            RCC RE: txgrl99 Mar 20, 2010 11:11 PM

            "I did enjoy a lovely class of Chateau d'Yquem, which I must admit improved my outlook greatly"

            Isn't that always the case with a Ch. d'Yquem, anywhere and anytime.
            Thanks for the reviews.

            1. re: txgrl99
              u
              uwsister RE: txgrl99 Mar 20, 2010 11:29 PM

              Wow, I am so surprised to read that about EMP. Did you let them know that your lobster was overcooked?

              Glad you had a stellar meal at Sushi Yasuda, it's my favorite sushi place in the city. Also reminding myself I need to get to Degustation soon. Everybody's been raving about that caramelized brioche.

              Thanks for the reviews and hope you come back soon!

              1. re: txgrl99
                hcbk0702 RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 04:58 AM

                Sorry to hear about your EMP experience; it's usually very good, especially for dinner.

                Per Se is usually stellar, and I think it is a "must visit" if you haven't been to the French Laundry and you're willing to pay the tariff. If you love seafood, Le Bernardin is perfect. I still find it surprising that their simple-sounding baked lobster prep (ok, so the current version comes with truffled foie gras stuffing and brandy-red wine sauce, but still!) continually outshines Per Se's and French Laundry's butter-poached lobster dishes, year after year.

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                Per Se
                10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                Le Bernardin
                155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

                1. re: hcbk0702
                  t
                  txgrl99 RE: hcbk0702 Mar 21, 2010 09:53 AM

                  Thanks for all your replies. hcbk0702, now my mouth is watering for Le Bernardin! Would you choose it over Per Se? I have not been to French Laundry unfortunately, but it is on my list.

                  As for uwsister's question, I did not tell them about the lobster. Typically, I would do so (especially in a fine dining establishment and give them the chance to rectify), but it was already so late and we were exhausted from the wait and from not getting our first courses until close to 11. Thanks goodness we had snacks earlier in the evening! If it was an hour earlier, things might have gone differently. And definitely get to Degustation. I hope for your sake they still have the brioche!

                  And RCC, you are so correct. I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I saw the Chateau d'Yquem on the menu. I remember the first time I was fortunate enough to have it, about 10 years ago. I was blown away that dessert wine (which I already loved) could be so good it was practically otherworldly.

                  Cheers,
                  Shannon

                  1. re: txgrl99
                    hcbk0702 RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 11:50 AM

                    If you're looking for a seafood-focused meal, I'd definitely take Le Bernardin over Per Se. Given that you really liked Sushi Yasuda and everyone in your party ordered the lobster at EMP, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Le Bernardin. As I said above, their lobster dish is exceptional, and there are many standouts on their current menu. They also have the best head sommelier in the US and one of the strongest overall wine staffs in the city; the wine pairings are a must with the tasting menus. Château d'Yquem was available by the glass in my recent visits (it is not at Per Se).

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                    Per Se
                    10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                    Sushi Yasuda
                    204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

                    Le Bernardin
                    155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

                    1. re: hcbk0702
                      t
                      txgrl99 RE: hcbk0702 Mar 21, 2010 01:43 PM

                      Tasty lobster and Château d'Yquem by the glass (certainly easier on the pocketbook than by the bottle!). I am completely sold on Le Bernardin. Thanks so much for the recommendation. I will definitely put it on our list for our next trip.

                2. re: txgrl99
                  daveena RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 12:49 PM

                  So sad to read about your lobster-chestnut dish - I had the same thing for lunch right around the same time as you, and it was fantastic. I actually usually dislike chestnuts (they're usually too dry and mealy for me) but these were tender and sweet, almost creamy in texture.

                  I understand your reluctance to tell them about the lobster so late in the evening, but from what I hear, EMP management really bends over backwards to make it up to patrons when they've had a bad experience. Given the opportunity, I think they would have been able to make it up to you.

                  1. re: daveena
                    t
                    txgrl99 RE: daveena Mar 21, 2010 02:06 PM

                    Thanks so much for sharing, daveena. Your dish sounds exactly like what I was hoping for. I guess it was just an off night. It almost makes me think they rushed cooking it since it was so late in the evening, because it sounds like it is usually (or at least can be) perfectly cooked. That certainly isn't what I expect at that caliber of restaurant. It isn't as though I was on a wait list without a reservation and was keeping the kitchen working late from my own doing.

                    I'm sure the kitchen was slammed since they were running so far behind. It was extremely late in the evening, though, and we were just ready to be done (I would've felt differently if all the food would've been stellar even with the wait, but the wait plus the rubbery lobster/hard chestnuts made us ready to call it a night). I have no doubt given the professionalism of the staff they would've taken care of it. It was too late to wait for another entree at that point, though, and I do blame them for that, given the fact we waited 45 minutes for our table. (I suspect we were not the only diners of the evening who were less than thrilled, given the unhappy grumbling of groups around us in the wait area.) Maybe it's unfair, but I guess I also feel at that price point, I expect my entree to be cooked expertly the first time around.

                    1. re: txgrl99
                      daveena RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 02:58 PM

                      "Maybe it's unfair, but I guess I also feel at that price point, I expect my entree to be cooked expertly the first time around."

                      I don't think that's an unfair expectation at all - and as you said, there are so many excellent restaurants in NYC that it's hard to give a place a second chance after a negative experience (I've actually dropped Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin off my "return-to" list after disappointing second meals).

                      In terms of management making up for bad experiences, I was alluding to (and trying not to state explicitly, because it does seem a bit tacky to discuss) the fact that EMP has been known to comp parts of (and sometimes entire) meals - so while I agree that a restaurant of its reputation should just be cooking food correctly, given the opportunity, they could have taken the sting out of an expensive, disappointing meal, and given you an incentive to give them a second chance. That said, in the same position, I probably would have been so hungry I would have chosen to do the same thing you did, rather than run the risk of having to wait longer for another course.

                      1. re: daveena
                        t
                        txgrl99 RE: daveena Mar 21, 2010 03:10 PM

                        You make a very valid point. I think I will make a point to handle the situation differently in the future, if for no other reason than to be fair to the restaurant. Thanks. I noticed you said you'd dropped Jean-George and Le Bernardin off your list. Are there any similar places in the city you'd recommend?

                        1. re: txgrl99
                          bobjbkln RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 03:40 PM

                          Can I suggest that you make the future now. Write them a letter describing your experience. My guess is that you will be pleased with their response.

                          1. re: bobjbkln
                            t
                            txgrl99 RE: bobjbkln Mar 21, 2010 04:12 PM

                            Fair enough. I think I will do that. Thanks!

                          2. re: txgrl99
                            daveena RE: txgrl99 Mar 21, 2010 04:22 PM

                            I adored Corton, but I've noticed opinions are pretty mixed on it. Of note, I had one stellar meal at J-G and Le B each, and was only disappointed on the follow up. In both cases, the disappointing experience was partly influenced by what I felt was overly stiff and cold service (something I used to give a pass on in French restaurants, until I ate at 2 Michelin 3-stars in Paris that had fantastic, personable and warm service). Also, my meals at J-G and Le B were all lunches, and I think Le B in particular may be better at dinner. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that none of the top restaurants are as consistent as we'd like them to be. Overall, I've been finding myself drawn more towards mid-range restaurants lately - lower risk, higher bliss-to-buck ratio.

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                            Corton
                            239 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013

                            1. re: daveena
                              t
                              txgrl99 RE: daveena Mar 21, 2010 04:25 PM

                              Thanks for the feedback. I had the same experience at La Grande Cascade in Paris - incredibly warm, even fun service, at a place that was undeniably upscale. It was a bit different that what I was used to at some American French restaurants, too (Guy Savoy excluded, but it's really a French restaurant in America). Cold service can really ruin an otherwise great meal, in my opinion. I will have to investigate Corton further. I'm intrigued. Thanks again!

                              1. re: daveena
                                w
                                windycity RE: daveena Mar 21, 2010 07:15 PM

                                I've been doing this as well and even frequenting reliable cheap eats more, and I've been really pleased with the result. I feel like the recent higher end meals that we've eaten have just not been up to snuff. I was particularly surprised by a "meh" meal at Cafe Boulud since it's really well rated by fellow Chowhounders.

                                I think I liked my recent Locanda Verde brunch more than the OP but for the price point and overall satisfaction, I'd rather eat at Num Pang.

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                                Cafe Boulud
                                20 East 76th St., New York, NY 10021

                                Num Pang Sandwich Shop
                                21 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003

                                Locanda Verde
                                377 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013

                                1. re: windycity
                                  t
                                  txgrl99 RE: windycity Mar 22, 2010 07:59 AM

                                  I think this is a really good idea. I agree that the expectations at higher end restaurants are so much greater, that there is very little room for error. At least for me, when I'm not paying as much, I am less inclined to be as critical.

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