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May 14, 2012 10:00 AM

Like Per Se but not stuffy

Dear Chowhounders,
Could you recommend which of the Per-Se level restaurants is the least stuffy? We want outstanding food, but also warm ambiance...

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  1. Per Se is actually pretty friendly compared to its peers. Daniel, Jean Georges, and Le Bernardin have a more reserved service style. The last time I dined at Eleven Madison Park a few months ago the servers were quite reserved as well.

    Maybe Del Posto? The service wasn't stuffy at all when I dined there.

    6 Replies
    1. re: fm1963

      Per Se is both less stuffy than and far better than Daniel and Jean Georges (and better than and less stuffy than Le Bernardin). I think the only place worth mentioning in the same breath is EMP. If the OP is willing to take a step down the ladder, he or she might also try somewhere like Corton.

      The problem with answering the question is it is hard to predict how much "outstanding food" the op is willing to sacrifice for casual comfort. It would be far easier to help if the OP shared a few places that he or she has been and their relative benefits and drawbacks.

      1. re: nmprisons

        Thank you! Don't want to skimp on the food--just don't want one of those severe/modern/cold dining rooms. Unfortunately I missed the Per Se reservation window (you have to call at 10:00am on the DOT!)... Now scrambling for second option... Will try EMP!

        1. re: mirandat007

          You need to call or go on OpenTable at 9am on the dot for EMP as well. 4 weeks in advance (28 days including the current day).

          1. re: kathryn

            Ooh, thanks for the clarification... It's like getting into North Korea...

      2. re: fm1963

        Thank you! I will check out Del Posto too!

        1. re: mirandat007

          Just to show how opinions very, I find Del Posto stuffier than Per Se.

      3. I have to say that IMHO you were spared the experience of dining at Per Se. The quality of the food in no way justifies the prices. The room is nothing to boast about. And the struggle to even snag a table is unnecessarily difficult. We cleared the wait list the day before and were told we had ten minutes to accept or the table would be given to someone else. Have to say the service was personable but for $1000 for two people I have rarely felt more disappointed.

        1. I'd say EMP is the one to beat. Barring my last visit there (which I wrote off as a fluke) the service has always been engaging, friendly, warm, and as unpretentious as it gets in fine dining.

          Daniel I find kowotwing but fake.
          Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin I find a bit corporate in vibe.

          You could also go to the other end of the service spectrum - if you can manage to snag a rezzie at Momofuku Ko. Some find it unpretentious to the point of pretension, though - YMMV. (Depending how soon the meal is, there's also Brooklyn Fare... but they're an even tougher rezzie...)

          If you're into high-end Japanese, the Kaiseki at Kyo-Ya can be pretty extraordinary. Service is typical hushed Japanese style, quiet but certainly not stuffy.

          3 Replies
          1. re: sgordon

            EMP is clearly the place Miranda wants.

            I only hope she can get in there.

            1. re: sgordon

              Settin' my alarm for 5:45AM (!!) to try and make my EMP rezzie (I'm on the west coast)... SO appreciate learning about the corporate vibes of Jean-Georges and LB--thank you for the excellent steer away from the chill! Can't wait to try the others, esp the Kaiseki. Thank you for the wonderful help.

              1. re: mirandat007

                i find the service at Jean-Georges and Le Bernadin just fine. I liked 11 Madison but do not think that my bottom will tolerate a 4 hour dinner. 11 Madison allowed you to bring wine for 35 dollars a bottle; a great deal.

            2. I don't think there is anything like Per Se and less stuffy.Brooklyn Fare perhaps. I suggest go to Per Se and enjoy.

              31 Replies
              1. re: foodwhisperer

                I've never been to Brooklyn Fare, but from what I hear in many ways it seems more "stuffy" than Per Se (if we could agree on a meaning of "stuffy"). Like, for example, at Per Se they'll do whatever they can (perhaps short of committing murder) to satisfy your expressed desires. From what I hear, at BF it's what Cesar wants or fuck you. Which is "stuffier"?

                1. re: Sneakeater

                  Brooklyn Fare does not have white table cloths, or several people serving you , like at Per Se or other fine dining establishments. Brooklyn Fare doesn't have tables, It's a counter, The chef ,Cesar, prepares the same dish for everyone. There are no substitutions, there are no special requests. He is amazing in that he gets everyone served and makes the right amount, performing in front of you . That's what you pay for, tasting "his dishes" and watching him prepare and serve them to everyone. It is totally not stuffy. You can go in jeans and a t-shirt if you choose to. There are no maitre d's, there is no pretentiousness.

                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                    I think what Sneakeater has thoughtfully pointed out is that the meaning of "stuffy" varies from person to person.

                    Many (myself included) don't find "white table cloths" or "several" servers or trousers and a jacket stuffy. Others would find it terribly fussy, equate fussiness with elitism, and declare the place stuffy. Some might find a no substitution, eat-what-I-tell-you policy the height of arrogance and therefore be uncomfortable at Brooklyn Fare (note that I am talking only about the soon-to-be-opened one in Manhattan), but find familiarity in the serene, hushed tones of Le Bernardin and declare it not stuffy at all.

                    I don't find Per Se or EMP or Ko to be "stuffy" in that I am very comfortable at all three, but OP's results may vary. That is why we would have to know what he or she means by "stuffy" before we can guide him or her to the right restaurant.

                    1. re: nmprisons

                      I guess stuffy has to be defined,I agree. I think arrogant is different though. A Soup Nazi or a place like Sasabune ,aka sushi nazi,is arrogance not stuffiness by my own definition. bklyn fare is more omakase ,with no variations,than either arrogance or stuffiness. on that note lets hear the definition of stuffy from OP

                      1. re: nmprisons

                        Thanks, nmprisons. That's EXACTLY what I meant.

                        1. re: Sneakeater

                          Thanks, yes let me clarify: My specific quest was to try and avoid cold, corporate, or overly precious decor (with patrons to match, mostly older), in favor of warm ambiance and some decent art (with a mix of both corporate and artistic types, all ages). I also wanted to avoid that grim, march-of-the-plates torpor that can settle over a long prix-fix... By contrast, I don't find the concept of Omakase to be stuffy at all--in fact, I love it--mainly because (at least here in LA) you can raise a white flag at any point and they stop. But when it's 8 courses and there's no getting off the ship no matter how full you are, it becomes oppressive. Yes you vill eat ze foam! Combine that with greige, board/bored room decor and you get: my definition of Stuffy. By contrast, watching the chef prepare the food at Brooklyn Fare sounds like a totally exciting/modern/fun fine dining experience. Thank you Food Whisperer! Reminds me of the 4-person secret chef's table off the kitchen at Matsuhisa (back when it was hot) and more recently, eating at the bar at Hungry Cat (which by the way, is extraordinarily good, one of the best in LA).
                          Thanks again for all the fantastic input! Do you guys do group therapy? ;)

                          1. re: mirandat007

                            Ha, group therapy.... that made me laugh.

                            I love Brooklyn Fare. Cesar Ramirez is a nice guy and very accessible. Enjoy your trip wherever you decide to go.

                            1. re: mirandat007

                              If you're considering Brooklyn Fare, you should also consider Momofuku Ko.

                        2. re: foodwhisperer

                          There is now a dress code at Brooklyn Fare. Per my recent confirmation email:

                          "Business Attire required. No jeans, sneakers, flip-flips, shorts or t-shirts are permitted in the dining room"

                          1. re: PorkyBelly

                            That's just great!: no solo diners; no notes; no photos; too inconvenient to get to; too difficult to get a reservation (even if I could find someone to go with me); and now I have to get dressed up. Definitely will stick with Momofuku Ko. Sounds like Chef Ramirez is a bit too full of himself. Even Jose Andres' "e" in Las Vegas has none of these restrictions.

                            1. re: ellenost

                              Putting aside the fact that I can walk to it (so it's not in the absolute middle of nowhere), how is a restaurant across the street from a stop on one major subway line (A/C) and a block away from a stop on another (2/3) "too inconvenient to get to"? BF is closer to major subway line stations than just about anyplace in the EV is.

                              ETA -- Not defending anything else, such as their incredibly inconvenient reservations procedure and draconian cancellation policy.

                              1. re: Sneakeater

                                Exactly my thought. Brooklyn Fare is not inconvenient, and Ramirez's restrictions are just meant to enhance the patrons' dining experience.

                                I don't think he should be criticized as "too full of himself" for trying to do what is best for his small space, especially by someone who has never met him or even been to his restaurant. The difficulty of reservations is just a matter of supply and demand. I'm not sure why some consider that a character flaw.

                                1. re: Riverman500

                                  Other restaurants -- particularly Momofuku Ko -- have come up with MUCH MUCH more convenient ways to deal with the problem of limited availability owing to small quarters. There is no way in hell I would put up with BF's reservations procedure. My loss, I'm sure.

                                  1. re: Sneakeater

                                    You can shout all you want but Momofuku Ko's reservation system isn't any more convenient than BF's.

                                    1. re: Riverman500

                                      Totally is. It takes you about 15 seconds to find out whether or not you have a reservation at Ko You don't have to spend 45 minutes of a work morning trying to get through on the phone. (BF doesn't even offer email reservations anymore. Only the phone -- if and when you can get through.)

                                      1. re: Sneakeater

                                        I've never had to spend 45 minutes of a work morning trying to get through on the phone to BF. Because of the third Michelin star BF is just a more desired reservation than Momofuku Ko, and deservedly so, in my opinion.

                                        1. re: Riverman500

                                          Also, for me (personally), the no solo reservations, and you have to pay a penalty if your prospective dining companion cancels, is a deal-breaker. But that's just me.

                                          (To be clear, I'm not disputing which place is more in demand, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if BF were better than Ko. I'm just saying which one I think deals better with extreme scarcity of supply. I frankly don't see how it could possibly be done better than Ko does it. They impose virtually no work at all on the prospective diner. BF seems not even to be trying to make things easier for prospective guests, in the face of the problems caused by its extreme good fortune.)

                                        2. re: Sneakeater

                                          Heck, I spent 75 minutes hitting redial to get my reservation at Alinea. I much prefer the Ko reservation system since I know within 2 seconds whether I've been successful. Probably one of the reasons I dine at Ko so often.

                                  2. re: Sneakeater

                                    If you live on the UES, dinner in Brooklyn, and traveling late at night alone on the subway is not convenient. Since Ko is on First Ave., all I need to do is take the SBS on First Ave., and I'm home in 20 minutes. Much easier. BTW, I grew up in Brooklyn, and my mother still lives in Brooklyn, so I don't consider Brooklyn the "lost continent", but am painfully aware of the limitations of the subway system.

                                    1. re: ellenost

                                      I don't want to be argumentative about this, but you said "inconvenient" as if it were UNIVERSALLY inconvenient -- like say a place in Red Hook, that NOBODY who doesn't live right there can get to easily. Living where I do, it's hard for me to get to Williamsburg. But I wouldn't call it "inconvenient" without a qualifier, when it's easily accessible to just about all of Manhattan.

                                      1. re: Sneakeater

                                        Let me qualify my earlier statement: "Getting home from Brooklyn Fare is inconvenient for me".

                                        1. re: ellenost

                                          It is certainly inconvenient to get to Upper East Side from downtown Brooklyn. Anywhere on public transportation at night is inconvenient. Also some neighborhoods are not the best, even though they have improved over the years. Wiliamsburgh also is inconvenient, even though it is just across that crazy bridge. i am fortunate and have a car, but it is still inconvenient to drive to Williamsburgh as the LES traffic is always a mess these days. Red Hook is actually better for me, since it is 10 minutes from tribeca thru the tunnel ,,However, there is no place in Red Hook worth being inconvenienced for. Especially the places with the hour or two waits. They are not that good. So ellenost, I agree with you on the inconvenience of that travel, especially coming home late at night.

                                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                                            This is silly to argue about, but I just got home (Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn) from 5th Ave. & E. 105th St., by subway, in less than 50 minutes. I think people WAY overestimate subway problems. (The subway was packed, BTW.)

                                            1. re: Sneakeater

                                              Sorry, but as a single woman, I am not comfortable taking the subway after 10 p.m. Let's end this debate as I previously stated that traveling via the subway from Brooklyn Fare late at night from Brooklyn is inconvenient for me. If you're volunteering to escort me home, I'd gladly accept your kindness :-).

                                              1. re: ellenost

                                                Ellen, I'm much sorrier that you'll never get to BAM than that you'll never get to BF.

                                                1. re: Sneakeater

                                                  I go to BAM for matinees--no need to feel sorry for me.

                                                2. re: ellenost

                                                  Ellen, you are very smart to avoid subway traveling to and from brooklyn at night. Many single women, also men aren't that smart, they assume all these neighborhoods and subways are safe, because they are in fashion now ,, i.e. Bushwick, Ridgewood, Downtown Bklyn, Williamsburgh, etc,,,these places can be dangerous at night. Stay safe. Take a cab.

                                                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                    Thanks for your understanding. Wish I had more friends like you! Some of my (male) friends think I'm odd when I ask them to wait with me while I try to hail a taxi.

                                  3. re: PorkyBelly

                                    Well, good thing there is no dining room. we eat in the kitchen. So I will wear my jeans. I strongly doubt if Cesar will evict me.I will bend a little and wear a shirt. 3 Michelin stars does tend to change a person. I do believe, Cesar wears jeans. I'll have to check next time i'm there. Many of his dishes are very Japanese. He travelled with Mr. Mikami who was the chef at Bouley Upstairs. I haven't been there since they received their 3rd star and not BYOB,but I assume it is still 20 tiny courses. I'll wear my converse also.

                                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                                      Jeebus, people, there is no food on earth worth all that--PLUS $250/pp!

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