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Jun 11, 2012 11:52 AM

Suggestions for the best meal of my family's life: money's (almost) no object

I'm planning on taking three of my family members out to hopefully the best meal ever, and money is (nearly) no object. I'd like to keep it between $700 and $1,000 for four people total. If that includes gratuity, perfect. If it's a little over, I'm still open.

I've been eyeing the usual suspects: Eleven Madison Park and Daniel (both on the higher end of my budget), Del Posto, even Sushi Yasuda, although I'd much rather spring for an experience at a real 'restaurant' (like the former two). But nobody's squeamish and we're all fairly adventurous eaters.

Genuinely looking for an OMG experience we'll really remember -- not gimmicky, but really wonderful food and service.

They've all been so good and generous to me over the years, and I can finally give something back! I don't want it to be a "meh" kind of thing...

Any and all suggestions most welcome.

Thank you!!!

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  1. There will obviously be much debate about this assertion, but having eaten at all the places you mention, none of them come close to "best meal ever." In my opinion, the only place in New York that approaches that bar is Per Se, and it will come in at the upper end of your price range (without drinks).

    1. Of the four places you mentioned, I would strongly suggest EMP, which has been responsible for some of the best meals I have eaten in New York. It is a very relaxing and comfortable environment, the food is nearly always very good and sometimes truly phenomenal, and they know how to make a special occasion feel special. Faced with a similar decision recently, I made reservations there and am looking forward to another great meal at EMP in a couple of weeks.

      As to the other three:

      Daniel: The food and service can be highly inconsistent. Some people on this board and elsewhere have speculated that they do so many covers, they basically triage their guests and treat those they consider important to a true 3-star experience and everyone else to something much worse. I don't know if that is true. I do know that my most recent attempt to take my family somewhere special lead to a truly horrific experience at Daniel. Can't recommend.

      Sushi Yasuda: I am a big fan, but this is not a good choice for your occasion. The best meals are at the bar and it just isn't very conducive to a family meal if the four of you are at the bar. It is also a much shorter meal than your other options (90 minutes max) and so you won't be able to enjoy each others company for as long.

      Del Posto: A good deal at lunch, but, in my opinion, not even the best Italian food in the city. You could do better for your money.

      3 Replies
      1. re: nmprisons

        Many moons ago I wrote the food critic (before email, hehe) and asked her the best dining experience in NYC to celebrate a 40th birthday for 3 Texans, price no object. She wrote me back and said River Cafe, hands down. It was one of the most memorable meals of my life. Part of the wow-factor was the view. She had not told me about what I would experience. On that trip we also had a sunset meal at Window of the World atop the WTC. That was a 40th to remember!

        1. re: randyjl

          You are certainly right about the view at River Cafe. I have also heard, but can't confirm, that the food has been pretty good recently as well. That said, the food at EMP (and at a number of other places) is a few steps above.

          1. re: randyjl

            When I got married we could not go on a honeymoon, so we went the next night for dinner at the River Cafe - it was fantastic and I hear it still is. The view, service and food - stellar. I would also say Per Se - I have not been but have had the most wow experience at the French Laundry.

        2. Of the ones you listed EMP for sure. I'll echo the sentiments about Daniel and the "two levels" of service they seem to have. Regulars absolutely get better treatment. For non-regulars, it's very stiff, stuffy.

          Del Posto I like quite a lot, but I think EMP (at the same price, if you're doing the four-course for dinner) is a step above, especially in terms of service. It's also more festive an atmosphere.

          Actually, I wouldn't even go beyond what you listed - given one meal like the one you're describing, I can't imagine picking another place besides EMP. And if we're getting into stretching your budget - go at lunch. You could get tasting menus with wine pairings for just a smidge over your budget after tax/tip - at dinner, only the regular four-course would be an option, which would mean you'd miss out on some of the really fun extras that put EMP over the top. Still be a great meal, mind you - but you might as well go with the cheaper lunch prices if you can score the rezzie. (From what I've been told there isn't one difference between the night-time tasting, which is $70 more, and the lunchtime tasting...)

          2 Replies
          1. re: sgordon

            At Daniel, I wouldn't say it's so much two levels of service as two levels of FOOD. You can get treated well enough if they don't want to impress you. But you can get served something that resembles high-level airline food.

            1. re: Sneakeater

              My last visit offered both airline food and poor service.

          2. I think Marea is up there with the OMG meals. I am amazed to hear all of you saying that there are no fabulous meals in NY. Seriously. I have eaten around the world too. And France has great food, and Hong Kong has great food, but NY is right up there. I think that for a pay back my family kind of meal, you want to go some place that looks impressive. Otherwise, I would put Annisa on that list and Jung Sik was pretty amazing too.

            6 Replies
            1. re: JC2

              "Seriously. I have eaten around the world too. And France has great food, and Hong Kong has great food, but NY is right up there."

              I agree. For what it's worth, the San Pellegrino rankings (admittedly debatable methodology but still coveted and cited by most prominent chefs) don't list any restaurants in France among the top 10 worldwide.

              I think the notion that you can only have memorable meals in France is a bit outdated, and also irrelevant given the OP's parameters.

              1. re: peter j

                There are a lot of Francophiles among the dining community for whom "luxurious" = "French" and nothing else comes close. It's a bit of an outdated notion, but to each their own - it's a matter of personal taste, after all.

                NYC is arguably the best overall food city in the world (not to start a contentious topic up) - while you can find marginally better French food in France, maybe, and better Roman food in Rome and Florentine food in Florence and Japanese in Tokyo... there's no city in which you can find so many -different- cuisines at such a high level as here. With very few exceptions, there aren't any cuisines we don't have available at a high level here.

                I think there's WAY too much complaining from the peanut gallery on every cuisine - from "oh, but that Pho isn't like I had in Saigon" to "Robuchon is better in Paris" to "The Cacio e Pepe at this little roadside place in Rome is so much better than anwhere here" - but, y'know, good luck getting Cacio e Pepe at ALL in Paris, or Pho in Rome...


                Also, re: Marea - I like Marea quite a bit, though I found the secondi a bit lacking / uninspired. I'll gladly pay for the pastas and many of the antipasti again and again, but after a few tries I just don't find myself ordering secondi there anymore - If I'm hungry enough, I'll double up on apps and then do a pasta as my main. I think of the Michael White restos Ai Fiori is a little better, overall (though I don't care for the room so much) - though for a blowout Italian meal, if I could book anywhere, it's Babbo (even over Del Posto)

                1. re: sgordon

                  "while you can find marginally better French food in France"

                  While I agree that NYC is a city where one can find so many different cuisines at high levels, including French food, I'm very convinced that French food in France is much more than just "marginally" better than in New York. We travel quite a bit to France every year, and at the risk of sounding aloof or snobbish, we've felt very spoiled with the real stuff from France that we've not really had the same amount of desire to go to highly-regarded local NYC French places. Of course, because we live in NYC, we still eat at local French dining establishments, but in most instances the food in a small bistro in the middle of nowhere rural France somehow had provided more lasting impressions.

                  Having said that, if I can presume that with the OP being from Northern California, he/she had done French Laundry. If so, I wouldn't suggest Per Se, as they have similar menu and, frankly, FL is imho a notch better.

                  Le Bernardin is one that I would add to others' suggestions.

                  1. re: RCC

                    I also have no desire to go to highly-regarded NYC French places... but that's because Haute French kind of bores me, honestly.

                    Anyway, my point was that as a "food town" - if one values many cuisines equally and doesn't rank French food inherently higher than all other cuisines - NYC is arguably the best food town in the world, certainly superior to others that might do ONE type of cuisine well / better.

                  2. re: sgordon

                    I totally agree about the secondi at Marea. I think it has been discussed and agreed upon on many other threads as well. And, as in many other cities, the best food is sometimes just what you accidentally wonder into. But that is not relevant to this OP.

                2. re: JC2

                  I have gone wow at Daniel, Picholine, Le Bernadin and the Modern - and for the view at River Cafe and the Boathouse. Interesting that this has turned into a Paris v. New York debate, Paris is sublime but you can eat very pedestrian food there too, I think restaurant hype is the same all over. I haven't eaten at Per Se but have eaten at the French Laundry and would have to put in a vote for Keller's food, he is a genius!

                3. At first blush I, like many others, will say Per Se but for four people your budget would be destroyed. That being said I am immediately going for EMP. EMP is the triple threat, food, service, and atmosphere. The room is impressive and feels how grand dining should feel. They will make you feel as if you own the place on your first time in. And the food is spectacular.

                  Regarding the comments about NYC not offering and OMG experience, I won't get into that ona discussion board but I, like many others here, have dined around the World and think that is one of the more ridiculous comments I've heard.

                  3 Replies
                    1. re: Spiritchaser

                      NYC does offer many cuisines and there is no other city like NYC in terms of variety but in NYC, often times, you do need to pay prices for those meals. I think it's possible to get exceptional meals in other parts of the world without paying top $$$. Value to quality is definitely lacking in NYC imo. Also, again, i think raw ingredients are simply better in the other parts of the world.