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May 1, 2013 04:45 PM

Quick NYC visit - is this the best itinerary?

I'm a SF-based foodie planning a quick visit at the end of the month (tacked onto a business trip) and want to hit some of the top NYC restaurants with a modern/molecular gastronomy slant. It's been a few years since the last time I've been on a food tour of NYC, so lots of new stuff has come up and I'd love the Chowhound take.

Here's my itinerary - all places I've never been!

Wednesday dinner: Atera
Thursday lunch: EMP (pending reservation!)
Thursday dinner: Corton

I've read the chowhound boards pretty thoroughly, but is there anything I'm overlooking or you think I should skip/swap? On recent visits I've eaten at WD-50 twice (underwhelmed on 2nd visit, as it seemed Wylie wasn't pushing the envelope too hard any more), and Ma Peche (the Momofuku family is a fall-back in case of reservation problems.)

For cross-reference, I love beautifully-executed modern food (Alinea, Manresa, Coi) but also value a menu that's challenging and even a bit rough around the edges as the chef tries something unusual (Schwa, sometimes Atelier Crenn.) Being able to watch the kitchen in action is a huge plus.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. If you don't score the EMP rez, try The NoMad.

    Did you know Wylie has a new place? Alder

    This Board loves Louro.

    1 Reply
    1. EMP and Corton in the same day would be... difficult. Unless your dinner reservation is very late and your lunch reservation is very early. Even still, might be overkill - three tasting menus in two days? I understand the excitement of wanting to try a lot, but you might want to put one of them off until your next trip.

      I'd say if you don't get the EMP rez, take that a sign - do Momofuku Ssam for lunch and get the duck over rice and a side or two.

      If you Do get the EMP rez, maybe drop Corton and do something more casual for dinner. Momofuku Ssam would be a pretty good option for that as well, actually.

      In fact, I might ditch Corton altogether. Nothing against them, but it sounds like you might be more interested in Aska - "rough around the edges" meets "challenging" and "unusual" basically describes them. They're about as interesting as any restaurant in the city right now. Actually, were you to want to do two tastings in one day, they would be probably be the best counterpoint to EMP - very, very different places. Not as rich and heavy, they hew closer to Claus Meyer's "New Nordic Manifesto" than any other place in town, arguably (less focus on fats, butter, etc - more on brightness, acidity, bitter notes, char/smoke...)

      Tough to say, though. Very little compares to EMP, it's absolutely decadent, so any tasting menu you have immediately after that - interesting as it may be - might suffer in comparison. Aska might come off a bit austere after the lushness of the afternoon.

      7 Replies
      1. re: sgordon

        We've actually done literally back-to-back tasting menus before, a late lunch plus early dinner with a 30-minute commute between restaurants. But yes, I take your point - especially if EMP is that amazing, it's not fair to another restaurant to follow directly on its heels. We'll see what happens, and as you say, take it as a sign. :)

        Aska sounds interesting! My husband has scandinavian roots, so that could be a big hit.

        1. re: sgordon

          Also, aside from EMP, how would you rank-order Aska, Atera, and Corton?

          1. re: canida

            Haven't been to Atera, so can't comment on that.

            Aska vs Corton... it's hard to rank since they're completely different. Aska is more avant-garde, "rustic modernist" (if that makes any sense) while Corton is a more traditional (at least in comparison) "luxury" experience. And while Corton isn't dated or anything, Aska is very much "on trend" right now. Aska is definitely more adventurous - Chef Berselius touches on two trends at once, both the very modern techniques and the use of esoteric, obscure ingredients. Aska's an experience - and like many bold ventures, who knows if they'll still be around on your next trip here? Corton most certainly will be.

            1. re: sgordon

              Excellent points all!

              And I got the EMP lunch reservation, so will probably be dropping Corton. Adventurous, avant-garde, rustic-modernist sounds like a perfect counterpoint.

              1. re: canida

                Cool. Looking forward to your reviews. Wondering how Aska (or really any place) will come off in the afterglow of EMP.

                1. re: sgordon

                  Apologies for the year-late reply, I just realized I hadn't given feedback here!

                  To summarize: your order recommendation was golden. Atera was excellent when visited BEFORE EMP as they're aiming at a similar target, while Aska goes off in a completely different (but amazingly good) direction and turned out to be my favorite of the three. If anything, I was disappointed by EMP - it was self-consciously well-executed, but lacked the lightheartedness of Alinea. It seemed like they were trying very (very!) hard, and getting the form without the spirit.

                  I didn't write up a review for EMP, but here's what I wrote at the time for Atera and Aska:

                  I really enjoyed Atera: they're doing some fun, creative, and exciting things with food and drink. With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the top hits, as well as my extreme-foodie nitpicks.

                  1) Setup.
                  The restaurant has great counter seating so you can watch the kitchen action.
                  I wish they'd done a bit more of the prep work besides finishing/tweezing on the center counter, though, as even with a front-and-center seat some of the more detailed work (especially desserts) were conducted with the chefs' backs to the diners.

                  2) Drinks
                  I don't really drink, so always ask for something "interesting and non-alcoholic." Even at top restaurants this is often a bust, but Atera's non-alcoholic drinks were given the same attention to detail as their alcoholic drinks - their bartender takes general requests and has fun with it. These drinks had serious flavors, worked well with the food, and were among the best I've ever had.
                  My third drink I requested "something fruity *without* citrus", and got a (citrus) variation on a sour, with sassafras and egg white foam topped with nutmeg. It was also possibly my new favorite drink ever, and tasted like a citrusy play on eggnog. So the bartender is totally forgiven for ignoring my requests. :) I'll be trying to replicate this one at home.

                  3) Flavors
                  The chef is clearly trying out lots of strong flavors and challenging flavor pairings! I love to be surprised, and there were many interesting combinations.
                  The flavors weren't always balanced. I often had to modify the ratios of sauce/topping to primary ingredients on the spoon to prevent the more subtle flavor from being overwhelmed/lost. This imbalance is fun if you know the processes involved, as you can effectively see the chef's thought progression, but it is a less-polished final product than a restaurant like EMP or Alinea. Perfection is more opaque.

                  4) Food
                  There were some amazingly creative starters and desserts. My favorites were seafood, particularly the lobster roll, which had a meringue-like baked foam "roll", and the peekytoe crab ravioli packed an incredibly crab-flavored punch. The desserts were all lovely, but the cracked egg ice cream was the perfect balance of flavor and fun.
                  The protein mains didn't stand up to the rest of the menu. The squab was a bit dry, and lamb was a bit tough - I've made better lamb en sous vide myself at home. So disappointing, but not an uncommon problem.

                  5) General/ambiance:
                  Fun music. Someone's got good taste. Wait staff communicate across the room through hand gestures. Plates are whisked away out the back/entry door, which means they almost magically disappear. There's a general air of dark-paneled mystery.
                  There was a bit too much Jackson 5 near the end of dinner; sounds like the disc got put on repeat. Chef and staff had some frantic angry-looking gesticulation in the middle of dinner. Not sure what was up, but probably should have ducked out for it. The whole "we're not marking our entrance because it makes us cool" works, but is also a bit pretentious/annoying depending on your mood.

                  On the whole, though, Atera is lovely, and a great experience. The things that bothered me may not even register on your radar. And it won't stop me from going again next time I'm in NYC: the chef and crew are reaching beyond their current grasp, which suggests more fun for the future.

                  We did 8 hours of tasting menus in a 26-hour period: Atera (dinner), EMP (lunch), and finally Aska (dinner). The stand-out? Aska!

                  Aska was unpretentious, laid-back, and fun, with solidly delicious food made working within interesting constraints. I particularly appreciated the use of offal: the veal sweetbreads were excellent, and pork blood showed up unexpectedly in several dishes. While Aska doesn't meet (or aim for) the slick perfection of EMP, each dish was well-balanced (vs Atera, where some flavors overwhelmed their pairings) and they managed to create a sense of fun/whimsy that EMP clearly tried for but was a bit too self-conscious to meet. (The only restaurant I've seen really make the perfection + fun/whimsy work is Alinea in Chicago.)

                  So, back to Aska: you should go. And you. Yes, you too. You'll eat something delicious, and have a great time in the process. So brave the Brooklyn hipsters and have dinner at Aska. It's worth it.

                  1. re: canida

                    How funny that a year ago I wrote: "Aska's an experience - and like many bold ventures, who knows if they'll still be around on your next trip here? Corton most certainly will be."

                    Who'da known?

        2. How about Alder, Wylie Dufresne's new place, after EMP?

          I haven't been, but my understanding is that its more casual and its all ala carte. If you can get in, you can tailor your order to your level of fullnesss.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Beloved1

            Thanks for the suggestion! We went with sgordon's suggestion of Aska, but I'd like to try Alder on another visit.

          2. Booked for the following:

            Wednesday dinner: Atera
            Thursday lunch: EMP
            Thursday dinner: Aska (thanks sgordon!)

            About 8 hours of tasting menus over 2 days, plus a pile of business meetings, should be challenging. Thanks for the advice, and I'll be back with a review in early June!

            2 Replies
            1. re: canida

              Very interested to read your reviews of Atera and EMP. Interested to know what's on the menus.

              1. re: canida

                Just remember to pack the Lipitor!