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Aug 23, 2013 12:49 PM

What the heck happened to EMP???

My husband and I had a lovely, world-changing dinner at EMP a couple of years ago before we left New York for the west coast. So naturally I wanted to repeat the experience for our upcoming visit in September. Now, last time, we had to eat around 9pm but it wasn't that hard to get in. This time, they've got this 28-day in advance policy. Okay. By yesterday evening they were fully booked for four weeks out. So this morning I get up (on my day off) at 6am to make sure I get on the line with them right when they open. I call four times in quick succession before I even get put in the queue, whereupon I wait on hold for thirty minutes. By the time they get to me, they're fully booked.


Ahem. So, chowhound friends, who have helped me so many times in the past - where else do we go? I've been gone a few years and no longer know the scene. I'm thinking not wd-50 (is that even a thing anymore?) because I'm pregnant and don't quite trust the chemicals used for advanced molecular gastronomy, but otherwise we love everything, and price isn't really an issue. Halp!

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  1. EMP hasn't been easy to get into since October 2011, when they received three Michelin stars. I called the restaurant shortly thereafter, and they said that they were becoming fully booked within the first FIFTEEN minutes of each morning. And many customers couldn't even get through via phone at 9am.

    What is the date you wish to dine?

    Are you open to lunch instead of dinner?

    15 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      We went just before that; makes sense.

      We're looking at Sept 9, 10, 19, or 20th. I think we'd rather do a really special dinner elsewhere than a consolation lunch, even if it were at EMP. Bouley looks interesting; might make a backup res there to make sure we've got something while I look for the ideal.

      1. re: elizabells

        Your subject line makes it seem like they wronged you in some way (lost your res, offended you, etc)...

        Have you looked at all at their sister restaurant the NoMad? Or gotten on a waiting list for EMP?

        Do you require a tasting menu or will a prix fixe be OK?

        Unfortunately, a lot of the competitors take reservations earlier than 28 days out, or also take them 28 days out as well.

        Looking at OpenTable quickly, for 2 on the 20th:
        Jean Georges, 5:15 or 10:15
        Del Posto, 6 or 9:15
        Daniel, 5:30 or 10, restricted by restaurant
        Le Bernardin, fully booked
        Per Se, fully booked
        Annisa, 6 or 10
        Tocqueville, 8, 8:15
        Gotham Bar & Grill, 7:30, 8, 8:30
        Craft, 7:30 or 8:30
        Gramercy Tavern, 6 or 9
        Blue Hill, 5:30 or 10
        Juni, 7:15 or 8:45
        Jungsik, 7:45, 8, 8:15, etc.

        For some reason the Modern is offline at the moment on OpenTable. I'd call there and see if you could get a reservation. It's very nice and overlooks MoMA's sculpture garden. Also their chef is leaving by the end of the year.

        1. re: kathryn

          I'm sorry if my upsettedness offended you. I'm frustrated by how difficult the process has been. The reservation girl informed me that they only have thirty tables. I imagine they do two seatings a night. And frankly, I don't believe that they took sixty reservations in thirty minutes via their public reservation line. It's well within their rights to have a private reservation line or perhaps hold tables for VIPs, but it's bothersome because I really really wanted one and I'm a speshul snowflake or whatever. I'm allowed to be annoyed.

          I went ahead and booked a lunch anyway, as on further reading I see it's the same meal. I do have OpenTable; I was looking for recommendations.

          1. re: elizabells

            I usually dine at EMP at lunch because it's the same menu, and 'relatively' easier to book than dinner. Always satisfied!

            1. re: elizabells

              If you were able to get a lunch reservation at EMP, I highly recommend keeping it. EMP is wonderful, and the meal is the same at both lunch and dinner.

              If you're looking for a dinner reservation, I love Picholine (they're closed until mid September, but I had a terrific dinner there a few weeks ago). I'm a big fan of Bouley, so that would be another great option.

              Two other restaurants that I like very much are Jungsik and Toqueville. Excellent food and service at both restaurants.

              For a more casual atmosphere, EMP's sister restaurant, The NoMad, is excellent.

              1. re: elizabells

                Didn't offend me, just pointing out it could be read the wrong way.

                If you change your mind, I did recommend the NoMad or the Modern above. And you did say "I've been gone a few years and no longer know the scene."

                1. re: kathryn

                  "...just pointing out it could be read the wrong way."

                  Absolutely agree, kathryn. The subject line in no way informs someone browsing that the OP is in need of suggestions and may be ignored by many who might have good suggestions.

                2. re: elizabells

                  I know it sucks, but this process has been sadly familiar for many of the top restaurants in the world. I remember getting up early to speed dial for 45+ min. straight for Noma, The Fat Duck, TFL years ago etc. It's become like getting concert tickets, much less front row seats.

                  I've seen reservation systems crash even on pretty powerful servers, so I have no doubt about the claim that EMP can get 60 reservations in 30 min. Actually, I'm surprised it even took that long—usually these places are full within just a few minutes with multiple folks answer the phone.

                  1. re: elizabells

                    Dont forget you're also competing with concierge services for a table. Also reservations get cancelled all the time, I've seen a few friday slots open up on opentable same day on occasion.

                    1. re: elizabells

                      They probably DID take sixty reservations in thirty minutes. They don't have just one reservationist.

                    2. re: kathryn

                      Bah, you're right. I was tired and cranky from waking up so damn early and not getting the reservation we've been excited about for months, since we started planning the trip. Fixed the title :)

                      Any recommendations for other great tasting menus, folks? Picholine looks like a great option.

                      1. re: elizabells

                        Bouley and Jungsik have wonderful tasting menus too.

                        1. re: elizabells

                          That really is frustrating, i guess you will just have to come back!
                          The suggestions above from kathryn are going to be the best options for food of a similar calibur.
                          Please let us know how your lunch goes at EMP :)

                          1. re: elizabells

                            The title of the thread is not fixed.
                            And 6am is late in the day by New York City standards.
                            (The right coast, like old age, is not for sissies.)

                            1. re: Phil Ogelos

                              EMP's reservation lines don't open until 9 a.m., so 6 a.m. West coast time.

                    3. As to the chemicals used at WD - perfectly safe. You'd be surprised how many of them are used in everyday packaged food you eat all the time. None of them are "new" - they're simply using things that have been around for years in creative interesting ways.

                      Also, they use all the same stuff at EMP. And at most high-end restaurants. Most of the techniques Wylie has experimented with have trickled down, or had already been in use in subtler ways. As Wylie once said, “People have been manipulating food for years. Cows don’t come in hot dog form.” (that's not verbatim, I can't remember the exact quote...)

                      That said, since you now know that lunch is the same meal - and some even prefer it, what with the beautiful natural light the room gets - I'd say stick with that.

                      If you're looking to do another tasting menu (beside WD) on another night, I'd probably recommend:

                      Bouley - of the French places, I find his food the most interesting. That said, with ANY Haute French resto I also find that a tasting menu can be a bit heavy. They do rely on the butter, heavy stock reductions, etc, quite a bit. Three or four courses is fine, eight to ten can be overkill. At least for me. I lean towards "lighter" cuisines (or more modernist places) for extended tastings.

                      Kyo Ya - if you were to do two tasting in one trip, I'd probably lean towards them as it's something completely different than EMP. Their extended kaiseki menu is the stuff of legend, and there's no lack of love for them on the boards here. An adorable, transporting place tucked into a basement in the East Village. Food is light and subtle and hyper-seasonal. Not sure if the kaiseki needs to be booked in advance anymore, you'd want to call and ask.

                      Aquavit - recently Michelin-starred and the kitchen is obviously gunning for two next time. Two tasting menus (a seasonal tasting and a longer chef's tasting) or a la carte options. Lighter and brighter than the French places, and while I don't know where you're coming from I'm not sure there are any major "New Nordic" restaurants on the West Coast, so it would be something very different than you could get back home. (I've heard good things about Pläj in SF, but I guess they're more of a small plates / casual place?)

                      Juni - the new kid on the block. Many of us Chowhounders were fans of Shaun Hergatt's old place, SHO (I wasn't at first but I thought it got MUCH better over time) and were sad when he left. His new hyper-seasonal place is, from all the accounts I've heard so far, even better.

                      1. For what it's worth - go to NoMad and get the pasta and the chicken. As an EMP regular and big fan of the food, I can assure you of a rapturous dining experience.

                        1. Hope i'm not too late, but I really do recommend EMP during lunch. One of the best meals of my life and the natural lighting in the room is beautiful during the day.

                          1. I understand your frustration as an out-of-towner with specific and limited dates. We've tried for years now to get in, and we finally managed a reservation at 6pm on a Sunday night in October only because we have a friend who is a friend of the GM. :-/

                            I can also rec Bouley - we loved it. The atmosphere was lush and celebratory without being loud, not a bit pretentious, and the die for. We did the tasting menu, and I cannot for the life of me remember how many courses (5 or 6?), but they were small and I didn't leave there feeling like I was going to die.

                            Gramercy Tavern is always a wonderful experience, and we had a fantastic lunch at The Modern, so I would imagine dinner would be even more fantastic. Good luck.