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Per Se or Eleven Madison Park?

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I'm taking my boyfriend out for dinner for his birthday at the end of November. I'm concerned both about the dress code and the ambiance because we're both in our early twenties, and I'm not even entirely sure he owns a decent suit. The restaurant I choose should have incredible food, but a more relaxed atmosphere. It will just be the two of us, and he prefers French cuisine (though I doubt he'd be picky). Thoughts?

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  1. Per Se is jacket required but EMP is jacket preferred.

    Is he in for a birthday dinner where he may be expected to wear a jacket? What's his preference?

    Per Se posts their menu online with the extra cost for supplements, so you can see what kind of dishes you can expect. For EMP, how do you feel about a themed tasting with more "show" aspects?

    1. I've been lucky to dine at both Per Se and EMP in the past month, and I love both of them. I've seen couples in their 20s at both restaurants. I would give the edge to EMP for a more playful spirit. Dinner at EMP will also be considerably less expensive. However, I did choose to dine at Per Se for my birthday last week, and it was an incredible dinner. You'll have an amazing dinner at either restaurant.

        1. I like both, but I think EMP is a little bit more fun and palyful. They also invite you to the kitchen and make molecular cocktails in front of you (In very rare case that they don't, then by all means ask them and they will gladly accommodate you).

          Considering your comments that you want a more relaxed atmosphere, I think EMP will be slightly better for you than Per Se (which is not to say that Per Se is in any way stuffy or too formal. Per Se is also a very relaxed and cheerful place, although their desserts leave something to be desired these days)

          1 Reply
          1. re: kosmose7

            EMP never invited me into the kitchen. WD 50 did recently and that was interesting, like a well oiled machine.
            EMP was cold and quiet last I was there , but that was 3 years ago. They were very accommodating however, for non meat eaters in my party.
            Per Se seems more special to me. I love that place. But it is not fun nor playful. ( French Laundry is way better
            Didn't wear a jacket at EMP. Wore a Jacket at Per Se, and also Jean Georges,

          2. I would quickly note that EMP's dress code is not, to my knowledge, Jacket Preferred - they technically don't have a dress code at all, except maybe "smart casual" or something vague like that. I actually remember the first time I went I called to ask, since the website said nothing, and the person on the phoned just laughed and said "dress however you want."

            The last time I ate there I wore my usual jeans, and a black Uniqlo cardigan over a black Earnest Sewn t-shirt.

            Which would also be exactly what I wore the previous time I dined there, or perhaps I left the cardigan at home if it was summer. Can't remember the date. In fact, it's more than likely what I wore every time I've been there. Because I have the least varied wardrobe on the planet.

            If he doesn't own a suit, he's probably going to be uncomfortable in one - which as nice as the staff at Per Se might be, would probably still leave him a bit... well, less than relaxed.

            I think for you guys (and personally, for me as well) it's EMP by a mile. (I have other issues with Per Se I won't go into here as I've said my peace on them numerous times in the forums...)

            3 Replies
            1. re: sgordon

              "Jacket preferred" is the exact phrase the woman on the phone used when I called a year or two ago.

              1. re: kathryn

                Hm. Well, thus "to my knowledge" I guess. I'm guessing they're not terribly consistent about how they present it. (On Opentable they go with "smart casual")

                When we were last there, I can say in our section there were only two men wearing jackets, to maybe three or four without. Suppose it varies by night.

                Anyway, point being - far more relaxed an atmosphere than Per Se.

                1. re: sgordon

                  I have never gone with a jacket at EMP and it was never an issue...

            2. I would have to agree with everyone saying EMP is the way to go based upon your request. Don't get me wrong; Per Se is absolutely incredible and we love it but it is, to me, a more "formal" environment whereas EMP takes it's playful nature and runs with it. I think it's safe to say both place's attitude mimics their food.

              1. To me: of the michelin 3 star restaurants the "top tier" are Per Se, EMP, and BK Fare.
                So you are gonna be solid either way.
                EMP is actually the most laid back of the three. I think EMP is really where you should go.
                Service is also fantastic while still being "fun." And it has a younger crowd than Per Se in my experience.

                1. I almost wish there was a third choice! :)) Per se seems a little stuffy and EMP was an interesting experience, but did not, in my opinion, have incredible food. It was in fact, a big disappointment, almost $500 for 2 with 2 drinks and tips... that's alot of money for freeze dried tiny pieces of beets and grated carrots.... :) and they put a raw quail egg on every other one of my dishes, so annoying. We left full but not satisfied... Have you considered gramery tavern or del posto? Those are also nice. I would look for a third choice....

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sarasmith

                    EMP allows you to bring wine and charges a modest corkage fee; 35 dollars last time i went though it probably has gone up. if you are bringing an expensive bottle of wine, you will save a lot of money.

                  2. Both are great, but since EMP is located downtown, you'll have more of a relaxed and less stuffy feel.

                    1. I had extended menu at Per Se again today and everything was good but not really great. It was not as good as the extended menu I had last year. But real problem was with desserts, which need serious improvements.

                      I wonder why, but Per Se's desserts have been going down the hill since last year and now they are really at the worst phase. I am not saying they taste bad or anything, but it is a shame that a place which once had mind-blowing masterpiece desserts, is now offering sweets even an apprentice cook can easily make.

                      They served me a dome of champagne gelee with some fruit bits and ginger foam, which was a joke. Then followed by 'Cracker Jack', which is nothing but a scoop of caramel ice cream with grated butterfinger. Then chocolate mousse, which was relatively more sophisticated than the first two but nowhere near the level of Per Se's prevous desserts I used to have long ago.

                      I had been planning to go back again in September, but I decided not to after today's meal.
                      May be it's time for me to forget about Per Se for quite long.