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Eleven Madison Park is still the NYC Champ

I'm sure EMP, like any restaurant, caters more to their "regulars".

However, on my first visit ever to EMP, I've never been treated more graciously in a restaurant. Everything from the greeting, to the servers, to the special surprises, made the evening forever memorable. I was really blown away by their service.

Now, of course, I've been trying for 2 years since to get a reservation, and I can't get in. ;-)

So, if EMP has spies on CH to reward glowing posters, please add me to the list of shills so I can return.

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in Manhattan

Our 1st time in Paris!! Want to do it right!!

"...drink a toast to your birthday, to each other, and to having the resources to eat an expensive meal in a beautiful city that many others only ever get to dream about."

Great comment, I agree!

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in France

I'm not a big wine drinker but want to serve it with a romantic dinner

No problem. It's possible, and reasonable, that you don't like the taste of wine in general. Nothing wrong with that.

But there are some wildly different styles of wine, so it's worth giving a few a shot to see if you can find one that is tolerable for a romantic dinner.

Best bet is probably to go to a reputable wine store, attend a tasting, which most have, and just tell them your dilemma. Most shops would be happy to help you find something you like.

Good luck!

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in Wine

Am I being too cheap? Splitting restaurant bill on family vacation

Yeah, you sound cheap. Dining out with friends or family shouldn't require you to create a balance sheet in Excel.

I prefer to split the tab, and I don't care what I, or anyone else, eats or drinks. If I'm getting wine, and most aren't, I'll kick in more, but separate checks are a nightmare for everyone.

If you were going on a strict budget trip, which is fine, you should have thought of that before agreeing to a combined vacation with people who don't mind spending money. If they said, hey, let's all go to Disney, you could have just said, I only have a certain amount budgeted for vacation, and I have to keep it within this limit. Rather than signing up for the vacation, then nickel and diming people when you get there.

At this point, it's just going to be awkward.

I'm not a big wine drinker but want to serve it with a romantic dinner

I'm a big wine drinker, and I've never had pink moscato or white peach. I don't consider those real wines.

Try a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, it's usually light, citrusy, clean tasting. Inexpensive.

For red...I dunno what to tell you. Malbec? Cabernet? No idea. Maybe go to a wine store tasting, and try at least 3-4 different ones.

Also, you usually can't go wrong with any sparkling wine that costs in the $20 range.

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in Wine

Have you all seen Ruth Reichl on Jules Verne?

MRS: I replied in your other thread, but let me clarify on JV...

I ate there a few years back, and it was surprisingly good. Went back last year, and it was surprising not good.

The food was fine, actually. The annoyance for me was they switched to a dumbed down tourist-like menu with no choices. No a la carte. It was like a wedding banquet. The service was also much worse than it was before. Less friendly, and more mistakes, that you would never see in top Paris place.

Another annoyance, at the risk of sounding snobby, is the crowd was off. There were people roaming around the restaurant taking pictures out the window. People taking pictures of every course. One rich family had their small kids climbing all over the banquette. Just...weird.

THAT BEING SAID...Just temper your expectations a wee bit, and you'll be fine. The view from inside the Tower is beautiful and cool. The food is good enough. I think it's worth experiencing once, really. Go for the enjoyment of a romantic dinner with your spouse, enjoy the awesome scenery, and you will have a nice time.

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in France


I may be in the minority, but I don't mind similar questions, because things change over time, and some people post looking for a place next week, and then the thread goes stale pretty quickly.

It's helpful if the OP replies frequently to the comments though, rather than ask the question, then disappear.

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in France


I feel your pain regarding Jules Verne.

For modern expensive, I like La Dame de Pic, for old school expensive, I like Grand Vefour.

I second the notion of Goust as very good. And Les Tablettes in, I think, the 12th, is good.

More casual, Aux Vieux Comptoir.

For cheap food, I like Moroccan, Chez Omar, L'Homme Bleu.

Good luck!

Oct 11, 2014
johnblacksox in France

Great restaurants in Springfield area

Even though this thread has passed time, I feel the need to comment in case someone else reads it later...

IMO, Touch of Garlic is bad.

Springfield doesn't have any "great" restaurants. Sorry to be harsh, but it's an extremely economically depressed urban area.

Lattitude is yuk. Think bourbon bacon honey glazed salmon, with fried cheese shrimp on top. Max's is similar. 1990's vibe in each, with lots of suburbanites pretending they are eating fancy food, when it's actually a step up from Applebee's quality.

Best bet is either Carpaccio's for a normal italian place, or if you're into a family pizza atmosphere, Red Rose Pizza. Anything else is either not good, or way too casual and in sketchy areas.

Pioneer Valley: Thinking outside the box

I'd have to say, Shelburne Falls is your first, and only, option here.

It's not that there are "hidden gems" outside the main locations, it's that there are none.

The place mentioned in Montague is another option. But in general, enjoy the beautiful little town of Shelburne, and you'll find a good place for lunch or dinner.

Other random "snack bars" and BBQ

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)


Ok, I wanted to report back with the dramatic conclusion to my quest.

First, again, THANK YOU to everyone who posted here. Even those who disagree with me. I literally checked out the website of every place that was recommended to me. And, I will definitely try some of the places for dinner in the future.

For now...I ended up trying No. 9 Park. We went a couple weeks ago on a Saturday night.

In a nutshell, I like Hamersley's better, but No. 9 fit my bill as a good "special occasion" place. So, for now, I'm cool with No. 9.

Full details:

The drive to get there was worse than Hamersley's, as someone pointed out to me earlier. I got off the Mass Pike at Copley, and it took me 20 minutes of traffic, and having to drive around the block to get to the right side of the street for valet parking. The valet parking was a little unfriendly, but whatever. In general, it took maybe an extra 10 minutes to get there.

The restaurant is huge, bigger than I expected, and it was packed with people, which I like, and take as a good sign.

The greeting was excellent. Host in a suit and tie, everyone was very welcoming and gracious. People at the bar were casual, which is cool, but in general, it felt like an upscale place, I was not at all out of place in a jacket and tie.

We got a great table in the dining room to the right. Absolutely beautiful, with bonus views over the Common. So that was a 10 out of 10 for ambiance. The back dining room was crowded and much less charming, so I'm not sure how they decide where to seat people, but if I had been anywhere but that front room, I would have been a little bummed out.

The service all night was awesome. Super professional, friendly, everyone was great.

The menu was great. Great selection, variety, quality.

One minor quibble: The wine list wasn't really to my taste. My go-to wines are either Rhone or Oregon Pinot Noir, and the wine list was extremely limited on both. The Rhone wines were meh, run of the mill, and they only had one Oregon Pinot Noir on the list, which I thought was really weird. Most high end restaurants have a dozen, or more. Instead, they were heavy on Italian wines, which aren't really my thing. The prices weren't bad at all, though. So, no big deal.

Anyway, the food was delicious. Everything was highest quality, seasoned perfectly, cooked perfectly.

Second minor quibble: The cheese selection only has one domestic cheese. 20 years ago, I'd agree with that, but in 2014, there are world class cheeses being made in VT, NY, MA, NH, and CT. With the trend toward local ingredients, I'd like to see a restaurant have mostly local cheeses. This is not just No. 9, most high end restaurants refuse to serve local cheese, when it is often better than imported. I don't get it.

The desserts were awesome, by the way.

One huge compliment to No. 9: I love how they included a line for a charitable donation on the check. What a *great* idea. We're all fortunate to be able to eat out at fancy places, and I like that they gave the opportunity to add a donation when I paid the check. I've never seen a restaurant do this before, and I wish all high end places would do the same.

All in all, service was an A+, ambiance at our particular table was an A+, food was an A+. The experience was a little more businesslike than Hamersley's, and like I said, the front dining room is really the only place to be. Most of all, it definitely felt like a "special occasion" type of place, so kudos to No. 9 for that.

My plan is for No. 9 to be my new go-to place for special occasion dining in Boston. I'll also try some of the other places mentioned here in the future. Also, a new restaurant, Liquid Art, opened recently. That looks cool, and I'll give that a try too.

So, that's the conclusion to this thread. Thanks for reading and commenting!!

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Max and blacklab, thanks for the comments on Hamersley's!! I have my final reservation in a couple weeks, and I know it will be bittersweet.

And yeah, if something similar takes over the space, I'd consider trying it, but it probably wouldn't be the same.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Yeah, I love places like that, but sometimes I want to be dressed up for dinner. I have great casual restaurants near my house.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Ok, seeing the love for Mamma Maria here, I will give it a shot! Thanks to everyone who lobbied for it.

Our 1st time in Paris!! Want to do it right!!

MRS: So happy you're going to Paris, I hope you love it!

At the risk of sounding like a wet blanket or a crank, I'm going to add some caveats to your itinerary.

Montmartre is cool to visit, definitely worth the trip, but it's rather touristy and not very nice area. I personally would not plan to lunch nearby, unless you get an ironclad non-tourist recommendation from a local.

Versailles can often be a madhouse, not the type of place where you take a quick jaunt there and back. Even on non-crowded days, it's crowded.

The Louvre, also, especially on Sundays, when I believe it's free admission. Unless you have some secret method to tour it, be prepared for the biggest crush of humanity you've experienced at a museum. I would actually greatly discourage you from planning to visit the Louvre on a Sunday.

I had a special dinner at Jules Verne last October, and although the site is beautiful, the service has gone downhill a little. It's a set menu only now, for example. But for dining on the Eiffel Tower, the scene is really memorable, so enjoy. You'll always remember where you ate that night. :-)

For a fancy restaurant, I'd recommend La Dame de Pic. I've also eaten at Goust and Les Tablettes, which someone else mentioned. I liked both, preferred Goust by a hair.

Willi's Wine Bar is good for unpretentious food and great wine. Reservations usually not needed.

Although it may be tempting to pick a restaurant by sight, I'd really encourage you to do some homework online, and have a couple options open in neighborhoods. It's a bummer to pick a place that looks cute, then you get laminated menus and are sitting next to a party of 50 from a bus tour.

Anyway, sorry if I sound like a downer, I'm just trying to temper your expectations for what you've planned. Paris is tied for my favorite city in the world (with New York), so I'm sure you'll have the best time ever. Leave a lot of time for walking around the city, it's beautiful everywhere, day and night.

A Bateaux Mouche is a fun touristy thing to do, I would recommend that. Use the Metro as much as possible if you have to travel long distance, it's incredibly easy and safe to use.

Again, you'll have a great time!!

Oct 10, 2014
johnblacksox in France

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

MaxEntropy: Great post, thanks! And yes, I love the restaurant at Simon Pearce! My brush with culinary fame was when I saw Mario eating lunch in there one time. Anyway, food and wine at Simon Pearce are excellent, and the space is beyond romantically beautiful.

It's just a little far away, and there are times when I want the ambiance of a beautiful world class city like Boston, as opposed to the remote bucolic wilderness of Vermont. I live in the country, so the city is more of a draw to me. Boston is my closest drive-able major city for dinner.

I too have one last reservation at Hamersley's. I still remember my last dinner at the old L'Espalier too. :-) As bummed as I am for me, I'm glad both chefs had a long storied career, and moved on when it suited them. Special restaurants are backdrops to many happy moments in our lives, right?

Have a great time at Hamersley's. I'll definitely check back in here after my No. 9 dinner in October.

With all the "spirited" comments in this thread, both for and against me, I truly appreciate all the well-informed advice and passionate debate. That's why I like this site!

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

viperlush: I do eat in NYC, and Providence, fairly regularly. NY has what seems like unlimited "special occasion" type places. Too far to drive there and back for dinner though. Providence has some nice places, but none I would consider better than what I can get in Boston.

I love Boston, and I'm hoping to settle on a new special place.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Any opinions on Ostra? Seems like part of a corporate empire, but the space, wine list, and menu look good.

Specifically, how does it compare for better or worse, to No. 9 Park? (And yes, I am searching the site for opinions too. :-)

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

VintageMolly: Thank you, and I agree. I understand the finances involved, and it does actually seem like the amount of money needed to launch a restaurant in Boston prevents anything but the corporate hotel types.

L'Espalier, my previous favorite restaurant, was a good example. It was magical in it's Gloucester St. brownstone, and I totally understand the owner taking the money to move into the Mandarin. I would have done the same. The guy killed himself for years in a postage stamp sized kitchen, then suddenly had the chance to cash into a lucrative hotel deal.

I'm honestly extremely happy that he was able to cash out. I'm bummed for myself, because eating in a glorified hotel lobby isn't the same as eating in a quirky brownstone.

You seem annoyed that I don't want to eat in the "gasp, suburbs", but I live in the suburbs. I love the suburbs. I love restaurants in the suburbs. For me, part of the fun of a special occasion is dining in the "city". I'm not going to drive 60-75 minutes to eat at a casual local neighborhood place in Cambridge, Somerville, or Brookline, when I have casual local neighborhood places 10 minutes away in the casual local neighborhood that I live in. Right?

I'm looking for something special in "the city" that I don't have already have in my suburbs. Like you say, increasingly, it no longer exists. I agree with you.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

teezeetoo: Right on, I am in agreement about how hard it is to run a great restaurant.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

InmanSQ Girl: Good post, thanks.

1) 80 Thoreau: Thanks, I will check it out. Wine list is awesome. Website looks great.

2) Nashoba place: I checked it out, and the venue looks cool, but the wine list is...I have to say...a nightmare. The top entry is a "blueberry merlot". Their only "sparkling wine" is their own "hard cider". It seems like someone making alcoholic drinks in their bathtub. I like local wines, the Westport sparkling wine from MA is cool, had it at L'Espalier. But Blueberry Merlot? That's an automatic "no way".

3) I agree with your sentiments about chefs/restaurants, but I don't get what your point is. Believe me, I agree 100% that being a chef is a nightmare, and my heart bleeds for anyone who works in the restaurant business. I routinely go to local chef/owner/operated places, and I say all the time that I feel so sorry for anyone trying to make an honest living running a restaurant. It's a nightmare, long hours, dealing with people, working every night, every weekend, etc. Anyone who does it should be a millionaire, you couldn't pay me enough.

That being said...What does it have to do with the fact that I love Hamersley's, and want to find a similar place? You seem to be arguing that I should settle for a corporate hotel restaurant, and I'm demanding that someone work 150 hours a week to please me. That's ridiculous. If that's the case, then I'll just stay in my hometown, and eat at a nice locally owned place 15 minutes away. I'm looking for a place special enough to warrant a drive into Boston. Hamersley's, and before that L'Esapalier, fit that bill. If there is no such place anymore, then that is ok to admit. I'm not demanding such a place exists. I'm just asking if there is one. It sounds like you're saying, "No, Hamersley's was the last, there are no more". That's totally acceptable to tell me. I was just asking people's opinions, because that what this website is for, right? :-)

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

pollystyrene: Not sure...I appreciate the recommendation of Mamma Maria, it looks very good. Just not sure it feels like a "special occasion" place. Again, there are tons of places mentioned here that sound great, and if I lived in the area, I guarantee I would try most of them.

In my mind, there is a difference between a really good restaurant, and a place that you'd drive over an hour just to have an anniversary dinner.

I have really good to excellent restaurants near me. What I don't have is high end city dining.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

black_lab: Not just traffic, but parking. L'Espalier had valet parking, Hamersley's has valet parking, No. 9 has valet parking.

Some people have seriously suggested driving to Cambridge, then trying to find a metered parking place blocks away. On a cold rainy night? Not going to happen. I mean, yeah, I could also take a Greyhound bus for my anniversary dinner too.

Back to traffic, I think it's a wash driving to the far side of the Common, and enduring the Mass Pike exit to Storrow Drive.

And speaking subjectively, Boston is prettier at night than Cambridge. ;-)

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

MaxEntropy: Yes, I know. And I realize I'm increasingly a dinosaur in dining terms. The trend is extremely casual, counter service, "small plates", etc. I'm more of a linen tablecloth and jacket & tie type. Youth must be served, though, I get that. :-)

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Small Plates: I understand what you're saying. I've had good to very good experiences at B&G so far, so I guess I'm willing to still go with it. If/when I have a bad experience, I'm sure I'd be in your camp.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

hotoynoodle: I know what you are saying. I guess I'm willing to take a beating on wine if the place feels special.

Interesting about B&G...I've been there numerous times for oysters, and I've found it to be very professional. It's actually a selling point for me when I was considering No. 9.

But yeah, if I had a terrible experience, I wouldn't go to another of that chef's places. I understand.

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

teezeetoo: Thanks, I'm going to No 9 in early October. I'll check in back here afterwards, so people can either cheer or excoriate me. :-)

Honestly, I didn't dislike Menton. It just felt a little contrived. Like they started out with a zillion dollars and made a nice restaurant. I suppose you could say the same for No 9 Park, but the location seems a little warmer to me. I dunno, we'll see!

Wine bar or French brasserie-near Grand Central?

Not sure how close you need it to be, but personally, I like the Oyster Bar in Grand Central. Or, the Campbell Apartment bar, also in Grand Central.

Apologies, I know that neither is French oriented.

For French brasseries, I'm sure you can find one within 10 blocks or so. Can't help you there though.

Sep 06, 2014
johnblacksox in Manhattan

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

Ha, well, yeah, I like the things I like. Who doesn't? If we all liked every restaurant in the world, Chowhound wouldn't exist, right?

Back Bay/Beacon Hill, semantics. Guilty as charged about South Boston though, smtucker went off on me for that too. :-)

Traffic to No. 9 Park is no worse than to Hamersley's. And yes, I am actually going back to Hamersley's one last time, on a random night, because I couldn't get reservations for my "special occasion night".

That's how I found out they were closing. I called to make reservations 4 weeks out, and they were booked. I was like...Huh? Why are you booked? And they said they were closing, and many people were reserving. So I basically asked for any date at a reasonable dining hour, and got one 6 weeks out. Crazy, but evidently, I'm not alone in liking Hamersley's. ;-)

How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

I meant South End, not South Boston, sorry.

And let's just say that in the (late) 1980's, the South End didn't look like it does now. :-)