Last year for my birthday, I was take to EMP and had one of the best meals of my life. I reviewed it on my nerdy blog and declared it the best restaurant in NYC. Last night, I went back with my husband to try the newly revamped EMP, and I have some mixed emotions about it that I figured I'd share with anyone else who is curious.
I had read about the newly revamped menu in the NY Times, in which the restaurant made what I felt were two potentially disastrous decisions: getting rid of the cute menu grid which allows you to pick your own key ingredients thus personalizing your meal; and getting rid of the $125 tasting menu entirely and offering only a $195, sixteen-course tasting. I was actually mad about that -- I felt like this change was going to alienate a lot of people, including me. This decision automatically adds at least $150 to the overall tab, taking it from a place where you might go once in a while for a special night out, to a place you can only go to on a Very Special Occasion, maybe once a year or every couple of years if you're lucky. At least, that's true for us and most people I know who are in the 99%...of people who are mildly logical. So it kind of offended me that this restaurant so cavalierly dismissed some of its most loyal customers.
I was also grossed out by all the gimmicks I had been reading about: domes of smoke, carrot tartare (wtf?) and a magic trick. Like, unless that trick produces a rabbit out of a hat that I get to eat, I'm not interested. But I had such a magical night the first time I went, so last night we decided to give it a try.
The cocktail list now includes a Manhattan cart (as in, a cart with all kinds of fancy fixins' set up to make different kinds of Manhattans), so of course we had to partake in that. We were immediately handed a cute menu for the cart. One side had a map of the city on it, marking different neighborhoods with different symbols (a baby carriage was drawn next to Park Slope, a boot was drawn over Little Italy, a platinum Amex was drawn over the Upper East Side, etc. Ok I lied about the last one). The other side of the menu features 13 different types of Manhattans, each named after a NYC neighborhood (interestingly, a majority of them were named after Brooklyn neighborhoods). I went for the classic Manhattan with rye sweet vermouth and Angustora bitters; husband went for the Bushwick, which consisted of rye, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and Amer Picon. My drink was great, but his was even better. And the presentation is really fun: they wheel out a big beautiful cart table-side full of all different colored bottles, decanters, garnishes, swizzle sticks, etc. The drinks are made with a lot of flourish and the whole affair draws a bit of attention but it's all part of the Eleven Madison Park circus.
As we happily sipped our cocktails, the meal began. Generally speaking, the overall new gimmick here seems to be "a journey through New York State." I understand that our state has a lot to offer and it's nice and environmentally sound to feature local ingredients, but I don't really care for this new theme. It seems too gimmicky and touristy to me. It's a little obnoxious: here's your dish featuring such-and-such ingredient, which comes from such-and-such farm in the Hudson Valley, which is a nod to such-and-such New York tradition." It gets a bit tiresome. Not to mention, the fact that the wine list only features a handful of New York-made wines out of hundreds of bottles should indicate to the restaurant that not everything New York produces is the best of the best, and at $195 a head, you should be getting nothing less than that. I'd rather have my ingredients shipped in from elsewhere if they are better than what can be found locally. I'm just saying.
Also, another general note and then we'll get down to business: the old $125 tasting menu featured four courses, about five amuse bouches, and an egg cream cart. This new $195, sixteen-course menu, includes those amuse bouches and the egg cream as its courses, which I think is cheating.
All of that said, EMP still provides what I think is the best dining experience in New York, and probably one of the best anywhere. It's still so incredibly fun and indulgent and you are treated like royalty the entire time you are there. Granted, you are paying for it, and paying more now, but I think it might be worth it?
Course 1: the good old box of savory black-and-white cookies. This time, they were buttery cheddar cookies laced with apple. Amazing. I could eat a whole box of these. I bet if I asked they would give me one, but I'm too embarrassed.
Course 2: chilled oyster with mignonette, served on top of a dish filled with crushed ice. Delicious.
Course 3: cranberry "snow" with beets and goat cheese. This was the only miss of the night. It was basically a shaved cranberry ice but it was too tart, and the goat cheese didn't provide enough of a creamy, tangy contrast to it because there were only a few small crumbles of it at the bottom. And the earthiness of the beets was overpowering. It kind of tasted like eating red dirt. It wasn't appetizing to me at all.
Course 4: sea urchin mousse with baby squid, scallop and apple. At the start of our meal, the waiter asked if we had any dietary requests and I told him that sadly, I do not care for sea urchin. They took note of my request and served me my dish sans sea urchin mousse, which I appreciated .
Course 5: one of my favorites. This was a "sturgeon" course that was actually split into two: the first course consisted of an egg shell filled with a sturgeon sabayon with chives, which was just heavenly and so fun to eat. The second course was the much-publicized dome filled with smoke, which contained four pieces of sturgeon, which were being slowly smoked as we ate the sabayon. They then removed the top of the dome and revealed the lightly smoked sturgeon, which were delicious. They then placed before us a bowl containing a soft-boiled quail egg, "everything bagel" crumbles, pickled onions, and a dish of crème fraiche topped with a generous layer of caviar. We were also given thin, crispy toasts. The waiter explained that the dish was an homage to the classic New York bagel and smoked fish joints like Russ and Daughters.
It was very clever, and aside from the black-and-white cookies, it was the only New York-centric dish that didn't feel forced. It was absolutely delicious and we had the best time eating it.
Course 6: salsify and Mangalista ham, which was basically prosciutto. I didn't find anything remarkable about this course.
Course 7: was a bit too out there for me. I had heard about the carrot tartar from the reviews I had read, and I was skeptical. I had also heard that before they present you with this course, a waiter comes over and clamps a meat grinder onto your table, which might make you think you are getting steak tartare. But you aren't. You get a meat grinder clamped to your table, which is totally awesome, then a dude emerges from the kitchen carrying two fat carrots. It's not even funny. It's actually sort of mean. If he waved the carrots and a rabbit popped out of the grinder and was promptly turned into a sausage, I'd be on board with this. But just a carrot? So then they make this big production out of grinding the carrots, which are from some farm in New York (there are cows on farms in New York, too, if you wanted to make a real tartare), and it's actually kind of gross because all this orange stuff is pouring out of the grinder. Then they take the carrot mush and place it before you with all this flourish, like you are supposed to be grateful. It looks like baby food. And I'm sorry, but when it comes to sophisticated culinary adventures, I should be served nothing that could also be appropriately served to a little person without any teeth.
The only cool thing about this course is what it's served with. While one person is grinding the carrots, another person presents you with a really cool bamboo-like tray that contains all sorts of compartments, each one full of a traditional steak tartare garnish (poached quail egg, mustard, raw chopped onion, etc.). So you basically mash up the mashed up carrots with all of the traditional accoutrement, spread it on toast, and voila! Carrot tartare. Granted, it was delicious, but...Next!
Course 8: lobster poached with leeks, onion, and shellfish bisque. Delicious, very light -- we had this dish the last time we dined here, and it's just as good as I remembered it.
Course 9: eh. It was a parsnip roasted with sesame.
Course 10: we opted for the duck. It's so good. Same old routine: they bring the entire duck out to you and present it, and it's stuffed with lavender and coated in lavender, honey and Sichuan pepper. It's the most beautiful thing. However...the last time we were here, before the infamous re-vamp, they proceeded to carve the duck table side and plate the breast. Now, after they present the duck, it disappears and they bring you back a plate with one piece of duck on it. Granted, it's fantastic, but it's just one piece. It's not like a small piece, but it's still just one piece. Where was the drama? The production? The rest of the duck breast? Thankfully, they still bring out the duck confit mashed potatoes braised with foie gras, which is heavenly. (And no-- a foie gras braise does not a foie gras course make. I found it mildly offensive that any restaurant outside of California charging two hundred dollars for a tasting menu would not offer foie gras as a course).
Course 11: the cutest course of the night. This is a nod to NYC Central Park picnics, and it's an actual picnic basket that contains a wooden box full of delicious stinky cheese, a warm soft pretzel, a small mason jar of mustard, grapes, and a craft beer. This was so fun to unwrap and eat and drink.
Course 12: the egg cream cart. It's still as awesome as ever, although, as I mentioned above, I think it's lame to include it as a "course" now, as a way of justifying the price increase. This time around, it was a vanilla malted egg cream and it was terrific.
Course 13: This was a pear poached with honey and acorn, served with ice cream. It looked and tasted like a deconstructed pear crisp. At first I didn't really get it, but the more I ate it, the more delicious it was.
Course 14: I didn't really remember this one -- it was a sheep's milk cheesecake with port, but it sounds more delicious than it was. Honestly, I wish I had told them I don't like desserts and had them just make me a cheese course, like I did last time.
Course 15: Two very delicious chocolate covered pretzels topped with sea salt. Very fun, but again...it seemed weird to count this as a course, when previously, this is the type of offering that would have been complimentary with the $125 menu.
Course 16: sweet black-and-white cookies with apricot. We weren't crazy about these, and again, it seemed silly to count these as a "course" when they had previously been offered as a complimentary perk. I decided that the next time we come here, I'll ask for the savory cookies at the end. Because it just seems like that kind of a place, where you feel at all times like some whimsical elf will pop out of the walls and cater to your every need.
At this point, the waiter came by and did some magic card trick where each card was an ingredient and we each picked a card, then he lifted the lids off two small bowls that had been previously placed before us, and in each bowl was a chocolate that featured the same ingredient as the one on the cards we picked. It was pretty cool. Was it cool? I don't know, I was kind of drunk at this point.
They also brought over a bottle of apple brandy, poured us two glasses, and told us we could stay and enjoy the bottle as long as we wanted. It was past 12:30am at this point, so we finished our glasses and called it a night.
Overall, the meal really was incredible. The entire experience is unique and out of this world. But I have to say, turning what used to be fun perks into actual courses and charging for them seems...like they aren't perks at all. Ironically, for all its pomp and circumstance, this new menu is actually a little less...magical. But I don't think it's anything that can't be solved by carving that duck tableside again. And replacing those carrots with raw New York-bred beef. I'd return, but I'd personally like for EMP to get rid of some of these silly new dishes and rules and go back to the way it used to be.
I have no idea about the wait on a Friday, but I would think maybe 40 minutes? I'm sure if you call, the host can give you a better estimate. I'm so glad you're considering it! I thought it was nicely run and just a great neighborhood restaurant overall.
I just had a very lovely dinner at Da Andrea, a small un-pretentious Northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, and thought I'd share some thoughts...
They do not take reservations for parties under 6, nor do they have a wait list. The way it seems to work is that the host takes notice of the crowds of people outside, assesses how many people are in each group, and directs them to appropriate tables as they become available. This is all done in a very friendly and civlized way - due to the restaurant's local popularity, what ensues is something like organized chaos.
The wait was about 20 minutes for an outdoor table, which was what we wanted. To me, few things are better than New York City al fresco dining in the summer. I did take a peek inside, and found the space to be very cozy and bustly, with exposed beams. Rather charming, if not a bit loud. But back to the outside.
Shortly after being seated and poured water from a ceramic pitcher, our attentive and personable server came out to take our orders. We weren't sure what we wanted yet, so we started with a carafe of their house red, which wasn't great but decent and very reasonably priced, and perused the menus.
There were a lot of things that jumped out at me, most notably the reasonable prices tacked next to the descriptions (the average entree was about $14): braised portabello with polenta, rosemary and gorgonzola; warm octopus salad with potatoes, olives & capers; squid ink tagliolini with clams; homemade gnocci with gorgonzola and arugula. Not to mention all the dishes listed in the second course: hangar steak with potato cake; salmon and artichokes; and an appealing lamb shank.
We ended up starting with the grilled calamari, and the grilled vegetable and goat cheese tower. At one point we were considering the fabulous-looking parma prosciutto with made-to-order flat buns (isn’t that an oxymoron?), but our waitress pointed out that if we were going to be ordering pasta, it might be too much of a carb overload. Normally I would scoff at such things, but I was on my second piece of buttery focaccia when she said it and I realized the lady did have a point.
The appetizers were delicious. The calamari had a perfect char to it, had excellent consistency, and was served with a light Mediterranean salad. The grilled vegetable and goat cheese tower was also great – thick grilled tomatoes, zucchini, onions and…uh…some other things, with several layers of warm, melty goat cheese in between. Oh – and a very cute sprig of rosemary peeking out of the top.
I originally planned on being "good" and ordering the salmon, but as soon as my friend (who dines here regularly) told me they made their own pastas, I went with the homemade pappardelle with sweet sausage ragout and truffle oil essence. I’m not sure what the “essence” thing was all about – I mean, does it have truffle oil on it or not? – but yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.
The pappardelle was slightly chewy in that fresh-pasta sort of way, and to my delight, slightly al dente. It was nice to have my pasta cooked al dente without my having to ask – which I never do, because I feel slightly pretentious doing it.
The sauce was great – lots of sausage, lots of “essence” of truffle. Still don’t know what it means, but say what you want about how overly-used and overly-priced truffles and their oil are -- their flavor really does make a difference. Even if it's a subtle one.
There were other pasta dishes that caught my eye, but chances are if I return here (and I hope to), I’ll have to order the pappardelle again. I don’t write here as often as I like but when a dish stays in my mind like this one, I can’t help but take some time out of my day to give mention to it.
Da Andrea is the type of spot I hope survives this ever-changing and increasingly expensive city of New York. It was a lovely meal and overall evening.
Thank you so much!! It's funny, I would never have thought of eating there either - we sort of ended up there out of default. It was a nice surprise, I hope you like it too :)
That's so funny - I just ate at Cafe 2 at the MoMA and posted about it. I thought the food was delcious, but it's more "communal" dining. Bar Modern is great if you want more of a formal feel. Great food, very bustly. If you want to get outside of the MoMA and really indulge in something special, I'd walk the few extra blocks to BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton on 59th street. Plus, you'll get nice views of Central Park.
I recently went to the MoMA with a friend of mine, to scope out the Olafur Eliasson exhibit and have lunch. We had previously eaten together at Bar Modern, which I enjoyed (beer-braised pork belly, that’s all I have to say), but we wanted something more casual this time around. Plus, after taking in all that art (some brilliant, some questionable, some I am not qualified to comment on), I was in a bit of a time-crunch.
We originally planned to eat in the courtyard and take advantage of the beautiful day, but the offerings were fairly disappointing: turkey sandwiches on rosemary bread, gazpacho, cookies, etc. Nothing wrong with that in general, but we were in the mood for something a little more enticing. We went inside and took the escalator to the second floor, to check out the appropriately-named Cafe 2.
Although the outside is very unassuming, on the right wall of the entrance hangs a giant chalkboard listing all of the menu items. And what a menu it is. The concept is rustic Italian, and they serve a wonderful, inventive selection of seasonal foods including artisinal cheeses, panini, pasta dishes, various cured meats, and some very interesting small-plates. You could make a meal simply combining a few appetizers, which is what I chose to do.
We place our orders at the counter, received a number on a stand, and made our way to the communal tables. We spotted a few empty chairs but the ladies sitting next to them didn’t look like they were in the mood for company, so we made a beeline for the far end of the restaurant, where a bar and stools stretched in front of the windows overlooking 52nd street. Perfect.
Deciding what to order is quite difficult here, as everything sounds good. We didn't know if we should go the cheese/meat plate route, do salads and pasta, trythe various kinds of bruschetta...The possibilities seemed endless. Feeling overwhelmed, we went for two appetizers and a pasta dish.
All three items arrived fairly quickly, but not so quickly that it felt like the items were just sitting around already-made. Rather, the green puck of sweet pea flan that sat on display in rows by the cashier (as many of the items are) was now topped with a generous mound of pea tendrills and accented by a creamy sauce in swirly designs around the plate. It was charming and beautiful in color.
The sweet pea flan was just delightful, and although I have been wanting to go back and try it, I see it’s no longer featured on the online menu, so perhaps it has come and gone. Either way, it was a nice way to be introduced to executive chef Lynn Bound.
I also ordered the roasted beets with fresh ricotta, which was excellent, of very high quality, and made for a nice pairing with the flan. I still have no idea why I went with two small vegetarian dishes, but sometimes you gotta go against your own grain.
Friend ordered creamy polenta with arugula walnut pesto and fontina. It was hands-down the creamiest, most well-executed polenta I believe I have ever had. The walnut pesto actually had chunks of toasted walnuts, which added a nice earthy crunch, and the pesto gave it just the right touch of flavor. The fontina was melted like a blanket over the whole thing. The dish was incredibly rich, dense, and my friend could only finish half of it. Needless to say, I finished the rest.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my own food, in fact, I loved it. After both dishes (and a plate of warm, complimentary focaccia) I was perfectly full. However, as I was born without that gene that tells you when to stop eating and drinking, I couldn’t help myself. The cheesey polenta deliciousness was too overwhelming.
I’d love to come back and order more of the small plates, get an assortment of cheese, try the spinach and artichoke tramezzini with lemon mayo, and eat the polenta again. Not to mention, we didn’t have time to indulge in any of the desserts, which include seasonal tarts and ricotta cheesecake.
You have to be in the MoMA to eat here, but between (most) of the art and the surprisingly good food, it's worth a trip.
My boss took me here for lunch the other day, and I thought I'd share my thoughts because I had quiet a lovely (albeit pricey for my companion) experience.
The weather was sunny but not quite warm enough to sit outside, which was a shame because BLT Market is located in the Ritz-Carlton on 59th street, just across the street from Central Park, and the flower-lined al fresco dining stretches out to a wonderful view. Thankfully, the surroundings also be appreciated from within the bright, sunny interior.
Upon entering the restaurant you are pretty much assaulted with the whole “franchise” vibe, as shelves of products and Touruundel cookbooks surround the hostess stand. True, it’s called BLT ”Market,” and the products are locally produced, but you have to wonder how much of a cut the farmer is getting from a twelve-dollar bottle of raspberry vinaigrette. This is not to say it’s cheesy. Rather, the space is lovely, the jars of goodies are somewhat charming, and clay pots of fresh rosemary sit atop each table and infuse the air with a wonderful scent. It’s just that between the “stuff for sale” entrance and the BLT Restaurants website with endless links, it’s a bit off-putting. In an environment with so many commercial undertones, it’s hard to take seriously the “homage” to locally grown and seasonal foods.
That said, the restaurant definitely takes its mission seriously. The décor features antique farming tools, potted plants, and the waiters hustle around in white aprons. The menus are attached to the napkins with clothespins, giving it a real “country” feel.
The menu changes monthly, and in-season items are listed alongside the current menu. We obviously ordered off the “May” menu, which means most of what I describe will soon be unavailable, but I’m confident the food will be as spectacular in June.
In keeping with the theme of the restaurant I expected the amuse bouche to be something like organic asparagus soup, or a pan-seared snow pea. Rather, our waiter brought out the most unexpected and charming offering: a fancy version of pigs in a blanket, topped with sauerkraut and a dot of yellow mustard. It was delicious, and fun to eat something so unassuming in an establishment that felt anything but. Kind of a cheeky choice and I appreciated it.
A long baguette of fresh garlic bread sprinkled with parsley arrived shortly after in a paper bag.
We started with Maine diver scallops (um, is Maine local?) with caper-brown butter and artichoke, and warm white asparagus with mustard vinaigrette and poached egg. Both were fantastic, in fact the scallops were some of the best I have ever had. The asparagus proved to be a very nice dish, my only complaint being that the asparagus were quite stringy towards the base and therefore difficult to eat. I ended up simply shredding most of them with my fork.
For main courses, we ordered the honey-marinated black cod with celery root puree, and the maple leaf duck two ways (pan-seared breast and braised leg), with spring onion and red currant.
I only tried a taste of the cod, but thought it was very good. I also found the presentation amusing, as it was brought to our table not on a plate, but in what looked like a Le Creuset cast iron pot. Quite the "country" fuss for a small piece of fish, but given the principle behind the restaurant, I guess it made sense.
The duck was a great spin on high-end comfort food. The duck breast was cut thick, with the skin perfectly crispy and the meat very tender. The leg tasted like it was slow-braised, very flavorful, and fell apart under my fork. It was almost like duck brisket, and the red currants were a nice accompaniment. Not to mention, it was such a generous amount of food, I couldn't finish it.
We didn’t have room for dessert, which was fine with me because by that point, I was happily stuffed and had to get back to work.
The restaurant is definitely over-priced, but in my humble opinion the food is good enough that you don't feel ripped off.
I’ve read numerous mentions of David Chang and his budding, painfully hip empire in food blogs, Chowhound posts, and, most intriguingly, Frank Bruni’s rave review of this establishment. Between my lukewarm affinity for Korean food and wariness of overly-hyped restaurants, I was considering skipping the entire experience, but curiosity gave in last week.
The setting is minimal, with lots of shiny dark wood. There’s a bar that runs the length of the restaurant and a handful of tables up front, surrounded by backless stools. It’s not the most comfortable way to sit, but once the food starts coming, you don’t even notice it.
Upon first glance at the menu, my brain started twisting itself into a pretzel. The offerings were all over the place: raw bar; banh mi; a whole section of country hams; lunch boxes; chap chae. Thankfully, my friend took the wheel and I sat comfortably (or, semi-comfortably) in the backseat.
We started with a selection from the raw bar: jonah crab claws with yuzu mayonnaise. The crab claws were gorgeous, arranged over crushed ice and circling a glass dish of the mayo. The two items worked well together – the claws were meaty, the mayonnaise was refreshingly light, and the dish was very satisfying. We were off to a good start, although I had no idea what the raw bar had to do with what I thought was the theme of the restaurant.
From the small dishes portion of the menu, we ordered the steamed buns and the bread and butter (yes, that’s listed on the menu. For eight dollars). The steamed buns were a real stand-out and possibly my favorite thing. They were like small, puffy sandwiches of pork belly, hosin sauce, cucumber and scallions. The presentation and taste was very similar to peking duck, except of course with pig. Which, now that I think of it, is the closest thing to a theme at Momofuku Ssam. Pork is one element that is consistent throughout the menu, and every pig-related item we tried was executed perfectly. This establishment is practically an ode to that fatty, meaty, greasy wonder. Sorry, Wilbur. But you’re delicious.
The controversial bread and butter was also a winner. It’s a warm, crusty baguette from Sullivan Street bakery served with sea salt butter from Vermont, and St. Helen’s farm goats butter from the UK. I had never had goat butter before and let me tell you, it’s such a wonderful treat. It’s rich and creamy, yet light enough that you can eat it with a fork. Which is what I started doing after the bread was gone. Thankfully, the waitress came by to clear our plates before I had a heart attack.
We then had an assortment of smoked country ham, sliced paper-thin, from various farms across the US. I had no idea which ham was which, or whether or not each ham was exceptionally good, because I am not a ham connoisseur, but I enjoyed all of them. They had the texture of prosciutto, and were served with a delicious coffee-mustard that tasted like it was whipped- very similar in consistency to the awesome mustard sauce that is served alongside the filet at Buddakan, which I praised in an earlier review.
To round out the experience we had one ssam and one momo lunch box. The ssam was grilled lemongrass pork sausage, which arrived in several thick, rectangular, juicy shapes, accompanied by daikon, shredded carrots, fish sauce, and lettuce leaves to wrap everything in. It was a colorful presentation, and fun to eat.
We finished with the pork bib bim bap lunch box, which came with one side (we went with the kewpie slaw), pickles, and soda (which we opted not to have – we were way too into our bottle of red wine, the name of which I unfortunately can’t remember). I don’t recall much about the bib bim bap because at this point in the meal, I was so full and overwhelmed by all the different flavors and ways of cooking, that I couldn’t really process anything else.
As someone who knows so little about Korean food I didn't feel qualified to comment on a lot of the dishes, and the presence of the seemingly out-of-place ones continued to confuse me. I wasn’t sure what I thought of my experience until a couple of days later, when a friend emailed me and asked if Chang lived up to the hype, and I immediately replied with a "yes!" So there you go - I've jumped on the Momofuku bandwagon.
I love this restaurant. I'd say definitely get the octopus salad, as well as the Kumamoto oysters if they have them. You can't go wrong with an assortment of oysters, everything there is extremely fresh. Also, don't leave without taking home some of their house-made chocolates. They're a bit on the pricey side but totally worth it.
I'm craving a croque madame like nobody's business. Can anyone reccommend a place? Thank you so much!!
Thanks to everyone for your comments! I really appreciate them! It's intersting to read other people's experiences. Thanks for taking the time to read mine :)
I have always wanted to dine at Les Halles and finally had the chance the other night. A longtime fan of Anthony Bourdain and his memoir, Kitchen Confidential, I was disappointed when I learned he had passed the executive chef torch down to someone else. And even though I was well-aware of the mixed reviews amongst foodies, I was still curious. I also had a birthday coming up, which coincided with an intense craving for steak tartare, so I booked a reservation.
Prior to my birthday I scanned the boards here at Chowhound. I found the expected praise for their steak frites and steak tartare, but along with every high note came a series of low ones: too loud, terrible service, dark, etc. Adding to my dismay was the restaurant’s website, which listed Bourdain as the “Chef-at-Large” (whatever that means), featured a “merchandise” link, and was overall way too franchise-y for my liking. By the time my birthday rolled around, I was a little uneasy.
Upon entering the restaurant (we went to the Park Avenue location), I was surprised at how dark it was – the Chowhounders were spot-on with that criticism. It was dark to the point of seeming almost dingy. However, after all the things I had heard about the “surly” service, I was surprised at how pleasant our hostess was. We had a reservation and were seated right away, and this was on a Friday night. (Granted, it was only 7pm on a Friday night).
The dining room of Les Halles is sort of split into two parts, and we had a very nice table in the center of one of them. Warm, crusty bread and butter were brought to us right away, along with the wine list, which seemed very reasonable. I wanted a Bourdeaux, and our waiter suggested their house bottle, St. Emilion. I appreciated the fact that the waiter didn’t recommend one of the hundred-dollar bottles, and was also impressed with how many good bottles were offered for under sixty dollars. We went with the waiter’s suggestion, and all of us enjoyed it. My only complaint was that the glasses were a bit too small for this wine, but what can you expect from a bistro that has cartoon cows on the website. ;)
We started with a mesclun salad, dressed simply with a light, mustardy vinaigrette, the grilled calamari with shaved fennel (delicious, and a nice portion), and the real stand-out: warm potato and black olive salad, topped with goat cheese gratine. It was wonderful, and a great price at $8.95.
Prior to the arrival of our main courses, a man came out of the kitchen and wheeled a cart over to our table. This was my steak tartare guy. He asked if I wanted it “mild, medium or spicy?” which I had never been asked before, in relation to chopped beef. I went with medium, as I didn’t want too many things to take away from the clean, smooth taste of the raw meat. (What am I, a werewolf?) The tartare contained all the usual suspects: raw egg, anchovies, mustard, ketchup (which I always thought was weird), onion, capers, etc. It was fun watching the guy make it in front of me.
Interestingly, the tartare was not served with toast or any vehicle to eat it with, aside from a fork. However, as I prefer to eat tartare on warm, buttered bread, I simply asked for another basket. It was a huge portion of tartare, very good, with a spicy bite to it. It was also a great deal at $18.50, which included a plate of their famous frites. (Turns out the frites were great, and I believe their secret is that they fry them in peanut oil).
We also tried the flatiron steak with bearnaise, which was nicely done and quite juicy, and the Choucroute Garnie, which was so-so (the sauerkraut was pretty bland, and they could have done more with it). I think the thing to come here for, as far as main courses go, is really the beef.
Although many items on the dessert menu spoke to me, which doesn’t usually happen as I am not much of a dessert person, I had my heart set on a cheese course. It was in this moment that the absence of Anthony Bourdain became abundantly clear. I asked the waiter to tell me some of the daily selections, and his response was, “well, we have a goat…we have a sheep…I believe we have a couple of cows….” I (politely) cut him off, and asked that he get a little more specific than that. He ran away, and emerged a few minutes later with a hand-scribbled list in his hand of the day’s offerings.
When the waiter returned with my cheese, it was a lovely presentation: four heartly slices of various cheeses arranged on a plate with walnuts, quince paste, and slices of pear. My only disappointment was that the waiter did not take the time to go over each cheese, which I find to be an integral part of any cheese course. I also knew that had I asked him to explain each one to me, even briefly, he would have run away again and I didn’t want to make him feel bad. But I had a sneaking suspicion that when Bourdain was hands-on, the waiters were more knowledgeable.
For dessert my sister had the “fallen” chocolate souffle, which was huge, warm, gooey, delicious, and incredibly rich without being too sweet.
Overall, I enjoyed the meal here. I would definitely come back for the warm black olive salad, the tartare, and even the cheese. I think for New York prices Les Halles is reasonable, and I also think the prices are appropriate for the overall level of quality and somewhat lack of sophistication. Bourdain has obviously removed himself from the daily happenings here, and if you were to enter the restaurant not knowing that, you would probably think he was extremely overrated. But even in Bourdain’s absence, I think the restaurant stands on its own.
As a result of my obsession Puerto Rican food, and inability to cook this cuisine, I tried Sofrito the other night at the suggestion of a friend. I had been stalking the menu online every day until I ate here, and still had no idea what I was going to order. Everything sounded amazing: mussels with cilantro and chorizo, watercress and avocado salad, grilled octopus with olives and lemon, lobster gumbo….and those were just the appetizers. I am pleased to report that the actual experience was even better than the virtual one.
Sofrito is located on a somewhat posh street, just west of Sutton Place, and when you enter you feel like you've been transported to Miami. There is a bar/lounge at the front of the restaurant with a large dining room further back. Paintings hang on the deep orange walls, and the restaurant is illuminated by dim lighting and candles. The bar and restaurant were full of people.
My friend and I took a seat in the lounge while waiting for our table, and ordered sangria. It pretty good, and were seated at our table within ten minutes.
What had intrigued me from the beginning were the prices – there wasn’t an entry over $25, and I could now see after walking through the restaurant that the portions were huge. Things got even better when the waiter brought over a basket of warm, buttery grilled bread.
We started with carne frita - crispy fried marinated pork - and braised chicken empanadas with Creole sauce. The empanadas were light and flaky, not at all greasy, and the sauce was tasty. But the real winner was the pork –a huge mound of juicy, salty chunks of meat served with a dipping sauce and fresh lime wedges. There was so much meat in this dish that we couldn’t finish it without ruining our appetites for the main course. Even better, this delicious and plentiful appetizer was only eight dollars.
For our main courses we tried the Mofongo, which was a lot like braised, shredded beef, served over mashed green plantains, and the sirloin steak with onions and sweet plantains. The Mofongo was good, although I found the green plantains to be a bit try, but the steak was awesome. It was a huge slab of meat, fairly tender, flavorful, and the sweet plantains were addictive. I was only able to eat half of it, which is truly rare for me. Oh – and this dish was only sixteen dollars.
It should be noted that throughout our dinner, the waiters sang “happy birthday” to about nine tables, and this was just a weeknight. If you dine here, be prepared for an outburst of singing and clapping every few minutes – it’s inevitable, and even more popular on weekends. However, it didn’t bother me at all -- in fact, I felt it added to the overall experience.
We were so happily full by the time we finished our entrees, we couldn’t even fathom dessert. This is a shame, as I hear their tres leches cake is excellent. I definitely plan on going back for that, and for the whole fried snapper with coconut rice that also caught my eye....
Great idea for a thread! I love all the suggestions on here. So far, I've got...
Prosciuitto at Lupa
Jesus, I'm starving.
Let me just say that when my date called to tell me he had made a reservation here, I had my...er...reservations. I have long been aware of Steven Starr and his empire, and I figured this was another overly-hyped meatpacking venue dishing out mediorcre food. I read some reviews, and asked the opinions of friends who had dined there, and I got nothing but raves and recommendations. And still, for some reason, I didn’t believe it.
It’s a nondescript venue from the outside, and were it not for the flashy cars and gorgeous people coming in and out, you could easily miss it. When you first walk in, you find yourself in a hallway with a long counter to your right, behind which stand about eight very attractive hostesses. It almost feels like you are about to check into a massive hotel, which does little to ease any preconceived notions.
After the lobby you walk up a set of stairs flecked by candles, through giant open doors, and into a bar/lounge area with low tables and a loud, mostly young crowd. Although we had a reservation (don’t even think of coming here without one), we had to wait about fifteen minutes until we were seated at our table.
There is no way to describe the space Buddakan occupies, which was formerly a Nabisco factory. You have to see it to believe it, but it's huge, beautiful, and totally over-the-top without being tacky. Describing the actual walk to the table would take about as long as it took to get there, but we ended up in a dimly-lit room with rows of long booths covered in dark blue leather, overlooking the chandelier-adorned “pit” in the middle of the restaurant.
Our waiter was friendly and enthusiastic, took time to go over all of his favorite dishes, and was candid about the (few) dishes the kitchen did not execute as well. Following his suggestions, we ordered three appetizers (he recommended we order two, but everything sounded so good), two entrees, and one side.
The food is described as “Modern Asian” cuisine, and everything is made to order. Although I am sure there are some “misses” on the menu, as there are at most restaurants, everything we ate was a hit. The General Tso’s dumplings, with chicken, ginger and garlic, were plump and spilled broth when you cut into them. They were moist and flavorful, and the actual dumpling was light and chewy, rather than thick and doughy as some dumplings tend to be.
I snarked on the inside when the waiter brought us the tuna spring roll – three thin, cigar-like rolls ridiculously spaced out on a large plate. However, as soon as I picked one up, I was put in my place. Packed full of fresh, diced raw tuna delicately blended with chili mayonnaise, they were light and crisp on the outside, cool and soft on the inside. A deliciously unexpected combo that I would definitely order again.
But the real surprise was the chili rock shrimp. The small bowl it was served in contained a surprisingly large amount of shrimp. They had a subtle crunch to them, they were flecked with crispy ginger, and they were lightly blanketed in a creamy sauce.
We paused to try one of their specialty cocktails, the Tranquility, which was a blend of citrus vodka and lemongrass-infused oolong tea. Unfortunately, to me the drink tasted vaguely like that artificially sweetened Lipton Iced Tea.
We ordered the “signature” miso black cod, which every Asian Fusion restaurant has to have nowadays thanks to Nobu. It was delicious, buttery, and fell apart under our forks. But it didn’t get the attention it probably deserved, because the filet stole its thunder.
It is listed on the menu as “Charred Filet of Beef, wonton potatoes, mustard sauce.” It doesn’t sound that spectacular - in fact, we had both missed it on the menu until our waiter recommended it. The dish consists of a generous amount of pre-sliced filet, served with a pot of ginger-infused butter sauce that is so delicious, you will find yourself pouring it on everything. I don’t even know why they bother with the mustard, but the fact that it’s listed in the menu description, rather than the sauce, makes the sauce a delightful surprise. Which I guess I just ruined.
The waiter came by at one point and suggested pouring some of the sauce over the potatoes (which are really just homemade potato chips), which we did. We had also ordered a very yummy side dish of vegetarian rice with coconut foam and fresh lime juice, and mid-way through eating it I couldn’t help myself and I poured some of the sauce into that, too. We even contemplated pouring it on what was left of the miso cod, but stopped before sending Nobu to his grave early, to practice rolling.
For dessert we shared the “Chocolate Mille Feuille with bruleed bananas, spiced chocolate ice cream, avocado.” It is served on a long, rectangular plate with very dramatic presentation. On one end, there is a tower of multiple layers of hard chocolate and bruleed bananas, and on the other end is a small scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream sprinkled with what tasted like candied hot pepper. Connecting the two items are light green stripes of avocado foam, which somehow work with the overall dish. This is not one of those places where the pastry chef swoops in at the end of a fantastic meal and ruins everything.
Buddakan is not cheap, and dining the way you are supposed to here really adds up – our bill was a lot. But one of the coolest things about this restaurant is that the food is really good, and it doesn't have to be. The chef’s star power (pun intended), location, and the buzz are more than enough to keep people coming. This could be a money pit even if it served mediocre food.
I entered this restaurant expecting a glorified P.F. Chang’s; I left an official Starr convert.
Thanks for the tip!! I will definitely get the milkshake next time I go.
I ate here the other night, and it's like something out of a David Lynch movie. It's totally bizarre how this greasy spoon is hidden away in the lobby of the Le Parker Meridien.
By now everyone is in on the secret, but just in case you don't know how to find it, look for the front desk in the lobby, and to the right of it you will see thick, dark floor-to-ceiling curtains. As you walk past them you will see a small fluorescent hamburger on the wall with an arrow below it, which will lead you right to the place. The short journey is mysterious and cute -- the culinary equivalent of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
The arrival is unnerving. Not only does it look like a teenager’s basement-turned-coffee shop, it feels like something out of the 1970’s. The fact that this is happening now -- and happening in an upscale hotel with a flagship restaurant that features a $1,000 caviar omelet -- is what I love about New York.
Amongst the wood paneling were a handful of older couples, families who were most likely staying at the hotel, young guys in suits probably just coming off work (it was 9:30pm, gotta love finance), some hipster-types....a nice, eclectic group. There was a fun vibe to the room, as if we were all happy to know about this place. (I'm not terribly cool - I got tipped off by a friend).
I took a seat in a vinyl booth while my friend placed our order: two cheeseburgers with “the works” (lettuce, pickles, onion, etc.), fries, and two Sam Adams. We sat and waited for them to call our order, which they did, with quite a lot of enthusiasm. The draft beers were in large plastic cups, deliciously cold and nicely priced at $4.50. The fries were pretty good, your standard crispy/greasy fast-food type fries with lots of yummy salt. Nothing outstanding but very tasty nonetheless.
Of course, the reason we came here was for the burgers, and man, did they deliver. Thick, juicy, nicely charred on the outside….the cheese was gooey and perfectly melted…the bun nice and soft….the lettuce crisp…this is the kind of burger that falls apart before you can finish eating it. Which to me, is the true mark of greatness.
I have no idea why this place even exists, particularly why it exists here, but I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to look forward to the next time I can get my greasy paws on one of these. In my (humble) opinion the Burger Joint is better than JG Melon, better than PJ Clarke’s, and just a touch below Corner Bistro.
I have eaten here a few times, most recently just the other night, and I wanted to post some opinions on here because I think it's worth checking out.
I don't know much about Russian food, so I don't claim to be an expert, but I have enjoyed everything I have eaten here and I think the prices are pretty reasonable.
Entering the space can be a bit unnerving, because it is very dark (no windows, either), packed full of people, and a large, sort of depressed-looking man plays piano in the corner. It's not what you would expect, and it's definitely unlike any other place I've been, but I sort of like that about it. The patrons are also very lively and seem to be enjoying themselves, so that's always a good sign (of course, they could just be drunk).
Although the Russian Vodka Room has the atmosphere of a bar/lounge, I think the food really stands on it's own.
I usually start off with the house-made horseradish infused vodka, and then move on to Chopin martinis. (For those of you who like Gibsons, myself included, the restaurant doesn't have pearl onions).
I think a must here is the salmon caviar platter. It arrives fairly quickly and it's a really generous amount of food, particularly for the price. You get about ten fluffy blinis, lots of sliced hard-boiled egg, chopped red onion, capers, and a large glass pot full of gorgeous, bright-orange beads of salmon roe. Also on the plate is a small silver dish of butter above a lit tealight.
The way I eat this is I put everything on the blini (egg, onions, capers, caviar), blanket the whole thing with a small spoonfull of melted butter, fold it slightly, and eat it almost like a very small taco. And it’s incredible.
It's hard to know what to order after this, but I usually go for the herring. Oddly, I'm not a huge fan of herring, but I've always enjoyed it here. It tastes almost like it has been pan-fried, or roasetd, and it is served alongside potatoes with crispy skin, salt, and lots of dill.
Usually by this time I just give in and get a second salmon caviar platter, but other night I branched out and tried a few new dishes: cold borscht, lamb shanks, and beef stroganoff with Kasha. I enjoyed everything, found the service to be friendly, and it's sort of fun to eat amongst all the drunken chaos that inevitably develops in the small space.
I ate here a little while ago and I keep meaning to write about it, because I thought it was such a unique and classy spot....
I thought the layout was beautiful - a long hallway, high ceilings, and various designs in multiple rooms: white banquets and bright lights in the (semi) formal main dining room; a deep blue waterfall-covered wall in the café; a dimly-lit bar/lounge area, which is where we ate. I started with the lychee-orange blossom aquavit, which was very lovely.
At this point we got a nice surprise - due to a television special on chef Marcus Samuelsson being taped in the restaurant, he kept coming in and out of the various rooms in Aquavit. He said hello to us, and seemed very friendly.
The food is modern Scandanavian, best paired with flights of three aquavits in varying flavors. We tried dill, mango-chili pepper (fantastic), cucumber, and horseradish (my favorite). It was really fun to try these varying flavors with the different foods we ate. Like wine pairings, but more creative.
For food, we started with herring. To be fair, I am not a huge fan, particularly when it is pickled. The menu lists a variety of ways in which this fish can be served, but due to my herring ignorance, I let my companion take the reigns on this part of the evening. We had the sampler of three, which comes with potatoes and cheese -- an excellent deal at $12. I tried curried herring with apples, which was too sweet and pasty for my taste, a simple version with sour cream and red onion, which was nice when paired with pieces of potato, and a refreshing lime-jalapeno kind. I didn’t love any of them, but I appreciated each and did like the cheese that came with it, although I can’t remember the name. It was a goat’s milk cheese, sharp, and made for a surprisingly great accompaniment to the fish.
I would definitely recommend the cauliflower soup, which we had after the herring. It was delicious, creamy and full of buttery croutons and plump capers.
The real winner of the night was the salmon sampler. It consisted of a pile of chopped, fresh raw salmon topped with a generous amount of chilled black caviar, a gravlax served with an espresso mustard sauce and dill, and a spice-smoked salmon with light-as-air goat cheese on the side. Very good, and very reasonably priced.
For dessert, we had a warm, gooey chocolate peanut butter cake, served with coconut sorbet and blood orange sauce. Not sure how Scandanavian that was, but it sure was delicious.
We ordered off the café menu, but I’d like to return (perhaps on an expense account) for dinner in Samuelsson’s main dining room. Offerings on that menu include a brioche-crusted salmon with beef cheeks and a port wine sauce, as well as a fois gras ganache with squab and pistacho. I have a feeling that is where Samuelsson really shines, although I was pleased with and impressed by (almost) everything we ate.
Busby's has a new location on Wilshire....
Might I suggest Monsieur Marcel in the Farmer's Market? It's right in the area you are thinking of, it's reasonably priced, it's romantic, and it's a very unique experience.
Saddle Peak Lodge (although this was two years ago and I hear it's gone a bit downhill since)
Has anyone tried this place yet?