Just wanted to take some time to post some quick reviews on the restaurants that my fiance and I visited while in NYC a couple weeks ago for an early birthday celebration. This is my first post on Chowhound and I thought it would be a good idea to comment on our experiences as the numerous posts on this site definitely helped us to decide where to dine during our brief 4-day stay.
Sunday Brunch - Jane Restaurant in Soho
This was a recommendation by a friend. We had 3pm reservations and the place was bustling with energy and some cool music in the background. We were promptly seated on time and we chose the Lobster Benedict and Eggs Benedict. Eggs benny proved to be the better of the two choices with the smokey Canadian bacon flavour enhancing every bite. Unfortunately, the lobster benny did not benefit from being served on a tea biscuit, in lieu of the standard english muffin, which ended up becoming soggy very quickly after absorbing the hollandaise. Overall service was quick for a restaurant this busy and we felt the brunch menu provided excellent value with a complimentary cocktail served with the meal (we ordered a Passion Screwdiver and Mimosa). Overall 2.5 out of 5.
Sunday Dinner - Buddakan
Another recommendation from a friend. The decor was beautiful and the ambiance dark and cozy. One could come to this restaurant 3 or 4 times and have a different experience each time due the various rooms/themes. We were seated on the lower floor in the hallway outside of the main room with the large sharing table. Having an abundance of excellent traditional Asian and Asian fusion choices in our hometown of Toronto, I was a little weary at the prospect of being blown away by the food. The menu items were all reasonably priced with a lean towards Chinese and Thai. We ended up ordering 5 dishes in total to share. The highly recommended edamame dumplings were a letdown. Although the flavour combination of the dumplings and the broth were delicate and subtle, we found the texture of the edamame filling to be overly mushy and a bit off-putting. We also ordered the taro lollipops (great presentation, we wondered why more chef's in Toronto haven't used the lollipop presentation in some dishes), tea smoked tuna deviled eggs (my fiance's favourite of the night), chili and mint stir-fried cauliflower with minced pork (the dish was perfect with jasmine rice) and crisp chili crab noodles (flavour was great but there was too much sauce for the amount of noodles provided). For a rstaurant this size, we were impressed with how quickly the dishes came out. Overall 3 out of 5
Monday Dinner - Eleven Madison Park
This was the big dinner that we were extremely excited about. Upon arrival, the first thing you notice is the grand dining area with high ceilings. Although it may not provide that dark romantic feeling that some people prefer, we definitely felt a relaxed atmosphere and did not notice an ounce of pretension. Originally for this night, I was quite undecided and had booked reservations for Gramercy Tavern, Daniel, Babbo, and Gordon Ramsay at the London. After reading numerous posts, I felt that we would go all out on EMP's 14-course Gourmand tasting menu. The tasting had a broad variety of flavours and the dining experience promised to be more casual than Daniel (which is what we were looking for after a long day of shopping). I have to say that we were extremely satisfied with our choice. The food itself was well executed and the presentation for most dishes, displayed a simple elegance and creativity. There were a number of standout dishes, namely the sweetbread amuse, the caviar dish with poached egg and tapioca, crab rolled in avocado, the poached lobster (the tenderest lobster I've ever had) and the pork belly (although the skin was not as crispy as I would have liked, the flavour itself was heavenly and I could not help but smile as each morsel melted in my mouth). Although not every dish was a homerun, there were more than enough excellent courses to make this a standout experience. The one thing that I have to mention was the level of service we received. Although I have yet to visit acclaimed restaurants such as Per Se and others... to date, EMP is the best service that I have experienced personally. The staff were friendly, intuitive, and incredibly accomodating. Our waiter Amon was extremely knowledgeable and attentive. Halfway through the meal, my fiance lifted up one of the plates to see what kind of china they were using and within seconds Amon showed up with a printed card with the details of the china. At no point did the service feel intrusive. During the 11th course (yes... the 11th), Amon customized an individual cheese tasting for each of us which was perfectly chosen and paired with a wine by the sommelier. While he was preparing each platter, Amon took the time to ask about our trip, where we were from, what restaurants we had been to and we mentioned that our next stop on the restaurant list was Gramercy Tavern the next night. The quality of service provided by Amon and his attention to detail are definitely an asset to EMP and he helped to make the night a memorable one. Our sommelier, Jordan, provided insightful information for each of the wine pairings and patiently handled any questions we had. These two were certainly the highlight of the evening. Chef Daniel Humm also made his way around the dining room and spent a few moments at each table to ensure that we were all enjoying ourselves. I would highly recommend this restaurant for a great experience. The food, the service, the wine - EMP is the full package. Overall 4.5 out of 5.
Tuesday Dinner - Gramercy Tavern
After having such an over the top meal at EMP, our intention was to tone things down at the next restaurant, GT. However, upon arrival, our waiter David advised us that Chef Michael Anthony wanted to prepare a special chef's tasting menu for us. Apparently, Paul, the manager at EMP and a fellow Canadian, called GT ahead of time to mention that we would be stopping in that evening and that it was my fiance's birthday and that we should get some special treatment for his 'friends' from Canada. This gesture was so wonderful and unexpected that we obviously could not say no to the tasting menu. David spent a few moments to ask about our preferences - seafood for my fiance, and a mix of seafood and meat dishes for me. We ended up being served a total of 9 courses - 1 hors d'oeuvre, 5 savory, and 3 sweet. Outside of the hors-d'ouevre and the first dessert, my fiance and I were served complely different tasting menus which meant we ended up getting to share and experience over 14 different dishes. Standouts were the Citrus Cured Arctic Char and Kampachi (we are fans of ceviche and crudo), Smoked Mackarel, Black Tagliatelle with Lobster and Chorizo, Rack of Pork and Braised Belly (the flavour of the braised pork was simply outstanding), and the chocolate bread pudding. During the dessert, Chef came out to personally greet my fiance with happy birthday and spent 5 minutes speaking to the menu and the ingredients as well as some dishes that they were working and hoping to introduce within a couple weeks. At the end of the meal, we were given a coffee cake muffins as a small parting gift for breakfast the next morning. The service here was above average and the food was fresh and light without sacrificing flavour. The kicker was they charged us for a 3 course prix fixe instead of the tasting menu. Overall 4 out of 5.
We were very impressed with the professionalism at both Danny Meyer restaurants and applaud the efforts at by the staff at both to go over and above. Both are top-notch establishments and we want to thank both EMP and GT for two back-to-back unforgettable experiences.
Wednesday lunch - Balthazar
This place is great. The room was busy with shoppers taking a break for lunch and a quick glass of wine. We ordered the seafood ceviche, warm goat cheese and caramelized onion tart, and an order of moules frite. Ceviche was light and refreshing, the tart was flavourful and went well with the muscadet and the broth for the moule frites was sopped up by Balthazar's bread. We promised to definitely return next time and order a seafood platter with oysters. Overall 3.5 out of 5.
I also wanted to mention that we stopped for Cuban food at a small family run restaurant called Margon. They treated us like long-lost relatives and let us try a number of items. The cuban sandwich was excellent with this slices of turkey and toasted crisp, although it was not better than the one we had at Puerto Sagua in South Beach.
So that was it... overall a great trip and we look forward to returning to NYC in the near future and experiencing more that the city has to offer.