We had a wonderful weekend in NYC once again (seems that this is becoming our Valentine's Day tradition) and can't wait to get back again. We ate at Elevena Madison Park on Friday night and Bouley Saturday night and if I had to plan it again I would have reversed the order because of the let down we experienced. It almost wasn't even close because once you experience perfection at a restaurant anything else pales in comparison. What we experienced at EMP was indeed perfection while what we experienced at Bouley was a very good meal with an extra helping of attitude.
Atmosphere: completely different in all ways. We both agreed though that EMP's setting, while much larger, is more beautiful than Bouley. I felt more so than my wife though.
Service: here is where there WAS no comparison whatsoever! All restaurants should take lessons on service from EMP because it is the perfect blend of professionalism with friendliness and no stuffiness or pretense whatsoever. Our waiter could not have been more helpful, the sommelier as well. We had wine pairings with each course, left up to him. When my wife was served (a small amout to just taste) her red wine (a St. Emillion), she tasted it and hesitated. I knew she didn't like it so I said, "that's Merlot", she apologized and said she didn;t like Merlot andf the waiter said "no problem at all", got the wine list and we decided on a Cabernet. At Bouley, on the other hand, the sommelier merely poured (more like glug glug glug to be honest) the wine without giving us the opportunity to taste it, with the very French attitude of "this is the wine I picked for you and you WILL like it. Luckily we did. Toward the end of our meal at EMP a person we had yet to meet came to the table, asked how everything was, and said, "we really appreciate you being here" and we truly felt that way. At Bouley we felt rushed, that we should be thankful to be there, and that we were just another patron. Very little warmth.
Food: like I said, how can you compete with perfection? This is not to say that we didn't enjoy the food at Bouley because we did but the food at EMP was art on the plate, with incredible tastes. We were brought what we thought was the amuse (a long plate of 8 small peices of artwork) but then the amuse came after this. The biggest difference between the two in food was definitely the entrees. My wifes Black Angus Beef was truly incredible and easily the best beef we've ever experienced. My rabbit eas equally incredible. At Bouley my boneless veal chop, to be honest, was kinda ordinary and actually a little dry. My wife's suckling pig was good, but again a bit ordinary. These dishes were much more rustic than we expected and definitely lacked a "wow" effect.
Summary: I am still thinking about our evening at EMP, it was far more than a meal and much more of an incredible experience. The beautiful setting, the warm hum of voices, the jazz playing, the engaging staff, the excellent wines, and of course the most incredible food we've ever had. We did enjoy Bouley but I personally didn't think it was worth the price tag. We can't wait to go back EMP and will next Valentine's when we return to NYC. Would we return to Bouley? Probably not, I'd like to experience dinner at The Modern or some place else.
Our weekend was rounded out with things like seeing Freddy Cole at Dizzy's Club CocaCola. A great singer in a wonderful setting with great views. Drinks at the Lobby Lounge at Asiate (Mandarin Oriental Hotel). Great views again of course. Seeing "In the Heights" at the Richard Rodgers theatre. I would HIGHLY recommend this musical, great music, incredible dancing, and a nice storyline. Shopping in SoHo and at Macy's (my wife's favorite activity).
I also have to mention something that, after a while, just made me laugh (after my annoyance). What is up with NYC cabbies??? Everytime we got in and gave an address they would say, "do you know how to get there?" Say what? We stayed in Queens (Long Island City) and they would ask us "should I take the tunnel or the bridge?" YOU tell US, that's what we're paying you for! One night we drove into Manhattan to go dancing at LavaGina on the LES, coming back to Queens we got lost in Astoria (I think), a mere 5 miles from our hotel. NO ONE could give us accurate directions to get there and didn't seem to want to be bothered (maybe the fact that it was 3 am had something to do with it). Your city is quite a place, we LOVE it dearly and can't wait to go back (minus the cab experiences of course). Thanks for all your help!