Archive for February, 2012
If you follow restaurant news and reviews, you’re probably aware that since Daniel Humm took the helm at Eleven Madison Park, it has become regarded as one of New York (and the world’s) top restaurants. And I am certainly not here to dispute that. So in my mind, the only question that remains to be answered is this: “Is Eleven Madison Park better than Per Se?” The NY Times says No. NY Magazine says says yes. Here’s what I say:
Ambiance: These are probably the two most impressive restaurant spaces in New York. EMP offers soaring ceilings and beautiful flower arrangements that evoke back a gilded era dining hall. Per Se on the other hand gives you the sense that you’ve entrered the grand living room of a Park Avenue Apartment, complete with fireplace and couch-like seating. While choosing between those two settings is really a matter of personal preference, I think most will admit portrait windows overlooking Central Park give Per Se the edge.
Winner: Per Se
Service: At neither restaurant will your glass sit empty or your server fail to answer a question to your satisfaction. These are again probably the two best waitstaffs I’ve had in New York and both were attentive and knowledgeable while managing to avoid the air of pretension found at many other top restaurants. While it may be unfair to judge based on a single trip, our server at Per Se was just a little more playful and at ease.
Winner: Per Se
Menu Format: Per Se offers only a chef’s tasting menu, with a handful of decisions for the diner. EMP offers that as well as a “four-course” menu where you choose among four core ingredients per course. The dishes are then prepared around that ingredient according to your preferences. You also receive about 8 amuse bouches and bonus desserts in case you were worried about leaving hungry. It’s hard to argue with having more choices and customization.
Price: Per Se’s Chef’s Tasting Menu will run you $295, inclusive of service. EMPs tasting menu is $195 ($235 with a 20% tip) and the four course will set you back a paltry $125 ($150 with tip).
Food: Each meal consists of over a dozen dishes and while not every one is equal, both had their share of very good, great and amazing. Additionally, everything was creative and excellently prepared. I’m not going to pretend I can pick an overall winner here.
Final Verdict: If you’re talking about the overall dining experience and ignoring cost, I give Per Se the slight edge for telepathic service and cozier space. However, it also feels like more of an extravagance, and charges you accordingly. EMP serves a more reasonable amount of food in their “four” course menu which makes it a place I feel you can return to more frequently. And if you’re a foodie basing your decision primarily on the food aspect, I think you’ll find spending the same amount for two meals at EMP as one at Per Se is the way to go. Of course, I highly recommend you try both of them at least once.
Now onto the food! Below is a brief recap of what came out of the kitchen at Eleven Madison and my ratings. Since we were never given a full menu, the dish descriptions are based on my memory and photos and may be incomplete.
Gougeres *** Fluffy and cheesy. This is also a specialty at Per Se, and while these are outstanding, Keller’s were a little airier.
The first two amuses were a pair of seafood ceviches: scallops*** and fluke***. Both were incredibly fresh flavorful.
Next came a quail egg ** and bacon with apple tea***. Apple and tea is a great combo, I think I’ll be drinking it more, although I doubt it will be nearly this good. The quail egg & bacon was rich and delightful, if not the restaurants most original dish.
The final amuses were a chickpea fritter** and greek yogurt popsicle*. I found the last one a little strange and bitter but Katherine loved it.
After all that we finally started with the actual “four courses.” We each ordered different things, so there are a total of 7 (the duck is for 2):
Foie Gras Creamy foie gras with black truffles ****. It’s exactly as decadent and amazing as it sounds.
Octopus w/ chorizo & lemon ***. Without mentioning it, it’s almost as if they knew about Katherine’s chorizo obsession. The octopus was also perfectly cooked and worked nicely with the smokey chorizo.
Sunchokes 3 ways (pickled, tempura and I forget the third )** An interesting mix of flavors and textures. Enjoyable but not mind blowing.
Lobster w/ Burnt Leeks *** The tanginess of the leek really comes through and I really enjoyed it. However, some may find it a little overpowering.
Duck w/ honey lavender **** The standout in a lineup of all-stars. This dish really blew us away. It’s an EMP signature dish for 2 and is carver tableside. The skin is sweet, tangy, salty, crispy and downright awesome. The meat inside is incredibly juicy and tender. I almost wanted to quit after this it was so amazing. But fortunatley I didn’t.
“Egg Cream” ** Ironically this contains no egg or cream, but orange syrup, milk, and seltzer water. You’d never guess it from drinking it though. It tastes like a light egg cream and I could probably drink these for dessert every night.
Strawberry Short Cake ** Another delicious and playful EMP take on a New York classic.
White and chocolate mignardise enhanced with white truffle oil **** and dark chocolate mignardise enhanced with black truffle shavings ** As if we needed more, this final offering was presented to us with a bottle of cognac to sip on. The white chocolate and white truffles was the perfect mix of sweet and salty. The dark was also very good, but couldn’t compare.
Why Come Here? Fantastic Vietnamese dishes, cheap eats, rarely crowded, escape the sceney restaurants in nearby MePa
Co Ba is one of my favorite restaurants in the city and one that I keep coming back to. Despite being located just a few blocks north of Meatpacking, it couldn’t be more different than the trendy and overpriced restaurants nearby. That said, the space is still nice if not terribly exciting and service is friendly. The food is based off of the food traditional food stalls in Vietnam (often called Co Ba’s) and differs somewhat from the typical NY Vietnamese menu. It’s all very good though and when you consider waits are short and entrees mostly come in under $15, you have all the ingredients for a place you can keep coming back to.
If I had one complaint, it would be that Co Ba is not open for lunch on weekends. Given that they serve up some of the city’s best Banh Mi, this comes as a big disappointment. Of course, I still make the inappropriately long weekday lunch trip there at least a couple times per month. If you can swing it, I recommend you do the same.
At this point I’ve sampled much of the menu and you can see all my reviews on DishEnvy. However, here are my top picks:
Banh Mi Cha Ca (Fried Fish) *** All the banh mi here are at least very good and covered with japaenos, cilantro and picked carrots and onions. The Cha Ca is my favorite because I love the taste of the fried fish and dill.
Bun Co Ba *** Noodles with Shrimp, Spring Rolls and Pork it’s a great way to try a lot of the deliciousness Co Ba has to offer. Katherine orders it every time we go which means I get a bite
Ga Ko Xa Ot *** This is probably the spiciest thing on the menu (although still not that spicy). The curry is thick and tangy with a generous amount of chicken and onions.
Bo Bia *** The roll itself is tasty and fresh with a mix of herbs and veggies. However, it’s the sauce is what makes this dish so great. The mix of peanuts with sweet and tangy bean dip is good enough to eat on its own.
110 9th Avenue (17th & !8th Sts.)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Cool, retro-Japanese decor, izakaya style menu
After seeing Rockmeisha’s ramen appear on a Fork in the Road “Best of” list, I decided it was time to give the place at try. The Rockmeisha space is unique, meant to invoke a Japanese rock star hang out (hence the name). The dark wood interior, weird photos and signs that say things like “Uptown Martini Bar” and canopy that covers about half the tables definitely leave you with the impression you’ve stumbled into some kind of secret Tokyo hang.
An Izakaya is a Japanese snack bar and you’ll find an interesting selection of unusual (at least to most Americans) snacks on the menu. I understand that Izakaya’s are more commonly frequented for snacks and drinks than full meals (we came for dinner), so we may not have gotten the proper experience. That said, while Katherine and I are adventurous eaters, many of the dishes didn’t do much for us – including the “famous” ramen.
Here’s what we ate (for more photos, check DishEnvy):
Miso Brussels Sprouts * The sprouts were pretty good although I prefer mine cooked a little more. The miso sauce was tasty but I could’ve used more to combat the bitterness of the sprouts.
Negiyaki (Shrimp Pancake) * The cool thing about this dish is that the bonito flakes on top are actually moving when it’s served (don’t worry it’s not actually alive). Other than that, it has a little too much of the bitter shrimp paste flavor I’m not a fan of, but if you’re into that, you may enjoy this dish more than I did.
Ramen ** The broth was very light and flavorful. However, I thought the noodles were a bit soft and slimey (even for ramen) and didn’t care much for the meat. It was still very good, but I expected more based on what I’ve heard about it.
Verdict: I may give it another shot late night for some of the more gluttonous dishes, but probably won’t be having dinner here again.
Why Come Here? Cute back garden/fireplace area, some excellent cocktails, eat tapas with the MePa crowd
Salinas has received a lot of hype as a hot new tapas spot, so we were excited to finally check it out one Friday night. The space is cool, especially the backroom which comes complete with fireplace and retractable roof. It’s everything you’d expect from a Meatpacking District restaurant in that regard. Unfortunately, it’s also everything you’d expect in terms of the crowd, service and food.
We started off by waiting for 45 minutes despite having a reservation. This did give us a chance to enjoy some excellent cocktails, however it would have been nice to see them comped given the wait. Strike one. Our table was in the back area, which does feature a cozy fireplace and a retractable roof that would be enjoyable on a summer’s day. However, it wasn’t summer. It was January. And they decided to open the roof to “cool things down.” It was very unpleasant especially since we were sitting under the opened part. It took repeated requests from my girlfriend and other patrons before they finally closed it back up. Even excluding that, the service was inattentive at best. Strike 2.
Now onto the food, or Strike 3 as I call it. Not terrible, but certainly not worth the praise. Here’s what we ordered:
Manzana de la Mancha (cachaca, cider, lemon & elderflower liquor)*** – This cocktail was the highlight of the evening. Sweet, sour and bitter, it’s definitely worth it if your friends drag you here. Katherine – who ordered it – gave it 4 stars.
Coles y Color (Fried Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower) *- It’s funny that brussels sprouts is the first ingredient here because it’s mostly cauliflower with a couple sprouts. If that’s what you’re up for, there are some interesting enough flavors.
Crujientes Mahones * – A lot of critics talked this one up so I felt we had to give it a try. As you can see above, you basically get a big, hollow piece of bread with cheese and honey on top. The pieces with the cheese are very good, but it’s kind of hard to eat as the bread just breaks apart when you try to cut it. And the pieces without cheese are just bread crust.
Pulpo (poached octopus) – Not sure what happened here as it’s another critically acclaimed dish. However, the octopus was mushy and bland. The only flavors that came through were potato and a little bit of the paprika. We didn’t finish it.
Rosejat Rapida ** – This is the signature dish at Salinas and it is actually quite good, although a little heavy on the salt. The saffron flavors really come through, but the different textures keep it interesting.