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Our Weekend in NYV: Eleven Madison Park vs. Bouley


davidbdesilva
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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 EMP 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!

"Nutrirsi di cibi prelibati e trasformare una necessita in estasi."

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Nice that you had such a great meal at EMP. And sorry about your let down at Bouley.

One of the reasons the cabbies ask if you want to take the tunnel or the bridge is that if you take "the tunnel," you have to pony up an extra $6 for the toll, while the 59th St. bridge and every bridge south of it into the city is free.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

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fwiw, no one uses addresses in NY....always give the cross-streets.

edit for clarification: you provide the cross streets to the cab driver (or to anyone you're guiding to a location) and then use the address only to find the specific building on the block)

Edited by Nathan (log)
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fwiw, no one uses addresses in NY....always give the cross-streets.

edit for clarification:  you provide the cross streets to the cab driver (or to anyone you're guiding to a location) and then use the address only to find the specific building on the block)

every car service i've ever called wants an address, not a cross street, which is bad for me because i rarely know what address i'm at, and there are fewer and fewer matchbooks on the bar these days to help you sort it out.

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fwiw, no one uses addresses in NY....always give the cross-streets.

edit for clarification:  you provide the cross streets to the cab driver (or to anyone you're guiding to a location) and then use the address only to find the specific building on the block)

every car service i've ever called wants an address, not a cross street, which is bad for me because i rarely know what address i'm at, and there are fewer and fewer matchbooks on the bar these days to help you sort it out.

hmm...that's different. I'd imagine they're using a navigation system and that's why...

I have the same problem with finding things on google maps on my iPhone.

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[...] We both agreed though that EMP's setting, while much larger, is more beautiful than Bouley.[...]

Interesting. I can't say that I agree. While the food at Bouley is often, as you experienced, boring and/or poorly executed, I think the rooms are beautiful. I can't say I would ever use that adjective to describe the room at EMP.

Glad you enjoyed EMP so much. Cheers.

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hmm...that's different. I'd imagine they're using a navigation system and that's why...

I have the same problem with finding things on google maps on my iPhone.

even pre-nav. i will say that in a cab i always give a cross street when i know it. any cabbie who knows all of the numbering systems in nyc and cross streets is either a freak or worked as a cabbie in london.

on my iphone i can search on intersections or actual addresses without a problem. but this is way off-topic at this point.

Edited by tommy (log)
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Sounds like you had a great time! :)

EMP is still one of my sleeper choices for the city.

As good or better than just about any place in the city, and often more inventive to boot!

My wife and I had an amazing fresh white truffle tasting menu there last year that was one of the best meals of all time.

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I agree with your take on the cabbies. I quickly learned, albeit too late, that I needed cross streets and not exact addresses. Very different than here in Philadelphia, where cabbies often know the place by name even. For example, "I want to go to Le Bec Fin" is often understood without saying 16th and Walnut. I wrote down all addresses and didn't know the cross streets, obviously necessary in a city as large as Manhattan.

And BTW, while I did find to rooms at Bouley to be beautiful, there was something more elegant and refined about the room at EMP. Perhaps it was the whole experience that made the place so "beautiful" to me? Upon leaving at Bouley, they gave us a beautiful very impressive brochure all about their upcoming move around the corner.

"Nutrirsi di cibi prelibati e trasformare una necessita in estasi."

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