Special Occasion New York Choices

It was over two years since our last visit (and we usually visit a couple of times a year) so we planned to visit ‘the best upscale places’ we could find. When travelling we usually try for (at least) one top place but the interregnum left us starved for some great experiences.

All were multi-course experiences, but I won’t attempt a blow-by-blow description, just a general summary based on this one visit (unless previous visits were relevant). Costs were ‘high’; sometimes ‘very high’!

Overall, none met a ‘best meal ever’ award, but several were excellent.

Probably the best all-around ‘food’ was at Brooklyn Fare (but actually a notch below my previous visit 3 years ago – which was my favourite experience there). A couple of service missteps as well. I don’t get why we NEVER received a menu – either on the night or emailed later. That makes choosing wines a minefield (their wine list isn’t online either), almost forcing you to take the pairings (which are very expensive also). We took one pairing, plus a wine selected from their list – and they brought us the wrong wine from the list (we noticed immediately, and it was replaced). But the food was fantastic. We sat at the counter and interaction was good. However (and this is another trend I’ve noticed), despite differing reservation times, the courses come out in ‘batches’ for several ‘tables’ at once. So, everyone eats at the same time. Be prepared for a longer evening if you take the first reservation time (or shorter if you take a later time). Also, if you have allergies/aversions, there are no substitutions – you just skip that course.

But, to repeat, best food!

For the ‘experience’ the winner was Saga. Of course, the view is stunning, but the food is excellent, the service impeccable, and the wine prices reasonable compared to the other places. Absolutely no complaints and they sent us the menu afterwards (with a personalized note). Way to impress visitors. They ‘sort-of’ offer a choice of mains, but each choice is served for two people, so we each got the same overall menu. They did offer a choice of desserts and as a finishing note, the wrapped caramels mignardises were spectacular. Each taste was memorable – would absolutely buy these at retail (if they were offered).

Now the ‘difficult’ review. Eleven Madison Park. The appearance of the food is spectacular – probably the most picture-worthy food I’ve ever had. No gimmicks, just perfectly presented. Then the service – immaculate (as always). And the wines – superbly matched and, even more impressive, – when I suggested an alternative match for one of the courses, they brought my exact recommendation as a ‘bonus’ pairing (with no extra charge).

So why ‘difficult’? Although I enjoyed (almost) every dish, there seemed to be a ‘wow factor’ missing. My comparison is with an artist painting without a full palette of colours. What was presented was visually stunning but seemed to lack a dimension on the palate. Ultimately, I wanted more. We often order one ‘standard’ and one ‘vegetarian’ tasting menu (we each taste and swap all dishes). This gives us more examples of the talent in the kitchen. The menu here was as good as any vegetarian menu I’ve had (and service was better than most) but I still missed some elements that make a satisfying meal for me.

Next Le Bernardin (where we ordered a regular plus a vegetarian tasting menu). Another ‘wow-less’ experience, but the food and service were also lacking. In particular, the ‘white asparagus’ course (on the vegetarian menu) was definitely sub-par. White asparagus was featured at each of the above restaurants, and this version was definitely the least. Although described on the menu as ‘white’ the three stalks consisted of two green and one white – and I’m not sure why they bothered to include the white which was stringy and probably shouldn’t have been served in a restaurant of this calibre. The green versions were excellent.

We were also promised a copy of the menu – which never arrived!

To round out our trip we also visited Marea (no tasting menu, although we ordered 6 different courses, so almost a tasting menu). Not in the same league as the others and the pasta course has a high pasta/other ingredient ratio.

But I was very impressed with the Chocolate/Passion Fruit dessert – a great finish to a blow-out trip to New York.


Nice set of restaurants you hit.

I think Saga is the most exciting high end place right now but the food could use a bit of improvement. I also found the wine list had a lot of reasonably priced options for the price point. I’m waiting for nicer weather to go back as I want to have cocktails on the terrace. Was too cold when we went. Are they still serving the same courses I wrote about a few months back? I want to make sure the menu has changed somewhat before we go back.

I have no desire to go back to EMP. I was getting tired of the place before the switch to the veg menu. Just seemed like a lot of smoke and no fire to me.

Haven’t been to LeB in years but it never really sparked for me either. Great fish but at the end of the meal, I was always feeling like I missed something.

On the other hand, I absolutely love the pasta at Marea. I think of the pasta as some of the best in the City.

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The Saga menu was ‘more than 50% different’. The fluke course still exists but may have some changes (the tart was my favourite). There’s still Moroccan tea and also a foie gras course - again not sure if it’s the same as you had.
The main was different preparations of lamb (Colorado) - no duck. The dessert was entirely different (Strawberry/chocolate/meringue). There were spring vegetables (3 different types of pea + asparagus) and we also had a Hamachi Collar course in a Laksa broth. And next time take the caramels with you!

“Laksa broth” is a strange idea, as there are pretty much as many types of laksa as there are states in Malaysia.

Here, it was a mild, creamy ‘curry’ (I know, there are many kinds - this one was sort of ‘yellow’). Much milder than those I usually get.