Ai Fiori

400 5th Ave. New York, NY 10018 • (212) 613-8660 aifiorinyc.com

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One flight up from the lobby in the Langham Hotel you will find a sizeable, fancy pants dining room that goes straight for the jugular (and by that I mean wallet), letting you know right off the bat that you are about to drop some serious cabbage for the privilege of eating at one of New York’s top rated restaurants. But with dozens like it, the décor kinda feels like it came out of the very same mold as Le Bernadin, Asiate and Per Se. Granted as molds go, you could definitely do a lot worse. But unique, it is not.

In an attempt to live up to the top-notch tenor, the service tries very hard to be perfect and comes but doesn’t quite get there, dropping things, hovering when you don’t want them and then disappearing when you do.

Like the service, the food also came up short of expectations, starting with the butternut squash soup with foie gras, which arrives at the table like a work of art, which they then cover in orange silkiness. But as texturally pleasing as the dish is, I found the foie gras virtually imperceptible to the taste. So then what’s the point? I mean if I’m gonna torture a goose, at least let me taste the pain.

The crab spaghetti fared much better, sporting a healthy kick to it, but even as much as I liked it, it falls way short of the one at Nomad just a few blocks south. And although I didn’t actually try the burger, which apparently won best in New York in 2014 according to our waiter, it looked pretty amazing and if the duck fat potato balls that come with it are any indication (which I did try), good gracious Ignacious!

3 teeth

Per Se

10 Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019(212) 823-9335 • perseny.com

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If you should manage to get a reservation, congratulations. Now the bad news. While I found the dining room nicer than The French Laundry, the food isn’t quite up to the same astronomical, nor is the price tag .  And I’m not one to shit on Thomas Keller. I’m actually quite the fan. But when you’re playing at the tippy-top of the game, and the only chef in history to have two restaurants open at the same time with three Michelin Stars apiece, I expect nothing less than a life changing experience, and I’m sad to say it was not. Wallet-changing, maybe. But most definitely not life-changing. Thus, I am still the same old cocky, opinionated, know-it-all, blowhard.

Now, to be fair, one must take this review with a huge grain of- no, make that an entire industrial-sized bag of salt, because Per Se is still very, very good. In terms of service alone, it is on a whole other level. Not since Bouley in the early 90’s have I experienced anything like it. Swat team precision meets Russian ballet meets the “Be Our Guest” routine from Beauty and the Beast. I know you might be thinking, “really, how good can service truthfully be?” Well, just pick up a copy of the book “Service Included” and you will understand that Per Se makes a place like Daniel look like amateur hour service-wise.

As for decor, Keller likes to keep things “undistracting.” He doesn’t want the ambiance to compete with the plate and thus you won’t find anything the likes of a Jean-Georges restaurant. And while I did find it a touch boring, it still out-shines The Laundry simply due to one stunning trump card- floor to ceiling windows overlooking Central Park.

Now for the food. This is where I think many a Richie Rich, is over-convincing themselves that the cuisine here is spectacular simply because of the price. Which I get. Who wouldn’t want to rationalize spending all that coin? You need to justify it somehow, otherwise you’re libel to throw a conniption when you get the bill and wind up on the front page of The New York Post. But rationale aside, at this price and with this much hype, it should easily be one of the best meals of your life, and I can honestly say it doesn’t even crack my own personal top 100, in New York City alone!

3 teeth

Daniel

60 E 65th St. New York, NY 10065  (212) 288-0033danielnyc.com

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There are so many NYC restaurants that become so hyped that it is virtually impossible to live up to the expectations you have when you walk in the door. Fortunately for me, my expectations were kept in check by a few nay-sayers, which Daniel seems to have its share of.

That said, my experience lived up in spades. First, I actually found the decor to be quite a step up form many of its peers. The dining area is MUCH nicer than Per Se, Jean-Georges & Bouley. And the table we had was amazing, looking out over the entire room.

The canapes were just okay but four out of the six courses were excellent. From the unbelievable short ribs to the duck terrine to the Dover sole and lastly, to the finale, a chocolate, caramel, peanut volcano– Just incredible. Now, I know a lot of people expect that everything should be excellent at a place like this and for prices like these it probably should be, but that’s seldom been my experience and 4 of 6 is pretty damn good.

We also had the wine pairings which I highly recommend. The only one that seemed a touch off was the Dover sole, but so many were spot on and only made the meal that much more special.

And last but not least, the service. This might be my only major nit and I’ve seen other people say it too- The staff really comes off as if they are trying SO hard to be perfect- But they most certainly are not. Reaching across the table, dropping things, taking your plate before you’re done- They need to hire the guy who trains servers at Thomas Keller restaurants.

But apart from that- a must for high-end foodies. Easily one of the top ten meals in NYC.

5 teeth

Jean-Georges

1 Central Park W. New York, NY 10023(212) 299-3900jean-georges.com

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I know a lot of people say this restaurant is hit or miss, but for us, it was a HUGE hit. I mean every course was excellent on two different tasting menus. A feat for any restaurant with just one tasting menu, much less two. In fact, I have yet to experience the same success rate anywhere else in the world with the exception of Bouley, but even that was only one menu, not two.

But it wasn’t just the food, the service was impeccable. The decor, nice. And the wine list extensive. Sure it’s pricey, but it’s a meal I will remember for the rest of my life. Partly because it was such a simple tasting menu for a French restaurant. Nothing complicated or elaborate, nothing drowning in sauces. Just really fresh ingredients that shined on their own- complemented only by other ingredients that raised the dish to a sum greater than its parts. I would share the details more thoroughly, but the menu constantly changes, and what we had is long gone, sad to say. But trust me when I do say this, it is twice as good as its competitor across the street, Per Se. I’ve been there too, and it pales by comparison.

Okay, okay… So I’ll give you one dish as an example. The Caprese Salad. Nothing more than a gigantic beefsteak tomato with the circumference of a softball, topped with crumbed feta and garden fresh raspberries. This is all then drizzled with one of the best olive oils and an aged balsamic that turn what is seemingly banal into simply bang on.

And to cap the night, they offered dessert flights. A series of five mini berry desserts all on one plate . Or chocolate, etc… We were so torn, they brought out all three for us to enjoy at no extra charge for my wife’s birthday. And a happy one it was. Primarily because we were still able to fit out the door.

5 teeth