When I dream about the best meal I’ve ever had, I dream about Eleven Madison Park. I think the lack of pretense was part of it (vs. Daniel); the beauty of the room was part (vs. Blue Hill); the fact that we had the table for the entire evening, with no thought of a second seating waiting for us to finish (vs. per se). The food is never the issue when I compare these experiences. The level of food quality in my three and four star meals is almost always beyond reproach. What ends up setting things apart are the most minute details. The way the napkin is folded (or not) when a diner leaves the table; the shape and material of a breadbasket; the failure to offer a second glass of wine. When I am spending hundreds of dollars on a meal, I think I have a right to be aware of these details. There are right ways (and wrong) to do everything in fine dining service. There are ways to make that experience excel above and beyond traditional standards. There are times when something unexpected can surprise and delight even the most jaded amongst us. A finger bowl garnished with an orchid blossom; the thoughtful addition of an extra serving to make sharing a dish simpler; the offer of a bottle of post-prandial cognac. More often than not, the meal is remembered as a series of these small moments interspersed with extraordinary food. Eleven Madison Park offered many of these moments (including a personal note received in the mail days later), while La Grenouille offered almost none. There was nothing wrong with La Grenouille, it’s just that there was nothing out of the ordinary. All expectations were fulfilled, yet none were exceeded. Don’t we enter into these evenings with such high expectations, hoping that we will be surprised?