Regular readers will remember my first trip to Eleven Madison Park for the tasting menu last July and the resulting hullabaloo. We had a very good experience but not one that I put on par with the greatest dinners in NYC, and I gave the restaurant four out of five stars (er, donuts). Never a restaurant to rest on its laurels, however, EMP invited us back for a second tasting on the house, and we were so blown away by what the kitchen was capable of that I actually felt embarrassed about my first review.
A little over a year later–last August–we decided to repay their kindness by visiting once again. This time, we had proper expectations: it couldn’t be anywhere close to our over-the-top second experience, but we would ask for the things we needed to make it better than our first dinner there. This was our chance to see which of the two meals was the real EMP.
Chef-owner Daniel Humm has created a menu that riffs on some of the dishes most associated with NYC, much like the tasting at Torrisi Italian Specialties. This first amuse was a take on the black and white cookie, made savory with black truffle and Parmesan shortbread. The flavor was largely truffley with a hint of Goldfish cracker.
black and white cookie
tomato tea, lemon thyme
Delicate, barely-there acidity from the tomato with subtle herbal undertones from the steeping bundle. Paired with the Parmesan crisp, it was umami overload. In a good way.
Marie-Noelle Ledru, Cuvee du Goulte, Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Ambonnay, Champagne, France 2007
On a horseradish chip with mustard that was the best part of the bite.
On a light-as-air hollow scallop chip with daikon and my favourite, yuzu.
I don’t want to call this a chickpea log, but it was. Lightly fried crisp on the outside, with a burst of dill and yogurt on top.
Frozen on the outside and creamy on the inside, with browned crunchy lentils.
trout roe marinated with dashi, cantaloupe, zucchini, watermelon snow
I love a dessert in the middle of the savory courses. This was all nice and cold and melty with varying sweetnesses, but then the funk of the roe hit, and it became salty and gazpacho-like.
Professor Fritz Briem, Grodzskie, Bavaria, Germany
A hazy dome revealed a sturgeon just saturated with smoky flavor. I don’t even care for smoked fish, and it made me mmm out loud.
An amazing everything bagel crumble, super salty and oniony, so good with the celery leaves.
Lemony caviar over cream cheese
with rye bagel chips to spread it on
and full sour and nearly naked pickles to accompany it all. This was the Russ and Daughters course, a nod to NYC’s nearly 100-year-old appetizing store known for its bagels, smoked fish, cream cheeses, and caviar. (If you don’t know about appetizing, as I didn’t before I moved here (I think there are exactly two Jewish people living in Ohio), this is great.)
Domaine Tempier, Bandol, Provence, France 2011
The famous bread course, served in a coarse sack with cow and goat butter. One of my food friends has chided me after both of my EMP visits for not asking for a second round of bread, so I made sure to this time, and our server never brought it to us! He also refused my request for a souffle for dessert. If the kitchen couldn’t make one for me, he should have made it himself, AM I RIGHT?
couscous smoked with tomato, yogurt, olives
Strong tomato and herb flavors with a funky little ball of goat cheese and an olive crumble. Fresh and Mediterranean.
Le Roc des Anges, Les Vielles Vignes, Montner, France 2009
Weingut Leitz, Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Spatlese, Rheingau, Germany 2010
Cold and hot foie courses:
marinated with nepitella and blackberry
In my notes, I call this a “foie beet salad”. I would love to know what that means. I would’ve never thought of foie gras and the mint flavor of the nepitella going together but love being surprised, and then there was the crunch of the blackberry seeds. I liked the flavor of the slab of foie in the hot dish more than this torchon, but I sure did love the composition of this.
The hot preparation included thin, crisp slices of kohlrabi, a super sear on the foie hidden beneath the kohlrabi cover, a bite of ginger in the scallion broth, and very bacony caramelized onion.
Aztec Summer: tequila, lime, cocchi americano, mezcal, agave, cucumber
fluke poached with lemongrass, cucumber, coconut
A lemongrass-tinged fluke in olive oil with a dollop of coconut(!) cream and crunchy coconut flesh, topped with a tasting of cucumber that ranged from vegetal to pickled.
Maison Deux Montille, Sur Gamay, Premier Cru, St. Aubin, Burgundy, France 2008
lobster poached with zucchini, avocado, amaranth
I love a lobster, but the sauce on this was clearly made using the shells and roe, and it was overall just a little too shellfishy for me. My boyfriend appreciated the effort, though. I appreciated that the other elements of the dish toned down the shellfish flavor, especially the green yuzu sauce and the nutty toasted amaranth, which was my favourite part of the dish.
Jean Grivot, Roncieres, 1er Cru, Nuits-St.-Georges, Burgundy, France 2006
poussin roasted with lettuce, spring onion, quinoa
The foie-gras-fortified jus on this made for such a sweet, sticky sauce. The skin of the chicken was crisp, and so was the quinoa. The oniony ramps were a real addition to the the plate.
Il Colle, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2005
veal roasted and corned with summer beans, violet mustard, savory
A thick, lip-smacking veal bordelaise sauce accompanied this slab of veal and its melt-in-your-mouth slice of lunchmeat-like corned veal. I loved the effort of the tiny slices of green bean and the tomato confit that was surprisingly sweet and had none of the bitter notes that make me hate tomatoes.
Girardin, Black Label, Brussels, Belgium
We were shown whole rounds of fresh and aged chevre before our cheese course was served. I’m 100% convinced that they sliced a tiny sliver from each of these for our dishes and then threw out the rest of the round. I expect nothing less than that for $195 per person.
So much garlic! And it went so well with the berries.
meridian chevre with strawberries, pistachio, garlic
The making of the New York egg cream:
egg cream, orange, cocoa nib, seltzer
With its orange oil and cocoa nib, this was like one of those Terry’s Chocolate Oranges you see at Christmastime.
cheesecake, goat cheese, chamomile, raspberry
Goat cheese powder sprinkled atop a layer of creamy cheesecake with a gelatinous raspberry topping.
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1998
chocolate ganache with caramel, apricot, cocoa nibs
I kind of wrecked this dish before I took a picture of it. These are my very poignant notes on it:
White stuff is chocolate.
Brown stuff is caramel.
This is what a $6 iced coffee looks like.
Sweet black and white cookies to reference the savory ones we were first served. These were more lemony that most I’ve had in NYC, and more lemon is always good.
In a word–salty.
The traditional liquid nitrogen cocktail as part of the kitchen tour. This time, we were given a copy of the Eleven Madison Park cookbook to sign. I’m sure I wrote something SO witty. Like, “Thanks for the free meal that made the entire Internet hate me.” I can’t remember for sure, because I had just DROPPED MY CAMERA ON THE FLOOR while standing up from our table and was still hyperventilating.
We had one good meal and one amazing meal at Eleven Madison Park, but I have a feeling that this was the meal that people are having there day-to-day. It was excellent. There’s really nothing to complain about. The service is top-notch, and the atmosphere is the kind of luxury preferred by gentlemen making business deals. But it’s not Per Se. New Yorkers love calling EMP the best restaurant in NYC these days–most notably New York magazine critic Adam Platt in 2011–but I swear it’s just because we’re tired of talking about how Per Se is perfection. While individual dishes at EMP are at times worth gushing over, the dish I don’t gush over at Per Se is the exception. EMP’s food doesn’t bubble and burst the way Per Se’s does. It’s not so buttery, so creamy, so inexplicably better than the sum of its parts. There’s a little bit of magic, for lack of a better word, that’s missing for me at EMP. I’m glad for the meals I’ve had here, and I’d certainly love to continue to visit, but the best part of this visit was finding out for sure that if I’m recommending one restaurant in NYC for the meal of someone’s life, this isn’t first on my list.