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Eleven Madison Park: The Best Restaurant in NYC?
January 11th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
black and white cookie

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
parmesan lavash

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Marie-Noelle Ledru, Cuvee du Goulte, Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Ambonnay, Champagne, France 2007

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
mackerel

On a horseradish chip with mustard that was the best part of the bite.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
scallop

On a light-as-air hollow scallop chip with daikon and my favourite, yuzu.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
chickpea

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
yogurt

Frozen on the outside and creamy on the inside, with browned crunchy lentils.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
smoked sturgeon

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

An amazing everything bagel crumble, super salty and oniony, so good with the celery leaves.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

Lemony caviar over cream cheese

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

with rye bagel chips to spread it on

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.)

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Domaine Tempier, Bandol, Provence, France 2011

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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?

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Le Roc des Anges, Les Vielles Vignes, Montner, France 2009

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Weingut Leitz, Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Spatlese, Rheingau, Germany 2010

Cold and hot foie courses:

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Aztec Summer: tequila, lime, cocchi americano, mezcal, agave, cucumber

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Maison Deux Montille, Sur Gamay, Premier Cru, St. Aubin, Burgundy, France 2008

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Jean Grivot, Roncieres, 1er Cru, Nuits-St.-Georges, Burgundy, France 2006

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Il Colle, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2005

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Girardin, Black Label, Brussels, Belgium

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
meridian chevre

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
meridian chevre with strawberries, pistachio, garlic

The making of the New York egg cream:

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
cheesecake, goat cheese, chamomile, raspberry

Goat cheese powder sprinkled atop a layer of creamy cheesecake with a gelatinous raspberry topping.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1998

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

This is what a $6 iced coffee looks like.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu
caramel corn

In a word–salty.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.

EMP Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu

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.


11 Responses  
  • Mrs. Bachelor Girl writes:
    January 11th, 20131:43 pmat

    Well, now I know where we won’t be able to afford to eat when I finally talk The Guy into moving to New York to pursue his Broadway acting career (and my secret dream of being a rabid bulldog of a talent agent).

    Kidding! Thank God, The Guy decided he was tired of slowly starving to death, so when we carry our bougie little tails to New York to visit and watch other people pursue their dreams and slowly starve to death, we can eat at EMP afterwards (but only if Per Se can’t get us in).

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      January 22nd, 20132:45 pmat

      From what I hear, Broadway is always short on talent. Buncha hacks out here. They end up having to hire movie stars because there’s no one else who can act. TRUE FACT. So go ahead and move out here, get Guy onstage, and let’s EMP it up every night after the show, Sardi’s style.

  • Sarah writes:
    January 11th, 20139:59 pmat

    As a girl who made a dreidel instead of a Christmas tree ornament in kindergarten, I can promise you there are more than two Jewish people in Ohio. Bexley!

  • Jessica R. writes:
    January 14th, 20134:31 pmat

    This post is making me really hungry and instilling in me a fierce desire to get sloshed on wine.

    When I come visit you one day, I’ll make sure to stash away some money that I don’t tell my husband about so I can enjoy something this beautiful and delicious.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      January 22nd, 20132:59 pmat

      That last line is the best thing you’ve ever written.

      You need to get mind-drunk all of the time.

  • We Heart New York writes:
    January 15th, 201312:54 pmat

    If they contact you again and offer you another free meal, remember your pals at We Heart New York.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      January 22nd, 20133:14 pmat

      Between the three of us, we could probably afford to split a tasting menu there someday. No wine pairings, though. And no tip.

  • Scott writes:
    March 9th, 20138:50 pmat

    Love your site and your reviews! My family and I are planning a trip to New York for my graduation this summer. We are big Thomas Keller fan’s and based on recommendations and reviews like yours Per Se is our #1 choice for a totally over the top fine dining experience. However we want to do at least one more meal like that, and I was wondering if you thought EMP should be the restaurant we seek out. Obviously Daniel, Corton, etc. are in the running but so far we are leaning for EMP. Wanted to get your thoughts since I enjoyed your blog so much. Thanks in advance!

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      March 13th, 201312:35 pmat

      Hello and thanks, Scott! I definitely agree with your #1 choice, and I think EMP would be a great #2. I would say that I like the food at Momofuku Ko more than I like EMP’s, but you’re not going to get the “over the top fine dining experience” that you’re looking for there because of how casual it is. EMP is completely different than Per Se but has the same level of professionalism and presentation, so it’ll be fun for you to compare the two. Plus, the food and location are so New Yorky in a way that Daniel and Corton aren’t. Book it!

  • NYC Restaurant Reviews » The Tasting Menu at Bouley writes:
    March 13th, 201312:02 pmat

    […] of the better tasting menus in the city, I would either expect plenty of off-menu courses (think Eleven Madison Park, where you could almost make a meal of all of the amuses they bring you) or at the very least, much […]

  • Scott writes:
    March 14th, 20132:59 amat

    Thanks so much! The mixed reviews of the new tasting menu have me a little concerned, but it sounds like the food should still be exceptional.


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