We’ve long had Gramercy Tavern on our list simply because it’s a part of the Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality family of restaurants that includes Shake Shack, The Modern, and formerly Eleven Madison Park. With the Shake Shack burger being my favourite in NYC and Eleven Madison Park my third-favourite restaurant in all of NYC, my expectations for the $58 lunch tasting menu were high and were met both in the food and the service.
So citrusy, with a highlight of celery and a little crunch from the kohlrabi and fried onions.
So tender, with the crispy quinoa for contrast. I eat a lot of quinoa because it acts like a grain without actually being a grain, but its use here as a texture element and broth-thickener was one of the best I’ve seen. Despite the heavy flavor of the coconut broth, this was so well-balanced that everything from the shrimp to the bok choy came through.
A hearty fish preparation, with chewy barley and mushroom, that thick halibut steak, salty caviar, and the flavor that made the dish for me, onion. The sauce had just enough lobster flavor but not enough to drown the halibut.
Salty and black peppery, with a crispy-skinned duck, slightly al dente lentils, and that meaty, chewy mushroom. The whole dish had a rich, umami flavor where even the celery puree had notes of earthy lentils in it.
Sour notes, with fresh tangerine, creamy panna cotta, and the crunch of pomegranate seeds and meringue. I love overly-tart desserts, but my boyfriend, who does not, loved that this was more balanced than the palate cleansers we’re used to.
We loved the light, moist coconut layer in the center of this dense, rich cake. The toasted coconut marshmallows and salty butter pecan ice cream with caramelized nuts added extra-sweet and savory-salty notes.
Super-intense peanut butter flavor! The semifreddo was like a mousse in texture but with the temperature of ice cream. We loved the overall saltiness, the crunch of the caramelized peanuts, and the chewy macaron. Regular macaron filling without the hot fudge to dip it in won’t compare after this.
Coffee chocolate, coconut-cardamom macaron, cinnamon cookie.
We ate this lunch the day after our lunch tasting at Babbo, and I was left wondering after Gramercy Tavern why we aren’t lunch-tasting all of the time. $58 each bought us some really well-composed, really delicious plates of food, and everyone else seemed to be there for business lunch, so the staff doted on us as we talked about celery and butter pecan instead of exit strategies and being proactive. The restaurant has a very relaxed, American feel while looking like a room in a Medieval castle, and the servers’ attitudes match the vibe. With the way Chef Michael Anthony and the kitchen at Gramercy Tavern seem to know just the right little touches to complete a dish–crispy quinoa here, onion there–I’d love to go back for the full tasting at dinnertime.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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?
Strong tomato and herb flavors with a funky little ball of goat cheese and an olive crumble. Fresh and Mediterranean.
Cold and hot foie courses:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The making of the New York egg cream:
With its orange oil and cocoa nib, this was like one of those Terry’s Chocolate Oranges you see at Christmastime.
Goat cheese powder sprinkled atop a layer of creamy cheesecake with a gelatinous raspberry topping.
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.
The first time my boyfriend and I dined at Eleven Madison Park, I gave the tasting menu a four-star rating. I went in with the expectation that it might be the best meal I’d ever have and came out feeling underwhelmed. The food we had was five-star, but it was the food we didn’t have that left an impression on me. I felt like we hadn’t been served any of the most interesting dishes on the menu, and in all of the moments where we could have been made to feel special, we were reminded that we weren’t. Still, I thought it was a better-than-average experience overall and was happy to have been to the restaurant once.
Well, the day after my review went up, the head maitre d’ called my boyfriend for my phone number and then called me to discuss what I’d said and to invite us back for a second try. Of course I said I couldn’t accept such an extravagant offer, but she said they had a better idea of what we were expecting this time and took it personally that they didn’t impress us the first go around. I accepted but felt awful about it. I didn’t want to be seen as an ingrate, and I had these horrible thoughts that I might be viewed as someone who wrote a negative review just to get the restaurant to react. I was excited about returning to EMP, but I was so nervous that it would be the most awkward dinner of my life.
In fact, it was the very opposite of that and one of the finest meals we’ve ever had. It was almost as if the restaurant was trying to embarrass me for that first review.
“Cheez-Its!” we whispered to each other when we ate these. Just as good as the first time, they were the perfect little cheesy, crispy, pillowy, warm bread bites.
Regular readers will know that despite working on it for a couple of years now, tomatoes are the one major mindblock I have leftover from childhood. Regular readers will also know that one of my favourite things in the world is eating an ingredient I expect to be disgusted by and finding it transformed into something delicious.
Not only was this tea herbal and lemony, but the tomato flavor was so delicate that I found myself actually enjoying it. The presentation with the bouquet of thyme that we seeped in the broth couldn’t have been lovelier.
Complimenting the tea was the accompanying Parmesan crisp, which mirrored the tea’s subtlety with translucent brittleness. There was an undercurrent of spice to the lavash to match the tomato’s brightness.
Claude Genet, Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Chouilly, Cote des Blancs, Champagne, France
Getting to taste this a second time gave me a much greater appreciation for the little lemon spheres encrusting the fish. And for the texture of the dish, which ranged from liquid lemon to pleasantly fibrous fish to crisp, light rice cracker. This was such a complete bite.
We had quite a bit of trouble figuring out how to eat this the first time, and either they remembered that from my review or remembered to give us a little fork this time that we were supposed to have had the first time. Whether it was because I got to taste more of the scallop this time thanks to the fork or because our sommelier had read our minds and decided to do some more interesting pairings that included sake, I liked this even better the second time, too. It was so refreshing, and I appreciated the way the gelatinous citrus piece mirrored the texture of the scallop.
Dewazakura, Oka, Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Don’t get tired of me saying this, but I thought the beet lollipops were better the second time, too. They were a little crunchier, the texture of the shell a little more pronounced to juxtapose the creamy cheese interior.
These little orbs of semolina-coated cheese are the sort of things you could pop into your mouth by the handful if you’re not careful. I forced myself to dip them one by one into the tartar-sauce-tasting vinaigrette, though, just to be able to savor each one with a sip of the wine. I’m not sure we would’ve liked this particular glass on its own, but it couldn’t have been more perfectly paired to bring out the natural flavors of the cheese.
Yves Martin, Chavignol, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2010
So, so buttery and with extra-chunky chunks of crab. Our wonderful server, Kevin, tried to convince us that it’s perfectly possible to fetch all of the broth out of the special locally-sourced bowls with the little spoons they provide, but we still failed miserably on our second attempt. I still loved this.
Weingut Alfred Merkelbach, Urzinger Wurzgarten, Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany 2009
Last time, I complained that though this was one of the prettiest presentations I’d ever seen, I couldn’t taste a lot of the individual ingredients. This time, I tasted everything, including the subtle potato. The wine was especially helpful in bringing out the flavor of the caviar, which was entirely lacking for me in my first tasting.
Still inexplicably one of my favourite of the amuses. For some reason, that smoky sturgeon and chive oil just hits me in the right spot, and I love the creaminess of the sabayon.
Gaia, Thalassitis, Assyrtico, Santorini, Cyclades, Greece 2010
A very apropos presentation for such a warm, flaky, buttery bread.
Of course the very first appetizer would blow me away. We had seen this on the lounge menu while waiting for our table to open up and were interested (were they listening in on our conversation?), but the actual plate was miles more impressive than any description.
The pistachio puree was thick and grainy, the caramelized pistachios sweet and crunchy. The smooth pate of rabbit was complimented by the pistachio crisp, and the bright cherries and onions made sure the very rich dish didn’t feel heavy.
It’s the little things that matter to me most, you know, and I just couldn’t help but love this single leaf, placed so deliberately at the plate’s edge.
But most exciting was that what we thought was a pistachio-encrusted cherry was actually a hollow sphere of pistachio crumbs with a viscous cherry center. It was the kind of thing you’d see at wd~50, and none of the effect was wasted on us.
Gustave Lorentz, Altenberg de Bergheim, Grand Cru, Alsace, France 2004
Our server, Kevin, was a master of drama. He walks over with a shallow bowl of hot rocks draped in seaweed and other ocean accoutrements, a kettle perched atop them. He pours water over the rocks, and they begin to steam. The smell of the beach wafts toward us and envelops the table as I furiously try to capture everything on camera. Kevin folds his hands behind his back and walks silently away, leaving us flabbergasted and overwhelmed. “What is all this? What do we do with it?” Just as the initial excitement wears off, Kevin returns to explain the course and to pour a bowl of clam velouté from the kettle for each of us.
Like clam chowder but perfectly smooth, extra thick, and ready to form a skin on its surface any time I left it alone for a second.
I love corn. I love chorizo. I love cake. And I love them all together. For me, both of these bites were a tasty union between land and sea. I’ve previously declaimed clams, but these were perfectly delicious–light but meaty and well-accented with all the brininess of the caviar.
The melon preparation was my favourite, and of course it’s the one I forgot to take a photo of in my hurry to suck down a bunch of clam. With honeydew and watermelon, it was a light compliment to the natural fresh flavor of the bivalve. The lobster croquette was akin to eating lobster French fries. Need I say more?
South Hampton, Saison Deluxe, South Hampton, Long Island
When this was placed in front of us, my boyfriend and I called it a cheap shot at winning our love. It’s gnocchi, which is already the most delicious thing on Earth, topped with the hugest slices of black truffle, which is the most delicious thing on Earth made out of fungus. It was almost criminally unfair.
Naturally, it was heavenly. The kind of dish where you have to hold your head upright while you chew to keep it from lolling around and drooling all over the linens. The gnocchi were big, cherry-tomato-sized fluffs, the truffle was dirt-y and rich, with the little crunch you get from a fresh sliver of radish, and together, they were the most effortlessly luxurious dish possible. If they had sprinkled a little caviar on top, my little farmgirl heart might have exploded.
Monastero Soure Cistercensi, Coenobium, Lazio, Italy 2009
Another tomato on the plate, and another preparation I enjoyed. This one was sweet and cooked almost to the point of turning into a sauce, nicely juxtaposing the bitterness of the tarragon and fennel. As with our first dinner at EMP, the scallop was seared so perfectly, and its tenderness was a welcome companion to the crunch of the fennel.
Hirsch, Lamm, Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria 2003
Hidden underneath this pile of summer squash and lobster oil was a large, lovely lobster tail piece. The zucchini made for perfectly-cooked pasta, and the overall effect was a much lighter take on lasagna.
Thierry Germain, Domaine des Roches Neuves, l’Insolite, Saumer, Loire Valley, France 2008
This was execution by tasting menu, and although Dr. Boyfriend succumbed to the drink pairings during the lobster, I felt like I was still going strong well into the night. This picture would prove otherwise. Don’t let my terrible photography skills make you think any less of this suckling pig, though, because it was beautiful.
The pistachio crumble with the apricot jus was like eating candy, the top layer of the pork was so crunchy while the bottom could have been cooked for hours, and the cocktail flavors mirrored the caramelization of the pork.
Repossesion Cocktail: Reposado Tequila, Amontillao Sherry, Mezcal, Apricot Liqueur, Cane Syrup, Lemon
In the middle of this course, my boyfriend said, “You gave them four out of five stars, and they invited us back to humiliate you.” That’s how good this was.
Our server came to the table and presented us with an entire duck, crisped brown and stuffed with a bouquet of lavender. He then took it back to the kitchen and returned with this tiny sliver of duck that made me picture the entire kitchen staff devouring the rest of the carcass and laughing maniacally at their good fortune.
Tiny portion or not, this duck was incredible. The skin was herbal and crusty, overwhelming salty in the very best way. The flavors of the duck paired so well with both the apricot and blueberry. A side of duck leg on a creamy potato mousseline came served in a separate bowl and must have contained an entire pound of butter. Again, I’m not complaining.
Whatever they’re charging for this thing, it’s worth it.
Marcel Juge, Cornas, Rhone Valley, France 2006
At this point, we were escorted to the kitchen, and while I thought this might be the most uncomfortable part of the evening since I had specifically whined about not being offered a kitchen tour in my first review and forced the restaurant into it the second time around, our tour guide (Megan, I think) made it wonderful.
While we watched food being plated all around us, one of the staff came to make us a liquid nitrogen cocktail. Here are our raspberry ice domes floating in midair:
And here’s the finished product, melting within moments:
There was a time in my life where I thought meringue was kind of dumb. When you’re the kind of girl who could eat a steak for every meal and follow it up with a chocolate bar of 90% cacao, fluffy, airy foods don’t really cut the mustard. This was different, though, because this dessert was all about texture. There was the smooth sorbet against the stiff iceberg-like meringue pieces, the crunchy crumble against the ripe berries. The berries were so tart, the meringue so sweet.
Georg Mosbacher, Forster Ungeheuer, Riesling, Auslese, Pfalz, Germany 2007
On first glance, this dessert was too similar to the first one. Same textures, same presentation, same lack of chocolate. Upon first bite, though, I was so glad they’d served us both. The cherry sorbet was borderline cough syrup, and I loved it. The pile of caramelized nuts seemed to never end, and I loved that, too. The pistachio and the one beautiful poached cherry harkened back to the first of our main courses, the rabbit rillette, creating a perfect circle.
Istvan Svepsy, 6 Puttonyos, Tokaji, Hungary 1996
The tiny treats at the end were the same as those of our first visit, save an extra spoonful of an anise-flavored hyssop dessert. Once again, we were barely able to touch the cognac at all, which I think the staff who pulled the table out for us every time we had to use the restroom were glad for.
From the menus they sent us home with to the many Rieslings they served us after we mentioned that we love them to the way they changed the tablecloth for us while we were in the kitchen to keep us from having to look at the lobster broth we’d splashed all over it earlier, nothing about this dinner could have been better. Except, of course, if it had been served to us on our first visit.
Our menu was so perfect, so overwhelmingly excessive, that I was almost inclined to add a 6th donut to my ratings system just for this meal, but I know not everyone’s getting an experience like this one. I guess the key is to go in and asked to be impressed. It’s clear that the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park is capable of putting out the most incredible food; they just need to be asked to.
Thanks to EMP for the best time possible. We are now officially fans and repeat customers.
Eleven Madison Park bowled me over as soon as I walked in the door. A pleasant young woman greeted us, and when my boyfriend told her his name for the reservation, she said hello to him and then turned to me. “And you must be Katie,” she said. “I was especially excited to meet you because you’re from Ohio.” We chatted with her a bit about how we respectively ended up in NYC after growing up there, and then she passed us to a hostess to be shown our seats.
I began setting the white balance on my camera, remarking on the looming windows on each wall, musing about the trees native to Madison Square Park. “Listen, before you go on, let’s not gloss over the fact that the restaurant knew who you were,” my boyfriend said. “Oh, don’t even think that was lost on me,” I replied, “but let’s talk about it later; we’re probably being watched.”
And thus began our four-hour tasting menu at EMP. Bear in mind that the restaurant had been on my list basically since the start of this fine-dining blogging adventure lo those many (two) years ago. And that I was only being taken to it because I finally agreed to go to the doctor for the first time in seventeen years. My expectations were high not only because I’d given up so much dignity by agreeing to pee in a cup but also because EMP is the kind of place that shows up in every post on Chowhound; people recommend it out of nowhere when posters are inquiring about entirely unrelated restaurants.
As with most things you build up too much in your mind, in the end, I felt cheated. The more I thought about the meal in the hours and days afterward, the angrier I got. But we’ll start in the beginning, when I was still impressed.
The menu doesn’t contain any descriptions, just a word or two highlighting the main ingredient. They were words like lobster, foie gras, octopus, chevre. When we told our server we would be doing the tasting menu, she asked us if we had any allergies and if we were open to offal and organ meats. We eagerly said we were up for anything.
The highly-anticipated cheese poufs arrived and were just as cheddary and salty as we wanted them to be. They were fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside with such a zing that my boyfriend said he was convinced they just stuck some Cheez-Its in a food processor to make the flour.
The cool, refreshing mint was such the perfect partner for the sweet pea that it only made sense for the whole shebang to be topped with buttermilk “snow” that had the actual texture of your favourite ski slope. The crunchy tuile was extra salty, and the fresh chai blossoms and freeze-dried peas balancing on it added neat texture elements.
I know seafood on a healthy rice cake doesn’t quite seem like my bag, but even I couldn’t resist the firm flesh of the fish and its citrus and floral notes.
Let me start by saying that we had no idea how to eat this thing. It makes more sense to slurp it off the rounded end, which is the same shape as your mouth, but the scallop was all at the sharp end, and the gelatinous yuzu dome over it meant that it couldn’t move anywhere. So we kind of tongued it off the closest edge and hoped no one was watching.
It was very acidic and bright, with orange and dill flavors and even a bit of fennel crunchiness to counteract the Jell-o-ness of the yuzu.
Clearly this is the cutest cheese to ever exist. The croquettes were creamy, warm, and just slightly goat-funky, and they had the tiniest bit of texture from the semolina. The zippy watercress and chive vinaigrette they were served with (one for each of us!) reminded me so much of tartar sauce, which I believe is the most underrated condiment.
It’s goat cheese, covered in red wine, rolled in beet powder, and stuck on a stick. It’s entirely novelty, and that is why we loved it. It was soft and creamy but held its shape enough that I could make three bites out of it. I could’ve used twice the beet flavor, but the sweet goatiness of the cheese complimented the natural sweetness of the beet.
With big crab chunks, little uni chunks, and the crunch from even littler brunoised apple chunks, this was an uni soup for people like me who only sort of want to taste its iron flavor. I loved finding the scallion slivers at the bottom of the bowl and wished I’d thought to mix it up sooner; the bowl was cute but didn’t allow for the last few slurps to be extracted because of its curved lip. We briefly considered other means of getting at it but figured we’d better play it cool after the earlier scallop incident.
Eggs as serving vessels never gets less interesting for me, and these were the most perfectly-cut ones we’ve seen. Too bad the kitchen’s spending all of its time on those and none of its time making sure both eggs are evenly filled, because Dr. Boyfriend got the more-full of the two, and I was jealous. The texture was like a very thin pudding, and the color reflected the flavor, which was pure butter. The smoky sturgeon bits and chive oil nestled in the bottom made the dish rich on one end and bright on the other. I loved it.
Citrusy, salty, and so perfectly cooked it was dying to be mashed, this little potato was one of the prettiest things we were served, if not the most flavorful. The sturgeon roe completely disappeared for me, and I didn’t get any chive, either. Ten points for presentation, though.
We were wildly impressed that it took this long to get to the bread (an hour, by the timestamps on my photos); bringing it in the middle of the meal like this made it seem like a course of its own, and certainly it was deserving of one. The bread was flaky, hot, and airy. The butters had remarkably different tastes which can both be summed up in the word savory.
I know salad is objectively awful, but if you’re going to serve me a salad, it should look like this. The baby lettuces were so perfectly dressed as to seem like they weren’t dressed at all; the greens were tender and had the sheen of olive oil on them, but their natural flavor and freshness wasn’t overpowered. The almond and onion combination was perfection, the créme fraiche was subtle in a way I didn’t think possible, and the dish was small enough that I could enjoy it but then quickly put it aside in favor of some meat.
Scallops are quickly becoming one of the ingredients I most look forward to seeing on a menu, which is absolutely insane if you consider my staunch anti-seafood position of only two years ago. This one was salty, buttery, and just slightly pink in the center to juxtapose the perfectly-seared outer edge. The little disc of black garlic, so common in my Persian boyfriend’s house growing up, bridged the sweetness of the fennel and shrimp and the sourness of the potatoes.
This dish made me feel like an adult. Not only did it used all parts of the chard, but I was required to cut the leaves so as to not look like an idiot trying to stuff the whole things in my mouth. Only adults eat things like that. I loved the smoky, crunchy, salty bacon and the fried chard, but overall, the dish was way too vinegary for me. I know the roots are supposed to be more delicious than the leaves, but I thought them too bitter, and adding the vinegar to that just made me wrinkle my nose to the sourness.
As soon as Dr. Boyfriend got up to use the restroom during this course, a server came right over with a domed silver serving dish cover. I can’t remember that ever happening at another restaurant and was pleased that EMP cares so much about the integrity of their food, even if I didn’t like that particular plate.
Unsurprisingly amidst this pathetic display of non-meaty dishes, the pork was one of the highlights of the night for me. The bing cherries weren’t actually that flavorful on their own, but when combined with a bite of pork rack, their natural sweetness just exploded. The skin on the belly couldn’t have been crispier and was like eating a piece of toffee. The pickled mustard seed added a bit of sourness, and the jus, which was broken with the Italian bacon Guanciale, or jowl meat, was extra rich and porky.
It’s unusual for anything to outshine beef in a dish for me, but I thought the best part of this was actually the green beans, which were firm and snappy, like they’d just come out of the garden. The white beans were a perfectly creamy compliment. The sweetbreads were crisp and sticky, like chicken nuggets dipped in barbeque sauce. (“Nature’s chicken nuggets”, Dr. Boyfriend called them.) The beef was just okay. After the noticeably-different Wagyu at Asiate the week before, it was going to take a lot to impress me.
I’d had one egg cream prior to this. An egg cream, despite it’s slightly scary name, is just chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer. It originated in Brooklyn, and I guess I tried one in my early days in NYC in an attempt to assimilate myself but quickly decided I’d rather just accept that I don’t belong here. This egg cream was way better than that one, which just tasted like watered-down chocolate milk. It used a dash of olive oil and a lot of vanilla and had three inches of foam on top (that had disappeared by the time I snapped this photo, but as you know, beauty is fleeting, especially in egg creams).
Very few upscale restaurant desserts actually satisfy me. I give good marks to the ones that try really hard, and I usually judge them based on how they compare to each other versus how they compare to my own expectations. But this was a dessert that actually impressed me and fulfilled me and everything else. I’ve actually referred to it as “perfect” since eating it, but seeing as it lacked peanut butter, I’ll refrain from calling it that here.
Even still, it was a phenomenal dessert. Served with warmed silverware, it was the thinnest chocolate wafer cannelloni surrounding the smoothest chocolate mousse over a sticky caramel, with crunchy espresso bits and vanilla ice cream with a sour yogurt topping. I loved it. Unfortunately, Dr. Boyfriend neither cares for coffee-flavored foods nor bitter chocolate, so it was a near-total miss for him. And that wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that it was the only dessert we were served.
We were given a bottle of cognac and told to have as much as we wanted with these petit fours. There was a cookie with strawberry and broccoli, an apricot and chocolate pate de fruits with an overwhelming rosemary essence, an Earl Grey French macaron that was overwhelmed by the intensity of the liquor, and a chamomile and lemon cookie.
Here’s the thing: the food was excellent. It was five-donut food. Anyone who can make me “mmm” for sturgeon is doing something right. In terms of value, though, EMP was a major disappointment. The meal was $195 each, which is very similar to what you’ll pay at Per Se, Daniel, or Momofuku Ko. At all of those restaurants, though, you feel special. Per Se overloaded us with so many desserts we were literally stuffing hard candy into Dr. Boyfriend’s suit jacket pocket at the end just to not waste so much of it. Daniel fed us almost every kind of protein I can think of, served us our favourite kind of cheese, and brought us extra madeleines without being asked when we allowed ours to get cold. Both of those restaurants offered us tours of the kitchen as if it was promised on the menu, and Momofuku Ko seats you at a counter right in front of your chef. Even much less expensive restaurants like Tocqueville and wd~50 have made us feel like kings.
We don’t really care what you’re charging us, but make us feel like we’re getting a deal at whatever your price point. It’s not just that EMP served us both the same dessert and that one of us didn’t even like it, although in my experience, that’s almost unimagineable for a tasting menu. It’s not just that our server barely spoke to us nor that we weren’t given the kitchen tour nor that we weren’t offered a copy of our menu and wine pairings, although those are certainly all things other restaurants are doing better.
When I think about the one thing that really, really gets my goat, it’s the sheer unimpressiveness of the ingredients we were served. Two of our main courses were vegetables. One of those was an assortment of lettuces. And this was on a menu full of things like foie gras, lobster, and octopus. When my boyfriend is shelling out $195 for me and the restaurant knows I’m from Ohio, I expect to see one ingredient I didn’t grow up eating there. Where was my freaky shellfish?! For heaven’s sake, where was the cheese-with-an-unpronounceable-name course?! Why did our server ask us if we were okay with eating offal, and why didn’t someone tell us we would be served the most boring things on the menu if we didn’t speak up?!
I know other diners’ experiences have been better, but it’s clear to me why this is a one-Michelin-star kind of joint.
The Craftbar winter 2010 Restaurant Week menu is huge! Most restaurants have three to four choices in each of the appetizer, entrée, and dessert categories, but Craftbar has at least ten. If that isn’t reason enough to go, check out some of the offerings we sampled at lunch yesterday:
I ate head cheese. There. I said it. I ate headcheese. I’ve been interested in it but never interested enough to actually order it, but I thought, “Hey, it’s Restaurant Week. This meal is going to be incredibly cheap, so even if I end up vomiting it up all over my shoes, I don’t have to feel bad about it. Plus, if anyone can do pig head meats right, it’s Tom Colicchio.”
It tasted like a lightly-smoked bacon and had the consistency of week-old ham. I know that sounds kind of gross, but it was delicious. The fat wasn’t chewy like I thought it’d be, and the slight gelatinous feel of it was about a hundred times less jellyish than any other head cheese I’ve seen. It was firm enough to sit on top of the bread but also soft enough to be spread, and the sweetness of the mostarda of lemon and orange peels went so well with the spices on top of the terrine and the sweet mustard seeds on the side.
I would order this again and again from Tom, but I’d still be a little scared to try it anywhere where it looked like this.
Just before he met me for lunch, my boyfriend came out of the subway and saw Bobby Bacala (aka Steve R. Schirripa) of “The Sopranos” fame walk by wearing a track suit. (A track suit! So perfect.) Call him nerdy, but he couldn’t resist ordering the salt cod croquettes, because he knew that the Italian word for salt cod is bacala. (Isn’t he so smart?)
The croquettes themselves mostly just reminded us of fish sticks, but the piquillos were especially sweet and marinated. He liked them, but in the end, he wished he’d ordered something more adventurous.
Our friend ordered the bruschetta, not realizing it came with anchovies. Luckily, she’s a fish person and didn’t mind them, but she did seem especially willing to share.
I was especially excited to try the pipérade after just learning what it is recently, and as deliciously tomato-sauce-y as it was, the fried chicken definitely didn’t require it. We had a to-die-for pan-fried chicken during a previous visit, and this one might have been even better. The batter was thick enough that I got to really enjoy all of the rosemary flavor in it but thin enough that it didn’t overpower the succulent chicken. The potatoes were creamy, salty, and thick, making this a true comfort dish.
We’d also had craftbar’s pork belly once before, and just seeing it on the menu made my mouth water. You’d think something that fatty would be tough to eat, but it all just falls apart as you cut it and disintegrates when it hits your tongue. The grits were fine, but I prefer the dark and earthy richness of the black currant puree that accompanied the pork last time. Still, um, this is the best pork belly ever.
Our friend ordered the salmon, which looks totally lame next to all the lard in the last two dishes, but I guess you can’t hate a girl for trying to play it cool. I didn’t try this, but she said she liked it aside from the abundance of onions.
I got this solely for the maple whipped cream, and it did not disappoint. It was only lightly maple-y, but that was enough to satisfy me. The sugar topping was so thick and chunky, and the apples, cranberries, and golden raisins all had different levels of sweetness that really complimented each other.
The best thing about this brownie is that it has a really thin, really crunchy top layer and then a thick fudgey layer below. The caramel ice cream was much better than the banana ice cream that used to come with this dessert, but I’m a bit biased against bananas, so think what you will.
Who ever actually orders the dessert cheeses? My boyfriend, that’s who. I sort of talked him into it, actually, and while he genuinely liked them, he was obviously in pain when he sampled my apple crumble and then had to go back to his coagulated milk. Sorry, Kamran.
Craftbar remains one of my favourite NYC restaurants because of the way the chef uses such basic ingredients but makes them taste better than they ever should. At $25 for lunch, it’s a total steal, and if you can’t get there in the next few days for winter Restaurant Week, you’d better be prepared for the next one.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)