Actually, it was more like twenty, but who's counting?
By now, everyone knows that executive chef Daniel Humm picked up the James Beard Foundation"Best Chef: New York City" Award. That, however, wasn't the case when we stepped into Eleven Madison Park for an early and eventually memorable dinner.
First impressions are important and Eleven Madison Park does an excellent job here.
EMP is a beautiful space. I don't even feel qualified enough to properly describe it, but I'll give it a shot. There are giant windows that bathe the restaurant in a ton of natural light during the day. Through the windows, you can catch the tops of the trees across the street at Madison Park. The tables are large and spacious, just far enough apart from each other for you to have your privacy, but not so far as to make you feel like you're on an island. There's a lively bar populated by Credit Suisse bankers taking a break from deal making upstairs and injecting good background noise into main dining room. But really, enough about the space. We came for the food and there's a lot to go through.
EMP offers a three course prix fixe, a Spring tasting menu, as well as "Eleven," Chef Daniel Humm's selection of eleven courses. We chose the "Eleven" and for good measure, threw in a twelfth course. We'll go ahead and refer to the rest of the dinner as "Twelve."
We were presented with these cheese gougères as we looked through the wine menu. They were tasty, light, and just enough to jump start the palate.
900 pages later, we settled on this bottle.
I didn't capture a picture, but EMP uses a lot of unique decanters and it was fun watching the different ones used throughout the evening.
Soon after the wine arrived, a long tray of hor d'oeuvres arrived at the table.
The hors d'oeuvres were all good, but the sweetbread cornets stood out for us. I could have eaten a hundred of them without flinching. There was a decent amount of tweezer work put into each of these morsels of yum.
Before we jump into the food, I decided to have a derby julep, created by Jason Littrell of Death & Co.
Did it fit into our dinner plans? No. Did I care? Not really.
With our drinks ready and hors d'oeuvres completed, we jumped into our dinner.
I will admit, this was my first encounter with spheres. And yes, it was a flavor explosion in my mouth. I can't wait for the next sphere to pop in my mouth.
I kept thinking I'd somehow crack the shell and they'd have to bring me another, but alas, nothing cracked. The concept behind the dish is to have the three different ingredients represent three different temperatures: cool, warm, hot. Each spoonful was rich, tart, and briny, a great combination.
It arrived in a patch of grass and I wasn't sure what to expect, but a bite of the lollipop revealed exactly that: a hard shell with a soft center tasting like garden peas and mints. The amuse bouche was playful and fun, a theme that we'd continue to see the rest of evening.
This was one of my favorite courses and I'm not even a big fan of asparagus. The combination of flavors and textures, the delicate nature of the dish, everything about it was on point. Who knew I'd fall in love with a veggie dish? Yes, it did have ham and that helped, but still, a great representation of the seasons.
A beautiful presentation which easily could have been a meal in of itself. EMP is liberal with their portion sizes and it's evident when you have this course. The plating of the dishes was done so well that it was almost difficult to take your fork and knife to the plate, almost.
The only weakness in my book was the bread service. The butters, especially the goat milk butter, were fantastic. However, the breads we did get were a little harder than expected.
If restaurants could prepare Atlantic Halibut the way EMP did, I'd never order Chilean Sea Bass again. The Atlantic Halibut was incredibly tender and buttery, and melted in your mouth the moment you bit into it.
One of the more impressive aspects about EMP's Gourmand Tasting was that each dish was better than the next. The poached Nova Scotia lobster did not disappoint. There is a precision to the EMP staff that was fun to watch. Whether it was the specific routes they took through the dining room, the table side preparations, or the ironing of the table linens, the movements and actions of the staff were like a carefully choreographed performance. This video of EMP never gets boring watch.
This was an interesting dish and as soon as it was set in front of us, we reminisced about Ludo Lefebvre's Chicken Royale. Would it be as tender? Would it be as good? Yes and yes. At first glance, it didn't even look like chicken, based on the way it was presented, but indeed, a very unique dish.
The below video shows how the poussin is prepared.
This course was actually Colorado Lamb prepared five ways. In addition to the obvious, there was lamb ravioli, lamb sausage, lamb short rib, and sweetbreads. Was it a lot of lamb? Yes, but it was incredibly good.
At this point, you started feeling the weight of all the previous courses settling into your system, but the EMP team does a great job of spacing out the courses, allowing you to recover before heading into the next course.
As you'll recall in the beginning, this was a Gourmand plus one tasting and the duck for two was the plus one for our party. Our waiter had a chuckle when I asked if we could add the duck to our tasting. Neither of us realized just how big the duck would be.
Waiter: "Of course you can, but you won't finish it. You'll have it for breakfast tomorrow."
Us: "So, we shouldn't order it? Is it excessive?"
Waiter: "Most definitely, but you should order it, it's fantastic. You'll be taking it home, everyone does."
Me: "We'll see about that."
Needless to say, we ate the whole thing. In addition to the duck breasts that were carved and plated tableside, a small dish duck confit was prepared in the kitchen and brought back to the table for us (not pictured). I strongly recommend this dish, regardless of whether you go down the a la carte or tasting menu path. The presentation and taste were both exemplary. The duck was seasoned well, the skin crisp, and the meat tender and juicy. Donald duck would not be happy.
Another video from the EMP site showing a similar duck dish.
A cheese cart to rival that of Bistro LQ's! At this point, I couldn't remember which three cheeses I had. I recall asking for: medium/soft, briny, mixed and that's exactly what I got. The fig tart was great. The raisin walnut bread that came along with the cheese course was excellent and helped redeem the bread service at EMP. This was the perfect transition into the final two courses.
This dish literally pops when you take a bite. I already knew what I was in store for, but it was fun watching the table next to us experience this dessert. I can eat 10-15 tangerines a day, so I really loved all the different types of citrus that were part of this dessert. Plus it looked cool.
I was not ready for this. It was awesome. It was not as rich as the dish suggests, and the different textures were very fun. I always enjoy a dish that brings a lot of surprises and this is one of those dishes that accomplishes that. Each bite was different and you never knew what you'd expect.
I'm not normally a big fan of macarons and when we were presented with a gigantic plate of them, I wasn't really sure I'd enjoy them. But after describing the different types that were available, I threw caution to the wind (I mean come on, they're just macarons) and we got one of each of them. They were actually pretty good. My favorites were the peanut butter and meyer lemon. I'll have to give macarons another try.
To close out our tasting dinner, we were presented with a bottle of Guillon-Painturaud Cognac V.S.O.P. and told that we could enjoy as much of it as we wanted. And oblige we did. Right around this time, Will Guidara, general manager of EMP, stopped by the table and introduced himself. Earlier in the night, with texts from some guy and twitter updates from JBFA, I congratulated our server on chef Daniel Humm's win for Best Chef NYC. He was surprised that we knew he won as the staff had just been told minutes before. Apparently the story got to Will and when he came back from the JBFA Gala, he invited us to stay the night as there would be a party to celebrate the win. And oblige we did on this request too.
And was the party incredible! With nearly ever restaurant industry player in attendance, it was just awesome being a spectator. We enjoyed seeing Wylie Dufresne, Rick Moonen, Danny Meyer, Gabriel Kreuther, and many others throughout the night as we sipped on our cognac.
Later in the evening, we got to enjoy this scene. Yup, that's Daniel Boulud celebrating with Daniel Humm spraying the crowd with champagne. Memorable times indeed.
To close out the evening, ladies are given a parting gift, a small box of jellies.
EMP was of the best dining experiences I've had a chance to enjoy. It was refined, upscale, and fun, but without the pretentiousness typically associated with this type of evening. The accolades EMP has garnered is well deserved and I am glad I had a chance to be partake in such a unique evening. As many places as there are to enjoy in NYC, EMP will now become a regular stop whenever I'm in NYC.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
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