I’ve been trying to keep with tradition to celebrate my birthday at Eleven Madison Park (as I have last year and in 2010; I’ll shorten Eleven Madison Park as EMP), albeit a bit late since November was fully booked by the time I’ve tried making a reservation but it’s a first for me to have dinner there and eating a winter tasting menu. (I ended up having a closer to my birth date dinner at Humm and Guidara’s other restaurant The NoMad.)
This 3* Michelin restaurant has been part of my birthday circuit just because they are constantly evolving to make things interesting. If I have to think about it, my meal at EMP on 2010, I was served delicious food but it’s a little rough on the edges after their first major renovation. On 2011, the food was elegant and sublime. It was as close to perfection as I could experience. However, I sensed the restaurant’s ambitions to wanting to push for something different (an example would be the “clambake” presentation and course). By the time I read The New York Times article in September, obviously Chef Daniel Humm and his team changed it again.
Overall for my recent meal that took place on December 1st, the food was incredible as it’s always been but a few of the courses made it fun. I usually would never associate the word “fun” with a luxurious 3* Michelin restaurant but EMP has managed to make it a memorable meal that doesn’t feel stuffy.
This entire meal clocked in almost four hours and it had fifteen courses (when I counted the menu given to me). The course count seems kind of low but it’s actually multiple parts in some of the courses that one would end up with what seemed like twenty.
My dining companion and I entered the restaurant when dinner service just started and saw the birthday card. Eventually our waiter inquired if we had any time concerns since the meal lasts an average of three and a half hours, if the kitchen should be aware of any food concerns since we won’t be choosing anything from a menu, and do we prefer duck or the 140-day aged prime rib beef from the highly respected meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda (who I did photo projects with this summer)? The former two questions, we said “no.” The latter question we wanted the beef since I had the duck before (why repeat?). Our waiter whisked away and several minutes later arrived our first bites of the evening…
The savory black & white cookies looked like miniature black & white cookies any New Yorker would be familiar with except it’s based on a savory shortbread cookie and the glaze is delicately sweetened by the crab apples enough to balance the sharp cheese. The oyster covered with wood sorrel and mignonette was minimalist but incredibly delicious and it had an unexpected crunchy texture from the buckwheat hidden underneath the sorrel.
Cranberry snow and beets, goat cheese, and caraway were cold bites that worked wonderfully together. It’s like eating fluffy, tart cranberry and sweet beet flavored snow. The goat cheese added a creamy dimension and the caraway added some anise-like flavor.
Sea urchin custard with baby squid, bay scallop, and apple was lovely. Cool, firm creamy uni (sea urchin) custard that worked harmoniously with the delicately sweet and briny, ocean flavors of the squid and scallop while the apple added crunchiness and a slight tartness to freshen up the flavors.
The sturgeon sabayon is an oldie but goodie. The dainty chicken egg filled with very warm, frothy, creamy sabayon that’s intensely flavored of salty sturgeon (with fine dices found on the bottom) and pungent, bright green chive oil set on the bottom of the egg. This egg was a prelude to…
…the smoked sturgeon course. After the table was cleared from the sturgeon sabayon course, the first thing presented was a glass dome filled with smoke. We were told not to touch this but watch, photograph and smell the distinct smell of burning wood.
Waiting a few minutes later, they brought out components to this mysterious glass dome like a small tin with caviar emblazoned on the lid, small glass jars of pickled cucumbers and daikon, small silver rack with two wispy rye crisps, and two large plates (since there’s two of us) filled with everything bagel crumbles, pickled onion, and fresh romaine.
We were given a brief narrative that New York has a culinary history with smoked fish and the bagel. The restaurant wants to honor it by serving this freshly smoked sturgeon with upscale condiments (found out the caviar tin is actually cream cheese topped with caviar) and an ode to the bagel on the plate. It’s an interactive course, experimenting different toppings and orders to have the sturgeon.
The sturgeon was beautifully smoked and silky and the condiments were indeed delicious on its own and piled together on a rye crisp.
We took a break from the table and head into the kitchen for the frozen cocktail. It’s made of fresh cubes of grapefruit, cherry juice reduction, Brooklyn Gin granite that was frozen with liquid nitrogen, Pop Rock candy and a frozen dome of grapefruit mousse (also frozen in liquid nitrogen). This edible cocktail was dangerously good as it seems deceivingly fun to eat this but I felt the effects creeping in several minutes later. I’m wearing stilettos in a kitchen; this is not a good combination.
I did chat briefly with Chef de Cuisine James Kent half joking about the said cocktail (how potent it was) and shortly we’re escorted back to our table.
We’re presented with their house made bread made with local Cayuga flour that has the texture of a deliciously buttery croissant served with the sweet Vermont cow’s milk butter and the alternative spreadable fat was the rendered beef fat of the 140-day aged prime rib that we ordered in the beginning. Pretty ingenious (and delicious).
Hinting toward heartier courses, we’re presented with roasted salsify, bulgur wheat, Mangalitsa ham and hazelnuts. The dish was delicious, as it was sweet and reinforced the fatty, sweet, unctuous Mangalitsa ham, while the crunchy, nutty bulgur added the needed texture.
The carrot tartare was a show in itself.
What seems like a hand cranked meat grinder that is set and screwed onto our table while we’re almost finished with our salsify course. Then I remembered from seeing and reading various articles about this, it’s for the carrot tartare. A chef came over to our table and have one of the wait staff to set large wooden boxes filled with nine various spices, finely diced herbs and grated roots with two squeeze bottles of flavored oils, then started grinding a gorgeous, pristine peeled carrot that I wouldn’t have mind eating it as is, divided the portion between the two of us and told us that we could, in essence, do whatever we like in terms of how to flavor our portion of carrot. He did mention that one of those squeeze bottles does contain a particular peppered oil that we should be aware of its heat factor but it was a favorite of his.
Making life easier, we ended up dumping everything into our carrots but added judiciously the two oils to flavor to taste. It was a very fun dish to watch it made in front of us and we could mix the entire dish like a Korean bimibap. And yes, it tastes incredible – complexly sweet and savory with a touch of heat from the mustard seeds and the pepper oil.
Swaying back to protein, we’re presented with poached lobster, charred leeks, black onion, shellfish bisque. In some vague way this reminds me of the “Black Ocean” dish at Atelier Crenn I had this summer except this is pescatarian while Crenn’s was based on Wagyu beef and her black element were coarse black crumbles of honey ash, ume and black garlic.
Anyway, EMP’s dish was successful implementing the flavors of the ocean and onion. The lobster was poached perfectly and while I thought the charred leek with its roots seemed odd at first but it was a necessary crunchy element while the inky black seafood bisque was the backbone of flavor.
Roasted parsnip with sesame, and parsley dijon emulsion was another fantastic vegetable course. Sweet yet savory elements in there that makes it so delicious to eat. I do love the toasted nutty sesame seeds to add depth.
We were shown the raw portion of the 140-day aged prime rib beef during the time in before we had the poached lobster. It did sparked our interest as to what they would be doing with that gorgeous, well-marbled slab of meat from one of the best meat butchers in the country, Pat LaFrieda.
But for the time being, we were presented simple Japanese-style tea cups and our waiter poured a very soulful, delicious beef broth made from the prime rib. It’s one of those kinds of broth I wish having if I felt under the weather.
The broth lead directly to the proper beef course. Properly sous vided and seared, this beef was delicious. The mushrooms almost stole the show as it’s own resounding beefy flavor was incredibly potent and reinforced the aged beef well. There was also a small, hearty bowl of potato foam that has braised oxtail and foie gras underneath it that was insanely delicious.
We had a several minutes break for us to digest and the kitchen preparing for this next interactive course what is called “Greenwald” on the menu.
One of the waiters placed a picnic basket and a beer bottle opener without really telling us what we have in front of us. Nevertheless, we started to unpack the basket and eventually another waiter started to tell us of the contents we revealed: a bottle of custom made pale wheat ale beer for Eleven Madison Park by Ithaca Beer Company (as someone who usually doesn’t care for beer, this was good), a special made mild, incredibly creamy cheese that was made in upstate New York that had its rind washed by the said beer and aged (about 60 days) in the caves of the famed New York City cheese shop Murray’s Cheese, a long branch-like pretzel that is served with a jar of brown mustard, and incredibly sweet grapes.
The egg cream cart rolled up beside our table and Adam was our designated man to make the malted vanilla egg cream. The egg cream was fizzy and a delight to sip as it had a wonderful vanilla flavor and the hint of malt made it distinctive.
We finally made it to dessert. The poached pear with honey and acorn (mine was adorned with a birthday candle) was well balanced and I loved the honey gel center of the main portion of pear that reinforced the faint floral flavors of the pear.
Our last main dessert was walnut sheep’s milk cheesecake with port and it was my favorite dessert of the two. The port flavor was incredibly rich and the cheesecake was divine with the walnut crumbles added some lovely toothsome crunch. I wouldn’t have mind eating a few more rounds of these despite of feeling full.
Shortly, our waiter walked up to our table and noticed we finished our dessert. He stated that what my companion will be doing is picking our flavors of the next sweet (for the chocolates). After telling our waiter to stop dealing out the cards, cut the deck and so forth, we’ve ended up with hazelnut and espresso chocolates.
After consuming those chocolates, out came a stainless steel stand with two pretzels enrobed in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt, another box of black & white cookies (sweet ones), and a bottle of sweet, almost syrupy Navarro Vineyards 2011 Gewürztraminer grape juice.
Granola, deck of cards, birthday chocolate caramels and the menu
We received a small white goody bag at the end of the meal. It contained a mason jar of their famous salty-sweet granola (they did have the recipe published on The New York Times), a printed menu of the evening (which you’ll see the scan below) and the birthday chocolates.
The birthday chocolates were actually two long pieces of chocolate caramel shortbread with a small sprinkling of sea salt. Needless to say, by then it didn’t survive too long when I had them with the granola the next morning.
EMP continues to be one of my favorite restaurants in New York City. I’d recommend it if you had the time, budget and desire to swoon over the food. It also helps that the interactive portions of the meal makes it entertaining and fun rather than being the passive diner to just admire the beauty of the food and take the food too seriously.
To view more photos of this meal, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE for my photo set):
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue (on E 24th St)
New York, NY 10010
Telephone: (212) 889-0905
Reservations are a must if you want to have the full tasting menu meal ($195 lunch or dinner) and take 28 days in advance. Bar seating is available but a la carte menu only.