Waldorf salad prepared tableside on a cart with vintage apple slicer (see details below under the Waldorf cookbook photo)
Enter Eleven Madison Park, facing idyllic Madison Square Park
Three Michelin stars, # 4 on Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (the highest in the US), a 28 rating for food, service and decor in Zagat, the accolades for Eleven Madison Park go on and on. Then there’s the impressive tome, I Love NY, a book released last year by Chef Daniel Humm and EMP’s General Manager Will Guidara.
When in NY, I must have Finger Lakes Riesling
While I’m was not near as enthralled with Humm’s nearby restaurant The NoMad, EMP, on the other hand, is among the great meals of my life. Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, Chez Wong in Lima, Peru, Baume in Palo Alto, and other unforgettable meals made perfect with all the right elements and people… EMP is among that group. A short list given the 600+ plus restaurants and eateries I visit every year.
EMP is first and foremost about service. We chatted, engaged, connected with our servers, the sommelier, the floor manager. The harmony and flow of the staff (nearly 70 staff to 80 diners) is a finely tuned clock, just like the clock that looks like a giant Swiss watch in the kitchen, where we were invited for a liquid nitrogen cocktail while we watched the symphony that is EMP’s orderly kitchen.
We sit down to a letter opener and a card with our choice of four flavor profiles: fennel, apple, maple, cranberry (we chose the former two)
Our own private tableside liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktail in the kitchen (see photos below)
Pickles & Rye sounded just my speed (rye whiskey, aged aquavit, white vermouth, amontillado sherry, honey, lemon, velvet falernum, orange bitters), but was a bit too sweet & muted in flavors with too long a list of ingredients; I was much happier with the focused, savory, layered notes of Celery Situation: Nicaraguan rum, aquavit, celery, grapefruit, lime
There are too many highlights. Dining here is four hour theater full of edible thrills, yet never feels flashy. The current incarnation of the tasting menu has just been around since Humm and Guidara changed the concept last year. I recalled the week in 2012 where Chicago’s Alinea (another 3 Michelin star restaurant) and EMP traded staff and kitchens for one week. I truly respect Chef Grant Achatz and see how his culinary innovation would experience synergy with Humm and EMP. While the food is impressive at both restaurants, I prefer EMP for warmer service and setting.
Here are some of the unforgettable dishes and moments from my April meal via photos:
Dessert is a Baked Alaska flambeed with rum tableside, then sliced up & brought out; it’s a molasses rum raisin caramel cake filled with vanilla ice cream served in fennel or apple sauces we chose at the beginning of the meal as flavor profiles on the punch card
One of my favorite courses: the NY pastrami sandwich reinterpreted & paired with soda (see photo just below to the left): here, rye bread is dotted with garlic, mustard and dill sauces, accompanied by pickled cucumber and endive sauerkraut
Pastrami arrives steaming, tender & fatty paired with sodas infused with flavor we chose via punch cards received at the beginning of the meal; sodas are modeled after classic Dr. Brown Cel Ray (celery) soda created in Brooklyn in 1869
Fascinating 2005 Chateau Musar from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a white blend of Obaideh & Merwah varietals, indigenous to the mountains, akin to Chasselas, Chardonnay & Semillon; Obaidah grapes grown in stony, chalky soils; Merwah vines grown in gravel on the seaward side
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The cheese course arrives as a Picnic in Central Park on a blue & white checked tablecloth spread across the table & picnic basket complete with crumpled ceramic plates, made to look like paper plates
The picnic basket box holds creamy Greensward cheese from Vermont, pretzel rolls, onion marmalade & a bottle of brown ale/beer brewed locally just for EMP
The first bite: soft, savory black & white cheese-apple cookies arrive in a box tied by striped string; the meal ends with a similar box & identical cookies, sweet with cinnamon
Creek oysters from Eliot, Maine, in vichyssoise & caviar
Eleven Madison Park’s iconic, lofty dining room
Bone marrow is filled with cream, beef tartare & Petrossian’s sturgeon caviar
Bread course maintains excellence: rolls are made from Cayuga Pure Organic Flour with butter from Trickling Spring’s Creamery in PA, duck butter dotted with duck cracklings, and sea salt from the Hamptons
One of two dreamy Hudson Valley foie gras courses: this one seared with sunchokes, hazelnut crumble, solera vinegar; the second cured with sunchokes & fermented mustard seeds/greens
An 1896 Waldorf cookbook is a brought out, the Waldorf Salad recipe turned to before being prepared tableside from a cart, combining Granny Smith apples, celery, pickled cranberries, walnuts, lemon mayo, Middlebury Blue cheese from Vermont… a second course is then served of apple over celery yogurt & house granola
Lobster, part one: with razor clam & kale puree, sea urchin tongue in pear gelee
Lobster, part two: butter-poached with razor clams & kale leaves, foamy sea urchin beurre manié (“kneaded butter” or a thicker flour butter)
Chef Humm’s legendary dish: Normandy duck coated in whipped honey, crusted in lavender, cumin, coriander, and Sichuan peppercorns resulting in a beautifully crusted skin, stuffed with a bouquet of lavender
Accompanying the sliced duck, a cup of rich duck consomme to sip, accented with a rye crisp/cracker topped with duck sausage under melted Gruyere cheese
View from our two person table set up in the EMP kitchen
Misting liquid nitrogen Penicillin cocktails with peaty Laphroaig 10 year Scotch (the modern classic cocktail created by Sam Ross in the original Milk & Honey days) is a combination of peaty Scotch – in sorbet form, ginger – in syrup form, lemon – as a frozen dome
To finish: Eleven Madison Park’s own bottling/house cask of Laird’s Applejack, American apple brandy distilled in New Jersey