“Whimsical” still best describes the dining experience at EMP. Expect the unexpected.
Beyond excited to return and experience the updated menu and concept, our party actually extended the trip one more night to fit this restaurant in. Will travel for food. Clearly. I love my tribe! Welcomed by sommelier Jane Lopes (of the Uncorked reality series following six aspiring master sommeliers as they prepare for the Court of Masters Sommelier exam), dinner started on a fun note. If you haven’t watched the series, get to it! Fan-girl moment aside, Jane happily put up with all of our questions and decanted our wine. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for our choice too!
We never ordered off a printed menu, unlike my first visit four years ago. The waiter simply asked about allergies and questioned us about our preferences; dinner began shortly afterward. Much like before, dishes were plated with great attention to detail. Most of the time, a fun twist ensued. The unknown is part of the experience.
Center stage on the table, a large number of holiday wrapped gifts sat begging for our attention. We had a hunch it would probably be our first course (and not just decor). We were right. Well played, given Christmas was just a couple of weeks away. Designed to complement the caviar -with smoked sturgeon, cream cheese, bagels, and rye crisps-, a selection of small jars filled box after box: beet salad with apple & trout roe, smoked salmon with cucumber & pumpernickel, potato salad with mustard & quail egg, smoked mackerel & salmon with fennel. Boom! Welcome to Eleven Madison Park. Dinner’s only just begun. It took us a while to get through them all, mixing and matching as we went along. I love a place that encourages one to play with food.
This year, the foie gras, honey nut squash (sage + cinnamon), lobster (butter poached with rutabaga and pear), and duck (honey and lavender glazed with turnip and huckleberry) impressed me the most. Each one special. Each one just a dream. I happily sat there relishing each second that went by. I never wanted the three-hour-plus dinner to end, even with a couple of disappointing dishes (out of the dozen or so courses). I can appreciate (and admire) all it took to conceive even those dishes I didn’t love. Served with mixed greens that actually worked very well, the “Cheese Course” (really a cheddar tart seamlessly disguised inside of an apple), wowed with its presentation, but disappointed us with its overpowering one-dimensional cheddar taste. Additionally, despite its showy flambéing right on the table, I couldn’t enjoy the Baked Alaska. The rum drowned the vanilla and meringue’s sweet and delicate taste, instead of enhancing it. Thankfully, the chocolate “Name the Milk” game ended dinner perfectly. For the record, I failed the test miserably. Pfft. Must. Play. Again. Complimentary St. George Apple Brandy was offered towards the end, but at 40% proof, I couldn’t take more than a couple of sips. Ouch! Kudos to the women next to us who gulped much of it down. Impressive.
Once again, I witnessed one of the white cloud-like tablecloths ironed and perfected on the spot. No creases accepted here. That attention to detail is what I know the staff strives for with every table serviced. Not just with aesthetics. Because of this, I need to nitpick a little bit. I noticed the dishes didn’t flow as smoothly as I’m sure intended. I experienced some timely waits in between several of them, mostly during the last half of the courses. I could not believe they served the lobster course, while the outside shell of the eaten squash and messy crumbs (from the accompanying bread) still sat on the table. A couple of dishes were also placed in front of the wrong person. Happens everywhere else perhaps, but this isn’t normal behavior by EMP or of any 3 Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s important to note these highly awarded restaurants keep raising the bar themselves, time after time. I certainly didn’t set these unwritten rules, but now I’ve come to expect the perfection with each visit; it’s part of the marvel and draw. Although the mishaps are worth mentioning, at the end of the day Eleven Madison Park remains an incredible restaurant.
Once finished, we received jars of the famous EMP granola as a keepsake, along with a very carefully designed and curated copy of the night’s menu.
Full payment is required in advance. The price is all inclusive, but does exclude corkage fees, beverages, and tax. Like many NYC restaurants now, gratuities are not accepted. If you are planning a visit, check the website for the ticket release dates and reserve way ahead of time.
Despite the several hiccups, Eleven Madison Park still reigns as one of our country’s best restaurants. Comparable maybe just to Chicago’s Alinea because of the playfulness of their menus (but they are both still completely different).
Bucket-list worthy. It simply has to be experienced.