eat. shop. love. nyc.

Eleven Madison Park Gourmand Lunch Part 1

On March 18th, I had the pleasure of dining at the New York Times’ 4 starred Eleven Madison Park. It was a sunny Thursday afternoon, and I was super hung over from an accidentally overzealous St. Patrick’s Day celebration the night prior. (I had been sick all morning and was still paying copious respects to the toilet queen just moments before leaving my apartment for EMP. So classy it hurts.)

Despite the pounding headache and unsettling nausea, it was the best fine dining experience I’ve had. The service was exceptional and the food was great, though not perfect – Chef Daniel Humm was not in the kitchen that day, and though I’m sure his sous chef is highly qualified, I wonder if that made any difference. Whatever the case, it was a fabulous experience and a tremendous value, and I would not hesitate to go there again for any special occasion or celebration.

Let’s start with my Open Table reservation, where I had made a note that I was planning to partake in the $68 6-course Gourmand Tasting Menu. (Diners may also choose from a $28 2-course prix-fixe or a $42 3-course prix fixe at lunch.) The next day, I received a call from EMP confirming my reservation and asking if there were any dietary restrictions, which I thought was quite thoughtful of them even though I will eat pretty much anything.

When we arrived at EMP, we were led to our table through the airy and spacious dining room past trees of dancing yellow roses and a rather eclectic looking group of diners including businessmen, ladies who lunch, a family with two bored-looking tweens, two avid foodies celebrating a birthday, and an aspiring college-age food critic and his girlfriend. The two of us were seated at a large table that at another restaurant, may have seated four. Despite the white tablecloths and the fine silver, I felt comfortable and fully at ease. I especially liked it that when any of the staff happened to catch a diner’s eye, they would smile, even if they were headed somewhere else entirely. It made me feel welcome. I ordered a gingered ale (pureed ginger and sparkling water) in an attempt to ward off my hangover, and eagerly awaited our first course.

Now we get to the photos.

Our first bite of the afternoon was a playful amuse-bouche of a foie gras macaroon and a cracker-like thingy topped with a festive green gelee. I know there should be more to the description and the server was very precise, but I simply couldn’t remember all the details. I ate the foie gras macaroon expecting it to be savory but found it sweet, and I ate the green dessert-looking thing (I do not think “cracker-like thingy” or “dessert-looking thing” are what the server called it but the actual description escapes me) expecting it to be sweet and found it salty – I think I heard the server say something about celery but I am not sure. Whatever the case, it was surprising, and I liked it.

We were also brought a little dish of fluffy, air-light gougères, little pastry puffs of cheesy goodness. Sorry, Jo’s, but your gougères ain’t got nothin’ on EMP’s, although I do like it that Jo’s bartender Mackenzie gives me sriracha sauce for dipping. Maybe EMP can start offering a side of sriracha! (Kidding… sorta.)

The official first course of the tasting menu was the Sea Urchin Cappuccino with Peekytoe Crab and Cauliflower, which was served cool along with a generously seasoned pastry stick. I love the unctuousness of sea urchin, or uni in sushi-speak, and I believe shellfish are God’s way of saying he loves us, so to combine the two in a slightly frothy but mostly creamy soup is genius. Crunchy bits of cauliflower added texture, and I think they may have been lightly pickled because there was some acidity there. Phenomenal. And how beautiful is that bowl?

After the soup, we were served bread. This is one thing that I wish had been different. I wish they had served me the bread before I got the soup so I could sop up the leftover soup with the bread after getting as much of it as possible with the spoon (the pastry stick wasn’t very absorbent). We got two types of bread – olive and regular – and two types of butter – cow’s milk and goat’s milk – and a dish of crystalline sea salt. I’ve never had goat’s milk butter before, but I love goat cheese so I thought it was deliciously tangy and decadent.

Our official second course followed the bread course. I had the best (and tiniest) salad of my life on this day. You would think that salad is pretty basic, something you can make fairly easily at home, but I’m certain that even if I procured radicchio trevisano, buffalo mozzarella, basil, and a champagne mango, I wouldn’t be able to replicate those three transcendent bites from the Tardivo Trevisano Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella, Champagne Mango, Basil Puree, and Terre Bormane Olive Oil. I would never think to combine basil with mango, and the acidity in the olive oil dressing (perhaps champagne vinegar?) added brilliance and zest. I also loved that the radicchio was not very bitter, which I have been told is because it is radicchio trevisano tardivo.

Foie, fish, lobster, and meat courses to come soon. I can only sit in front of the computer so long at one time before I start going cross-eyed. More later, folks!