My fellow food lovers, what if I told you that you can eat at the best restaurant in the world, given all you had to do was
1) make a reservation approximately 28 days in advance (with exceptions, which I will get into later)
2) fly to New York City and
3) shell out $295 for one of the most innovative culinary experiences you will ever have?
Whenever I travel, I am often asked "what for?". I simply reply, “food.” Of course, I visit museums and do lots of walking and exploring. But I'll let you in on a little secret: you can learn so much about a place just by trying the food.
The 50 best list, along with the Michelin guidebook, dictate where I want to travel in the future.While they are completely separate entities, the restaurants recognized on the "Best Restaurants" list are often Michelin star recipients. Restaurants are awarded one to three Michelin stars, and according to the guidebook:
One star- a very good restaurant in its category
Two Stars- excellent cooking, worth a detour
Three Stars- Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey
Worth a special journey.
Did I mention that Eleven Madison Park has three Michelin Stars?
I would like to mention that this post is a rather big rewrite from my first mention of EMP in my New York post last year. This is a complete rewrite of my experience. I can't confirm or deny that the recent announcement of EMP's triumphant placement on the World's Best 50 List was inspiration, but regardless, this was what I've wanted to write all along, and I'm quite happy with it.
To say that a restaurant is worth the journey- paying for a plane ticket, paying for a hotel, goodness knows all the transportation costs-all this effort and money definitely has to be worth it.
The slight golden glow of the lights that envelop you as you walk in and admire the art deco interior ease you into the vast yet intimate space. Tall windows and a rather larger than life floral arrangement in the middle of the restaurant foreshadows the experience to come. It was like I was transported to another time, classical jazz softly intermingling with laughter and conversation harmonizing with the magical song of clinking glasses and tableware.
Cheff Humm, the wait staff, the cooks, everyone- creates an extraordinary experience that is dining at Eleven Madison Park. The dishes are carefully crafted works of art, bright colors and textures intentionally placed on each plate. Certain dishes are prepared in front of you, like asparagus braised in pig’s bladder with potato and black truffle. It’s mesmerizing, watching the waiter delicately scoop broth over a beige, almost transparent balloon (the pig’s bladder) that reminds me of cooking fish or chicken in papillote (parchment). The result was a single, meaty asparagus, shorter and stockier than what I am used to seeing at grocery stores. The flavors were heady and deep with truffle, but the crisp, springy flavor of the asparagus was still shining through. You hear the ooh’s and ahh’s of other diners around you, and it adds to the wonder.
You’re watching a performance, and everyone is in on it. It’s a different kind of dinner theater.
EMP is not one of those places where you can (or should) kick back and shovel in whatever dish is placed in front of you. It's essentially a $300 meal. Methinks not. You will want to engage with the food, talk with your fellow diners, with the waiter, with your friends and family. The menu, a slow and steady progression of flavor, color, and texture, is meant to make diners think. Interaction is a requirement. How else are you going to pick up the tastiest snap peas and radishes you have ever had, and dip them into what is essentially seasoned lard and breadcrumbs? Nevertheless, it is so much more than that. I was not a fan of radishes before that very moment, and to this day, each radish I eat does not compare.
Progression is key when dining at EMP. The first few amuse bouches and bites they give you may be small, but they pack a punch. Savor them. Pick out all the different flavors on your tongue. What touches the roof of your mouth first, the oyster, the caviar, or the cream? How does that affect the overall evolution of flavors that affect all of your senses?
With warmed up taste buds, diners can go into the remaining courses with a more open mind (and palate). There are dishes that are reinvented, yet traditional, like the lobster poached in butter with morels and peas. The Sweet, succulent lobster is coated in a creamy, buttery sauce with additional sweetness and freshness from the peas. The morels add a slightly heavier and meatier texture to the dish. Caviar on a spin of egg's Benedict? And no, it's not justifying the fact that throwing some expensive caviar on a dish makes it okay to charge patrons so much money for the meal- it's definitely not that. This is pure love and labor people. Everything was reinvented. The cutest English muffins you'll ever see will scoop up some of the most fantastic and luxurious flavors and textures.
Every ingredient is delicately placed on the dish with purpose. There is a reason why there three pieces of lamb cooked in different ways, why the romaine is partly lying in a pool of garlic broth. The potato variations with flowers remind me of stained glass, but breaking through the crispy layer of potatoes to get to the soft, buttery, melt in your mouth mashed ones-makes it okay, in this case, to obstruct a piece of art.
Choosing between a cheese course and a dessert course isn't an option here. You get both. Dessert is a multi-course meal within itself. Local cheese, transformed into another form- mousse is the perfect cheese plate bite- like Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert with Rhubarb, Sorrel, and Green Garlic. Sweet, savory, creamy, and fresh. If spring was every reflected in a cheese plate, it would be this.
Shades of white with pops of bright red come in the form of strawberries that are poached with vanilla and elder flower. The sweet and floral subtlety of the vanilla and elder flower married well with the tart strawberries.
Fancy a brandy? A game even? EMP has you covered. Four chocolate bars, made exclusively for the restaurant by Mast Brothers, is placed in front of you and your party, along with a scorecard. Taste the chocolates and guess the flavors. The prize if you win? Bragging rights for having a discernible palate. The prize for all? Chocolate covered pretzels with brandy or non-alcoholic apple cider. One would think that two glasses of wine later I would be going for the apple cider. Nah. Went for the brandy.
Prior to exiting there is another parting gift- a jar of granola for the next day. It's so good that you don't think it will last until the next morning, but you'll try to make it last for a month, savoring bits and morsels at a time (like I did).
Our dinner began at 8:30pm. Four hours later I stepped out into the chilly air of the city-full, a tad tipsy, and in awe.
Was it worth the journey? Hell yeah.
Will I go again? Perhaps, but for that much money I would rather try another establishment (or several others). But where there is a will there's a way, and according to this article, with the right timing, I can eat Chef Daniel Humm's masterpieces without the tasting menu and without making a reservation. It's a win win.
April 2016 Menu
Black & White Savory Cookies with Apple and Cheddar
Fava Bean Croquette
Morel with Rye Crisp
Wellfleet Oyster with Caviar
Caviar Benedict with Spring Onion and Ham
Foie Gras Seared with Sorrel and Fava Beans
Lobster, butter poached with morels and peas
Asparagus braised with potato and black truffle
Spring Lamb variations with Romaine and garlic broth
Morel custard with spring garlic
New Potatoes- variations with flowers
Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert with Rhubarb, Sorrel, and Green Garlic
Strawberries poached with vanilla and elder flower
Chocolate -Name that chocolate- pretzels with sea salt
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10010
Want to see my take on EMP's delicious granola? Click here.