Saturday, November 6, 2010

The New Eleven Madison Park Dinner (food)

A week after my EMP lunch, I went with two friends for dinner. Due to the fact that I was focused on having a good time, I did not take notes. I also didn't have my camera with me, and for some reason the pics I took with my friend's phone camera didn't seem to come out well. So unfortunately for those who read my blog just for food pics, this post will just be me talking about the new menu concept for dinner at EMP versus the old gourmand menu.

The dinner progression started with about 8 separate canapes, about half of which were good and half of which were very good. This was then followed by the four courses from which we chose our main ingredient. This is probably a good amount of food for most people. I've had a friend complain before that the gourmand was just too much, which is understandable. Another good thing about this arrangement of courses is that the pacing is much better. I often felt that the pacing for the eleven courses of the old gourmand menu was a bit erratic at times.

With regards to the food, the style and quality of the food has not really changed. The canapes allow diners to get more tastes, and the combinations are often a bit more creative than the main ingredient dishes. However, I've always felt that EMP's strength came from their composed dishes, so I personally prefer more full courses and less canapes. For example, I always say that it's not hard to make pork belly taste good. It's what you serve with the pork belly that balances or focuses the flavors and the textures that separates those who are truly skilled.

With regards to the new menu concept, I had read this wonderful NY Post article on the new menu prior to going. While I think the concept as shown in that article was much more representative of the experience EMP was going for, I did not feel that my dining experience headed in that direction. While the Post diners used the "dialogue" to move the direction of their dishes, I did not feel that my dialogues with my servers (both lunch and dinner) steered in that direction. Instead, both times my servers said, "If there's anything you do not want in your dish, please let us know." This felt to me like if I didn't like spinach, they would make the same dish but replace spinach with something else. Whereas the way the Post article made it sound, they would try to figure out why I wanted something out (or in) and try to shape the dish to fit what I want.

Then again, if it is indeed this "customizability" that EMP wants from their dialogue between the servers and the diners, then it is a boldly ambitious move. And as such, it is a continually improving process to get to that goal. While my meal was certainly fantastic and I look forward to going back, I feel that they are not yet at where they want to be with the new concept, but that they will continue to try to improve to get to their goal. For right now, even though the lunch menu has more than doubled in price while the dinner menu has come down by about a third, I actually prefer the lunch experience.

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