This is part 2 of an extensive review of EMP. Please click here for part 1.
LOBSTER - Poached with Citrus, Tarragon, and Daikon
The lobster is poached in beurre blanc, resulting in a perfect texture that's tender to the bite with a slight give, yet easy to cut through. What set this dish apart from perfectly cooked lobster dishes at other restaurants, though, was the balance that the accompaniments achieved while highlighting the sweetness of the lobster. It is very difficult to pair lobster with something sweet as the line between highlighting its sweetness and competing with it is very thin. Here, the pieces of dehydrated blood orange and grapefruit did the job admirably while providing an extra textural component. The dish was further enhanced by the tartness and crunch of pickled daikon and a creaminess from the daikon pickling liquid emulsified with grape seed oil.
Different types of potatoes in different textures were featured, including baked and smashed fingerling potatoes, a russet potato skin crisp, and a Yukon gold potato cup. By using the extremely versatile potatoes with a bonito and lime cream, pike roe, and a black shellfish sauce, the flavors and textures provided an excellent transition from the previous shellfish course to the subsequent main beef course. I thought this was really smart, and resulted in a smoother progression than a fish course might have.
The first part of the beef entree involved a small bowl of beef broth. The broth was smooth, rich, and nuanced. While there was plenty of beef flavor, it was never aggressive.
BEEF - Grilled with Mushrooms, Amaranth, and Bone Marrow
The 140-day dry-aged ribeye, grilled over Japanese charcoal, was full of deep, concentrated flavor as expected. But what really distinguished this dish as one of the best beef dishes I've had at a top tier restaurant was that it was actually grilled. This was designed to eat like a real steak, as a ribeye should be, whereas many other places will just sear their beef and lose the mouth feel. The ribeye came with grilled hen of the woods mushrooms that had a slight char, smoked and grilled bone marrow, crispy amaranth, dandelion greens, black garlic and savory jus, all just piling on to that pure, raw, earthy, meatiness. The dish does not ask you to ponder, but rather compels you to just submit and enjoy.
BEEF - Braised Oxtail with Foie Gras and Potato
The onslaught of flavor continued with oxtail, braised in red wine, mixed with pieces of foie gras torchon and nestled in potato espuma.
At this point we took a tour of the kitchen, where they prepared a version of the Widow's Kiss cocktail using Apple Jack sorbet, Yellow Chartreuse syrup, bitters compressed apples, and Benedictine foam, prepared using liquid nitrogen. The chef that made this actually reached into the liquid nitrogen with his hand to take out the top dome part, which was really surprising!
GREENSWARD - Pretzel, Mustard, and Grapes
The cheese course, used to bridge the savory and sweet courses, featured a playful picnic basket full of goodies.
The attention to detail continued to be evident as there was a bottle opener/swiss army knife with the EMP logos as well as more custom plates, this time designed to actually look like a paper plate you might use on a real picnic!
The Greensward, washed-rind, pasteurized, cow’s milk cheese, was soft and went well with the pretzel and mustard. For those who do not eat cheese, charcuterie or fruit are offered as alternatives. I thought that the charcuterie matched best with the other components of the picnic basket.
MALT - Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer
The egg cream is made with malted barley and vanilla syrup, Battenkill Valley milk, sunflower seed oil, and seltzer water. It is prepared tableside. I'm personally not a big fan of carbonated drinks, but this egg cream was creamy enough due to the addition of the sunflower seed oil. The flavors were soothing, with plenty of vanilla as evidenced by the black flecks.
This was the most memorable dessert I've had at EMP since the Strawberry with Basil I had a couple of years ago. The maple and crème fraiche ice cream was tasty without being too sweet, while the maple brittle, maple shortbread, maple cream, frozen shaved apples, milk snow, and shaved ice provided never-ending combinations of textures and temperatures. The snow and ice were not too cold, being just right to refresh you before you sank back into the comfort of the bourbon barrel aged maple syrup. There was a lot going on, but every bite was deeply satisfying.
The aerated cheesecake was light while the citrus tones of the earl grey tea ice cream harmonized well with the honey, dehydrated milk foam, and sheep’s milk crème fraiche.
At this point, the captain stopped by to do a little magic trick. The last time I saw a magic trick in a restaurant was at Ninja New York, a restaurant made infamous by a particularly brutal review in the NY Times by Frank Bruni. It was a rather useless display that they used to continue their "ninja" theme. At EMP, I thought the trick served as a whimsical distraction that was quite welcome given we were already over 3 hours into our meal. It was not completely useless and did continue the narrative of the meal, but my main suggestion is just to sit back and not overthink it.
The meal ended the way it began, with a black and white cookie. This time, the cookies are butter cookies with an apricot chutney filling topped off with simple vanilla and chocolate glazes.
A bottle of apple brandy is left on the table to finish the meal. For those who don't want alcohol, they have a deliciously sweet gewurztraminer grape juice.
In all, I think this was probably the best complete meal I've had at EMP in terms of how high the highs were and where the baseline was on the weaker points in the meal. I think the freedom that came with only doing one set tasting menu allowed the kitchen to focus on the most impressive offerings they could produce.
I've recently dined at two other 3 Michelin Star restaurants in Brooklyn Fare and Daniel, and I would rate Eleven Madison Park to be slightly superior based on the Goldilocks Principle. While all three restaurants were super impressive, I found EMP to be "just right" and offered some of the best parts of both of the other restaurants. In terms of atmosphere, there was the ability to sit at comfortable tables (like at Daniel) while still being to observe certain food preparations (like at Brooklyn Fare). In terms of food, there were innovative taste sensations (like at Brooklyn Fare) as well as well-composed dishes with actual mouthfuls of good food (like at Daniel). Add to that the attention to detail and the focus on making the entire meal an event, Eleven Madison Park gets my highest recommendation as the place to go for big celebrations.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
(at 24th St)
New York, NY 10011