Thursday, August 28, 2008

Your NYC suggestions 3 - Eleven Madison Park

When I asked where to eat in New York, Justin responded, "Eleven Madison Park. Notice the period." EMP may have started out slowly. But last year, it hired new head chef, Daniel Humm. If EMP was ever mediocre, those days are over.

Quite simply, EMP was the best meal of my life. I have been fortunate enough to go to some of the country's best restaurants -- Charlie Trotter's, Chez Panise, Alan Wong's, Citronelle, Per Se. EMP was better.

A 12-course tasting with wine pairings began with an amuse bouche -- a delightful platter of small bites, including roe, fish, and foie gras topped with an odd green jelly. Food is indeed a visual art.One of the best tasting dishes came first. Wild char roe was served with baked potato ice cream, chives, a waffle potato, and edible flowers. Caviar goes remarkably well with the flavors of potato and with the texture and temperature of ice cream.

Humm is famous for his plate of heirloom beets, served with chevre frais and nasturtium greens and powder. Baby beets are on menus everywhere now, but this version stands out in the crowd. Each beet had a different texture and style. Yet beets need other flavors to set off their earthy, round, sweet flavors. The natural flavors of the tender beets matched surprisingly well with the curd-style cheese and the green flavors of nasturtium.I was surprised that a plate of raw "Big Eye Tuna" would be one of my two favorite dishes. Raw tuna is so prevalent that it is tired. Yet this plate was magical because of the pairing with pure-flavored heirloom tomatoes and strongly-flavored basil seeds and micro basil.

Another standout was the creative foie gras course. A small bowl with foie was topped with a foamy cherry custard. A light foie gras terrine was served with a dash of lemon balm, and a delicious cherry stuffed with foie. Overall, the dish tasted like a dessert.

Nova Scotia Lobster was poached and served with sweet corn. The white border around the lobster is a bacon panna cotta with embedded herbs and flowers. I love the combination of lobster and corn, and this lobster had been cooked expertly.

EMP manages to mix high elegance with sheer creativity. Perhaps no dish was as creative as slow cooked Chilean Turbot topped with a thatchwork of incredibly thin slivers of zucchini, paired with a stuffed zucchini blossom, and finished with a saffron fumet.

Perhaps Humm's most famous dish is a confit of sucking pig served with cipollini onions, apricott chutney, and cardamon jus. The confit was meltingly tender, but topped with crispy skin. The pairing with cardamom jus was brilliance.

Almost as good was slow, herb-roasted lamb flaavored by cumin and served with an eggplant puree and sheep's milk yogurt. The meat was uncaramelized and uniformly rare. The Middle Eastern flavors highlight the fact that Humm's cuisine is not just French-inspired.

After a remarkably good cheese plate, I was served a light dessert of greenmarket raspberries served on a crispy crust and topped with balsamic vinegar, with some sort of sorbet.

It became hard to focus late in this 12-course meal with wine pairings. A custard of bittersweet chocolate was served with a caramelized banana (think Banana's Foster with chocolate) and passion fruit. This second dessert was followed by a plate of mignardises, but by then I and my camera were out of focus.

If I had to compare EMP with another American restaurant, it would be Thomas Keller's elegant Per Se, also in New York. The meals were similar. Butt Humm's dishes were more creative. More importantly, each dish highlighted the purity of of simple flavors. In short, this food tasted better. Humm's cooking at Eleven Madison Park is contemporary cuisine at its finest.


Anonymous said...

IIIIII knew it!

Danny Meyer and Daniel Humm?

No way it wouldn't have worked!

Glad you enjoyed it.

That first course looks absolutely delicious, btw.

Food Princess said...

Wow I want to jump on the next plane and go to NYC. Thanks for doing the reviews and legwork so I can narrow my choices when I am up there at XMAS.

Anonymous said...

You haven't eaten at French Laundry? I'd be interested to see how EMP would compare, especially since you said its closest comparison would be Per Se. I've never eaten at Per Se or EMP, but based on the pictures, French Laundry was not as creative as EMP either. It was still quite amazing nevertheless!

anonymouseater said...

No, I haven't been to French Laundry. They don't exactly make it easy to get reservations.

I should add that I wasn't the least bit disappointed with Per Se. In fact, I would rank it among my 4 or 5 favorite meals. It is just that my meal at EMP was better.

Unknown said...

Last night we took ourselves down to Eleven Madison Park, on the corner of 24th and Madison. The place was crowded when we got there about 8:30 for an 8:30 reservation. We waited for about 15 minutes at the bar, drinking a pleasant Riesling and taking it the surroundings and the Scene. This was diverting, but we were soon shown to our table a nice banquette on the upper level, facing Madison. This brought the noise level down to acceptable decibels.


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