Conference Room MetLife/PanAm
As soon as we decided to visit NYC to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, several people from around the country gave recs for food. The famous, the infamous and the less so all weighed in and Eleven Madison Park came out at the top of several lists.
Thirty days in advance of the date in question, I was on Opentable at 6:30 AM Pacific time hitting reload maniacally. It was worth the effort and one hundred percent worth the hype.
Happy 10th Anniversary
Greeted with a Happy Anniversary and an excellent table in the stunning MetLife Building. EMP resides in what used to be the main conference room. Built in 1954, the building was owned by PanAm until it was purchased by MetLife in 1981. A few scenes from Catch Me if You Can were filmed in the building, and sitting in the dining room I can envision the Mad Men-esque escapades of businessmen and women meeting at a long conference table to discuss the future of modern airline travel after two-martini luncheons.
Chef Humm's approach to the menu is unique, in my experience. There are four main courses, each diner chooses a flavor profile for each course. Diners are also quizzed as to likes and dislikes, allergies, etc. We are pretty easy diners, bring it on, I say. However, the gents at the table next to us shared a laundry list of concerns with the waiter. I almost wanted to scoot over when their food came to snap a few pics and nibble from their plates to see how Chef Humm dealt differently with their food. I restrained myself.
D chose: scallop, John Dory, chicken and chocolate. Mine: foie gras, cauliflower, pork, coconut.
Gramercy Cellars Syrah 2008
The sommelier assisted us in choosing this Walla Walla syrah, which was good but not great. We are extremely spoiled these days by my constant travels to Paso Robles and my quick jaunts into their syrah heavy wine rooms.
Chicken Veloute, Toasted Brioche, Black Truffle Butter
The element of marvel in this meal occurred less so due to the actual main courses themselves, although each was beyond reproach. It was the series of hors d'ouevres that kept us on the edge of our seat, gasping at the presentation and oohing at the flavors. D said he could have eaten an entire bowl of the chicken veloute and gone home happy.
Goat Cheese Popsicles, Fennel Seed, Dill
How cute are goat cheese popsicles? Adorbs. Delicious and simply just as stated. Frozen goat cheese on a stick. The ice cream man in Echo Park could hit a homer with these.
I am experiencing a fascination with marshmallows right now. Several bloggers have posted in the last couple years about making marshmallows and canning in Mason jars for gifting. Despite my recent slightly unsuccessful run in with making salted pumpkin pepita caramels, I am tempted to give these a try myself. The beet marshmallows at EMP? Ever so slightly and sweetly marshmallowish, not so beety.
Sea Urchin & Shaved Foie on Brioche Toast
I loved the sea urchin and shaved foie hors d'ouevres. The umami of the foie played beautifully against the brininess of the uni, supported firmly with toasted brioche and topped greenly with chives. Yum.
Sturgeon Foam, Smoked Sturgeon
Beautiful presentation here, for the smoked sturgeon and foam. Lovely smoked flavor, and digging down into the bottom of my shell I pulled out several nice sized chunks of smoked sturgeon.
Oysters, Jelly Caviar
I totally don't get this one. I remember it tasting good, like oysters with a little salty caviar. The oyster was cooked, maybe steamed. I should have asked for more details. My first thought is that the colors and textures were done just for the art of presentation. But sometimes when one is enjoying food one needs to just give into the enjoyment of it all. So I don't have anything else here except, isn't the picture pretty?
Hamachi Torched with Chile Rub & Yuzu on Crispy Rice
The ubiquitous crispy rice rears its head! This was amazing. The delicate hamachi flavor and slightly fatty textured perfectly opposed the warm spice of the chile rub and the sweet/tart of the yuzu. Win.
Scallops, Sweet/Sour Foam, Toasted Pepitas
Another major win, flavorwise. This just had so much pop with the sweet and sour foam working with the nutty pepita. The scallop under the foam was small but silky, kind of a perfect protein to marquee the big flavors.
First Course: Foie Gras Terrine, Diced Pineapple, Pineapple Jelly
& Foie Creme Brulee, Toasted Brioche
Both of these dishes were good, neither was excellent. The terrine was overly smooth although the flavors were big and beautiful against the pineapple fruit and jam. The creme brulee was very soft and almost runny, and again, although the flavors were wonderful against the sweetness of the burnt sugar I didn't love the texture. Additionally, I think two foie courses in one is overkill. I tend to have a deeper appreciation of foie served more rustically. Knowing there would be nothing rustic about this meal, I think I ordered poorly for this course. For my own palate. I think many other foie lovers would do backflips.
Raw Scallops, Yuzu
Honestly, I do not remember tasting this dish. D liked it. We have both come to love raw scallops, ever since our initial introduction via Chef Ludo at the opening of Ludobites and the Let's Go To Bed exhibit at Royal/T. We both order hotate at our favorite sushi bars regularly.
Second Course: Poached John Dory with Dehydrated Citrus, Eda Mame
The flavors here were light and playful, just like the colors and composition. Thinly sliced radish and the dehydrated citrus sauce were nice together, a nibble and a swoosh eaten with each bite of Dory. Defined acid here, but not overwhelmingly so.
Roasted Cauliflower, Cauliflower Puree, Cauliflower Cous Cous,
Golden Raisins, Marcona Almonds
This dish was so up my vegetable alley. I always feel that what a chef can do with vegetables tells us so much about who they are as a cook. I judge nearly every restaurant by their sides and veg. This was a wonderful compilation, playing with cauliflower texturally three different ways. I would have licked the plate if I hadn't been afraid to embarrass my husband. It's happened before.
Now marcona almonds. They're everywhere these days, even in the Costco mixed nut jar at work. Grown in Spain, marcona almonds are shorter, rounder and sweeter than the typical California almond. I like a little variety in my nuts.
Third Course: Poached Chicken, Parsnip Puree,
Glazed Leek, Black Truffles
D's third course invoked the little green monster from deep in my psyche. When the menu said chicken (and he never ever orders chicken) it didn't mention poached (one of my favorite preps), it didn't mention leeks (loves) and it certainly didn't even hint at black truffle shavings. He is such a gentleman he offered to switch, but I know pork isn't one of his favorite proteins. That chicken tasted even better than it looked if that's possible.
Chop of Suckling Pig, Morcilla Sausage, Braised Pork Cheek
Course envy during the third wasn't meant to hint there was anything wrong with my pork chop. Beautifully cut, perfectly cooked, so juicy it almost squirted (gross imagery, sorry), this was also delicious. Now, my experience living with a group of Irish folks in a London pub in the early 90's first introduced me to blood pudding. My later work in a very elegant French restaurant in Knightsbridge acquainted me with boudin noir. So, after taking a nibble of the morcilla sausage I had a feeling...Yes. Morcilla sausage is the Spanish version of sausage made from sangre, or blood. As an eater, I am not afraid of game, offal or just about anything humans have put on a plate and called dinner. The morcilla was delicious and added that rustic texture to this dish that I felt was missing in my first course.
Dessert Debut: Kir Royal, Rasberry Sorbet, Champagne Foam
This little beauty was cradled lovingly into a cold ceramic pillow. D and I both had to touch the ceramic pillow to confirm it was actually hard and cold. Underneath were hard little nuggets of meringue. Fizzy foam and sweetly tart raspberry magnificence. This was my favorite dessert.
Fourth Course: Something Chocolate
D's course. No clue, looked good. He cleaned the plate. Next.
Something Coconut & Passionfruit
You had me at "tropical flavors". The rich coconut sorbet atop a crumbled graham-crackery crust. Passionfruit and coconut sauces swirling around the plate. This was my favorite dessert.
It's no small feat pleasing my palate's limited patience with sweets. Nearly every course of this parade of sweets was a joy. Didn't love the brittle, but I adored the truffled chocolate truffles. To the extent I am considering trying to recreate them in a home cooked truffle tasting menu this winter during truffle season. (Be afraid. My efforts at sweets usually end up in the bin or as some reworked Frankensteinian concoction that may or may not taste good).
Black Olive Macarons, Frozen Chocolate Banana Lollipop
Nothing all that surprising in the flavors, the macarons tasted more of pure sugar than olive. The lollies were just perfect fine dining frozen chocolate covered bananas.
Enfin: Pear Brandy
This beautiful bottle was set right at our table, no stopper. And seemingly no limit to any booze indulgent intentions. I was feeling less than perfect that night (which in no way inhibited my appetite), so we just tasted. The booziness was too strong for D on the night in question (nursing quite the manly hangover), but loving eau-de-vie I loved this too.
But Wait! EMP Granola
We chomped on this in bed the next morning, sans milk. I can attest to its deliciousness. Pepitas, candied ginger, rolled oats.
Eleven Madison Park is the perfect place to go for a special dinner. The pomp and circumstance are just elevated enough to be god damned fancy. The food has enough whimsy to keep one from feeling like dining at EMP is a privilege. Clearly, the procession of deliciousness made the expense account level cheque seem almost like a value. Almost. I have eaten a small handful of once in a lifetime meals. I put this in that category, for us as a couple right now. EMP stands heads above the others, no question.