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ELEVEN MADISON PARK: TRULY A WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANT

EMP6

When one considers dining at a world-class establishment, a number of thoughts come to mind:  1) How much is it?  2) Can I get a booking?  3) What if it’s not worth it?

Reservations open on the first day of the month preceding your desired date. For me, that meant a note to self:  Call EMP on 12.1.18 for a reservation on 1.8.19.  That worked; #2 was done.  As for #1, I’ll just say it’s pricey for sure. Full payment (including gratuity) is required at the time the booking is made.  There’s no additional tipping; more about that later.  So alcohol is what’s due at the end of the meal.  As for #3, “worth” is a subjective term.  Let’s just say any expectation was more than exceeded.  Their three Michelin Stars and top-of-the-list ranking on the World’s Best list are well deserved.

A week prior to our reservation, I received a lengthy email from my “person” who would greet us at the front desk.  She had a number of inquiries — are we celebrating anything; food allergies; anything else they should know.  This advance communication was really impressive.  I wrote a lengthy reply with details about our trip to NY.  I also requested the opportunity to meet the proprietors Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (who worked together at the original EMP and ultimately bought out founder Danny Meyer).  Could we see the kitchen was a big request.  Lastly, I stressed NO CILANTRO!  Laura and I had several exchanges so that when we finally met, a warmth had already been established followed by hugs.

The building that houses EMP is a registered historical landmark, originally built in 1906 in art deco style.  The restaurant seats about 80 (close to max for a Michelin restaurant) but is cavernous inside due to high ceilings and enormous windows looking out on Madison Park.   Tables are generously proportioned; the hubby and I sat side-by-side on a banquette to watch all the action.   Bar seating is also available with a different menu featuring fewer courses.

The wine list is vast — we learned there are 21,000 bottles on the premises with seven full-time sommeliers.  There is a wine room currently under construction for future dining opportunities.  Our young friend Watson looked barely old enough to be serving alcohol, let alone be an accomplished somm.  A Patrick Corbineau Cab Franc was selected  (we enjoyed a different varietal of his the previous night at Daniel).  Watson employed a spectacular decanting method (at our request) usually reserved for much older bottles and port in particular where there is concern the cork might be bad.  The neck of the bottle is removed, sealed with wax (no jagged edges!) and then given to guests in an acrylic case. Here’s a video of this unique and amazing process:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpOz1PCTpa4

We had a few course choices (fish, meat, primary dessert), but otherwise dishes were presented one after another in remarkable vessels obviously designed just so.  They were rich thus justifiably on the small side which was just fine as the course count was high by the end.  Photos and descriptions (clockwise from upper left) are neither in the order eaten nor complete as one can only cover so much …

Lobster; Fennel Salad; Black Truffle Souffle with Leek and Potato; Scallop
Veal with Bitter Greens and Pear; Striped Bass with Shitake Mushrooms; Roasted Pumpkin; Glazed Duck with Napa Cabbage/Pear

Of the numerous aspects that made this experience stand out, I’ll cite two.  Midway through the dinner, a lovely woman from “Guest Relations” approached our table and asked if we were ready to tour the kitchen.  We were escorted through an entrance leading to a vast space (guessing about 2,000 sf) of gleaming surfaces, smiling staff bustling about as we tried not to interfere.   A fun and brief quiz was given as to the main ingredient of three apple drinks made before us (allspice, coriander and one other).  We then chatted with Chef de Cuisine Brian Lockwood who seemed unphased engaging us while overseeing his massive staff.  After the visit we were escorted out a different door and back to our table.  It was extraordinary.

At the apple tasting station and Chef Lockwood keeping a watch over his shoulder. The pastry station can also be seen.

The second standout was this:  We left after 3.5 hours in order to have a nightcap with a dear friend in town, taking with us some parting gifts but not the menu.  I was contacted by EMP that night to inquire where we were staying (and for how long) so they could messenger the menu to our hotel before we departed.  A package was delivered the next morning and, as if that weren’t enough, along with the menus was the aforementioned small case containing the wine bottle top.  Inside the case, EMP returned the gratuity we left when we paid for our wine.  In other words, when they say your gratuity is included in your prepayment, they mean it.  Nothing additional is accepted.  Holy crap.  I even confirmed this with my buddy Laura to make sure this is standard procedure and not special treatment for us before writing this.

How to summarize?  One doesn’t start out dining like this.  If one is considering this experience, I suggest starting out a bit more modestly in the world of fine dining and working up to it.  It’s not for everyone for sure. For all of you who “eat to live,” this experience would surely be a waste.  But for others who can and want to appreciate the extraordinary detail that goes into an exceptional and memorable restaurant experience, I say go.  It’s that simple.  I will certainly forever remember my 65th birthday dinner.

Pumpkin Cake; Apple Brandy and insane Chocolate Pretzel, Apple Donut (my fave!); Chocolate with Chai and Gingerbread
The menu – custom printed with each course, fanfolded into a small tin – and some take-home granola.