My Dinner at EMP

June 10, 2016

IMG_8296“Can we discuss your meal?” asks the head maitre d’.

It’s a bit after you’ve been seated, but not before the Champagne cart has come sidling up to the table, aimed at seduction.  And not before you’ve opened the little gift box sitting so innocently on that creamy tablecloth. Inside you discover two little black and white cookies. These are not sweets: take a bite and your mouth fills with the savory pleasures of  Cheddar and apple.  And we’re off!

There are choices to make, courses to consider.  Still, when the man mentions asparagus will be one of them,  he neglects to note that it will arrive in its own private air-filled pig bladder.

There is, in other words, a great deal of drama when dining at Eleven Madison Park.

And when the pig bladder is burst open what is revealed? One single, perfect spear.

IMG_8298 Oh, and did I mention the black truffle that managed to sneak into the sauce?

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Luxury is very much on offer.  To begin: a beautiful wooden tower breaks apart to reveal oysters (Widow’s Hole) on a bed of ice, sprinkled with caviar. Another tier holds little rye crisps encircling a puree of morels….

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another produces fava bean croquettes topped with various pickled vegetables and, most wonderful of all, spring radishes and peas to dip into whitefish salad popping with tiny pearls of roe.

And then there is more opulent caviar:

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served with tiny English Muffins and corn and ham-infused Hollandaise. The notion?  You create your own little Caviar Benedicts. Eggs, in other words, and eggs.

None of these courses, of course, were considered courses. The real meal is about to begin. For starters you can choose the most beautiful fluke you’ve ever seen, marinated in grapefruit and perched on a bed of bright spring peas.  On top? An Easter bonnet made of tiny sprouts, sprigs and blossoms.

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On the other hand, you might have chosen foie gras instead of fluke.

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And you would not have been the least bit sorry.

Lobster’s up next, a perfect little claw, poached in butter and served with two intense sauces: one lemon-drenched, the other made of the lobster’s own juices.  On top, a punctuating bitterness of dandelion.

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Now that asparagus, with all its attendant pomp and circumstance.

And then the main courses:

This intensely aged beef was, hands down, one of the finest pieces of meat I’ve ever indulged in.  Just a couple of bites, but the flavor resonates in your mouth long after the steak itself has vanished.

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This duck , glazed with honey and lavender, was no slouch, but what I particularly appreciated was the rhubarb; crisp and cinnamon-scented, it is rhubarb reverently treated as a vegetable instead of the usual fruit.

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On the side, the a remarkable morel custard, like the most extravagant chawan mushi you’ve ever encountered:

IMG_8301Potatoes showcase the many faces of the worlds most versatile vegetable.  On top, the crackling regal magnificence of pommes Anna; underneaththe soft rich friendliness of potatoes cooked in cream.

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Then there was cheese, not an ordinary slab, but sly little muffins hiding a warm nugget of Camembert baked into the middle. It was accompanied by two little spring compotes – rhubarb and sorrel – to slather on the top.

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And then desserts – strawberries,

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and finally Baked Alaska, which exploded into flames.

One of the great pleasures of dining at Eleven Madison Park is watching the light fade in that big, windowed room.  As twilight falls the atmosphere changes dramatically giving you the sense of being in a theater where you are privileged to be on stage. 

Tonight, just as the sun sank away a passerby leapt up to press his middle finger against the window. He was not visible, just that prominent finger. I was probably the only one who saw it, but in that moment he broke the fourth wall, brought reality crashing into the restaurant. 

It made me ask myself, again,  if luxury dining is something to feel guilty about, and I sat there for the longest time, pondering that question. 

It is, admittedly, an idea that is rarely far from my thoughts. But at this moment, sitting in that comfortable seat, surrounded by solicitude as course after course of lovingly prepared food was presented for my pleasure, the question became especially acute.

There are no easy answers.  We each indulge in luxuries of one kind or another – art, travel, theater, clothing, private schools – each ask ourselves if we should not be spending the money on others instead of ourselves.

But this is the main thing I took away from that wonderful dinner: if you’re lucky enough to celebrate the occasional meal at Eleven Madison Park, you had better revel in it. Because being blase here is just not okay.

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5 Comments

  • Greg says:

    Extra fine pictures, beautiful text and also a good discussion on the luxury of indulgence.
    Thank you.

  • anne taylor says:

    I was thinking along the same lines. I have enjoyed lovely meals and wine at EMP but these days with income inequality so much on my mind, I have serious second thoughts. EMP is more than food, it is a form of art presented as food and that’s where the guilt starts. Art or food? As a native New Yorker, I see the luxuriously housed and fed and the homeless and food pantries all on West 11th Street.
    Thank you Ruth.

  • Abigail Adams Brotherton says:

    Perhaps the owner of the middle finger had previously dined at Eleven Madison Park and was offering a succinct, three dimensional review of his meal. Other than the Baked Akaska, which probably had something scary hidden inside, everything else looked truly disgusting. Some of the dishes even evoked images of mutant sea creatures. I hope this trend of fine dining wears out its welcome soon!

  • M says:

    Ate there late last June. Maybe I am biased being from Northern CA, but the produce used just wasn’t that fresh and tasty. Service qas wonderful and the drama with each dish was fun. We had several meals at high end restaurants on our visit last June, EMP was at the bottom of our list.

  • Wal Britton says:

    Ruth
    Are you serious? What a load of pretentious unadulterated crap.
    How could you be bothered being involved in such bullshit?
    Regards
    Wal Britton

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