So would read the newsletter headline if PETA opted to take its crackpot antics--protesting outside of restaurants (Melisse), sabotaging restaurants (Son of a Gun) and threatening chefs (Laurent Manrique)--to New York. As is often the case, though, they would be wrong: EMP treats that fowl with the utmost care and prepares it faultlessly.
During my two lunches and over six hours in the high-ceiling palazzo, Executive sous chef Bryce Shuman --charm incarnate--kept his hand on the pleasure spigot and increased the intensity with each succeeding hour. Meals started with canapés that progressed in a cascade of tastes and temperatures: chilled Greek yogurt lollipops studded with fried lentils, room temperature rounds of toasted brioche topped with a sunny side up quail egg and the most deliciously torrid corn soup it has ever been my pleasure to eat.
And then there are the final introductory treats; these are to dramatic what David Hasselhoff is to dipsomania: its very essence. On one visit, the restaurant offered its interpretation of a modern New England clam bake, replete with the aforementioned corn soup, a palate-cleansing bowl of cool viands and a small nugget of zucchini bread that is without tension. On another, Bryce approached the table carrying a cloudy glass enclosure and with an impish grin requested, "No peeking." The visually stunning tribute to New York fare included, inter alia, smoked sturgeon, a magnanimous tin of caviar and crème fraîche and house-made pickles.
When you finally get to the actual tasting menu over one-hour into the meal, you're bowled over by the beauty of the kitchen's offerings. Indeed, the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park seems to be working in HD, painting each porcelain plate with resplendent hues, while other restaurants on my trip seem to have only just discovered VHS.*
There's tender lobster with elegantly undulating charred leeks, all of which rests on a glistening squid ink-laced shellfish bisque so flavorful you'll have no choice but to make copious use of a whole wheat roll, the texture of which is tantamount to the most ethereal croissant. A morel composition with al dente peas, gelatinous tripe and fried quinoa encourages you to conduct a series of experiments with your fork. And a chocolate and lavender dessert profits from the faintest dusting of orange zest. And before you leave, your pockets are lined with a collection of confections--granola, a house-made Twix bar, cookies--which have the effect of extending the meal's thrills for days.
In two lunches only once did a dish venture slightly out of equilibrium when a hamachi crudo was dwarfed by bracingly bitter sorrel and shaved horseradish. This very likely could have been a case of the kitchen revealing that they are, indeed, human.
Gary Vaynerchuk has been wont to say that the internet is dominating and only just hit puberty. Well, Eleven Madison Park, under Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara, has experienced an even quicker maturation, dominating while still in toddlerhood. After enjoying the extended tasting at Per Se and the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park back-to-back, I asked my dining companion, if you could only return to one restaurant which would it be? "It'd be a coin flip," he said. If it came to that, I surely hope the folks at EMP tamper with the coin!
* To be fair, I think Per Se deserves the same compliment.
Applewood smoked apple tea with thyme
Applewood smoked bacon on a sunny side up quail egg on toasted brioche
Black truffle-parmesan cookie
Chickpea panisse with yogurt
Greek yogurt lollipop with Madras curry and fried lentils
Smoked sturgeon sabayon, brunoised sturgeon and chive oil
New England clambake
Clams, red pepper, corn, corn cream, radish, zucchini and tomato snow
Zucchini bread in a corn husk
"Jack Rose" edible cocktail (apple brandy sorbet, aerated pomegranate sorbet dome)
Whole wheat bread
Hamachi, horseradish, pumpernickle crisps, sorrel sauce
Curds and whey: fresh curds, caraway gnocchi, fiddlehead ferns and spring herbs
Seared foie gras, pickled kohlrabi, pork broth, drops of burnt ginger-scallion oil
Meyer lemon beurre blanc-poached lobster, charred leeks and shellfish bisque
Colorado lamb loin, artichoke textures, fried leek root, green tomato caviar, freekeh and spring onions
Aged and fresh Meridian chérve, strawberries, green garlic and candied pistachio
Egg cream and malted milk
Goat cheesecake meringue, cara cara orange sorbet and gelée and vanilla
Malted sorbet, peanut butter, pretzel shards and dijon
Dark chocolate, lavender sorbet, lavender meringue, orange cream, orange zest and Maldon salt
Sweet black and white cookie
Chocolate-peanut butter cookie
Just straight fire!
Hand-written birthday card
Uni, green apple, celeriac and apple snow
Quail egg, red onion, endive and everything bagel crumb
White sturgeon caviar and crème fraîche
Beets (raw and roasted), goat cheese espuma, caraway crisps and strawberry vinaigrette
Terrine of foie gras, duck proscuitto, greens and black sesame
Confit cobia, roasted garlic and king trumpet mushrooms
Morels, peas, tripe, mushroom purée, mushroom foam and crunchy quinoa
Duck tongues two ways, radish and hoisin vinagrette
Whole roasted Muscovy duck with honey, lavender and Szechuan peppercorns
Roasted duck, mustard, rhubarb and celery