“Eleven Madison Park Sodomizes Its Roasted Ducks with Lavender Shrubs: Help Stop the Abuse.”
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.