Rave (long) report for Eleven Madison Park
Due to the heavy downpour Fri night, we didn't want to travel too far for a last minute splurge so we tried EMP for a last minute reservation (so nice when Manhattan dining becomes more available during the summer). Although we were able to come at 6:30, by 8pm it was 3/4 full and upon our late departure near 10, nearly all full. I think a few others scored last minute reservations and I bet nearly all are quite satisfied.
As to our dinner, it was superb.
First off, a mention about the service. Although slightly timid at first (our server hesitated to agree to our requests for substitutions on the Gourmand tasting menu without checking but with a manager's personal visit to the table-pronto- to ok everything, we were well on our way to having every request met expertly), it was quickly transformed into a perfect service experience--our server, waiters/table clearers, water pourers, sommelier, manager's return trips to check up on us.
Wine/drinks: To start off one of us had a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvee and the other, the EMP twist on the margarita (think it is called Paloma?). The former was quite good. The Bolly was nice (another glass was ordered later in the meal) though not unexpectedly as refined as our usual Champagne of choice, Bollinger Grande Annee. More importantly, when orderly sparkling/Champagne by the glass, it is essential that it be fresh and crisp. It most definitely was. As if it had just been opened for us. Later on, a glass of the Riesling by the glass was ordered and it was great. Over dessert(s) we shared a bottle (375ml) of Inniskillin Ice Wine. Very great.
Food: As mentioned, we did the Gourmand tasting menu. Everything was wonderful.
(As an aside--we are not frequent EMP diners--our last trip a year ago before the previous chef left. We always enjoyed our meals and would plan on an immediate return but somehow it got lost in the shuffle of lots of other enticing dining spots. Well, with the new chef, the draw to return is much greater. It really was more exotic, more defined, more delectable--bolder without overwhelming. The room is still one of the nicest in Manhattan. Also, the Danny Meyer personality is ever present. The manager couldn't have been more accomodating or nicer. And this was before he was aware that these two women dining along were going to rack up a hefty bill). Actually, there had been a mixup with the reservation as when I called an hour earlier, it was recorded for Sat night, not Fri night. Well when we showed up Fri, it was quickly correctly/apologized over and were given a great table. It all went well after this.)
Back to the food:
A few amuses--an array of bite size tastes of four different items--an oyster, sweetbread in dough, deeped fried, a slice of sushi tuna and a goat cheese sandwich of sorts. Bring another round asap (they did by accident but we demured to leave room for more surprises), then a cup of the most yummy seafood (actual lobster, mussel, in mine) broth made with carrots and a bit of spice. Another amuse followed of grilled watermelon with heirloom tomatoes. (I believe the last amuse was part of the tasting menu but the first two were served to all).
Our first course was seared foie gras with sweet corn and blueberries. Now that is a perfect setting for foie gras if ever there was.
Next, prawn poached in butter--delicate but rich.
(btw--bread served appropriately before and later gladly refilled but upon request since we wanted more of one type but were leaving the olive bread untouched--not our favorite).
Next, roasted Calotte de Boeuf--delectable, soft and very meaty tasty. (btw-this was a substitition since the menu offered the short rib but we had seen on their website the calotte being offered on the tasting menu--no problem with the exchange)
After a well earned break (btw-course were well spaced out--maybe a bit too long after the beef but it was well deserved--we did mention ahead of time that we were in no rush--reminder to Tasting menu orderers--best to mention rather than complain later about being rushed!!), we had a cheese savory course--can't recall the particulars but very nice break and good way to start with our icewine.
(I would like to mention that I believe it was Per Se that introduced the cheese savory course that perhaps EMP is implementing--it't a nice idea whoever started it).
An amuse of a kind for dessert--marscarpone ice cream with a tuile and a brush of strawberry sauce. Perfection.
We asked to replace the Tasting menu berry dessert course here (might have been wise not too since it would have been lighter than our chosed replacement--good but a tad rich after the Tasting menu). No matter, it was still divine--caramel torte with caramel popcorn and salted caramel icecream.
Plus a few other little sweets offered--we chose the lighter ones.
For a tastings menu, we did not feel at all overloaded/overfilled which is important. We were very happy and had a perfect evening. Yes, it was pricey (you might ask--$520 for 2 with tip but keep in mind that about half was the drinks/wine so the tasting menu is a fairly reasonable trip of deliciousness.
We plan to return very shortly for Sunday brunch and then for an upcoming birthday celebration with family. The new chef has open up our eyes to a great restaurant getting better later in life.
Kind of hard to answer. I am a big fan of Aureole, Bouley and Danube--probably my top 3 spots. But these are a bit more formal than EMP. What really put my EMP experience over the top is the unexpected/last minute pleasure. Also, we really enjoyed the casual comfort and warmth of service. Never been to Daniel and been a few times to Jean Georges but not a fan--great food but service is a bit snooty and not terribly relaxed.
I could see EMP moving up the ladder to top tier. It's almost there. Perhaps it's better it's not too haute for it's own good.