Eleven Madison Park: Fabulous Brunch
I went to brunch at EMP the other day. It's set in a contemporary and strangely beautiful space, with windows facing Gramercy Park. The interior is marked by icily beautiful vases full of bare willow stems, and on them roses bathing in tiny test tubes full of water. The inside is expansive and comfortable, suggestive of a chic but elegant hotel lobby. My one problem with the interior design was the ceiling. In the light of a gray Sunday morning, its long fluorescent light looked dingy, and the upper half of the room looked musty in comparison to the bottom half.
In any case, I ordered a baked goods package to begin with: two croissants, two pains au chocolat, and two caneles (rum cakes). All three were tasty and well-presented, but not pinnacles of their cuisine. The croissants were certainly competent but did not have the requisite flakiness and softness that defines the really great croissant. But well-presented they certainly were, and that was true for everything at this restaurant. Service was constantly friendly yet admirably detached -- watchful yet not overly intrusive or prying. Every detail has of course been thought about, including the very way that the basket of pastries is placed on your table when a coffee already sits on it.
I also ordered an egg fritata, which included zucchini, gruyere, and mushrooms. This dish was cooked to perfection, and the cheese and the vegetables all melted in my mouth. The richness of the egg and the richness of the cheese somehow came together and the result was not greasy or fatty but warm and golden. Even the side salad was carefully put together with the tenderest greens and lovingly coated with a vinaigrette, while the finger-knickingly light and airy triangles of toast next to it had a tender crunch.
Let me also mention the fantastic bread that I got served: both the french bread (especially) and the miniature olive baguette were hearty and solid on the outside yet soft and yielding on the inside. They both had the yeasty aroma that comes with really excellent bread, and compliments too to the butter, which tasted fresh and somehow European.
All in all, this was a really excellent and memorable brunch. I look forward to returning here for dinner someday (though vegetarians, my server cautioned, should call in advance to make sure the Chef has the right ingredients).
The Vegetarian New Yorker: http://vegny.blogspot.com/
One note about the space -- it looks gorgeous when the sun is streaming through the windows. The floral accents change seasonally so the roses in the test tubes may be gone in a few months. It also used to be a bank. The space is a historic landmark so EMP can't really do too much to the interior.
I love brunch there, too!
Just to clarify a couple of trivial items: The restaurant faces Madison Square, not Gramercy Park. The space was never a bank, it was part of the (very extensive) lobby of the Met Life building.
And if you are a vegetarian and you do call a few days in advance you will be rewarded, as my GF recently was, with an outstanding menu. We went for the whole shooting match this time and arranged for her to have a Gourmand vegetarian menu that kept pace with my regular (RE: omnivour) Gourmand menu. So much thought was put in to the creation I was rightfully impressed and I was imformed by my GF that the improvised wine pairings were spot on. She strongly encourages vegetarians to check this place out if you are into food.
Thanks for your excellent, detailed post. As regulars on this board know, EMP is our favorite NYC restaurant right now, and we've had brunch there many times. To be honest, we always skip right past the breakfast side of the menu because we are there for Chef Humm's exquisite cuisine, and the lunch dishes are where that's at. However, judging from what we see coming out of the kitchen, most people order breakfast food (eggs benedict is very popular), so it's good to know that it's also first-rate.
I love the gorgeous space which does have an entirely different feel during daylight that it does at night. As Kathryn said, when the sun streams in through those huge windows, it's nirvana! We were informed by one of the managers that EMP will be closing during the first week in January for "refurbishment." Perhaps that will include a change in the lighting.