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Sep 30, 2010 09:02 AM

Disappointing Lunch at EMP

I see a lot of positive reviews here of the new EMP format, and I wish I could join in, but I have to say my lunch last week was a huge disappointment.

I was visiting from out of town, and I'd never been to EMP before, but based on the reviews here on chowhound I was really looking forward to the lunch.

Most importantly, I didn't think the food was great, overall. I had the four course menu, and I chose Foie Gras, Lobster, Pork, Chocolate. I did ask a little about the courses but I didn't have a "conversation" with the waiter about them as some have mentioned. I asked about them, I got a short description, that was it. So the one word listings on the menu didn't really work for me. Seemed gimmicky. Anyway, the food:

The foie gras was fantastic, no doubt about it. It wasn't a chunk of foie gras that had been pan seared (as is usually the case when I order it at restaurants) - it was a chilled "smooth" preparation; I would say "mousse", except it was denser than that, it wasn't light and fluffy. I would say "pate", but it didn't have any kind of "chunks" in it, and it didn't really seem to have anything else in it (though I suspect it had something in it, just not sure). At any rate, it was one of the best foie gras appetizers I have ever had. It was a very small portion, so that was not ideal, but it was so good I was happy. The "crumble" on top was a little wierd - but a little sweetness with foie gras is a good thing, though I think fruit is better than a sweet "crumble". (The weird thing about the crumble is that it appeared in at least three of the dishes! Odd that it was so repetitive.)

The second course, lobster was just ok. I had never had butter poached lobster, which sounded great to me, but it just tasted like a piece of lobster (claw/knuckle). It otherwise didn't have any discernable flavor. I could just steam a lobster at home and it would have been as good; actually, it would have been better since I would have had a ramekin of butter to dip it in. Anyway, it wasn't bad in any way, but disappointing that it wasn't special in any way at all.

The pork was good to very good. It was a small piece of belly and a piece of loin. The belly was just ok; I know others have rhapsodized about the crispy skin of the belly - it just seemed fatty to me. I am sure it was supposed to be fatty, but it didn't add any big flavor, at least not to me, so the belly was just OK. The loin was very good, I was really happy with it; but it was a small portion; I expect that size portion in a tasting menu, but this wasn't a tasting menu, so I was disappointed. Actually, it even seemed small for a tasting menu.

The chocolate was the most disapointing because it was chocolate with mint. I don't hate chocolate with mint, but I don't particularly love it, and I would never order it in a fine dining restaurant; but because of the one word menu description ("chocolate"), I had no idea it was mint. Three kind of ice creams, two were some type of mint and the third was menthol! Ick, that was wierd. The one thing I would say about the dessert is that part of the base of the chocolate part included a piece of cookie (kind of looked like a chocolate wafer) and that was fantastic.

what about the "extras"? Well, it didn't seem like there were that many, and of the ones that there were, I wasn't really impressed.

Tomato "tea" and piece of "wafer" - the wafer (I call it that, since I don't remember what they called it; it was the thickness of a papadam) was a little spicy and the tomato tea did have the taste of tomatoes, but it didn't do anything for me. It really needed some fat or something to make it taste good - it just tasted like tomato flavored broth. I know at least one person on chowhound has raved about it, but it just didn't do anything for me.

Same thing for the celery "lollipop"; first of all, it was coated in cocoa butter, which just wasn't tasty with the celery. Although the celery DID need some fat, the cocoa butter was the wrong fat, it just didn't go with it. Secondly, the celery ice cream was a wierd ice-crystal consistency. I always wondered how ice cream made with liquid nitrogen turned out - if this is how, then it's not worth doing. Let me say that the ice cream in the dessert was smooth the way I expect ice cream to be - no crystals - and the two "lollipops" presented during the meal were both more of a cross between ice cream and "snow cone"; in other words, I'm not saying it was ice cream with a few ice crystals in it; I'm saying that the entire consistency of the ice cream was ice crystal-ish. but overall, for the celery, it was a flavor disappointment. And I have to say that I really do like celery and especially celery root, so it didn't seem to be an issue because of the flavor per se, just that it didn't work.

A parmesan "tuille" (or whatever it was called) was ok, at least, I *think* that's what was presented, I'm getting a little foggy now; and either before or after dessert there was another lollipop - I honestly don't remember what it was, though I know it was NOT coated with cocoa butter - but it was not memorable, and a piece of brittle (I think it was sunflower seed brittle) which was ok to good but not earth shaking.

There were no parting gifts, no macarons, no granola, etc. Maybe that's done only for dinner. Overall I expected more "treats" (extras) during the meal, and, more importantly, I expected them to be great.

The wine pairing was disappointing as well, none of the wines blew me away, and in particular I was disappointed with the pairing for the pork; I had hoped for a pinot noir but it was something from the rhone, I think; i think it was compared with a gigondas, and it wasn't a clash but it did not especially go with the pork.

As for service, it was fine, it didn't blow me out of the water, but no complaints.

I was so much looking forward to this meal, maybe that was my mistake, making it the highlight of my trip. I have to say that my dinner at Daniel (about three years ago) blew this out of the water. My meals at Gary Danko (SF restaurant) have all been better than this lunch.

And why did they get rid of the tasting menu? I still don't understand the rationale. I don't eat at restaurants of this caliber very often - maybe once a year - and so I don't get to have many tasting menus; I would have really liked it, but I could only go with 3 or 4 courses. I just don't get it.


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  1. Add me to the list of those who are not impressed with EMP. There are many, many supporters of the place on Chowhound, but I am not. I found the food overrated and the service invasive. I did recently find there are others out there who are not impressed by the place either. Glad to know it's not just me! :)

    1 Reply
    1. re: ttoommyy

      From Eater: "EMP Redesign Includes Internet Guest Stalking"


      Invasive service? Or shrewd PR?

    2. Funny I had the exact same dishes for lunch recently, and my sentiments echo yours. EMP just seemed so average. I wondered whether the chef was reigning in his own creativity just to please the masses.

      What did you think of the service? A bit much, no?

      BTW, I loved Daniel and Gary Danko as well.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Riverman500

        "What did you think of the service? A bit much, no?"
        I totally agree! There were what seems like a steady stream of servers lined up just to catch a crumb that fell to the table. Irritating!

        "BTW, I loved Daniel and Gary Danko as well."
        Gary Danko in SF? We are going in December. Is it really as good as I've heard?

        1. re: ttoommyy

          Yes Gary Danko in SF is great. Nothing cutting edge, but the food is delicious and setting is elegant and romantic. Gracious, telepathic service.

          If you post on the SF board, you'll get lots of feedback about other restaurants as well.

            1. re: Riverman500

              We were extremely disappointed with my birthday dinner at Gary Danko. Food was fine but not at all special, and though the service was excellent, the room looked tired. Not at all good value, from my perspective.

              Have not been to EMP since the menu change, but have enjoyed both lunch and dinner there in the last year, and thought it worth every penny. Service is very attentive, but friendly/relatively informal, and I didn't consider it intrusive. It's a rare pleasure to be somewhere where the staff genuinely enjoy their work.

            2. re: ttoommyy

              Gary Danko is great, I really enjoy it. The service is as polished and professional as possible - but not at all stuffy or pretentious. You don't get the over the top "stream of servers", as you say, that I did see at EMP (and I also saw at Daniel when I was there in the past).

          1. I think it's a different "crumble" on each dish. Crumble has been all the rage in Europe. My first experience with savory crumble was at noma in 2008, and since then I have had it often, which, for me, is great news, since I love this technique.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Nancy S.

              The crumble did not seem different to me, but I can't say that with certainty.

            2. I really enjoy eleven madison park. Ive been there twice for dinner and 2 or three times for lunch. However, I have not been there since the renovations, and some of them seem rather unusual. The menu, for example, seems kind of silly. I can see how some may think of it as elegant, but i rathered the more traditional old menu. The new one lacks description, and that really bothers me even though i know that the servers will explain each dish for you. However the ommitance that corner bar section i think could be a good idea. Also the prices have escalted dramatically.

              Theres an artical on NYtimes.com that explains the rationale for all of the changes.

              Im also probably biased because im somewhat of a regular at EMP and i almost always get special treatment.

              2 Replies
              1. re: mjm1218

                "I really enjoy eleven madison park. Ive been there twice for dinner and 2 or three times for lunch. "

                "Im also probably biased because im somewhat of a regular at EMP and i almost always get special treatment."

                Huh? Going a total of 4-5 times to EMP makes you a regular? I bet there are people who go 4-5 times in the span of 2-3 weeks. THAT would be a regular.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  Thank you again for another insightful response. I would agree that I probably would not qualify as a regular. However that doesn't bother me, so long they continue to give me three additional courses.

              2. Thanks for the feedback. I had been wondering about lunch and was considering it for an upcoming trip. I think I'll wait and see if they continue with this weird new menu! Have been there previously for lunch a few times and always loved it so much.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pizzajunkie

                  It's only the presentation of the menu that has changed -- in fact, several of the dishes are the same iterations as pre-renovation.