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Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu Review + Photos

plumpdumpling Jul 27, 2011 08:13 AM

I hesitate to post this, knowing how crazy about EMP you all seem to be. But maybe you can help explain what went wrong for us.

Photos in context are here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2011/07/...

Eleven Madison Park bowled me over as soon as I walked in the door. A pleasant young woman greeted us, and when my boyfriend told her his name for the reservation, she said hello to him and then turned to me. “And you must be Katie,” she said. “I was especially excited to meet you because you’re from Ohio.” We chatted with her a bit about how we respectively ended up in NYC after growing up there, and then she passed us to a hostess to be shown our seats.

I began setting the white balance on my camera, remarking on the looming windows on each wall, musing about the trees native to Madison Square Park. “Listen, before you go on, let’s not gloss over the fact that the restaurant knew who you were,” my boyfriend said. “Oh, don’t even think that was lost on me,” I replied, “but let’s talk about it later; we’re probably being watched.”

And thus began our four-hour tasting menu at EMP. Bear in mind that the restaurant had been on my list basically since the start of this fine-dining blogging adventure lo those many (two) years ago. And that I was only being taken to it because I finally agreed to go to the doctor for the first time in seventeen years. My expectations were high not only because I’d given up so much dignity by agreeing to pee in a cup but also because EMP is the kind of place that shows up in every post here on Chowhound; people recommend it out of nowhere when posters are inquiring about entirely unrelated restaurants.

As with most things you build up too much in your mind, in the end, I felt cheated. The more I thought about the meal in the hours and days afterward, the angrier I got. But we’ll start in the beginning, when I was still impressed.

The menu doesn’t contain any descriptions, just a word or two highlighting the main ingredient. They were words like lobster, foie gras, octopus, chevre. When we told our server we would be doing the tasting menu, she asked us if we had any allergies and if we were open to offal and organ meats. We eagerly said we were up for anything.

• gougéres

The highly-anticipated cheese poufs arrived and were just as cheddary and salty as we wanted them to be. They were fluffy on the inside and crusty on the outside with such a zing that my boyfriend said he was convinced they just stuck some Cheez-Its in a food processor to make the flour.

• English pea and mint velouté

The cool, refreshing mint was such the perfect partner for the sweet pea that it only made sense for the whole shebang to be topped with buttermilk “snow” that had the actual texture of your favourite ski slope. The crunchy tuile was extra salty, and the fresh chai blossoms and freeze-dried peas balancing on it added neat texture elements.

• fluke, basil mayonnaise, Meyer lemon sphere, rice cracker

I know seafood on a healthy rice cake doesn’t quite seem like my bag, but even I couldn’t resist the firm flesh of the fish and its citrus and floral notes.

• scallop sashimi, yuzu gelee

Let me start by saying that we had no idea how to eat this thing. It makes more sense to slurp it off the rounded end, which is the same shape as your mouth, but the scallop was all at the sharp end, and the gelatinous yuzu dome over it meant that it couldn’t move anywhere. So we kind of tongued it off the closest edge and hoped no one was watching.

It was very acidic and bright, with orange and dill flavors and even a bit of fennel crunchiness to counteract the Jell-o-ness of the yuzu.

• semolina-covered goat cheese croquettes

Clearly this is the cutest cheese to ever exist. The croquettes were creamy, warm, and just slightly goat-funky, and they had the tiniest bit of texture from the semolina. The zippy watercress and chive vinaigrette they were served with (one for each of us!) reminded me so much of tartar sauce, which I believe is the most underrated condiment.

• goat cheese lollipops, beet and red wine powder

It’s goat cheese, covered in red wine, rolled in beet powder, and stuck on a stick. It’s entirely novelty, and that is why we loved it. It was soft and creamy but held its shape enough that I could make three bites out of it. I could’ve used twice the beet flavor, but the sweet goatiness of the cheese complimented the natural sweetness of the beet.

• sea urchin cappuccino

With big crab chunks, little uni chunks, and the crunch from even littler brunoised apple chunks, this was an uni soup for people like me who only sort of want to taste its iron flavor. I loved finding the scallion slivers at the bottom of the bowl and wished I’d thought to mix it up sooner; the bowl was cute but didn’t allow for the last few slurps to be extracted because of its curved lip. We briefly considered other means of getting at it but figured we’d better play it cool after the earlier scallop incident.

• sturgeon zabaione

Eggs as serving vessels never gets less interesting for me, and these were the most perfectly-cut ones we’ve seen. Too bad the kitchen’s spending all of its time on those and none of its time making sure both eggs are evenly filled, because Dr. Boyfriend got the more-full of the two, and I was jealous. The texture was like a very thin pudding, and the color reflected the flavor, which was pure butter. The smoky sturgeon bits and chive oil nestled in the bottom made the dish rich on one end and bright on the other. I loved it.

• potato, lemon spheres, caviar

Citrusy, salty, and so perfectly cooked it was dying to be mashed, this little potato was one of the prettiest things we were served, if not the most flavorful. The sturgeon roe completely disappeared for me, and I didn’t get any chive, either. Ten points for presentation, though.

• bread, cow butter with chai blossoms, goat butter with dill

We were wildly impressed that it took this long to get to the bread (an hour, by the timestamps on my photos); bringing it in the middle of the meal like this made it seem like a course of its own, and certainly it was deserving of one. The bread was flaky, hot, and airy. The butters had remarkably different tastes which can both be summed up in the word savory.

• lettuce

I know salad is objectively awful, but if you’re going to serve me a salad, it should look like this. The baby lettuces were so perfectly dressed as to seem like they weren’t dressed at all; the greens were tender and had the sheen of olive oil on them, but their natural flavor and freshness wasn’t overpowered. The almond and onion combination was perfection, the créme fraiche was subtle in a way I didn’t think possible, and the dish was small enough that I could enjoy it but then quickly put it aside in favor of some meat.

• scallop, fermented potatoes, sweet shrimp

Scallops are quickly becoming one of the ingredients I most look forward to seeing on a menu, which is absolutely insane if you consider my staunch anti-seafood position of only two years ago. This one was salty, buttery, and just slightly pink in the center to juxtapose the perfectly-seared outer edge. The little disc of black garlic, so common in my Persian boyfriend’s house growing up, bridged the sweetness of the fennel and shrimp and the sourness of the potatoes.

• Swiss chard

This dish made me feel like an adult. Not only did it used all parts of the chard, but I was required to cut the leaves so as to not look like an idiot trying to stuff the whole things in my mouth. Only adults eat things like that. I loved the smoky, crunchy, salty bacon and the fried chard, but overall, the dish was way too vinegary for me. I know the roots are supposed to be more delicious than the leaves, but I thought them too bitter, and adding the vinegar to that just made me wrinkle my nose to the sourness.

As soon as Dr. Boyfriend got up to use the restroom during this course, a server came right over with a domed silver serving dish cover. I can’t remember that ever happening at another restaurant and was pleased that EMP cares so much about the integrity of their food, even if I didn’t like that particular plate.

• pork

Unsurprisingly amidst this pathetic display of non-meaty dishes, the pork was one of the highlights of the night for me. The bing cherries weren’t actually that flavorful on their own, but when combined with a bite of pork rack, their natural sweetness just exploded. The skin on the belly couldn’t have been crispier and was like eating a piece of toffee. The pickled mustard seed added a bit of sourness, and the jus, which was broken with the Italian bacon Guanciale, or jowl meat, was extra rich and porky.

• beef

It’s unusual for anything to outshine beef in a dish for me, but I thought the best part of this was actually the green beans, which were firm and snappy, like they’d just come out of the garden. The white beans were a perfectly creamy compliment. The sweetbreads were crisp and sticky, like chicken nuggets dipped in barbeque sauce. (“Nature’s chicken nuggets”, Dr. Boyfriend called them.) The beef was just okay. After the noticeably-different Wagyu at Asiate the week before, it was going to take a lot to impress me.

• egg cream

I’d had one egg cream prior to this. An egg cream, despite it’s slightly scary name, is just chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer. It originated in Brooklyn, and I guess I tried one in my early days in NYC in an attempt to assimilate myself but quickly decided I’d rather just accept that I don’t belong here. This egg cream was way better than that one, which just tasted like watered-down chocolate milk. It used a dash of olive oil and a lot of vanilla and had three inches of foam on top (that had disappeared by the time I snapped this photo, but as you know, beauty is fleeting, especially in egg creams).

• chocolate

Very few upscale restaurant desserts actually satisfy me. I give good marks to the ones that try really hard, and I usually judge them based on how they compare to each other versus how they compare to my own expectations. But this was a dessert that actually impressed me and fulfilled me and everything else. I’ve actually referred to it as “perfect” since eating it, but seeing as it lacked peanut butter, I’ll refrain from calling it that here.

Even still, it was a phenomenal dessert. Served with warmed silverware, it was the thinnest chocolate wafer cannelloni surrounding the smoothest chocolate mousse over a sticky caramel, with crunchy espresso bits and vanilla ice cream with a sour yogurt topping. I loved it. Unfortunately, Dr. Boyfriend neither cares for coffee-flavored foods nor bitter chocolate, so it was a near-total miss for him. And that wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that it was the only dessert we were served.

• mignardises

We were given a bottle of cognac and told to have as much as we wanted with these petit fours. There was a cookie with strawberry and broccoli, an apricot and chocolate pate de fruits with an overwhelming rosemary essence, an Earl Grey French macaron that was overwhelmed by the intensity of the liquor, and a chamomile and lemon cookie.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Here’s the thing: the food was excellent. It was five-star food. Anyone who can make me “mmm” for sturgeon is doing something right. In terms of value, though, EMP was a major disappointment. The meal was $195 each, which is very similar to what you’ll pay at Per Se, Daniel, or Momofuku Ko. At all of those restaurants, though, you feel special. Per Se overloaded us with so many desserts we were literally stuffing hard candy into Dr. Boyfriend’s suit jacket pocket at the end just to not waste so much of it. Daniel fed us almost every kind of protein I can think of, served us our favourite kind of cheese, and brought us extra madeleines without being asked when we allowed ours to get cold. Both of those restaurants offered us tours of the kitchen as if it was promised on the menu, and Momofuku Ko seats you at a counter right in front of your chef. Even much less expensive restaurants like Tocqueville and wd~50 have made us feel like kings.

We don’t really care what you’re charging us, but make us feel like we’re getting a deal at whatever your price point. It’s not just that EMP served us both the same dessert and that one of us didn’t even like it, although in my experience, that’s almost unimagineable for a tasting menu. It’s not just that our server barely spoke to us nor that we weren’t given the kitchen tour nor that we weren’t offered a copy of our menu and wine pairings, although those are certainly all things other restaurants are doing better.

When I think about the one thing that really, really gets my goat, it’s the sheer unimpressiveness of the ingredients we were served. Two of our main courses were vegetables. One of those was an assortment of lettuces. And this was on a menu full of things like foie gras, lobster, and octopus. When my boyfriend is shelling out $195 for me and the restaurant knows I’m from Ohio, I expect to see one ingredient I didn’t grow up eating there. Where was my freaky shellfish?! For heaven’s sake, where was the cheese-with-an-unpronounceable-name course?! Why did our server ask us if we were okay with eating offal, and why didn’t someone tell us we would be served the most boring things on the menu if we didn’t speak up?!

I know other diners’ experiences have been better, but it’s clear to me why this is a one-Michelin-star kind of joint. One of my friends suggested that they knew I was from Ohio and saw how corn-fed I look and decided I couldn't take anything interesting. Is that possible?

-----
Per Se
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

Asiate
80 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

Momofuku Ko
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

 
 
 
  1. f
    fm1963 Jul 27, 2011 08:41 AM

    The tasting menu does seem rather ordinary. For $195 I would have expected lobster or foie gras at least, especially since these items were offered a la carte. It's interesting that service wasn't what you expected even though the staff seemed to know about your blog. Personally I'm kind of neutral on EMP. I think it's good but not the best. Thanks for the review and photos.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fm1963
      plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 03:02 PM

      I wish I would've spoken to YOU before going here. Everyone else had built it up for me as THE BEST RESTAURANT EVER, so I think my expectations were a little out of whack. Our server seemed entirely disinterested in us, but luckily, the "customer experience" women, for lack of a better word, were great, and the sommelier really knew her stuff.

    2. i
      InfoMofo Jul 27, 2011 09:42 AM

      > Why did our server ask us if we were okay with eating offal

      He asked you if you were ok eating offal, you said yes, and you were served sweetbreads, right? I don't think I understand your confusion on this matter.

      It does sound like a disappointing tasting menu- especially considering that the other menu seemed to have dishes you were more interested in. I have never gotten the full tasting menu, and I think that based on this review, the next time I go there I will continue to order 4 course menu.

      By the way, your photography is fantastic. The picture of that sea urchin shell is so delicate!

      8 Replies
      1. re: InfoMofo
        plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 09:56 AM

        I wondered if anyone would call me out on that! We were served one bite of sweetbreads, and they were actually done so well that we could've been eating, like I said, chicken nuggets. I guess I shouldn't complain about not being grossed out, huh?

        I can see now that the 4-course would've made more sense if we were secretly hoping for certain dishes. I just know that I'll always order the same types of dishes and like to have a chef force on me what he thinks he's doing best.

        But thank you! That was my first time using that camera, and I was very nervous.

        1. re: plumpdumpling
          loratliff Jul 28, 2011 11:01 AM

          If you're hoping for certain dishes, ask. I asked for foie gras last time at EMP and I received.

          I guess I just don't get the expectation that restaurants are supposed to be psychic and know exactly what every diner wants–whether that be a kitchen tour or a particular ingredient.

          (Also, what time was your reservation? Obviously a fairly early dinner reservation which might explain why there was no kitchen tour—they were probably quite busy finishing up prep for service.)

          1. re: loratliff
            ellenost Jul 28, 2011 11:43 AM

            I agree. We specifically asked for the cold foie gras prep that you had. EMP substituted the foie gras for the pork on plumpdumpling's menu. The foie gras was delicious!

            1. re: loratliff
              plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 02:54 PM

              I think it goes back to what fooder was asking below. What IS a tasting menu? I guess my experience has been that tasting menus are the most interesting things the chef is doing, which I would imagine include more foie gras and octopus than baby lettuce. You're right, though–when our server clearly asked if there was anything we didn't like, I should've told her what we DO like.

              We had a 5:30 reservation, but we were there until 9:30, so I imagine the kitchen had slowed down a bit by then. If they really were too busy, that's fine with me; I was just comparing the experience to the ones I had at Daniel and Per Se, which were also on weekend nights but still included a tour.

              -----
              Per Se
              10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

              1. re: plumpdumpling
                loratliff Jul 28, 2011 05:44 PM

                Well, then I could realistically launch the same complaint against Per Se, where I was not offered a tour on a Friday night. It just depends. I don't think anyone can or should expect anything with regularity.

                (And for me, EMP is still an extraordinary value, ranking above Per Se, in my book.)

                -----
                Per Se
                10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: loratliff
                  ellenost Jul 28, 2011 06:34 PM

                  It wasn't until my fifth dinner (and my Mother's 85th birthday celebration) that I was offered a kitchen tour at Per Se. It was a splendid dinner. BTW, I've always loved my dinners at Per Se even when I didn't receive the extras that I knew the regulars did receive.

                2. re: plumpdumpling
                  f
                  fooder Jul 29, 2011 06:50 AM

                  I would imagine that 9:30 is still a very busy time for that kitchen. The only times I've gotten a kitchen tour at restaurants were when I stayed well past 11, or on a holiday, or when there isn't much of a kitchen to tour. Let's not forget that EMP's kitchen tour is much more than your average kitchen tour, and I certainly don't think people should come to expect it.

                  As for "I guess my experience has been that tasting menus are the most interesting things the chef is doing, which I would imagine include more foie gras and octopus than baby lettuce." The problem is that foie gras and truffles and the like have been in haute cuisine for a very long time. The most interesting things going on right now, trend-wise, do seem to me to be the vegetable, locavore, Blue Hill type movements. In the end, food is very subjective. I think one of the main reasons EMP has such adoring fans is that they feel they can voice their preferences and be heard.

                  1. re: fooder
                    loratliff Jul 29, 2011 11:01 AM

                    That's a good way to put it, fooder—EMP is one of the few restaurants, in my opinion, where I feel comfortable saying "I want this," or "I want that." I wouldn't feel comfortable having that level of dialogue at, say, Per Se.

                    And, yes, I agree that 9:30 is probably peak time for that kitchen—all your 8 p.m. tables are likely in the middle of their main courses at that point.

                    -----
                    Per Se
                    10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

          2. pizzajunkie Jul 27, 2011 10:43 AM

            I also really enjoyed your detailed review and photographs, which were absolutely stunning. I have to agree that I don't understand your dissatisfaction with the food or the service, and feel sure that if you had asked to tour the kitchen, they would have happily obliged. I haven't been to EMP since the new menu format came out, but I look forward to it in December.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pizzajunkie
              plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 02:58 PM

              Thank you! I guess I was raised to not demand too much, and in the past, I've been pleasantly surprised in letting the kitchen choose the dishes, even if it meant missing some I really wanted to try. This time, I felt a distinct lacking. I look forward to trying again, though, armed with my new knowledge.

            2. r
              rrems Jul 27, 2011 10:56 AM

              pd, I always enjoy reading your very insightful reports.

              Adoration of EMP is not unanimous. If you have not read it before, you might want to look at my report from 6 months ago:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/762924

              Though I got slammed by the usual suspects, picking away at the minor points and ignoring the major ones, there were others who felt as I did.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rrems
                plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 03:10 PM

                Ha! I loved that someone said it's "not a buffet", since you made precisely the point I did about wanting the parade of sweets at the end. I'm glad no one was as mean to me as they were to you, although I guess I started my review with, "Please don't be mean to me."

              2. f
                fooder Jul 27, 2011 01:23 PM

                I actually feel bad for plumpdumpling as I was one of the ones who kept strongly urging her to go to EMP. I continue to be a big fan of EMP and will defend it just a little more here, but then move on to a point that I find interesting that this review brings up.

                In comparison to other places mentioned... I love Per Se. But Per Se is also more than 50% more expensive than EMP. I like Momofuku Ko. But the novelty of an open kitchen is far from enough to make me feel special there. I like Daniel. And I love the madeleines, but I really love the cognac they have at EMP and I'm actually jealous you got some as I wasn't offered any the last three times I've been to EMP. To me, all you can drink cognac >> mignardises

                Enough EMP defense. There will be others for that. My main interest comes from fm1963's "the tasting menu does seem rather ordinary". What exactly do people think a tasting menu should be?

                Should it be a menu of all signature dishes, regardless of compatibility?

                Should it be a best composed menu with progressions, which might limit what can be served?

                Should it be a menu that showcases everything a restaurant can do well, which may have too broad of a range?

                I think the EMP menu here, which yes, is decidedly less impressive than other ones I've had there, lean toward the latter types of tasting menus.

                I personally do not like the concept of tasting menus. I agree with Marco Pierre White who said that you should have a starter, a main, and a pudding, and if you like the food, you'll go back and try the rest of the menu. I feel tasting menus are forced on us nowadays because of how hard it is to revisit certain restaurants.

                3 Replies
                1. re: fooder
                  ellenost Jul 27, 2011 02:56 PM

                  I had the recent Tasting Menu, and was, for the first time, a bit underwhelmed with it. Since my sister does not eat any pork, both of our Lettuce and Swiss Chard dishes had no protein at all. I would have expected that either another protein would have been substituted for the pork, or other dishes that had no pork would have been substituted (maybe lobster). Neither of us realized that these dishes had pork that had simply been omitted. Both dishes without the protein were a bit one dimensional. I think my sister and I will stick with the 4 course menu when we return to EMP to find dishes that better suit our preferences.

                  I think that a Tasting Menu should have a restaurant's best dishes. I love Bouley's Tasting Menu since IMO, Bouley's Tasting Menu is comprised of their best dishes (or at least my favorites).

                  I think MPW's comment is a wise one.

                  Plumpdumpling: Another excellent review with beautiful photos!

                  1. re: fooder
                    r
                    rrems Jul 27, 2011 03:18 PM

                    fooder,

                    I generally don't care for tasting menus either. If my partner and I each order a 4-course meal, we get to taste 8 different dishes of our own choosing. Tasting menus often don't feature the most interesting or unusual dishes, but are designed to appeal to the broadest range of diners.

                    This does not mean I consider EMP's 4-course to be a good deal. Though it is much less than the tasting, I still think it is horribly overpriced. Our recent dinner at the Modern, 4 courses for $98, was flawless and a much better value.

                    1. re: rrems
                      w
                      wreckers00 Jul 28, 2011 12:41 PM

                      I could be interpreting Plumpdumpling and others wrong, but for me the problem I had with the tasting menu at EMP was simply that the food at EMP to me has gotten somewhat ordinary.

                      A lot of the dishes on the menu have remained on there for a while although they've tweaked the accompaniments...if they are different, to me, it just seems like they're the same.

                      I'm not sure what it exactly is, but I've come to find EMP is a little unoriginal? (put Jean-Georges in that boat too). When Plumpdumpling compared EMP to others, I found the ingredients and preparations at Per Se, Momofuku, wd-50, the modern, etc to be just more interesting and unexpected. I'm not saying EMP isn't delicious--it is--it just doesn't surprise me anymore.

                      -----
                      Per Se
                      10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                  2. skylineR33 Jul 28, 2011 12:02 PM

                    Hi plumpdumpling, nice review ! I am going to visit EMP again soon. I would like to do tasting menu this time but will probably go with the 4-course menu now after seeing what is served in the tasting menu ...

                    Your pictures are very bright. Do you use flash ? I see in one of the picture that there is still a lots of day-light in the restaurant, I guess you had an early dinner ? Thanks.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: skylineR33
                      plumpdumpling Jul 28, 2011 02:47 PM

                      Well, as fooder told me, the restaurant is very willing to design the tasting menu around your needs. So get the tasting menu, but don't be like me and keep quiet! If you want the foie, ask for the foie.

                      I'm anti-flash, so we chose the earliest seating (5:30 p.m.) and I used Photoshop to brighten up the later, darker photos.

                      1. re: skylineR33
                        skylineR33 Jul 31, 2011 08:28 PM

                        I just had the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park. It was amazing. They were willing to change whatever we want to see on the tasting menu, kitchen tour, 2nd dessert inside the kitchen, full bottle of cognac to drink...outstanding.

                      2. Kurtis Jul 29, 2011 02:17 PM

                        "Thank you! I guess I was raised to not demand too much, and in the past, I've been pleasantly surprised in letting the kitchen choose the dishes, even if it meant missing some I really wanted to try."

                        I am with you on this in that I would want to experience the tasting menu as designed by the chef/kitchen rather than making it "work for me" especially if this is the first visit to the restaurant. I can understand if you are returning customer with strong preferences and dislikes, but still, that lettuce, though may seem ordinary, can be sublime in talented chef's hand, and there's nothing more satisfying than a dish that changes your perception or previous experience. Also, there's something to be said about having given a spectacular meal without having to tweak it so; after all, one should expect nothing but sublime experience with the tasting menu in a place like EMP.

                        1. b
                          brians77 Jul 30, 2011 07:15 AM

                          I would have never guessed from reading through your reviews of each course that you would come away angry. And to be fair, the per se tasting is $295, not $195.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: brians77
                            n
                            nmprisons Jul 30, 2011 08:58 AM

                            The $295 included gratuity. So it is really only a difference of about $45 between the two (tipping 25%, which the service at EMP certainly calls for).

                            That said, I love EMP. It has consistently proven to be worth every penny. I think the same is true for Per Se.

                            I had the real pleasure of trying Per Se, Daniel, EMP, Le Bernardin, and Jean Georges all within the past could of months and all with the same dining partner. I plan on writing something up about the comparison over the next few weeks, but Per Se, EMP, and Le Bernardin lived up to the hype, and all three produced truly memorable (albeit entirely different) experiences. Jean Georges was pleasurable. Daniel was a total disaster. Truly the worst meal/experience at any NYT three or four star restaurant over the course of our four years in NYC. So, you know, people have different experiences at different places.

                            -----
                            Per Se
                            10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                            Jean Georges
                            1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

                            Le Bernardin
                            155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

                            1. re: nmprisons
                              pizzajunkie Aug 25, 2011 10:18 AM

                              I guess I'm not that experienced in fine dining in NYC - I always tip 20%! We're supposed to tip 25%?

                            2. re: brians77
                              plumpdumpling Aug 25, 2011 12:58 PM

                              Well, like I said in my review, the food they did serve us was outstanding. I just didn't expect two lettuce courses, one dessert, and passive service for that price, which as nmprisons noted, isn't that far off from Per Se's after tip. Sounds like I just got unlucky, though.

                              -----
                              Per Se
                              10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                            3. s
                              shoeman Aug 1, 2011 03:57 PM

                              Now that s food porn

                              1. Adrienne Aug 2, 2011 05:21 AM

                                I have an EMP res in 2 weeks and I've been trying to decide whether I want to go tasting vs 4 course. My main uncertainty really was that it seemed to me that the tasting menu would be way too much food for me and would leave me feeling disgusting the next day (when I have to be at work at 8 am. Yes, on a Sunday). But now that I've read this I feel like maybe the 4-course could actually be better.

                                Is there anyone here who's recently (since the menu change at least) done the 4-course who could say more about how that goes? Does it mean no little special touches at all? Any advice on what to order if we do go with that?

                                Thanks!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Adrienne
                                  Spiritchaser Aug 2, 2011 07:45 AM

                                  Oh no, the EMP 4 course has plenty of special touches (if you are referring to amuses and such). For me at least, the full blown tasting is just too much food to appreciate (even though we've given it our best shot several times) and with the quality the kitchen is putting out it's a shame to not enjoy/appreciate ever single bite.

                                  Shortly after you are seated you'll get a wet towel to freshen up. The some of the incredible gourgers. For the four course you will select from the "grid" menu, 4 lines, 4 columns, line 1 and 2 will be app size, line 3 entree size, line 4 dessert. For line 1 and 2 it isn't required you select one from each line, you could select two from line and none from the other. The grid you only list the main component of the dish and that's where I feel it gets fun. You can engage your Captain and either know every about the dish, nothing about the dish other than the main ingredient, or anywhere in between. Usually, I just tell them I want whatever the Chef thinks is best for the day but there have been times when I've picked my items. You could at this point tell them your likes and dislikes. After you've decided what you are having you'll have a small parade of little items, things like the egg, pea soup with "snow", some sort of "lollipop", an assortment of amuses. After dessert you will also be given some mini macaroons.

                                  The menu changes the main components AND what it does with them so it can be hard to give you suggestions but on recent visits the foie with the strawberries was insanely good, the lobster dish was one of my all time favorites, the halibut was excellent, the beef was excellent. My nephew thought the octopus was incredible but I did not have it.

                                2. s
                                  sambolef Aug 12, 2011 07:12 AM

                                  even in OHIO they ask. didn't get what u expected? your fault--all a buckeye has to do is--ask. they would've bent over backwards to please. would like a tour of the kitchen--ask. i spent over $200 a head for LUNCH at ai fiori--ordered 5 desserts--no comps--food was delicious--guess what-didn't see the kitchen.

                                  1. a
                                    ANin Aug 15, 2011 01:10 PM

                                    I can't tell you how happy I am that you've posted this (unhappy that you had a negative experience). I'm really glad that you found an intelligent and forthright way to discuss the issues you had with EMP. I recently (about a month and a half ago) took my boyfriend to EMP for a special ocasion. It was a huge splurge, and I considered a lot of different restaurants before settling (mainly because of the nearly unanimous praise here on chowhound) on EMP.

                                    My problems weren't with the tasting menu options or the quality of the ingredients - my problems were completely with the service - in that our experience differs. But like you, I left feeling somewhat disappointed and, after reflection, much more dissappointed and a bit angry. I felt (still do feel, honestly), that the experience we had there didn't justify the price. And I was totally willing to spend that money (fairly excited about it honestly) - but I expected the price to reflect the experience and, for me, it didn't. I fully believe that many, many people have had truly fantastic dinners at EMP. I've read a lot of their accounts on this board, and on others. I do, however, think that having more balance reflected on this board is to the benefit of everyone. There are negative experiences at this restaurant - just like there are at others - and it's probably for the best if those are represented with the positive ones.

                                    Thanks for having the courage to post this! I know I had similar reservations about posting after my experience, and I ended up never writing a review because I didn't feel up to facing what I felt would be inevitable backlash.

                                    26 Replies
                                    1. re: ANin
                                      ellenost Aug 15, 2011 07:10 PM

                                      The OP posted on her blog about her return visit to EMP with a very favorable review. You might want to read it.

                                      1. re: ellenost
                                        p
                                        PopMegaphone Aug 15, 2011 09:52 PM

                                        I think it's fair to ask if the meal better because they obviously knew she wrote a semi negative blog post people were looking at. The reviewer even admitted their experience won't be typical. I guess I have a hard time taking a review like that too seriously.

                                        1. re: PopMegaphone
                                          ellenost Aug 16, 2011 03:42 AM

                                          Her second review is an example of what my regular experience has been at EMP through the years: excellent. BTW, I don't have a blog and visit EMP only a few times a year (3 or 4), and I've always been treated very well by the staff. Like the OP, you might want to try EMP again, and you too may be very happy with the second visit.

                                          1. re: ellenost
                                            hcbk0702 Aug 16, 2011 06:22 AM

                                            Yes, but the OP was offered a free "VIP" meal. I'm guessing most people would be willing to try a restaurant a second time if that were the case, even if it was terrible the first time.

                                            1. re: ellenost
                                              p
                                              PopMegaphone Aug 16, 2011 06:45 AM

                                              I refuse to believe that meal and kitchen tour was anything typical. Even the blogger admits it.

                                              I have no problem with EPM or the blogger doing what they did (as long as it's disclosed), but at the same time I give that review zero credibility.

                                              And for the record I have never been to EPM, but I would love to go.

                                              1. re: PopMegaphone
                                                r
                                                ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 06:52 AM

                                                You're quite wrong about it not being anything typical. It may not be typical for the first-time customer (but it may...), but I can tell you that I've had several meals at EMP where I was treated quite similarly. I'm no VIP, don't have a blog, and don't have much money, but I go to EMP several times a year, and the updated meal is almost perfectly ordinary.

                                                The only thing that stands out as possibly being a "VIP-only" touch is the clambake. I've never seen anything like that at EMP--I don't know if it's just a new addition or if it's something reserved for VIPs. The caviar on that dish doesn't look cheap, though, suggesting it's probably not a dish everyone gets.

                                                1. re: ricardo87
                                                  p
                                                  PopMegaphone Aug 16, 2011 06:58 AM

                                                  You just basically conceded it was a VIP experience. By it's very definition you can't call a VIP experience typical.

                                                  Again, that 2nd review gets zero credibility and it shouldn't be taken seriously.

                                                  1. re: PopMegaphone
                                                    r
                                                    ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 07:08 AM

                                                    I said that one dish out of, what, 10? 12?, **MAY** have been a VIP touch. I only noted this because it was the *only* that stood out as remotely different. EVERYTHING ELSE is completely typical for a regular nobody having a meal there.

                                                    It seems you've already convinced yourself that only VIPs get treated well at EMP, despite several people telling you otherwise--people who have actually been to the restaurant and experienced this.

                                                    1. re: ricardo87
                                                      p
                                                      PopMegaphone Aug 16, 2011 07:18 AM

                                                      Stop putting words in my mouth. I'm sure most people have a wonderful experience for their first timing dining at EMP. Here's the thing:

                                                      Even the blogger admits the experience isn't typical. Clearly they were getting a comped meal and a VIP experience. Just contrast the her two reviews. It's painfully obvious.

                                                      Again, I'm not here to slam EPM or the blogger, but that review gets zero credibility.

                                                      1. re: PopMegaphone
                                                        r
                                                        ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 07:30 AM

                                                        I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, sorry if it came across that way.

                                                        And I see your point, but the blogger has no idea what is or isn't typical. She's been twice and had one good experience and one bad experience. It's hard for her (or a reader) to know which of those is closer to the "average" EMP experience.

                                                        And I agree with your point that a review of a comped meal following a public complain has no credibility. I'd take it with a grain of salt. My point, however, is that ellenost and I have both said that this review is pretty close to *our* standard meals at EMP, which aren't comped, aren't VIP, and aren't otherwise unique.

                                                        So yes, in isolation, such a review has no credibility. But when other diners confirm that those experiences (such as the kitchen tour and nitrogen cocktail) aren't limited to VIPs, then you may want to reconsider the idea that the OP's second meal was a VIP-only experience, something regular diners don't ever see.

                                                        1. re: ricardo87
                                                          p
                                                          PopMegaphone Aug 16, 2011 07:38 AM

                                                          Honest question - when you go to EPM do they know who you are? If so your results may not be typical.

                                                          1. re: PopMegaphone
                                                            r
                                                            ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 07:56 AM

                                                            They do, and I'm sure that affects the service end--because they know my personality, they can be more casual, joking, spend more time talking about food, etc, and cater service to my known likes and dislikes. But aside from the occasional (2 or 3 times ever) comped pour of wine, I've never noticed it affecting the food or special treats (such as kitchen tour) I receive. I've sat next to many first-timers who seem to have the exact same experiences as me--I've never received anything from the kitchen or gotten any special access that didn't appear to be offered to anyone in the dining room.

                                                  2. re: ricardo87
                                                    skylineR33 Aug 16, 2011 08:40 AM

                                                    I think the clambake is part of the tasting menu, I had it and I saw couple of table who order the tasting menu had it too on my night of visit.

                                                  3. re: PopMegaphone
                                                    Cheeryvisage Aug 16, 2011 07:27 AM

                                                    Actually, I have to say the kitchen tour is quite freqently offered. I was there for lunch last week and just from observation, a number of tables (including mine) were invited to tour the kitchen.

                                                    1. re: PopMegaphone
                                                      plumpdumpling Aug 23, 2011 02:11 PM

                                                      I definitely agree that the meal wasn't typical, but the only reason I'd expected the kitchen tour and liquid nitrogen cocktail in the first place was that I'd seen another first-time diner blog about it. Maybe they knew to ask for it, though.

                                                      1. re: plumpdumpling
                                                        m
                                                        mr3 Aug 25, 2011 06:51 AM

                                                        The 2nd meal wasn't typical for a regular. The ricotta doesn't ordinarily come with black truffles. The duck isn't part of the tasting menu. The last mignardise is part of the VIP package. However, the clambake is always included as part of a tasting menu.

                                                        Typically, the kitchen tour is offered for: 1) single diners; 2) special occasions; 3) regular customers; 4) friends of the restaurant; 5) people who are really interested in their food and ask a lot of questions (sometimes).

                                                        1. re: mr3
                                                          p
                                                          peter j Aug 25, 2011 07:40 AM

                                                          Do you still work there? I was just wondering when the new restaurant in the NoMad Hotel will open.

                                                2. re: ellenost
                                                  hcbk0702 Aug 16, 2011 04:52 AM

                                                  You mean the dinner, with no comp disclosure, of two complimentary tasting menus with wine pairings ($680 before tax and tip) that was initiated by a phone call from EMP's maitre d'?

                                                  I'm sure that's perfectly reliable.

                                                  1. re: hcbk0702
                                                    Adrienne Aug 16, 2011 05:30 AM

                                                    No disclosure? What are you referring to -- the blog post has a whole paragraph explaining the situation.

                                                    I do think that comping a testing menu because of a 4/5 donuts review seems excessive, but that's the restaurant's prerogative. She (OP) certainly seems to have been more than forthright about how this transpired.

                                                    1. re: Adrienne
                                                      hcbk0702 Aug 16, 2011 06:10 AM

                                                      When the OP posted a link to that "review" on CH, no explicit comp disclosure was made. Naturally, it got deleted pretty fast.

                                                      Even ignoring that, actually handing out a rating (5 out of 5, of course) in this particular situation already shows a lack of judgment.

                                                      1. re: hcbk0702
                                                        plumpdumpling Aug 23, 2011 02:17 PM

                                                        That's not a bad point, actually. I did want to thank the restaurant for an exceptional meal, but maybe a paragraph full of flowery poetry would've done better than an actual rating.

                                                        I don't remember what the text accompanying my review link said, but I would've certainly added an explicit note about it being comped if I didn't think it was already well-explained in the review itself.

                                                        Anyway, constructive criticism noted.

                                                3. re: ANin
                                                  plumpdumpling Aug 23, 2011 02:08 PM

                                                  Thanks for the encouragement! I expected many negative comments when posting this; funny that I only got the really negative ones after admitting that they invited me back for a second try. If you go back, I hope you ask for Kevin. He was our server the second time around and did an incredible job! Funny how service is so much a part of the whole experience.

                                                  1. re: plumpdumpling
                                                    ellenost Aug 23, 2011 02:58 PM

                                                    Kevin is wonderful! Next time I make a reservation at EMP, I'm going to specifically request to be seated at one of Kevin's tables. Billy is also wonderful, and has taken excellent care of my sister and me a few times. All of the staff at EMP are great, but Kevin and Billy are exceptional. I do miss Alexandra and Kirk, but am thrilled about their promotions!

                                                    1. re: ellenost
                                                      loratliff Aug 23, 2011 04:12 PM

                                                      Love Billy!

                                                      1. re: ellenost
                                                        plumpdumpling Aug 25, 2011 09:21 AM

                                                        Dang, you ARE a regular! I just liked that when I asked Kevin's name, he produced his business card. Evidently they get a lot of requests for that what with the service being so great.

                                                        1. re: plumpdumpling
                                                          ellenost Aug 25, 2011 09:51 AM

                                                          Not really a "regular"; just a good memory for names of people that take excellent care of me!

                                                  2. r
                                                    ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 06:28 AM

                                                    Ugh. It just boils my blood when restaurants like EMP reach out to whining bloggers and offer them free meals to appease them. I just can't stand it! I'm a huge fan of EMP, but can't go very often because of my limited income, so to read about people getting treated to a FREE meal because they complained in a public forum annoys me to no end. I love the food, am a semi-regular, and get no handouts; some blogger who squawks loudly enough about how it didn't meet their expectations gets a hugely expensive freebie. Where's the justice in that?!?

                                                    And where is the OP's follow-up on chowhound? The OP gets treated to a comped dinner worth nearly $1000, but I can't find *anything* posted by her on chowhound about how much she loved that meal. The restaurant reaches out, loses buckets of money to please her, but chowhound readers *only* see this negative review. I only found the OP's review of the comped dinner on her blog because another chowhound mentioned it. This is the whole reason the restaurant invited you back--you loved that experience, but don't go shouting about how wonderful it was. All that exists are your shouts of how let down you were, giving readers and review-seekers a completely biased, unfair perspective.

                                                    Not to slight the OP or her blog, but I'm a huge consumer of food media and I've never heard of her nor her blog. The hits her site receives is completely negligible to chowhound, I'm sure, yet she only posts her updated/revised positive opinion on her blog, which (compared to chowhound), no one reads. That's the part that really disgusts me.

                                                    If a restaurant feels the need to go into "damage control" mode to appease a whining blogger and said blogger accepts the free meal, the blogger is required by common decency to report this positive experience *as publicly* as the negative review that started the whole mess. If you accept a huge freebie solely because you whined on chowhound and on your blog, you're *obligated* to report back on ALL THE SAME CHANNELS about how that meal was. Seems obvious, but apparently not...

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: ricardo87
                                                      Cheeryvisage Aug 16, 2011 06:32 AM

                                                      The OP did report back. CH moderators deleted her post and a lot of other subsequent discussions surrounding it in this thread. In fact, I'm not sure how long this current discussion will last before the mods get to it.

                                                      1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                                        jon Aug 16, 2011 07:23 AM

                                                        yeah, all of my posts on this were deleted, but ricardo87, i agree with you. and, on the other hand, EMP, if you want to comp me a free meal, please call or email me.

                                                        1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                                          plumpdumpling Aug 25, 2011 09:23 AM

                                                          Just wanted to thank you for clearing this up! The last thing I'd want to do is not be thankful enough for the follow-up meal.

                                                        2. re: ricardo87
                                                          MVNYC Aug 16, 2011 06:35 AM

                                                          Ricardo, I believe the CH moderators removed the links to the updated blog post because it was a comped meal.

                                                          I agree with most of your assessment, does having a very expensive meal comped encourage more people to write negative things about high end restaurants expecting the same treatment? It does seem unfair to those diners who may have had something negative happen to them but do not post their grievances aloud. This seems like it encourages the complainers of the world.

                                                          1. re: MVNYC
                                                            r
                                                            ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 06:42 AM

                                                            Ah, I had no idea it was posted and deleted. I apologize to the OP in that case for what I said about not posting the updates! I'm sorry, OP, my mistake.

                                                            But I think it's completely wrong for the mods to delete such updates. What's fair about only airing someone's negative opinion and ignoring a restaurants attempt to set things right? As long as there's full disclosure that the meal was comped, I think it's a huge mistake for mods to control/deny access to the whole story by deleting such updates.

                                                            1. re: ricardo87
                                                              a
                                                              ANin Aug 16, 2011 07:00 AM

                                                              I believe the idea is basically that the second meal could in no way be representative of an average diner's experience at the restaurant and can very easily lead to expectations that don't match what the restaurant actually has to offer.

                                                              1. re: ANin
                                                                r
                                                                ricardo87 Aug 16, 2011 07:15 AM

                                                                ANin: Yeah, I assumed that was the rationale. But if readers are told upfront that the meal was comped, then let them make their own judgments. We're grown-ups, we can process information and calculate the effect of context. I've read of 20+ course comped "make-up" meals at the French Laundry, but I obviously know not to expect that when I go.

                                                                The way chowhound is doing it, they're leaving average diners with the expectation that a meal will be a disappointment. I think that's worse than the alternative.

                                                                1. re: ricardo87
                                                                  Adrienne Aug 16, 2011 07:37 AM

                                                                  I second us being grownups. It is obvious from the responses here that some people feel that a review of a comp'd meal is totally irrelevant, and others disagree. It seems to me like we can all make this decision for ourselves, and decide to try restaurants based on our own opinion of the credibility -- in fact, that's what's so special about this website, because over time you can actually get to "know" posters and whether you agree with them, like their recipes, etc., so you make your own choice about who to listen to. The idea that a comp'd meal is illegal to post here seems pretty silly.

                                                                  I guess this comment will probably get censored.

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