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Mar 3, 2012 02:22 AM

EMP - anything I should know for the best experience?

Heading to EMP in a couple weeks in a small party, from out of town celebrating a birthday. We've been fortunate enough to go to places like PS, FL, Alinea, etc, and so we're looking forward to an experience on a similar level. We're going to be doing the tasting menu. I've read many threads already about various people's experiences, but still had a few questions:

- my understanding is that there are no choices to be made if going for the tasting menu. is this actually the case - if not, aside from personal preference are there any decisions that are especially popular?

- are there things off-menu we should specifically ask for? several people have mentioned the duck or clambake as something you may have to specially request.

- if we want a kitchen tour, should we request it? or accept that they might invite us if it's convenient for them? several posters have alluded to their meal concluding during the crush and didn't get an invitation. we don't want to inconvenience the kitchen.

- one person in our party doesn't drink alcohol. do they offer a non-alcoholic beverage pairing? or can they put that together if you request it? we had something like this at Alinea.

- for those people who are going for the wine pairing but don't want to drink quite so much, is it acceptable to ask for short pours?

- when i made the reso, they didn't ask for food allergies. later i was surprised by this because usually this is requested by the reservationist. should i call back and let them know of any dietary restrictions?

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

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  1. You do have a choice. You cannot tell them you want this-this-this-this-and this, and you cannot ask for something they simply don't have in the kitchen, but if (for instance) you want the item listed as "Rabbit" as your main protein instead of "Beef" they will do it without question. This was confirmed by our server on 2/28 as we inquired directly.

    The duck requires a request. The clambake comes with the tasting. If you want a killer souffle instead of the dessert (which you should as I found the "chocolate" on the current menu quite mediocre) they make a vanilla one with quark and quince that is unreal.

    E-mail and request to see the kitchen. Worst they can say is no.

    Yes they can do non-alcoholic pairings, and they are stellar. Request an "orange julius."

    Cannot comment on the small pours, but in general they are a "YES" restaurant, so I don't imagine it to be an issue.

    They can probably accomidate restrictrictions on the fly, but if it is something truly substantial I'd call or e-mail to be sure.

    10 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      Did you have the dark chocolate or the milk chocolate when you dined there? Or did they not give you the option? I had the dark (and I think sgordon did too).

      They have a non-alcoholic section of the cocktail menu with 4-5 options. Unfortunately it is not online (which annoys me). The physical cocktail menu you are given is usually longer than the one online.

      1. re: kathryn

        Milk. They did not give me an option, unfortunately, or I'd have chosen dark.

        They did give a seared vs. cold foie option an although the portion of cold was almost laughable (especially compared to the seared) the composition was brilliant and it was truly delicious.

        1. re: uhockey

          Well, that sucks, as the dark chocolate dessert is amazing. We did crab, lobster, seared foie, truffle pasta, duck for two, dark chocolate when I went in December -- basically one of my dream meals. We did go for the prix fixe, though.

          1. re: kathryn

            We enjoyed Cauliflower, Foie Gras, Sunchoke, Lobster, Beef, Triple Creme, Chocolate.

            Much of the menu has recently turned over according to Chef Humm (and the people I was dining with) noted that both the hot and cold foie, chocolate, beef, and cheese presentation had changed. The ultra-aged beef really is a thing of beauty and the chances he is taking with vegetables are also quite something.

            All things being equal it was a very good meal and I loved the "New York Heritage" aspects of it - I just preferred my meal last year more.

            Interestingly your name came up during the meal as I browsed the cocktail list and my co-diners commented that you are quite fond of their cocktail program. I had the "Heart of Stone" and it was one of the best cocktails I've had in a very long time - probably ever since Avenues Tobelerone actually.


            1. re: uhockey

              I've not tried the Heart of Stone yet, glad you enjoyed it so much!

        2. re: kathryn

          We actually had both - one of us was served the dark, the other milk. The dark chocolate was the less-than-exciting one for me - a bunch of different textures / preps that were all good, but nothing I hadn't had before. The milk chocolate dessert (the one with bergamot) I thought was amazing, though. I'm admittedly more of an MC guy than a DC guy - I know, sacrilege among chocofficionados. But hey, I like what I like.

        3. re: uhockey

          Thanks! Just to follow up on the menu choices, out of the 16 ingredients listed, about how many end up on the tasting menu? Just to get a sense of how that works, do people whittle it down a lot to exactly the ingredients they want, or is it more typical to just state a preference for one or two / ask not to get one or two?

          1. re: pierrex

            You don't "whittle it down" at all - the concept of a tasting menu is the chef's stream of consciousness. It is like ordering an Omakase menu in a sushi restaurant. If you want to name your own terms order the prix-fixe.

            There are 7 proper "courses" in the tasting. 2 vegetables, 1 foie gras, a seafood, a meat, cheese, and dessert.

            In addition to those 7 there are 3-4 rounds of amuses (each with multiple components - the clambake being one of them,) a pre-dessert, the egg cream, and the mignardises.


          2. re: uhockey

            Also just to clarify, regarding the clambake, did you mean that if it's on the menu then it's available and we'll definitely get it, or that it's always served even if it's not listed on the menu? Or is it on the menu and you have to express a preference for that as one of your menu choices? Thanks!

            1. re: pierrex

              It is an amuse bouche. It is not "on the menu." As long as you order the tasting you will get it.


          3. In general my view is that for the best experience at EMP you do tell them as much about your preferences and desires as possible. You should definitely call them and let them know, they will take notes. As uhockey mentioned, they are very much a "YES" restaurant, and will do their best to accommodate. They may not always be able to accommodate, but you should definitely ask.

            1. Sure seems like the best strategy is not to expect any extras, or any over the top accommodations or divergence from the printed menu.

              Maybe it's best not to go in pining for the VIP services, or trying to angle yourself for "surprises" you have read about in reports. It's hard not to want all that or feel equally as entitled as the table next to you, but with an increasing number of reviews commenting on the service, it's hard not to think some of that is a reflection on the expectations of the patrons to EMP. The various methods in which customers try to prompt EMP to deliver is a strange phenomenon.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sugartoof

                .....this presents a sort of double edged sword and a flaw of the message boards in general. When people are spending $200+ on a meal they want to feel "special" - as "special" as every single guest in the house - and I think EMP as well as Per Se do the best job in New York of making that the case.

                With that said, however, there are obviously certain perks to being "known to the house" - it is the reason people eat at the same spot 20, 30, or 100 times - it is a mutual exchange as the restaurant provides them a stellar experience and the patrons keep coming back. Even though I wasn't "blown away" this time as I felt the meal ended on a low note with the cheese and desserts I would be very hard pressed to NOT go back to EMP the next time I visit New York. A less than perfect meal at EMP is still better than the best meal 99% of the restaurants in town can provide on their very best day.

                When it is all said and done this is the flaw of any restaurant offering a "customized" dining experience and perhaps part of the reason some people walk in with inflated expectations and are subsequently let down. It is particularly true of EMP as I don't think there is a single restaurant in New York that gets so much love on the message boards.


                1. re: uhockey

                  I agree, I think it's part of what makes EMP and Per Se what they are, but I think they've locked themselves into a strange predicament where they can either knock it out of the park for special occasion dining, or simply causes undue anxiety and frustrations. Now we've reached a level where people are going home with gifts, getting some other special service, and still feeling cheated out of something.

                  EMP really was known for being solid, and a great deal at lunches. The whole "known to the house" thing came later.

              2. Just so you know, there is no pre-printed "tasting menu" - so unless you specifically ask your server what the proper "courses" are from it (the 7 which are taken from the grid - two veg, foie, fish, meat, cheese, dessert) you won't know in advance to ask them if they could switch from the beef to the rabbit or whatever.

                Last time we were there our server was... less than one expects form EMP. He was a bit difficult in revealing what the TM would consist of, or giving us details on how the "grid" choices were prepared. That said, it was an anomoly for a server at EMP to be that way - they've always been (and I assume always will be) quite accomodating.

                Generally there are two version of each menu item ready-to-go, so at the very least you should ask that for the proper courses (if you're dining with someone) that each of you recieve the other version, instead of both recieving the same - that way you've more of a variety at the table.

                They're very accomodating with wine pairings. If someone in your party doesn't drink much, they don't have to feel weird not finishing the glass given. I would often finish mine while my gf would leave a bit, they'd just clear it away as the next course arrived. Not finishing a glass of wine doesn't send the same message as not finishing a dish does. And it's better to have too much than too little in your pour, so I'd err on the side of not asking for short pours.

                If you've your heart set on the clambake, I'd email first and see if it's available. As seasons come and go, or the kitchen wants to move on to something new, old things go and new things appear. Heck, uhockey and I had our tastings about two weeks apart and there were some significant differences in just that short period.

                Kitchen tours - I'd email first if you wanted to be absolutely sure to get one. The problem is, they never know how many people will be ordering a tasting on any given night, and if too many people do, you could have overlapping groups all expecting a tour. Requesting one in advance might help put you on the "guaranteed" list.

                Common allergies and restrictions - shellfish, pork, etc - I'm sure they're ready for on-the-fly. But it never hurts to let them know in advance.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sgordon

                  I'm obviously not an EMPY's been a while since I've been in...but do you think it's possible there's a correlation between the service you received, and any angling you had to do to get the dining experience you hoped for?

                  Allergy restrictions aside, I think this idea that you're supposed to call or email ahead to a restaurant and goose up your dinner that way is unfortunate, even if they created that situation and are responsive to it.