We’ve walked through Eleven Madison Park’s revolving doors more than 100 times. But it never gets old. Always, there’s a feeling of excitement as we step into that gorgeous space. While most of our monthly visits are for lunch, when it comes to special occasions, we do dinner. And so on Saturday evening, October 24th, we were there to celebrate my birthday.
Lending additional excitement to the event was the fact that it would be our first time having the fall menu which had been introduced two weeks before. I had already heard that it was a mix of new dishes and “oldies but goodies.”
At our table, there was a card for me and, as usual, the box tied with bakery string containing the Black and White Cookies with Cheddar and Apple. But there was also a new table setting. As you can see, napkin rings.
We quickly discovered that the ring had another purpose. The first of several opening salvos was Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive, making a return appearance after a long absence. It’s one of our all-time favorites. So-o-o- delicious! And the ring acted as a holder for the egg. How clever is that?!
As usual, Michael did wine pairings. The selections were made by Sommelier John Ross who chose Champagne to accompany the opening courses. I adore the non-alcoholic French Sparkling Cider, so I had a glass to start and then another during the meal.
The Sabayon was followed by a brand new course: Oyster Pie and Velouté. Since I’m iffy about oysters, I got Parsnip Pie and Velouté. I’m pretty sure the kitchen knows that parsnips are one of my favorite vegetables. Both the veloutés were white, and the pies looked exactly the same. Poured tableside, the velouté was creamy, and the crust on the mini pie was crisp.
Next, another new dish: Scallops Marinated with Black Truffle and Leeks. What’s not to like about this dish? Frankly, I can’t think of a thing. Have I mentioned that leeks are another of my favorite veggies. Overall, a delicious combination of textures and flavors.
The Caviar Benedict has been on the menu for a couple of cycles. It’s made with eggs, ham, and a seasonal vegetable. In the spring, it was asparagus; in the summer, corn. In the autumn version, it’s cauliflower. There’s also a new addition to the presentation. Decorating the edge all around are teeny tiny flakes of the yellow part of a hard-boiled egg. It arrives with caviar (eliminated on mine since I don’t eat caviar), and a dollop of cream is added at the table. The house made English muffins remain a lovely accompaniment.
House made rolls along with butters and sea salt start the main part of the meal.
For the foie gras course, there is always a choice between cold and hot. We asked for descriptions. I’m usually partial to warm foie but this preparation included eel which I don’t like. When the cold version was described, we went with it. An “oldie but goodie” from last year’s fall menu, Foie Gras Marinated with Cabbage and Apple is truly unique in both appearance and flavor profile. The skill required to make it look like a perfect slice of red cabbage boggles the mind. And there really aren’t words to describe how it tastes. Seriously delicious will have to do. John chose a Riesling to pair with it.
Ah, the return of the Waldorf Salad! Prepared tableside, the EMP version contains apples, celery root, grapes, and walnuts and is dressed with a house made flavored mayonnaise. For those who’ve not had it before, the captain who prepares it briefly explains its New York City/Waldorf Astoria Hotel-related history. This is actually a two-part course. The salad is placed in a shallow bowl that rests atop another deeper bowl which secretly holds a chilled Celery Root-Apple Velouté. The bowls were specially crafted for EMP. A spoon rest notch keeps the utensil from falling into the bowl.
Michael always enjoys a change-of-pace beer pairing, so John Ross poured this one for the next two courses.
New to the menu, thin sheets of pasta encase Lobster Poached with Butternut Squash and Chestnuts, and the sauce is added tableside. The different flavors and textures played well together.
Hen of the Woods Mushroom with Horseradish is also new. I loved how the horseradish added just the right zing to the meaty mushrooms.
The arrival of our engraved knives signals that main savory course is about to be served.
At the start of the meal, diners are asked to choose between two options for that course. Chef Humm’s famous duck is always one of them. The other is seasonal. This being fall, it’s venison, and Michael opted for it. I don’t much care for venison, and since I’ve had the duck too many times to count, I was in the mood for something different. I asked if there might be another option. Our captain checked with Executive Sous Chef Dmitri Nagy who was in charge of the kitchen that evening and reported back that a chicken dish could be made for me. To be honest, I didn’t think he’d say no especially on my birthday! And I have no doubt if another guest didn’t like venison or duck, he’d make if for that person, too. After all, hospitality to the nth degree is the way they roll at EMP.
John chose a Crozes-Hermitage 2001 from the Coravin list to pair with the venison. Next stop for Michael — wine heaven!
One of the cooks came to our table to present the venison before it was plated.
Michael was extremely pleased with the Venison Roasted with Beets and Onion.
The dish created for me was Chicken Roasted with Brown Butter. The white meat chicken was flavorful, and as far as I’m concerned, brown butter makes any dish a winner!
The cheese course, Apple Tart with Cheddar and Bitter Greens, married something new – the tart – with something that’s been served before with the cheese course though not recently – the salad. There was also a small jar of bacon marmalade. The tart was terrific! And the serve-yourself salad’s pristine lettuces were dressed just right.
This pre-dessert, Botrytis with Ice Cream, Bitter Almond, and Ginger Crumble, has been on and off the menu the past few seasons. I like sweet wines, and the one for this course is definitely that. It’s siphoned out of the bottle and dripped onto a special spoon from which one sips the wine.
With the dessert course, John’s pairing choice was a 1968 Madeira! Michael’s reaction when he tasted it? OMG! And that just happens to be the year we were married!
Milk and Honey Custard with Bee Pollen Ice Cream is a new dessert. I’ve openly admitted that I haven’t always loved EMP’s desserts. But this one definitely floated my dessert boat! Loved discovering the honey inside.
They’re still doing the “Name That Milk” game, and the Chocolate Pretzels with Sea Salt have become a fixture.
We ended, as has become our custom, with the Siphon Coffee, and Michael had his favorite post prandial Laird’s Number Eleven.
I received the Birthday Bonbon which I took home along with two jars of the now famous Granola, the latter being the gift given to all diners.
Oh, and the take-home menu is now a fold-out inside a Benedict container. They did this once many years ago using a caviar container — which I still have! Definitely an “oldie but goodie”!
So, are you, perhaps, wondering if like in the past they surprised me with a special birthday gift? Well, they did give me a birthday gift, but here’s how it went. The NoMad Cookbook had just come out, so I was hoping, hoping, hoping it would be the gift. And as if they had read my mind — it was!
Since Daniel and Will were in Chicago that very evening for events related to the book, it was Dmitri who presented it to me right after we arrived for our kitchen visit. So, not exactly a surprise but a wish fulfilled.
At my age, I’m thrilled to be having another birthday because it says, “I’m still here!” It’s definitely something to celebrate and, for me, there’s no better place to do so than with our EMP family. My sincerest thanks to all of them for making the evening so special!
To see the entire photo set of this dinner on my Flickr, click here.