Picking up from here…
M’s birthday celebration began with surprise cocktails created especially for us by two members of EMP’s fabulous bartending team: Leo, the head bartender, and Eamon, who is responsible for designing the non-alcoholic cocktail program. With the exception of sweet wine with foie gras, I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, so during the past year, Eamon has been putting together some really wonderful mocktails for me. Because he knows what I like, they’re always on the sweet side but often also have a citrus element to provide a bit of tang. The birthday mocktail, while still sweet, had a different flavor profile, but was equally delicious. I tasted M’s cocktail, and despite the inclusion of Amontillado sherry, I found it mild enough so that it would have suited me as well.
Even before all this excitement took place, there was another surprise. As we sat down, we spotted an envelope on our table. Oooh! What could this be? It was a note from our dear friend Family of One. And as we were reading her lovely sentiments, Sommelier Jeff Taylor arrived right on cue to present us with her gift, a dessert wine with which we would cap off the meal.
And what a meal it was! As with all celebratory dinners at EMP, we would be doing the 11-course Gourmand. But as usual, Chef Humm was most generous, and it became a baker’s dozen.
Check out the menu and the rest of this review below the fold.
Click here to see all of the photos from this meal.
Sterling Royal Caviar
Spheres of Smoked Sturgeon and Salmon Cream
Salad with Lynnhaven Farms Chèvre Frais, Nasturtium and Rye Crumble
Terrine with Gold Pineapple, Pickled Pearl Onion and Rum Raisin Brioche
Black Truffle Beignet
“Winter in Provence”
Black Truffles, Chèvre Frais and Potatoes
Black Bass with Bouchot Mussels, Bay Scallops, Hawaiian Prawns and Chorizo
Nova Scotia Lobster
Poached with Piment d’Espelette, Celery and Meyer Lemon
Everglades Frogs’ Legs
Sautéed with Parsley and Porcini Custard
Roasted with Endive, Medjool Dates and Juniper
Four Story Hill Sweetbreads
Sautéed Artichokes, Black Truffles and Smoked Marble Potatoes
Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo and Lemon
Milk & Chocolate
Variations of Flavor and Texture
With Family of One’s gift having settled the question about a dessert wine, M discussed additional pairings for himself with Jeff. When we did the Gourmand for his birthday last year, M paired a wine with every course, and that led to this “wall of wine.” Having learned from that and other experiences that eleven glasses are really way, way too much for him, he settled on an additional six glasses.
Jeff took the dessert wine away to be chilled and returned it just before the first of the two desserts arrived, neither of which we’d had before. The choice of the Brachetto d’Acqui was perfect: red because M prefers red wines and sweet for me. It also had some fizz, kind of like a sophisticated berry soda.
And speaking of soda, the first dessert was called “Soda Pop.” Crack open the glistening dome, which I think was lemon-flavored, and inside was a tangy tangerine-grapefruit-pomelo slush. Not sure what the crunchies at the bottom of the bowl were composed of, but the combination of their crackle and the cold slush was delightful. A refreshing and fun dessert!
There followed the obligatory chocolate dessert. I say obligatory because it is rare to come across a tasting menu that does not include a chocolate finish. I think it’s such a popular dessert route because so many people love chocolate and would be disappointed if it were not included. This is more an observation on my part than a complaint. When Milk & Chocolate arrived, M’s plate included a lit candle and “Happy Birthday, M____!” inscribed in chocolate. The chocolate half of this duo was composed of dark chocolate chunks similar to little candy bars and dehydrated crunchy dark chocolate which reminded me of brownies. The “milk,” a large quenelle of caramel white chocolate ice cream, was especially delicious.
Okay, now that I’ve covered dessert, let’s rewind to what came before.
I had seen a post on one of the food forums from someone who had had the Gourmand in December. Thinking that the one we would be having would be pretty much the same, we printed it out and showed it to our captain for the evening, Kevin Browne. A couple of days before this dinner, I happened to mention to M that we hadn’t seen Kevin the last few times we’d been to EMP. Could it be that he was no longer there? That would have been a total bummer! The karmic gods must have heard us talking because upon our arrival, we were overjoyed to learn that Kevin would be our captain. He’s a terrific guy, a consummate professional, very down-to-earth and has a great sense of humor (to say nothing of the fact he has the same name as a now-retired Yankee pitcher, no small thing with us two Yankee fans). It’s always such fun when he’s assigned to our table.
Looking over the printout, he told us that there were some changes on the current Gourmand. We didn’t ask what they were but told him that if it still included veal cheeks, we would like to substitute the sweetbreads from the regular menu because we had already had the cheeks in early January when we did the lunch Gourmand. Kevin’s reply: “Done!”
Now, I’m a firm believer that the birthday person should have his or her favorite foods. And among M’s favorites are sweetbreads. (We usually refer to them by the French ris de veau.) His love of them goes way back, starting when we traveled to Québec and France, where they were found regularly on menus well before they became a popular item in restaurants in the U.S. I, however, am a new convert. Over the years, when M would order them, I would take little tastes, but it took me a long time to be able to appreciate their deliciousness. It was a dish from Chef Humm that finally brought me totally around. That “Aha!” moment came during my birthday dinner in October when he served us this sweetbreads dish. This time the Four Story Hills Sweetbreads were accompanied by a scooped out artichoke bottom which was the vessel for chopped artichokes topped with a good-sized black truffle. Fingerling potatoes were dotted with bits of truffle as were the sweetbreads. The two small sweetbreads nuggets were superb! Crispy on the outside; soft and succulent on the inside. A swath of artichoke purée and a sauce spooned tableside completed this wonderful dish.
We were served two dishes we’d had before. I think Chef Humm included the Heirloom Beets Salad with Lynnhaven Farm Chèvre Frais, Nasturtium and Rye Crumble because he knows that we particularly adore his beets. He is truly a master at extracting the highest level of flavor from them. The creamy chèvre whipped into airy lightness is a great foil, and the delicious rye crumble adds a crunchy texture to the plate.
The Foie Gras Terrine with Golden Pineapple, Pickled Pearl Onions and Rum Raisin Brioche was the return of a dish from the past which I think dates back to sometime in ’08. Certainly, no complaints from us! Chef Humm’s foie gras torchons are always smooth as the proverbial silk. The sweetness of the pineapple works well with the richness of the foie. Taken in together with the snappy flavor of the pickled onions which offsets the richness and sweetness of the foie and fruit, what you have is a combination that is outstanding! The toasted brioche did present one teensy problem. I don’t like raisins in my bread. Happily, there weren’t that many, so I was able to easily pick them out.
“Winter in Provence” provided us with very enjoyable entertainment as well as something luscious to eat. A prep table holding four little pots and two stainless steel canisters was placed tableside, and Sous Chef Tim Caspare arrived to assemble the dish. Before starting, he explained that when people think of Provençal cuisine, they immediately think of glorious summer flavors. But there are wonderful products in winter as well, and this dish highlights three of them: black truffles, chèvre, and potatoes. I can’t remember which were in the cans and which were already in the little pots. But Chef Tim squirted and spooned – et voila! Three flavorful fluffs which in concert were ambrosial!
This being black truffle season, they appeared in yet another course, the insanely delicious Black Truffle Beignet. When the cover was removed from the container in which it sat, the aroma was so intoxicating, I nearly fainted with delight. The intense flavor of the little ball was celestial. Dipped into the truffle remoulade? Divine!
Mushrooms of a different type were a feature of the Everglades Frogs Legs. Those tasty morsels were submerged in a lusty porcini custard topped with a roasted garlic foam. What’s not to love?
No fungi with the Organic Quail. Rather, a giant Medjool date and roasted endive were tasty accompaniments for the delicious slice of breast meat cooked medium rare. The plate was finished with a wonderfully crisp stick of flat pastry infused with juniper berry.
Three seafood courses rounded out the savory side of the menu. To open the meal, Royal Sterling Caviar is featured in Chef Humm’s latest version of Spheres. In one spoon, smoked sturgeon and, in the other, salmon cream, each sided with a dollop of caviar. Since I don’t eat caviar, it was not included on my spoons. Taking in each sphere at once one after the other, the flavors explode in the mouth, the intensity of the sturgeon offset by the milder creamy salmon. The paper thin ultra-crispy potato gaufrette has just the right level of saltiness and work perfectly with the fish. (By the way, these insanely delicious chips are provided with drinks at the bar. Personally, I think EMP should bag them and sell them at a stand outside the front door!)
The Bouillabaisse stars moist and flavorful black bass surrounded by lovely mussels, scallops and prawns, all swimming in a delectable seafood nage. Generous droplets of chorizo-infused oil spooned tableside add just the right kick.
Nova Scotia Lobster poached with piment d’espelette was cooked perfectly, as it always is in the capable hands of EMP’s kitchen crew. Truly succulent! And celery never tastes more wonderful than when Chef Humm prepares it. The lobster knuckle and the fabulous orange butter sauce were added tableside. In sum, a divine dish!
We loved the four cheeses we chose from from the excellent selection on the cart, we ended with a few of EMP’s fantastic macarons, M had his favorite Riviera tea, and he was gifted with a giant birthday macaron.
Earlier on, just after we finished the truffle beignet, it occurred to me that we had not been served the usual hors d’oeuvres and gougères at the start. I commented about it to M, but neither of us was in any way bothered by the omission. A few moments later, Robert Kihlstrum came by to see how we were doing, and I offhandedly mentioned it to him. With a little grin, he remarked in his wonderfully understated and droll British way, “Not very 4-starish of us.” Although we told him it wasn’t necessary since it wasn’t as though we’d never had them before and, besides, we were certainly not going to go away hungry, he insisted that we should have them and hastened off to see to it. In the blink of the proverbial eye, the hors d’oeuvres appeared (though not the gougères). We ate them as a sort of intermezzo snack.
That tiny misstep notwithstanding, this was a stunning meal. And, dear Robert, most assuredly very “4-starish”!