Between the Champagne and the Madeira…

I previously summed up our anniversary dinner in a bit of poetry. Now, some details of what came between the opening Champagne toast and the Madeira coda.

We had intended to do the 3-course menu, plus a cheese course. However, Chef Humm had some ideas of his own and tricks up his culinary sleeve. Ergo, three courses stretched to eight!

1968 Madeira

There were a number of surprises during the evening, one of which was the Madeira. A staff member overheard M and me reminiscing about our 25th anniversary when M had ordered a 1968 Porto to celebrate the year of our marriage. At the dinner’s end, instead of the usual bottle of Cognac which is brought to every diner’s table for a “night cap,” Head Sommelier Chris Baggetta arrived with a 1968 D’Oliveiras. A truly thoughtful gesture and much appreciated!

Before arriving at the restaurant, M and I had already decided that our main course would be Chef Humm’s famous duck for two. He had put it on hiatus at the end of last year but, due to popular demand, had returned it to the menu in May. We hadn’t yet settled on which first courses to choose as we’d had almost all of them before. And while M was certain about ending with sorbet, I was conflicted between two desserts: the “Red Velvet” and the soufflé.

Here’s the menu we ended up with. (You can see the entire set of photos on my Flickr here.)

Hors d’Oeuvres
Wine: Pouillon, Brut Vigneron, Brut, Premier Cru, Vallée de lar Marne

Tomato, Artichoke & Zucchini
Ice Cream Sandwiches

Spring Peas
Chilled Soup with Almond Snow and Bayonne Ham Crisp
Wine: Leon Beyer, Cuvée des Comtes d’Eguisheim 2002

Spring Asparagus
Variations with Almond “Snow” and Jamon Iberico
And
Salad with Ruby Grapefruit, Crispy Egg Yolk and Naturtium
Wine: Jean-Pierre Dirler, Cuvée Vielles Vignes, Alsace, France 2007

Arctic Char
Seared with Oregan Morels, Garden Peas and Pearl Onions
Wine: Domaine Daniel Rion, Le Vaucrain, Côte-de-Nuits-Village, Burgundy, France 2006

Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck
Lavender Honey Glazed with Asparagus, Ramps and Strawberries
Wine: Montevertine, Riserva, Radda in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy 1995

Fromage
A Selection of Artisanal Cheeses
Wine: Niepoort, Colheita 1986

“Milk and Honey”
Wine: Lurgashall Winery, English Mead, Petworth, England

Tahitian Vanilla Soufflé
Vermont Quark and Passion Fruit Sorbet

Sorbet
Coconut, Grapefruit, Blackberry, Chocolate
Wine: Domaine des Schistes, Rivesaltes, Southwest Fance 2008

Mignardises
D’Oliveiras, Reserva, Boal 1968

Amuse #1:  Ice Cream Sandwiches

With the seasonal change of menus a couple of weeks away, Chef Humm surprised us by sending out two dishes that gave us a little preview of what he has in store for the months ahead.

Bite-sized Ice Cream Sandwiches composed of vegetables as hors d’oeuvres? Who knew? Tomato, artichoke and zucchini, each with wonderfully intense flavor. Clever and fun. A refreshing start for a summer meal.

Towards the end of the meal, the pre-dessert was another new inspired concept. When the plates were placed before us, my first reaction, “Ooh, that looks like snow.” It was frozen milk with a choppy consistency. We were instructed to dig into the center where we would find buried treasure: honey. The combination worked beautifully together. Sweet, but not too sweet. When we were told that it was called “Milk and Honey,” we quipped, “It should be the national dessert of Israel!”

Amuse #2:  Spring Peas

Chef Humm served us a second amuse, a delightful Spring Peas Chilled Soup with Almond and a Bayonne Ham Crisp. Ham hocks are a traditional ingredient in split pea soups, and dices of ham are often used as a garnish. In this smooth-as-silk chilled pea soup, Chef Humm provided the ham component in the form of that crisp. A pleasing kick of saltiness against the intense sweetness of the spring peas.

Arctic Char

He also gifted us with an additional course from the current menu. The Seared Arctic Char with Oregon Morels, Garden Peas and Pearl Onions, was one of the very few dishes we’d not had before. Truth to tell, though I love salmon, for no reason I can really put my finger on, Arctic char has never appealed to me. However, as I’ve said many times before, Chef Humm can get me to like foods that I normally eschew. And such was the case here. The char’s flavor was quite mild and pleasant, but what made this fish truly fabulous was the unbelievably crispy skin. The morels and peas spoke of spring, and the pearl onions added the crowning taste touch.

Spring Asparagus

For our first course, I decided to revisit a dish we’d had at the end of April when we did the 11-course Gourmand with our friend u.e. At that time, it was called “Spring out of Winter.” Now, with the cold weather months a distant memory, the dish has been renamed: “Spring Asparagus Variations with Almond ‘Snow’ and Jamon Iberico.” I love the plating! It looks as though the asparagus are peeping out from under a mound of, yes, snow. And the appeal is not just to the eye, but also to the palate. A wonderful combination of flavors and textures: lovely crisp asparagus, along with other spring vegetables, the smooth almond-flavored “snow,” and the light saltiness of the ham.

Spring Asparagus

M chose an appetizer neither of us had had before: Spring Asparagus Salad with Ruby Grapefruit, Crispy Egg Yolk and Nasturtium. Leave it to Chef Humm to put together ingredients that would seem like odd companions. But the combination of white and green asparagus, red grapefruit supremes, and two crisp-fried egg yolks really worked! Colorful and, from the bites I tasted, delicious!

Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck

Now, about that main course, Chef Humm’s signature Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck, Lavender Honey Glazed with Asparagus, Ramps and Strawberries. We have had the duck quite a few times before. But we could have it a hundred times and still be awe-struck at how fabulous it is. That phenomenally crispy skin! The oh-so-succulent, flavorful meat! Absolutely the best duck on the planet!

Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck

Each time we’ve had it, the accompaniments have been different and always seasonal. Last summer, for example, it was blueberries and sweet corn. In the fall, at my birthday dinner, it was fennel and black mission figs.

This time, there was a triplet of spring delights. The strawberries, whose sweetness was enhanced by being warmed, and the tasty asparagus spears remained whole. The swath of puréed asparagus held a neat surprise: the oniony kick from chopped ramps.

The duck is carved and plated with its accompaniments table-side. Love the ceremony! And the finishing touch: a delectable sauce (I didn’t take any notes, so I don’t remember its composition) spooned around the slices of duck breast. Kudos to our captain Kevin Browne for a masterful job!

Oh, and let’s not forget the extra little dish of heaven – the duck confit submerged beneath a layer of foie gras-infused cream. Wow!

Because of Chef Humm’s generosity, we were getting a little full, and we wanted to leave room for the cheese course and dessert. So, we decided to each take home half our duck breast portions and half the confits. (When our leftover duck was being taken back to the kitchen to be wrapped, I asked it I could have a little extra sauce. When we got home, I discovered that not only was the sauce there, but the generous kitchen staff had also packed a nice portion of asparagus and strawberries.)

Captain Kevin Browne and the Fromage Cart

Kevin brought over the cheese cart and moved off to the side as I was taking a photo of it. When I told him I wanted him to be in the picture, instead of moving behind the cart, he bent over and stuck his face in front of my camera and I snapped the shot. You have to agree that he’s quite a handsome guy!

Tahitian Vanilla Souffé

After the cheese (always top-notch!) and the “Milk and Honey,” we had dessert, our plates inscribed with “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate. I ended up choosing the Tahitian Vanilla Soufflé with Vermont Quark and Passion Fruit Sorbet because while I’d just had the “Red Velvet” when we did the “11” in April, it had been ages since I’d had the soufflé. Perfectly executed, it was as delectable as I remembered it. The combination of the vanilla, the cheesy quark and the passion fruit ice cream is dynamite!

Sorbet

Sorbets at EMP are ultra-smooth and ultra-creamy with intense flavor. And, as I’ve noted before, the quenelles are so perfectly shaped, it’s hard to believe it is the work of a human hand. M asked for all four available flavors: blackberry, chocolate, grapefruit and coconut. The only teensy slip of the evening, the kitchen accidentally forgot one, the coconut. Kevin immediately had it brought out in a little bowl.

When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed at the reception desk by G.M. Will Guidara (Were you purposely there waiting for us, Will?) and were honored to have him escort us to our usual table. While chatting with him, I mentioned that I had posted a photo on this blog of M and me on our wedding day. Off went Will to have a look, and we then discovered that the sly devil had printed out the photos and was showing it to the staff. Many of them stopped by our table to congratulate us, which we really appreciated, and mentioned having seen it.

M was immensely pleased with the wines Chris Baggetta chose to pair with each course. And Kevin, who has been our captain many times, did his usual spectacular job, not only seeing to all our needs but making the evening a boatload of fun!

Finally, Chef Humm – who graciously came by at the end of the evening to offer his best wishes – and his team went all out for us, producing a truly spectacular meal!

Another anniversary come and gone, but this celebration at EMP and everything that came between the Champagne and the Madeira will always remain sweet memories.

Eleven Madison Park
June 8, 2010 – Near Midnight

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One Response to “Between the Champagne and the Madeira…”

  1. Fabrice Pouillon Says:

    Best wishes from Champagne for your annerversary !
    I am very happy that you choose our Brut Vigneron for this event.

    Sincerely,
    Fabrice.

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