(Note: This is the second of four parts. Click here to read Part I.)
As the calendar changed to fall, the leaves in the woods behind our house turned. Looming ahead on the 24th was my birthday. Though recovery progress was very slow, I was adamant that no matter how much pain I was in, I had no intention of spending my birthday lying down in bed! What I did intend to do was celebrate at EMP. M was skeptical and didn’t see how I was going to manage that since (a) just the 5-minute ride to p.t. was agony, so how was I going to stand the one-hour ride to the city? and (b) I couldn’t sit in a chair for more than a couple of minutes.
I decided to try adding acupuncture and asked my physical therapist, Brian Paul, if he knew of an acupuncturist in the area. He recommended Christine Taliercio of Acupuncture Works. And for me, it did! Not an overnight miracle cure by any means, but a major breakthrough. After a few sessions, the pain while driving decreased enough so that I could tolerate the hour’s ride to the city. And sitting in a chair became more comfortable.
In addition to my birthday, there was another big reason I was very eager to go to EMP. At the end of August, it had closed for a week in order to make major changes. When they reopened the day after Labor Day, there were some interior renovations and, more importantly, a totally new menu format. Before we left for Maine, there were rumors and speculations on the food forums about what exactly the changes would entail. Of course, it was the menu changes that elicited the most discussion and questions. I actually knew the facts because in mid-August, M and I had been invited by G.M. Will Guidara to a “Friends & Family” dinner to preview the new concept and provide feedback. However, I could not post about it either here or on the food forums because we were sworn to secrecy.
We liked the menu concept: on a square card, a grid with four lines – three savory and one sweet; on each line four words, each signifying the essence of the particular dish. Further descriptions would be provided by the servers upon request if diners didn’t want to be “surprised.” A friend dubbed it the “bingo card.” But with Chef Humm calling the numbers, there would be no losers!
In addition to the new menu concept, there were other major changes with regard to the cuisine.
Presentation of the amuses became strikingly different. Previously, five pop-in-your-mouth morsels per person were brought out on a single plate. Now, there was a procession of amuses, a kind of back to the future because it reminded us of the very first meal we had after Chef Humm first took over the kitchen, and he sent out what seemed like an endless stream of tiny, delicious hors d’oeuvres. But now, they were fairly substantial and were brought to the table one or two at a time by chefs from the kitchen who described them. This would provide guests the opportunity to meet the behind-the-scenes staff who produce EMP’s culinary magic, to interact with them, and to feel their enthusiasm.
There would no longer be a cheese cart. This was the only change M and I felt we would miss. However, as it turned out, they did make provision for a cheese course but providing it it in a different way.
New mignardises were in store. The assorted macarons brought to the table on a large tray from which guests could pick their favorites was being retired; instead, there would be several different mignardises which might include a macaron (though not at this dinner). Also, there was a parting gift: a jar of EMP’s own granola. We had some at breakfast the next day. No surprise, it was delicious.
Finally, a truly important major change: EMP would be offering the same menu at lunch as at dinner. That meant they were eliminating the very popular 2 for $28 lunch. This, we told Will, is where there would probably be the most grumbling. However, overall, we felt certain most diners would embrace the new format. I’m happy to say that our enthusiasm proved prescient as the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
You can see all the photos from this “Friends & Family” dinner here.
My birthday fell on a Sunday, so the celebration dinner at EMP took place the evening before with J and the P.G. joining us. For the first time in six weeks, it was great to dress up and put on make-up!
At that time, the menu was a four- or five-course prix-fixe. (That has changed. Currently, there is a 4-course prix-fixe and a 7-course tasting menu. At lunch, it’s a 3- or 4-course prix-fixe.) We decided to do five. M, J and I asked for a few details about some of the dishes we were considering, but the P.G. wanted to be surprised, so he didn’t request any descriptions.
When were informed that while it was not listed on the menu, Chef Humm’s signature Honey and Lavender Glazed Whole Roasted Duck was now regularly available at dinner upon request, we immediately ordered one duck to share among the four of us. As usual, tender, rosy, succulent meat and crackling skin just barely perfumed with the lavender. It was plated with huckleberries and turnips. Divine!
Foie Gras was one of the four choices on the first line. I chose it since as the self-styled “Foie Gras Queen,” it’s a tradition for me to have foie gras when celebrating my birthday. The Torchon with Wild Boar and Autumn Vegetables was excellent, providing a wonderful mix of flavors and textures.
It being the start of the season, “White Truffle” was on the second line. Both M and I chose it and received generous shavings over a Slow Cooked Egg with Mushrooms and Frogs Legs. I think the truffles were not as potent as they would become later in the season because their flavor seemed to disappear in the egg.
M and J were very pleased with their first choices: “Tuna” and “Beets” respectively. J and I had the Lobster Poached with Celery and Lemon. Cooked perfectly, the lobster’s sweet meat was nicely offset by the tartness of the celery and lemon. Meanwhile, the P.G. was raving about his first two choices: “Cauliflower” and “Langoustine.” M and the P.G. also chose “Beef” and were thrilled to discover a luscious slice of deeply-flavored and tender-as-could-be short ribs. (I had a taste.)
The cheese cart as it had been was no longer. Now, a single cheese was listed on the menu’s dessert line. This evening, it was Hobelchas. J chose to have it as one of her five courses. (She also had dessert). The cheese was brought on a cart which held a slicer so that the cheese was sliced and plated before us. Interwoven among the slices of Hobelchas were paper thin slices of apple. Finding it too generous a portion to finish by herself, J shared it with the three of us.
For dessert, the P.G. chose “Chocolate,” which turned out to be a Tart with Caramel. The rest of us chose “Vanilla” after our query at the start of the meal elicited the information that it was an old favorite: the immensely satisfying Vanilla Soufflé with Quark and Passion Fruit. Mine was presented with the obligatory candle and birthday wish spelled out on the plate in chocolate.
The amuses got the meal off to an excellent. A few were new to us, like the ultra-smooth, deeply flavorful Chicken Velouté with Toasted Herbed Brioche. Others were the same as those we’d had at the Friends & Family, including my favorite, Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive Oil, which was served in a hollowed out egg. The combination of flavors: ambrosial! It was again sided by delicious slices of smoked sturgeon served canapé-style on lettuce leaves.
Closing out the meal, the mignardises included the Caramel Apple Iced Pops we’d had at the Friends & Family, Peanut Butter Brittle (at the F&F it had been Sunflower-seeded), Pates de Fruits, and Truffles. No macarons.
When we heard that EMP was preparing siphon coffee tableside, we had to try it. The procedure — like watching a chemistry experiment – is so entertaining that it couldn’t help but capture the attention of diners at adjacent tables. I’m not a huge coffee hound, but the coffee this process produces is very good.
Just when we thought the evening was over, they surprised us by escorting us to see the new service area and then into the kitchen for a post-dinner dessert. (We had had a pre-dessert, a quenelle of lemon sorbet.) We watched as the “Kir Royale” – which would normally have been the pre-dessert – was assembled and as we ate it, we spent some time chatting with Executive Sous Chef Abram Bissell. (Chef Humm had stopped by our table to chat earlier in the evening.)
As we walked out through the revolving doors and into the night, we clutched our jars of granola. They would grace our breakfast tables the next morning and remind us of what a lovely evening it had been and for me, a memorable birthday celebration.
The next day, my actual birthday, M and I had dinner at Adour Alain Ducasse. I regret that we never made it to ADNY in the Essex House. But this was our third time at Adour. (To see photos of our first dinner at Adour, click here; for the second dinner, click here.)
Located in the opulent St. Regis Hotel, Adour features those trappings in its truly elegant dining room. I was sorry to learn that Laurie, who had waited on us both previous times, was no longer working there. She had done her job with panache and a sense of humor. With her gone, the always polished service was now provided by an all-male staff.
It being my official birthday, of course, I began the meal with foie gras. We had decided to choose our dishes from the a la carte menu where a foie was a torchon was one of the appetizers. However, I noticed that on the tasting menu, there was a sautéed version. I asked if I could have that, and our captain said it would not be a problem. Not that I expected that there would be…. Two generous slices were perfectly seared and accompanied by Honey Crisp apples and Champagne grapes, all napped with a Floc de Gascogne sauce. Sensational!
M started with the Seasonal Vegetable Pot. Ducasse is known for his superb vegetables. And this dish was as stellar as the vegetable dishes we’d had on our previous visits, especially this one.
We both selected Roasted Lamb for our main course. I thought the meat was just slightly overcooked, but it had good lamb flavor, was nicely sauced, and the vegetables on the plate were delicious. But the star of this course was the side of quinoa served in a little ramekin. The grains had perfect texture and was mixed with herbs and finely minced vegetables. Fantastic!
The desserts by Pastry Chef Sandro Micheli are quite creative and delicious. I had the Honey-Pear Composition. Little pear balls and caramel ice cream were sandwiched between two pastry disks, and the plate was lightly bathed in what I think was pear foam. M had Chocolate Leaf, a layered assemblage: Rice Crispy pastry at the bottom topped with Granduja sorbet and hazelnut mousse.
They’ve changed the style of service with regard to Sandro’s outstanding macarons. Previously, several were brought to the table on a plate, and both prior times, there were only raspberry and vanilla.* This time, our captain arrived with a large, covered box which, when he opened it, was filled with assorted flavors, and we were asked to pick which ones we preferred. As before, there were delectable chocolates to end what was a truly delightful birthday dinner.
To see all the photos from my birthday dinner at Adour, click here.
*To read about what we’ve come to call “The Macaron Caper” the first time we went to Adour, click here.
October marked my return to reading books. From that point to the end of the year, these are the books I read:
Elizabeth George, This Body of Death
I’m a huge the Inspector Lynley books. I first became acquainted with them via the excellent series on PBS.
Elinor Lipman, The Family Man
One of my favorite authors. This is her most recent.
Steig Larssen, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Definitely a page-turner though I did skip over most of the gruesome rape descriptions. I’ll be interested to see the movie when it comes out.
Anne B. Ross, Miss Julia…
I had never heard of the Miss Julia books before but came across them when browsing the library shelves. I read all ten books in sequence. Light and funny.
Scott Turow, Reversible Errors
Another of my favorite writers. Also watched the movie on dvd. A pretty good adaptation.
Finished Dickens’Great Expectations and started Austen’s Emma
Yes, I admit to being a former high school English teacher who has never read many of the classics. Shameful!