On How EMP’s Duck Led to the Birth of a Friendship and, Yes! Another Great Meal….

Duck

uhockey was looking for someone to share the duck at EMP. As we used to say in Hebrew class when attendance was taken, “Hineni!” (Translation: “Present” of “Here I am!)

I “met” uhockey on-line on Chowhound’s Manhattan board. He lives in Ohio and visits NYC once or twice a year – sometimes to attend a conference; other times for pure pleasure. When planning his dining, he asks for suggestions, and it’s always interesting to see his final itinerary. He posts his reviews and includes a link to them on his blog. Extremely well-written, they contain a wealth of details, his opinions as to how the food stacks up and are accompanied by his excellent photos.

In January, he posted that he was coming here in February to attend a conference and lunch at EMP would be on his dining schedule. He’d been there once before several years ago, and while he liked the food a lot, it didn’t quite wow him. Since then, EMP was accorded NY Times 4-star status, and Chef Humm received the 2010 James Beard Award as Best Chef NYC. Intrigued by the new menu format, uhockey wanted to see if the restaurant could live up to those accolades and wow him this time.

He had also read all the raves about the whole roasted duck and wanted to try it. A call to EMP elicited the response that they would be willing to prepare it for him, but that it was much too much for one person, especially if that person wanted to sample a variety of other dishes on the menu – which, of course, he did. Ergo, his shout-out on Chowhound for a possible dining partner. Well, he got two!

I contacted Service Director Megan Vaughan to secure the reservation for a day and time fitting uhockey’s schedule and requested the duck. She told me the per person charge (not an issue) and said that one would be readied for us. In my exchange of emails with uhockey, he mentioned that another thing he had not had the opportunity to try was the soufflé. So, I also asked Megan if that could be arranged, and she said it certainly could. (When does EMP ever turn down a special request from any patron? If that has ever happened, I’ve never heard about it!)

Amuse

Having already freshened our hands with warm towels and popped a few of the gougères which had been brought immediately after we were seated, we didn’t have to wait long for the arrival of the amuses. Halibut Dashi with Levash was first, followed by the Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon and, finally, the Black Truffle Beignet with Truffled Yogurt. Despite having had all three before – actually, a few times – M and I still very much enjoyed them. The sabayon and the beignet have been two of my favorites, so I was glad that uhockey got to have them. He was pleased with all three.

When it comes to foie gras, uhockey and this “Foie Gras Queen” are kindred spirits though he prefers the cold while I favor the hot. Thus, no surprise that he began the meal proper with the Foie Gras Torchon with Cocoa and Quince, which I chose as my second course. The ultra-smooth torchon sat in a pool of delicious quince gelée.

Foie Gras

For his second course, uhockey selected the Tagliolini with Crab, Lemon and Pepper. I didn’t taste it, but M had had it at one of our previous lunches, and since I tasted it then, I could agree with uhockey that it was excellent. The pork, which followed, was very much to his liking, and he commented that the mustard element had been suitably adjusted. While I didn’t taste his pork, M and I did order it the next time we had lunch. Since both of us like mustard, the pork was served as originally intended. It was marvelous!

M began with the Marinated Hamachi with Fennel, Meyer Lemon and Horseradish. I tasted and loved it, so much so that I ordered it at our next lunch. For his second course, he chose the Seared Skate with Madras Curry and Lemon. Skate is a fish that I have studiously avoided eating ever since having a horrible experience with it many years ago at a lodge in Canada. However, I did taste this skate, and it was enough to convince me that skate can be excellent. The sear produced an almost crisp coating, the flesh had a pleasant flavor, and the Madras curry and lemon gave the foamy sauce a lovely flavor.

The Chèvre with Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds and Chicory I started with was really quite something. Looking at the plate when it was set before me, my first thought was, “Where’s the chèvre?” I was instructed to cut into the bright orange round of butternut squash purée, and there it was – a layer of the cheese at the bottom. Its tangy flavor and the sweetness of the squash were a dynamite combination. The chicory provided a bit of bitterness, and the pumpkins seeds added crunch. A truly delightful dish.

Chèvre

For the third course, M and I both chose the Roasted Beef Tenderloin and Cheek with Celery Root and Black Truffles. The tenderloin was as good as the first part of its name, and the cheek was melt-in-your-mouth soft. A swath of the creamy celery root adorned the plate while the minced truffles kicked up the already seriously delicious sauce several notches.

Now for the dish that was responsible for bringing us together at this lunch. The Whole Roasted Duck Glazed with Honey and Lavender was presented to us in all its glistening glory, and then carried back to the kitchen to be carved and plated. Slices of duck breast were accompanied by kumquats and turnips. The always fabulous sauce was spooned tableside. As usual, the duck was amazing. The skin, sweetened by the honey and just hinting of the lavender, crackled. And the meat was pink, moist, and tender. uhockey found it every bit as wonderful as he had anticipated and agreed that the raves were not overstated.

Duck

Paving the way to dessert was the recently introduced pre-dessert with a truly lovely combination of flavors and textures: Jasmin, Orange, Milk Sorbet, and Cilantro.

While uhockey enjoyed the Vanilla Soufflé with Quark and Passion Fruit, which we’d had several times before, M and I finished with a dessert that was new to us: Chocolate Crémeux with Banana and Black Sesame. The small, round chocolate cake had just the right level of sweetness, there were three small balls of glazed banana, and a perfectly-formed quenelle of silky vanilla ice cream finished the plate.

Vanilla

uhockey is a coffee hound. His knowledge about coffee is akin to an oenophile’s about wine. So, naturally, we ended the meal with the siphon coffee prepared tableside. He enjoyed the “show,” which we’d seen several times before, and found the coffee to his liking.

Chris did a splendid job guiding the meal, including preparing the coffee, and we loved being able to introduce our new friend to the many staff members who ventured by to say hello.

My only regret is that the new bread service had not yet begun. A real “bread head,” uhockey felt the breads were not up to what he felt the standard should be for a restaurant of EMP’s caliber. I have no doubt he would find the new roll baked in-house very much to his liking.

Having grown so relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company, we remained at the table long after we had polished off the mignardises and had drunk the last of the coffee. By the time we retrieved our coats, daylight had turned to dusk, and dinner service had begun.

Our new friendship cemented, we said agreed to get together again when he returned to the city for another conference at the end of March.

Eleven Madison Park

To see all my photos from this lunch, click here.

To read uhockey’s review of this lunch, click here.

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2 Responses to “On How EMP’s Duck Led to the Birth of a Friendship and, Yes! Another Great Meal….”

  1. donuts4dinner Says:

    How neat! I love to see food bloggers getting along, since oh man, I had one awful meeting-a-food-blogger experience where she seemed to basically hate all other bloggers. uhockey is one of my favourites, since I’m originally from Ohio but have lived in NYC for going on 6 years.

    Do you know what happened to the rest of the duck, though? It seems like you ended up eating a very small part of it, and I imagine that wasn’t the cheapest part of the meal.

  2. thewizardofroz Says:

    Hi d4d!

    How nice to see you here!

    Sorry about that bad experience you had. We’ve been really fortunate that every food forum participant and blogger we’ve met has been nothing but friendly and very enjoyable company.

    They used to serve the confited dark meat as a side dish. Now, they serve only the breast meat. They probably use the rest for stock. Yes, there was a supplement (can’t recall exactly how much) but well worth it!

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