Oasis

Eleven Madison Park

Early July. Tuesday. The Market is tanking. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. A light rain is falling as we walk through the revolving doors at EMP. As always, we are warmly welcomed by the recption staff, as the French would say, “le bien recevoir.” We are led to our usual table. We settle in and immediately feel relaxed, letting the cares of the outside world fall away.

Our captain, Kevin Browne, approaches. It’s been a while since we’ve last seen him. We banter a bit.

M and I begin perusing the single-worded menu grid. “No Foie Gras?” I pout to Kevin. Nope. He points to “Rabbit.” “It contains foie gras,” he says. I’d already had that Rabbit Rillette. Delicious, but what I have in mind is seared foie. I peruse further. It’s the height of the Jersey corn, tomato, and peach season, but I don’t see any of those words on the grid. Hmmm…

“Black Bass” is on the top line of cold starters. “I presume it’s prepared ceviche-style?” I say to Kevin. It is. We both choose it to start.

We see “Loup de Mer,” a favorite fish of ours, on the second line. M goes for it immediately. However, I ask Kevin if the accompaniments include seafood since on a previous visit, when I’d chosen “Scallop” but didn’t ask for any details, there was some octopus involved, which I don’t like. Kevin says there is no other seafood in this dish. Sold!

From the third line, M is considering “Eggplant” and gets a description. I don’t hesitate. I’m having “Chicken.”  Kevin mentions its accompaniment: corn. Ah, the first indication that summer’s bounty will not be neglected. M immediately decides to have the same.

We’ll probably add cheese and opt to wait until later on deciding which dessert we want.

M is doing wine pairings. I request an Up the Alley, but Kevin comes back to tell me they are temporarily out one component, the house cider. No problem, I say. An Orange Julius will be fine.  But I forget to request a straw. I don’t know why the bar normally sends it out without one because I’ve learned from experience that without one, it’s difficult to sip the liquid through the thick foam cap.  Plus, one runs the risk of ending up with some foam on the tip of one’s nose. When the drink arrives, I request the straw, which is brought to the table in its own glass. Very 4-starish!

The first amuse arrives. Gone is the springtime Chilled Pea Soup of the past few months. In its place, Tomato Tea with Lemon Thyme. Right out of the box, Chef Humm is chiding me. “No bounty of the summer garden? Well, take this!” Light and refreshing, it’s perfect for a warm summer’s day. Alongside, ultra-thin, super-crispy Parmesan Lavash is peppery from a dusting of espelette.

Amuse No. 1:  Tomato and Thyme Tea

Then follow some familiar amuses: melt-in-the-mouth Goat Cheese Croquettes with a Watercress and Chive Dip; tangy Goat Cheese Lollipops coated with beet butter; and an all-time favorite, the hollowed out whole egg shell containing the ethereal Smoked Salmon Sabayon with Chives.

The phenomenal house made Rolls come in a snug cloth pouch along with two butters, Cow’s Milk and Sheep’s Milk, and a small dish of Maldon Sea Salt.

Bread Service

On to the main meal….

Black Sea Bass Marinated, with Peaches, White Soy and Mint. Peaches! My favorite fruit! A complexity of flavors and textures complements the mild fish: saltiness from the soy, sweetness from the fruit, tang from the mint leaves, and crispness from dried wisps of skin. Delicious!

Black Sea Bass

Seared Loup de Mer with Fennel, Tarragon and Tomato. Gasp! A gorgeously colored portrait: pink, red, green, and white. Expertly prepared fish, silky with a crisp skin. Fennel cooked to just the right bite. Two roasted tomato orbs exploding with flavor. Pulling it all together, a lovely tarragon sauce. We eat and moan in ecstasy.

Loup de Mer

Chicken Roasted, with Farro, Sweet Corn and Chanterelles. Astounding! A slice of breast meat glistens on the plate, foretelling its supreme flavor and juiciness. A paper thin sheaf of skin is cracklingly crisp. No doubt, the bird was cooked sous-vide, then finished in the oven. Kevin carefully spoons some chicken gravy around the meat, the sauce’s deliciousness further enhancing the meat’s superb flavor. The farro, corn and mushroom mixture is dynamite. But there’s more! A little bowl contains a delectable combination of dark meat, corn, sage, and chicken gravy enriched with cream. We’re swooning!

Chicken

We do have room for a cheese course: Sheep’s Milk. On the plate are Brebis Blanche, Summer Snow, Ben Nevis , and Sheep Ricotta, accompanied by Corn Pain Perdu, Tomato and Ham. I like my cheeses mild. These are. The tomatoes, sundried and fresh cherries, are sweet. The ham provides some saltiness. The pain perdue with its intense corn flavor is wonderful, a welcome change from the usual breads that accompany cheese.

Sheep's Milk

The Egg Cream cart is wheeled over. Since the egg cream was introduced as the pre-dessert, we’ve had it many times. Malted milk, a touch of olive oil, and siphon seltzer. Although it departs from the classic, it’s totally satisfying.

Egg Cream

We’ve both decided to have the same dessert: Chocolate, Gianduja with Hazelnut Espresso and Caramel. It’s new. Chocolate desserts can sometimes be too sweet, but this one is just right. Anchoring the plate is a chocolate-covered hazelnut “candy bar.”  To one side, espresso-flavored  mousse; on the other side, a quenelle of hazelnut ice cream. Yum!

Chocolate

Mignardises close the meal. M enjoys a cup of Matcha Tea which is prepared tableside. It has been, as usual, a truly splendid lunch. So silly of me to have thought for even a split second that Chef Humm — a seasonally-oriented chef if ever there was one — would not include the wondrous crops of summer. We relax at our table for a while and watch the staff begin to prep for dinner service.

Mignardises

M decides he’d like a Jack Daniels, so we head over to the bar and take seats on the far right side. Looking across the room and through the immense windows, we see that it is raining — hard. M sips his “Uncle Jack.” One of the bartenders brings us some munchies: olives, peanuts and, best of all, the fabulous homemade gaufrettes. Head Bartender Leo Robitschek comes over to say hello. He points to a gorgeous round glass plate designed by Riedel displayed on a shelf behind us. Ah, yet another award! We congratulate Leo on EMP winning Best Restaurant Bar in the 5th Annual Spirit Awards “Tales of the Cocktail,” in New Orleans.

Eleven Madison Park

M finishes his drink. Looking out again through the windows, we see that the rain has stopped. Time to go. At the front desk, I reclaim my umbrella and a bag containing EMP’s take-home gift – jars of the wonderful made in-house granola. We bid farewell to the lovely ladies at reception. Stepping through the revolving doors, we leave the tranquil oasis of EMP and return to the real world.

Eleven Madison Park

Click here to see all the photos of this lunch.

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