So, I had this dream that I was in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park on my birthday, and I was presented with this big present wrapped in silver paper and tied with a satin bow…
Oh, wait! It was not a dream. It really did happen! But, honestly, I wasn’t even expecting to visit the kitchen, let alone imagine the surprise in store for me.
Monday, October 24, 2011. M and I are having lunch. Moments after we finish the amuses, one of the captains appears at our table. We haven’t met Steven before, so he introduces himself, offers his best wishes to me, and then invites us to accompany him into the kitchen. Now, we’ve been in EMP’s kitchen quite a few time, including twice earlier this year when we were dining with friends who had never done a kitchen visit. But even though it’s my birthday, the thought that we would be doing it again never crossed my mind. Still, it’s always a great experience, and during the visit, guests are served a special cocktail which is assembled in front of them. So, that’s what I’m expecting and looking forward to as M and I troop after Steven. BUT…
When we arrive at the kitchen’s entrance, crew members are busy at their stations, the table where the cocktail is prepared sports two small spoons, and all seems normal EXCEPT…
… I spot General Manager Will Guidara standing in the center of the large space. THAT is definitely NOT usual.
Immediately I’m thinking, “Uh, oh! What’s going on here?”
Will and I make eye contact. I’m smiling, He’s smiling back. Suddenly, he shouts, “Hey, everybody! Mrs. Rappaport is here!”
On that cue, every single chef – and there are several dozen of them – and all servers who are in the room immediately stop what they are doing. In a perfectly choreographed move, they simultaneously turn in my direction. A chorus rings out, “Happy Birthday!” Stunned doesn’t begin to express my reaction. I wish someone had made a video of the moment. Priceless!
Back to work they all go. Will comes over to us. Hugs and smooches. M and I stand behind the table. I take out my camera. As one of the chefs starts to prepare the cocktail, Will says, “Wait! There’s more!”
What? There’s more? I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath.
Someone hands him a package which he places in front of me. It’s wrapped in silver paper and tied with a satin ribbon.
Looking at its size, I know instinctively what it is. When I tell Will that I’m pretty sure of what’s inside the pretty wrapping, he grins. But before I can start opening the gift, he says, “Let’s take a photo of the three of us.” I’m generally camera-shy because I’m very un-photogenic, but I hand over my camera to one of the servers standing at the ready. Will steps to my right; M moves in on my left. We do the smiling bit, the picture is snapped, and I manage to come out looking o.k. between those two handsome guys.
Will helps me unwrap the gift. (It’s heavy!) Aha! Just as I suspected.
I’m thrilled to pieces and thanking Will profusely when he says, “But wait! There’s more!”
Really? Even more? Impossible!!
Opening the book, he turns to the front page. There’s an inscription:
It’s hard to express how reading this makes me feel. I’m overwhelmed. More hugs, kisses, and thank yous though “Thank you” seems inadequate. The fact that I am the first person to “officially” receive a copy of this eagerly anticipated book because Will, Daniel, and everyone on the EMP staff think so highly of me is an extraordinary honor.
Our cocktails, a Jack Rose, are waiting. Delicious!
We chat with Will for a few moments before he leaves. After finishing the cocktails, we bid farewell to the kitchen staff, thanking them again, and return to our table with me clutching the cookbook as though it’s worth its weight in gold. To me, it is!
We had decided to do a tasting menu. However, instead having it be “at the whim of the chef,” I ask our captain, Brandon, if I can choose the dishes myself. No problem! After asking him for a few details regarding some of the dishes and consulting with M, the final menu differs for the two of us only with respect to the foie gras preparation, the main savory, and the type of cheese for the cheese course.
M’s Menu with Wine Pairings
The cuisine, as always, is stellar. Rather than describing every course, I will focus on just two.
We had the Clambake at lunch in September and are thrilled that though summer is now just a memory, Chef Humm has decided to keep it on the amuse line-up. We love the whole “ceremony.” Brandon arrives accompanied by a server holding a tray on which sit all the components. He places all of them before us.
A black iron teapot containing clam chowder rests on a bed of rocks, shells and seaweed.
Brandon pours piping hot water over the rocks…
…and steam rises into EMP’s soaring space.
Little dishes contain the accompaniments.
Mini-sized madeleine-shaped cornbread is flavored with chorizo.
Potato croquette quenelles are topped with yuzu zest.
Clams nestled in shells have been changed since September to those appropriate to October. Little necks, I think. There are two variations: one topped with butternut squash and caviar…
… and the other sided with a paper-thin slice of apple and, if I recall correctly, a pickled pearl onion.
They are all deletable.
After a few minutes, Brandon returns to pour the New England-style chowder into our cups.
It is incredibly smooth, creamy, rich, and delicious.
This is, to be sure, a clambake like no other!
The white truffle season is upon us again, and we never pass up the opportunity to enjoy them at EMP. This year, there are two options: a traditional Risotto with Mascarpone and Parmesan or “the chef’s creation,” Tortelli with Fontina Val’Aosta, and Chestnuts. We’d had dinner at EMP the previous Saturday and opted then for the traditional version, saving the tortelli for this birthday lunch.
Sous Chef Bryce Shuman arrives at our table to do the honors. Servers place before us plates containing the tortelli, sliced chestnuts, a swath of chestnut purée, and a dollop of truffle foam. Enticing!
Bryce then presents the whole Alba truffles. Huge and so aromatic!
As he shaves one of them, a shower of truffle goodness lands on the plates…
…until a very generous truffle blanket covers the pasta.
Inhaling the intoxicating aroma, we eat. At the very first bite, we look at each other in amazement. Is it really possible for something to taste this fantastic?! Yes, it is!! The little pockets of pasta filled with cheese are perfect; thinly-sliced chestnuts provide a delightful bit of crunch; and the chestnut purée and truffle foam meld wonderfully with the explosive flavor the Alba truffles. Savoring each morsel, we “Ooh!” and “Aah!” We finish and sit back. “That,” I say to M,” was an orgasm on a plate!”
We have had countless meals at EMP and many memorable moments. Now, this birthday lunch is indelibly etched into that memory scrapbook. I truly feel fortunate. An exceptional meal and a very special gift. It doesn’t get much better than that!
To see all the photos of this birthday lunch, click here.