Michael’s Birthday Dinner: EMP Goes Above and Beyond

Eleven Madison Park

The excitement of walking through those revolving doors and into that gorgeous space has never worn off for us. And it’s especially so when we’re celebrating a special occasion. After being seated, we were told that there were special things planned for us. So, as Michael sipped his Champagne and I my Gingered Ale, we were stoked!

There were some very familiar things: the savory black & white cookies to start and the sweet ones at the end plus the chocolate covered pretzels and the card trick chocolates; the picnic basket; and, of course, the egg cream. Of the rest of the courses, there were only two we’d had before: Cranberry Snow with Beets and the Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with Chive Oil (in the egg shell), the latter having pretty much become a signature. If they took it off the menu, there would surely be a revolt!

The first course was new to us: Pear Gelée with Shattered Foie Gras.

Pear

It was followed by another new one: Sweet Marine Shrimp with Horseradish and Olive Oil. We were told that the shrimp were just out of the waters that morning.

Shrimp

Both these dishes were delightfully light with delicate flavors.

Normally, the Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon is immediately followed by what I have labeled the “Homage to Jewish Appetizing.” In fact, exactly a year ago on Michael’s birthday, it was served to us for the very first time as a surprise when it hadn’t yet become a feature of the regular menu. After being tweaked, especially with regard to portion sizes, it went public, and we’ve enjoyed it many times since then. But for this birthday, there was no tray holding a smoke-filled dome. Instead, there was a different surprise on the trays servers brought to our table.

Clambake 3.0

Yes! The Clambake was back! But though the black pot sitting on a bed of rocks and seaweed was familiar, the other items set before us were different from the last time we’d had the Clambake in 2011. That was actually its second version. So, I dubbed this one Clambake 3.0.

A large shell held a mound of puréed potatoes that capped chopped clams and Morcilla sausage.

Clambake 3.0

Two small shells held minced clams with new toppings each different from the other.

Clambake 3.0

Clambake 3.0

Mini Parker House Rolls replaced the previous mini-corn madeleines.

Clambake 3.0

Finally, of course, there was the chowder. As before, hot water was poured over the rocks and seaweed causing steam to rise, and we were then left to pour the chowder at our leisure.

Clambake 3.0

The verdict on Clambake 3.0? Incredibly delicious!

Whenever Chef de Cuisine James Kent shows up at our table in the midst of dinner service, it always means something special is in store for us. He arrived carrying a wooden box filled with seaweed on top of which sat three large closed seashells. Inside, he told us, were live scallops. He opened one.

Scallop

We’d never before seen a scallop inside its shell up close and personal. And get this! It was having dinner! A tiny minnow that James pulled out from underneath the scallop. Amazing! James took the scallop back to the kitchen where it became the focus of Scallop Seared with Radish and Apple.

Scallop

A very light sear allowed the fresh, briny flavor of the scallop to shine. It sat atop a carpet of minced scallops and apple in a slightly sweet, creamy, yet light dressing. The crown of paper thin slices of radish added just the right level of tang and crunch. Overall, a lovely dish.

At the beginning of the meal, I requested that if there was going to be lobster that it not be the preparation with leeks, black onion, and shellfish bisque. We’d had it several times and, to be quite frank, it’s never really appealed to me. Indeed, there was a lobster dish. Happily, when our plates arrived, they held a new preparation: Lobster Poached with Citrus, Tarragon, and Daikon.

Lobster

I really liked the different flavors and textures of this dish. Why the menu’s official description does not include the edamames is a mystery to me because I felt they were a really important element – cooked to just the right level of crunch and delicious.

I suppose one could say that a birthday dinner wouldn’t be complete without truffles, so we were served Black Bass Poached with Tapioca, Celery, and Black Truffle.

Black Bass

The silky, flavorful fish was accompanied by a tapioca foam flavored with bits of truffle, and topped with two slices of black truffle with deliciously potent flavor. .

Though this was Michael’s special day, my foie gras addiction was not forgotten. And besides which, he likes it, too.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras Seared with Dates and Potatoes was entirely different from the dish James created for my birthday. It was also unlike any foie gras preparation we’d ever had before at EMP. The perfectly seared foie was accompanied by dates and potatoes in differing styles. All wonderful. But it was the fantastic potato on the right side of the dish (I think they said it was souffléed) that blew our gustatory socks off!

When it comes to the last savory course, guests are currently given a choice between beef aged 140 days or Chef Humm’s signature duck. However, since we’d had the beef during our previous visit and the duck countless times, including at my birthday dinner, we thought it would be nice to have something different. So we asked if we could have one of our favorites, squab, and that request was honored. When we had the beef, it was preceded by a beef broth. This time, we were served a luscious squab broth.

Squab

It was followed by Squab Roasted with Butternut Squash.

Squab

The squab was roasted to perfection so that its skin was crisp, and the medium-rare flesh remained succulent. There were actually three types of squash on the plate – butternut, acorn, and spaghetti – as well as a grain though I don’t remember what it was. Maybe quinoa? Gilding the proverbial lily, a small bowl of super-buttery puréed potatoes encased roasted squab and foie gras. Insanely rich and so-o-o-o delicious!

Dessert was brand new and had just been placed on the regular menu: Maple Bourbon Aged with Milk and Shaved Ice.

Maple

It was the perfect birthday dessert for Michael because it’s the type of dessert he loves most. In the bowl was what appeared to be a simple mound of shaved ice. (His came with a lit candle.)   At the table, bourbon-aged maple syrup was drizzled around the mound. When we began eating, we discovered this was actually a complex, layered dessert with different textures, including something crunchy.  No suprise that Michael loved it! Though I generally tend to favor fruit-based desserts, I loved it, too.

A word about the large birthday card pictured above. The lovely water color of the Manhattan skyline was painted by Christine, one of the young women at the front desk. Obviously, she’s immensely talented. It touches us both deeply that she took the time to do this for Michael and that Chef Humm personally signed it.

To say that our EMP family went above and beyond to make the evening a truly memorable birthday celebration is no exaggeration. Our heartfelt thanks to Chef Humm, Chef Kent, their team, our captain Corwin, sommelier Nick, and the entire service staff. You are the best!

To see the entire set of photos from this dinner, click here.

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