It was the best of times! I’m referring, of course, to my favorite season: Summer! And when it comes to dining at EMP, while I enjoy the menus for the other three seasons, it is the summer menu I most look forward to as it’s chock full of the seasonal produce I love best.
When EMP switched to its current 14-course tasting menu format three years ago, Michael and I cut back our visits to once a month. Still, that meant repeating each seasonal menu at least twice. Not exactly a hardship considering how glorious the food is, to say nothing of how much we love spending time with our EMP family. Then last year, we decided to try the vegetarian menu – something we’d not done before. Wow! It was stunning! We immediately decided to incorporate the seasonal vegetarian menus into our EMP dining itinerary. We now have the regular seasonal menu the month it’s introduced and the vegetarian version the following month.
One of the hallmarks of Chef Daniel Humm’s cuisine is courses that often focus on a single item and presented on plates uncluttered with extraneous stuff. This might lead one to presume that what is on the plate is simple and easy to prepare. Far from it! Complicated preparations may involve many steps over a period of time. And getting a dish just right can even take years before Chef Humm considers it ready for prime time. (No surprise, he’s a perfectionist!) The result is cuisine that knocks one’s gustatory socks off.
Though summer is sadly behind us, here’s a look back at the regular summer menu we had in July and the vegetarian in August. There was some overlap in dishes. But considering how spectacular every dish was, you’ll not hear a whisper of a complaint from me!
1st Course: Black and White Cookies with Cheddar and Apple. The box is already on the table when diners are seated.
2nd Course (Seasonal): Tuna Marinated with Cucumber
2nd Course (Vegetarian): Cucumber Marinated and Cured with Honeydew Melon”
A light and refreshing start to the meal with cucumber playing a starring role.
3rd Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Eggplant Slow-Cooked with Shelling Beans and Mint
A painting on a plate! I love eggplant in any way, shape, or form, and this diminutive fairytale eggplant rocked my world. The skin was so tender we were able to eat even the top which is normally discarded. Underneath, puréed eggplant pulp was wonderfully sweet. At home, eggplant is always on hand, but I’d previously bought only the dark purple and white varieties. When I discovered fairytale eggplant at the Clayton Family Farm, in Freehold, I was thrilled.
4th Course (Seasonal): Squid Poached with Peppers and Artichoke
4th Course (Vegetarian): Pepper Salad with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Tomato, and Artichoke
It’s hard to tell the two versions apart. In the vegetarian, the squid is replaced by yogurt which is piped to resemble it. Amazing!
I usually don’t eat squid, but the kitchen forgot and sent it out instead of a substitute (which would have been the vegetarian version), so I decided to try it especially since there was only one thin ribbon of it. Needless to say, it was expertly prepared and, when eaten together with the peppers, tasty. But to be honest, it’s still not something I’d be looking to order.
5th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Tomato Salad with Basil and Red Onion
This is a prime example of what I spoke of above – a dish that looks deceptively simple. It’s labeled a “salad” because it was not just a slice of tomato sprinkled with some basil. Executive Sous Chef Dmitri Magi described to me a several step process that involved pressing the pulp and hanging it in cheesecloth several times then culminating in the tomato being formed by hand with tweezers used to apply the realistic finishing touches. The result: THE most spectacular depth of tomato flavor.
6th Course (Seasonal): Caviar Benedict with Egg, Corn, and Ham
6th Course (Vegetarian): Corn Benedict with Truffle and Onion
House Made English Muffins for the Benedict
The “Eggs Benedict” course made its first appearance on this year’s spring menu composed with ham and asparagus (a spring vegetable) and topped with caviar. The vegetarian version eliminated the ham and caviar and substituted black truffles. While those versions were certainly delicious, I thought the corn versions were even better. (In the seasonal versions, mine was served sans caviar.)
Also, as you can see, in August there were new tins specially designed and produced for EMP. There are four different covers. The artwork on each is one of the four 4 leaves of the restaurant’s logo, and the colors match those in the dining room’s décor.
Arrival of the House Made Rolls, Butters, and Amagansett Sea Salt signals the beginning of the main part of the meal.
7th Course (Seasonal): Foie Gras Marinated with Peaches and Ginger
There are always two foie gras options, cold or hot. This cold version was back from last year’s menu. Still heavenly!
7th Course (Vegetarian): Cherry Salad with Fennel, Smoked Ricotta, and Rye
Gorgeous! We eat first with our eyes, and this salad with its various textures and flavors was as luscious as it looked.
8th Course (Seasonal): Lobster Boil with Clams, Shrimp, and Ginger
8th Course (Vegetarian): Summer Squash Boil with Corn and Okra
Both these boils were on last summer’s menus. As you can see, one of the chefs came to the table with a copper pot containing the ingredients. After ladling the contents onto the board, he squeezed on lemon juice and sprinkled on spices. Already on our plates was a circle of bean purée topped with assorted cooked beans. We then served ourselves. Well, actually, I did the serving for both of us.
9th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): ): Sunflower Braised with Green Tomato and Sunflower Sprouts
I spoke above about Chef Humm sometimes taking years of working and re-working a dish until he feels it’s ready to go on the menu. This is one such dish. He finally put it on last year’s summer menu. It’s the center of an actual sunflower (photo at the top of this post). The flavor reminds me of artichokes.
10th Course (Seasonal): Pork Grilled with Watermelon Radish and Onion Flowers
There are always two choices for the main savory course. One of them is always Chef Humm’s famous signature duck. The other changes with the season. We’ve had the duck many, many times, so we both opted for the pork. A true treat for the eye and the palate. Incredibly soft and succulent, it was a lot like pulled pork. The crispness of the watermelon radish was a perfect counterpoint.
10th Course (Vegetarian): Summer Beans Glazed with Garlic, Pumpernickel, and Meyer Lemon
One more return from last summer’s vegetarian menu and most welcome since the various flavors and textures make this a scrumptious dish.
11th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Farmer’s Cheese Sundae with Honey, Cherry, Pickled Green Tomato, Sorrel, and Oats
Housemade Stroopwafel with the Farmer’s Cheese Sundae
This particular cheese course was introduced on this year’s spring menus. The cheese made in-house is mild (which I prefer) and very creamy. Diners can pick and choose from the accompaniments on the turntable to add various flavors and textures to the cheese. The stroopwafels have fruit jam between two thin, crisp layers. In every way, this is a superb cheese course.
12th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Whey Sorbet with Caramelized Milk and Yogurt
The whey from the farmer’s cheese is used to make this sorbet. A delightful dessert!
13th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Berry Cheesecake with White Current Sorbet and Raspberry Vinegar
I am not a fan of the current vogue of deconstructed dessert where components are strewn helter-skelter on the plate. Since EMP’s desserts often follow that trend, they don’t always appeal much to me. However, this one I love! Here, the components are plated as a whole entity and together are irresistible.
14th Course (Seasonal and Vegetarian): Chocolate: “Name That Milk” and Pretzel with Sea Salt
Until this summer, sweet black and white cookies bookended the savory ones at the start. The “Name That Milk” game replaces it.
During our September visit, the summer menu was still being served. I wasn’t exactly broken up about one last chance to have the regular menu, especially the eggplant, the tomato, and the corn Benedict. After a discussion with our captain, Ellen, we did, however, decide on a few changes.
7th Course: Michael repeated the foie gras with the peach, while I switched to the Foie Gras Seared with Plum and Thyme.
As the self-styled Foie Gras Queen, I have just one word for this: Scrumptious!
9th Course: Instead of the Sunflower, we had Celtuce Glazed with Peaches and Trout Roe (mine sans the roe).
Celtuce is a type of lettuce. I had never heard of it until we had it at EMP last year. At that time, it was prepared “en vessie” (in a pig’s bladder) and was accompanied by a black truffle sauce. Serious deliciousness ensued. This was a completely different preparation and equally as fabulous.
13th Course: I couldn’t resist repeating the Berry Cheesecake while Michael had the Brownie Sundae with Praline Ice Cream and Lemon.
14th Course: Instead of “Name That Milk,” our game was “Name That Fruit.”
As always, Michael had wine pairings with all three meals, and I had some sweet wines as well as non-alcoholic beverages.