Recently, I got engaged to my girlfriend. We chose her ring together but I wanted to pop the question when she didn’t expect it. In the course of my planning for the “engagement ceremony,” I thought about which restaurant I should take her to after I propose to her. As someone who has been living in New York City for close to 11 years, she has been to many restaurants in the city. I somehow remembered though that she said she hadn’t been to Eleven Madison Park yet, and also knowing that the restaurant is shutting down for renovations in the summer, I knew this was the perfect venue to have an engagement dinner. I had an unbelievable meal on my visit a couple of years ago, where the creativity of dishes combined with careful execution and commitment to fresh ingredients really showed why EMP is one of the best restaurants in the world. How did our engagement dinner stack up against my previous visit? The menu has gotten shorter (more like 8-10 compared to close to 20 last time) and the dishes have become somewhat more predictable ( thankfully no more asparagus cooked inside a cow bladder!), but we still had an amazing meal.
I ask all the readers to look at the pictures very carefully so you can determine in which of these outstanding dishes I hid the engagement ring for my beloved to discover. If you leave a comment with the correct dish we will find you a table at Eleven Madison Square Park when it re-opens later in the year. Because after this review and along with the previous one we are going to be some of Chef Daniel Humm’s and Will Guidara’s best buds.
After a celebratory champagne, we were served with an assortment of bites. Among those, my favorite was celery root with black truffle and parsnip pie, and my girlfriend also enjoyed rutabaga with celery and walnuts. Just like last time, the restaurant served caviar in a playful take on egg’s benedict; it was still as amazing as I had remembered, with the combination of caviar, diced ham and pickled egg yolk displaying so much wonderful complexity in flavor. For the starter course, I went with foie gras seared with maple and apple, while my girlfriend went to scallop marinated with leek and potato. Foie gras had silky smooth texture that I very much enjoyed even though I’m not really a foie gras person, and a bite of scallop that I stole from my girlfriend also had elegant balance of texture.
One of the best dishes during our meal was the lobster. After the servers brought forward a long rectangular “pan” where the lobster was being smoked and steamed, we got to taste an amazingly chewy piece of lobster that I marveled at what kind of trick the kitchen pulled to achieve this textural excellence. The vegetable dishes that followed were also outstanding. I was more partial to the squash roasted with bone marrow and pumpkin seeds for the way the squash really just melted in my mouth, but sweet potato smoked with mustard seeds and apple wasn’t far behind in deliciousness. For the main dish, we both ordered the magnificently cooked duck glazed in honey and lavender and accompanied by onion and plum. My girlfriend, who is very partial to duck meat, absolutely enjoyed this beautiful piece of meat, which was even better with the side dishes of brussels sprouts and parsnip.
The weakest part of the meal was the cheese course. I just wish the kitchen put together fondue in its standard format instead of putting it inside baked potato that quickly overwhelmed the cheese’s flavor. The desserts that came after, however, were much better. I could have the delightful apple poached with buckwheat toffee cake and apple sorbet every day for its elegant flavor without being too sweet, and chestnut cheesecake with sweet potato custard and chestnut honey ice cream was also quite delicious. The meal ended with a little game where we got to match four different varieties of chocolate with four different animals from which the taste of milk that formed the base of chocolate came from. Unfortunately, we only got one right…
I didn’t realize until I booked the table for our engagement that EMP has switched to a ticket system (similar to how other fine dining restaurants like Alinea in Chicago do these days) where each meal is fixed at $295 per person (including gratuities). In other words, you pay up front for your meal, so make sure to find a commitable date that you can book. We both really enjoyed a fine cabernet bottle from Napa (where we are actually planning to have a wedding too!) to complement our meal. Normally, my reviews of restaurants are almost exclusively about the quality of food, but I do want to write some extra words to compliment EMP’s exceptional services. I know I already told the staff in advance that we will be celebrating our engagement, but the level of attention that we got was so flattering. Not only were we led to the kitchen in the middle of our meal to watch all the cooks and chefs in action, but at the end of the meal, they put together a customized menu with Lincoln Center (yes, that’s where I proposed to my girlfriend) in the background, which both of us really appreciated. I’m really glad that our engagement dinner was a memorable evening, with awesome food, wine and services. Let KenScale’s culinary journey continue, this time with soon to be my life partner!
KenScale: 9.0/10 www.Kenscale.com
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 9.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 10.0/10