A visit to Eleven Madison Park and chef Humm

Always a fan of restaurateur Danny Meyer, and a fan of his New York spot Eleven Madison Park, I couldn't let all the recent hype (see Eleven Madison Park is the hot table and More about chef Humm at EMP) about their new chef pass me by. So Jason and I headed over for dinner last week to check out Daniel Humm's cuisine and see if things were as great as everyone had been saying.

(Apologies now for the one crappy phone cam picture. I've got to get a better system for taking pictures of meals.)

Things didn't begin very smoothly, our arrival and initial fifteen minutes were not what I remembered from previous Eleven Madison Park visits. Fans may recall the cheese puffs (aka gougeres) that were laid down on the table moments after one was seated. Alas there were none of these, and no bread nor water nor even server for nearly fifteen minutes, which began to bother me because I was really hungry. Eventually our server arrived and we ordered the four course "spring" tasting menu. They also offer an "aquatic" and a "garden" choice.

Once we'd ordered, things picked up and the food began to flow. First to arrive: a long lovely tray of amuse that consisted of a little pouch stuffed with sweetbreads that was deep-fried, a coin of foie gras on a round piece of bread (didn't seem yellow enough to be brioche but I could be wrong), a radish spear, a tuna bite and something I've forgotten. Yummy little starts to the meal, and the foie gras was creamy and delicious. I was a bit disappointed with the sweetbreads because I love sweetbreads and I don't think this approach really highlighted their flavor as well as it could have. If I hadn't been told, I wouldn't have suspected it had a sweetbread filling.

A second amuse arrived: a cup of green gazpacho accompanied by a scoop of tomato sorbet. The sorbet was excellent — a real rush of tomato as the ice melted on the tongue, and a nice compliment to the greeny flavors of the cold soup. The third amuse, and best presentation of anything I'd seen in a long time, was a beet and apple forest. Two kinds of beets and apples, carved into cylinders of various lengths, were standing on end, nestled together. Delicious and so artfully assembled, this was the highlight of the meal for me.

The first official course was a foie gras terrine with a lovely jelly on top (I believe it was rhubarb). It was accompanied by a very strange soupy mixture of golden raisins and pine nuts (?) that just didn't do it for me, it tasted almost like it was in a coffee-flavored soup. I didn't understand how it harmonized or enhanced the terrine in any way, though the terrine had a layer of rhubarb and raisins in the middle. It was accompanied by nice brioche toasts. I was disappointed with this course — though the foie itself was silky and smooth — because of my love love love for foie gras and my wish for it always to be deliciously presented.

Next we had langoustines in a carrot-orange nage (a sauce). Good and carroty flavor, and the langoustine tail was tender and sweet, but again (perhaps my palate differs from Chef Humm's) I didn't rejoice in the flavor combination. Carrot and langoustine together didn't merge into a superior third flavor. It just tasted like a nice carrot with a nice langoustine.

The final savory course was a rib eye of beef with a nice, marrow crust and peas. It was excellent, and my favorite of the official menu courses. But the very first time I ever ate at EMP, Jason and I had a côte de boeuf that I can still taste on my tongue. It remains one of the best beef dishes that I've ever eaten. So though this beef was excellent, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed.

Desserts were very good, a strawberry sorbet with a lovely beignet followed by a little dessert sampler. The pastry chef seems to be the same, as I recognized some of the desserts from a visit last summer.

It was very good, to be sure, but a let down for me. Perhaps the hype raised my expectations to an unrealistic level. Or perhaps it just wasn't to my taste. Two women seated next to us were celebrating a birthday. I overheard one say to another, "This is just as good as Per Se." Having enjoyed both restaurants, I can't say that I agree.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 899-0905