Let's face it, a surprise trip to New York is always likely to put you in a good mood. But there is no way D could book such a trip without throwing in a decent birthday lunch. EMP has no less than three Michelin stars and pops us in the top ten of the "World's Best" list, so good pedigree. However, what attracted him to this place over the other swanky NYC locations (of which there are undoubtedly many) was the restaurant's ethos, which tends towards the localism approach becoming increasingly popular in the high end restaurant world. In other words, food inspired by a sense of place.
Most of the ingredients we enjoyed during our lunch were sourced from New York state and some, like the beer which accompanied the cheese course, were created especially for the restaurant itself. So that's great. But as well as place there were some real nods to tradition and nostalgia in amongst the courses - black and white cookies, sturgeon and cream cheese on rye, egg creams...These were dishes that were rooted in the city itself, scattered throughout the menu like little love notes to New York.
Some courses were quirkier than others. A personal favourite was the carrot tartare which was basically a steak tartare only with carrot. No, really. Carrots, lightly cooked in stock and butter were put through a hand mincer at the table and then presented with a range of traditional accompaniments such as raw, lightly pickled egg yolk, horseradish, salt, mustard seeds...The diner then mixes the carrot up and spreads the resultant gloop on thin, rye melba toasts. It sounds like it should be style over substance but it was ridiculously delicious.
Don't think the kitchen couldn't rise to the challenge of cooking meat beautifully as well though. The main course duck was a thing of true beauty - and a side dish of braised leg, foie gras and mashed potato (essentially a very posh duck Shepherds' Pie) was ambrosial.
And desserts as well. Sometimes this is where really good restaurants trip up - it was certainly my least favourite section of the Noma menu, for example. Not here. Here, from the sour sweet apple sorbet that accompanied the crème brulee tart, to the chocolate covered pretzels that made an appearance alongside excellent coffee, the pudding end of the menu more than held its own.
As I said, Disneyland has been ousted as the happiest place on Earth. I don't think I have ever quite so whole heartedly recommended a restaurant before, and if I never do again then I will still consider myself an extremely lucky girl. If you ever find yourself in NYC then do whatever you can to get a table here (and if there's a seat going then I have a kidney that I'd be perfectly willing to sell so that I could pop over and join you).
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave,
New York, NY 10010,