I've taken a really long time to post this because for a long time I wasn't sure whether my own experience was particularly interesting or useful to the dialogue about EMP on this website and/or on the internet as a whole. I have no interest in "slamming" the restaurant (and I don't at all view what I have to say as a "slam").
The recent conversation on this board finally prompted me to write about my own experience there - but I intend to keep this as concise and balanced as possible. I just figured it made more sense to write this way, rather than continuing to hijack someone else's post.
OK, so the very short version is this...
Background: Due to a bunch of different reasons, I was fortunate enough to be able to save enough money to take my boyfriend out for a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We both love, are curious about and interested in food, but we rarely have the money to experience the restaurants that we read about and are interested in. I had the money saved for one big blowout meal and I did a lot of research to try to understand what the best restaurant to choose would be. Due primarily (but not entirely) to what I’d read about EMP on this board, that was the restaurant I finally ended up choosing.
The Good: There was a lot that was right about the meal. The food was spectacular. I did experience sort of the same thing plumpdumpling wrote about in her earlier post in that I was surprised that the course of the tasting menu heavily featured what might be considered “cheaper” ingredients – eggplant, broccoli, etc. But I found that each of these dishes were impressive in their own way – their flavors shockingly concentrated, and their components presented in a range of preparations that certainly showed off the skill of the kitchen. Our sommelier was lovely, engaging, and definitely caught on to our interest in the way the pairings were chosen. There were also a couple of lovely touches from the restaurant, including a Happy Birthday “candy bar” (that doesn’t really do justice to it, but it’s the best description I can think of) given to my boyfriend, and the bottle of cognac they left us with at the end of the meal.
The Bad: There was a progression of slip ups in the service from almost the moment we came in that I initially found surprising and ultimately found disappointing. Barely seconds after we sat down, we were poured wine we didn’t order that was then promptly whisked away without a word of explanation as soon as we told them it wasn’t ours. My boyfriend’s cocktail order was forgotten (he asked again and it was brought with the first glass of wine). Three different dishes came while I was away from the table – I returned to my boyfriend trying to remember what was in them so he could explain them to me. Notably one of those was the dessert which came with a birthday candle (obviously a kind touch from the kitchen) which had gone out while my boyfriend waited. He fumbled around for a while trying to find a lighter and finally gave up. Honestly it seemed like it might have been nicer just not to have the candle at all at that point.
While the staff as a whole were very warm and engaging, our captain seemed completely uninterested in us for the entire meal while he was clearly engaged, chatting, joking, etc with the two tables next to us. It was odd, as it didn't seem to match the vibe of the room or the rest of the staff, and certainly didn't match what I felt was obvious interest and engagement on our part. OK, our captain doesn’t like us for whatever reason – that’s fine, it happens. It’s certainly not his job to be our friend. And if the service had been perfect, I wouldn’t even bring it up. But because the service was definitely not perfect, I left the dinner wondering what we’d done. Did we do something wrong? Did we bring it on ourselves? Definitely not the way I expect to leave a restaurant at which I spent nearly a thousand dollars. Honestly, not really the way I’d expect to leave a restaurant at which I left a fifth of that.
Afterwards, some people counselled me to contact the restaurant regarding the service issues, and others told me to leave it alone. In the end, I opted not to contact them (I still don’t know whether that was the right choice or the wrong one). I hadn’t chosen to voice my concerns during the meal because more than anything I didn’t want to make my boyfriend (AKA the birthday boy) feel at all uncomfortable. To complain after the fact seemed somewhat pointless to me and I was concerned that my impulse was a petty one (that I just wanted someone to hear out my complaints).
I’m still concerned about coming off that way (which is part of why I took so long to post anything). I certainly don’t think my meal was representative of every meal at the restaurant. But I also wish that this viewpoint had been more strongly represented when I was trying to learn what I could about EMP. My overall impression there was one of clubbiness. If asked, I would suggest that you’re likely to have a better time there if you wait until you have the opportunity to eat with someone already known to the restaurant (sort of like coming to a club as the guest of a member). I wouldn’t personally suggest it as a first-time special occasion kind of place. That’s just my experience. I fully understand that others have had different (much better) experiences and I don’t mean to discount those at all.
Oh well, so much for concise.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010