Eleven Madison Park Reopens With a Stark, Striking New Menu

By
A modified logo is in place at the just-reopened restaurant. Photo: Evan Sung

“Early on, like ten years ago, I wished that somehow more people were watching what we were doing,” says Daniel Humm, the Swiss-born chef who arrived in New York to take over as the chef of Eleven Madison Park in early 2006. “But looking back, that was like the best thing, because you could put something on the menu and if it wasn’t perfect, or you wanted to make changes, you could take it off two days later and no one would even know about it.”

That, of course, is no longer the case. Humm has since won every star and accolade imaginable for his cooking at the restaurant (including the top spot on the always controversial but nevertheless influential list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants), and when he and partner Will Guidara closed EMP earlier this year to renovate, it was international news (at least among people who follow the goings-on of super-high-end restaurants). They overhauled the dining room, the kitchen, all of the serviceware, and the restaurant’s $295 tasting menu. “We question everything a hundred-thousand times,” Humm says, “and we asked ourselves if we would leave anything or not.” In the end, the chef will keep a couple heavy-hitter dishes and incorporate them into a menu filled with new ideas — which also makes Humm long for those earlier, under-the-radar days: “Now, I think everything that we put forward the very first day on that menu will be talked about and criticized.”

The restaurant reopened last night, and at least one dish will be familiar to EMP devotees: Humm’s duck, roasted with honey and lavender. He’s also updated a dish of celery root. The original was orbs of the vegetable cooked in a pig’s bladder before being served with a sauce of black truffles. “That dish, it was probably my most important, for me personally,” the chef says. “It gave us a language, and it gave us the key to the future.” Not that he started cooking everything in bladders. Instead, Humm refers to the dish’s stunningly austere presentation, which works to downplay the hours of meticulous work that actually go into making it. “Eight years ago, when you looked at some of my food, it looked like it took 20 chefs to put it together with tweezers,” he explains. “Today, it might still take 20 chefs, but I don’t want that to show. I want it all to be much more accessible.”

Humm’s food has been trending toward hyperminimal for a while, and the new menu feels like a natural evolution of his style, with all the superfluous garnishes and gimmicks completely stripped away. “It’s a lot harder,” Humm says. “Back in the day, I could just say, ‘Oh, this element is one inch from here, and this is half an inch.’ Today, it’s much more about feeling — it’s harder to explain how to make something look organic and beautiful.”

Here, Humm talks through everything on the restaurant’s new menu.

Savory Black-and-White Cookies
“We decided that we will keep the black-and-white cookie that starts the meal because it’s very much of the place, it’s very much New York, and it’s just delicious.”

One of the few holdovers from previous menus. Photo: Evan Sung

First Bites
“We do a series of hors d’oeuvre that are all based on fall traditions. The first is based on roasted chestnuts. We use a silicon mold to make a shell of chestnuts that’s filled with more chestnuts and truffle. It’s crispy on the outside, and has a mousse inside. That’s one bite. We also have a sweet-potato tart that’s based on sweet-potato pie. Then we have three different types of apples that we compress, that you can then dip into a foie-gras caramel, and then dip into an almond-apple crumble. It’s a caramel apple, with foie gras. Our fourth bite is based on game pie. It’s a mixture of venison, liver, and blood sausage that we make from the venison. You know, game in New York was huge at one time.”

The spread of fall hors d’oeuvre. Photo: Evan Sung

Clams With Fennel
“Next, we have a choice of three appetizers. One is a salad of marinated clams and fennel. There’s a mousse of clam. It’s labor-intensive, but also very simple. The clams are just tossed into the cooking liquid and it’s quite minimal. I think it is stunningly beautiful.”

“The food is super minimal now,” Humm says of his team’s plating style. Photo: Evan Sung

Mushrooms
“The second appetizer you can choose is sort of like mushroom carpaccio. This has a ton of umami, and there’s something that’s very cool about umami. If you have a taste like acid, and you use different acidic elements in the same dish, they work against each other. Umami is different: Ingredients escalate and get stronger. They help each other, and everything gets more intentional. Here, we have king-trumpet mushrooms cooked in seaweed and then dehydrated, with a mushroom purée and pine nuts. The different sources of umami can be subtle, but with food this minimal, you want to do a lot with a little.”

Humm doubles down on the umami by cooking mushrooms in seaweed. Photo: Evan Sung

Foie Gras, Two Ways
“We also have foie gras, which we can do cold or hot. The cold one is an important dish for us, too. We take red cabbage, we braise it, and then we put the cabbage back together with layers of foie gras. It took us forever to figure out how to make it so that the leaves were soft but kept the shape we needed. It’s such a simple dish, but it literally took us like five months to figure it out. The seared foie gras looks a little like a baby beet. We have the beet green that’s fermented, and the bottom of the foie is wrapped in beets. It’s quite simple, but quite beautiful.”

Foie gras is served chilled with cabbage … Photo: Evan Sung
… Or warm with beets. Photo: Evan Sung

Smoked-Sturgeon Cheesecake With Caviar
“Our next course is communal. It’s smoked-sturgeon cheesecake with caviar. I’m pretty proud of this one. In a menu, some dishes just flow, and some are showstoppers. This is definitely a bit of a moment. It comes out on the gueridon. We put the cheesecake onto the plate, we quenelle the caviar, we have a sauce that’s like smoked-sturgeon hollandaise, and some pickles that are sort of on the side.”

The entire spread is presented at the table. Photo: Evan Sung
The plated cheesecake. Photo: Evan Sung

Lobster With Potato and Chanterelle
“After that, it’s a choice of lobster or tilefish. The lobster is poached in mushroom butter and it’s served with chanterelle mushroom tart. It’s a potato tart, topped with chanterelles that are shaved super fine and fanned into shingles.”

Humm says the kitchen enriches the sauce with sea urchin. Photo: Evan Sung

Tilefish With Parsnip and Crème Fraîche
“Tilefish is very local, so it’s not so common to use. When you steam it or poach it, it’s kind of flaky, which is the beautiful part of this fish. We cut some parsnip into ribbons, then we cook them in a rich broth and dehydrate them to make the noodle texture. We add pike roe and the flaked fish that’s intertwined with the noodles, which we finish with poppy seeds, lemon, and horseradish.”

Ribbons of parsnip are intertwined with roe, flaked tilefish, and poppy seeds. Photo: Evan Sung

Whole-Roasted Kabocha Squash
“The next dish is also communal. It’s a whole-roasted kabocha squash. The idea was: What is the most fall bite you can have? For me, it’s squash. It’s everywhere. It’s upstate; it’s out on Long Island; it’s really part of this region. We take the squash and wrap it, half with bacon and half with seaweed. We roast it in the oven for two hours, then we open it up and sort of … scoop out the squash. We have a clear broth of roasted squash and seaweed and bacon that gets poured over. That’s the dish, really. There’s no garnish. It’s super delicious.”

A whole squash is wrapped in bacon (which Humm says represents upstate New York) and seaweed (meant to nod to Long Island). Photo: Evan Sung
The plated squash with a broth of bacon and seaweed. Photo: Evan Sung

Main Courses
“We have substitutions of everything for vegetarians and those with allergies, but for the next course on the main menu, we have a choice of duck, veal, or the celery root. The duck is probably the only recipe that I feel I have perfected fully. In the new kitchen, the dry-aging room has a glass wall, so if you come into the kitchen, you can actually see it. We also dry-age the veal, which is a little bit uncommon. We tried it and were happy with the result, so we serve that with winter greens and some pear.”

Humm’s famous duck preparation. Photo: Evan Sung
A main course of dry-aged veal with winter greens. Photo: Evan Sung
Humm’s new celery-root presentation. Photo: Evan Sung
Seasonal sides of kale, Brussels sprouts, and potato that are served with the main courses. Photo: Evan Sung

Cheddar With Pretzel and Beer
“For our cheese course, we collaborated with Threes Brewing to make beer with Amagansett sea salt. We make something like a French toast with pretzel bread. It’s not that, exactly, but that’s the best way to describe it, then we made a sauce — it’s almost like a fondue — with the beer and New York cheddar. We have a little mustard in there, and obviously we serve the beer as a pairing.”

The composed cheese course. Photo: Evan Sung

Apple Doughnut With Cinnamon Ice Cream
“This sounds simple, but the apple doughnut is really sensual. It’s deep fried, and inside it’s a ragout of apple and cinnamon. I think the way it’s done is really creative, it looks beautiful, it has such a story here in New York, and it really captures everything. When something is warm and fried, it’s kind of hard to beat that.”

Humm calls apple-cider doughnuts the best fall dessert. Photo: Evan Sung

Cranberries
“This is a series of different spheres: pear and different variations on cranberry. There’s a mousse, and an ice cream, and cranberries glazed with cranberry syrup. The idea is that everything looks the same, but when you start eating, you realize they’re all different.”

A dessert of cranberry and pear spheres. Photo: Evan Sung

Cookies and Cream
“The other dessert is very cool, too. It’s basically cookies and cream, but it looks like two quenelles of ice cream. One is white, and one is dark. The white one is shortbread that has chocolate inside, and the chocolate shortbread has milk ice cream inside.”

The final dessert calls back to the black-and-white cookies that begin the meal. Photo: Evan Sung

Chocolate Pretzels
“I asked some artists to give me, like, the most perfect pretzel shape, and then we picked one that we liked and made a mold out of that shape. It’s white chocolate, blended with pretzels. We mold that and we dip the pretzels in dark chocolate halfway, so you see the white and the dark. I’m really proud of them.”

The last bite is molded into a shape that’s something like the Platonic ideal of pretzels. Photo: Evan Sung
Eleven Madison Park Reopens With a Stark, Striking New Menu