It’s been a very, very hard year for restaurants. Many have been able to pivot to a mostly take-out or a food/wine retail model, but what do you do when you’re a fine dining restaurant like Eleven Madison Park? You’re known for bringing out course after beautiful course in a gorgeous dining room, but executing this outdoors and in cold weather is impossible. Some places like Daniel have gone the outdoor route, which certainly has some issues, while EMP has remained closed during the pandemic and is instead offering “EMP At Home” dinner kits. These dinner kits are outrageously expensive–the EMP At Home holiday Roast Duck dinner kit for 4 cost $475 pre-tax, $518.16 all in. But what the hell, I was in a festive mood, I wanted to do something a little special for New Year’s, I probably saved a lot of money this year from not eating out, so I decided to treat myself with this Eleven Madison Park EMP At Home Roast Duck meal kit.
So how does this process work? You first go to Tock and select the date where you want to pick up your meal kit from EMP. When you go pick it up, you’ll walk up to the takeout window and they hand you this large white box with all the ingredients in it. I would advise that you not carry this home with you as the box is very heavy. Take the subway or a car. Or bring a strong friend.
My friend was a little surprised that a meal for four could fit into a box. That got me a little worried too, and when I peeked inside, my fears seem to have been confirmed. There were lots of tiny jars of seasoning, some medium jars filled with soup and sauces, a medium sized duck breast meant for four but it looked like it was meant for two, and medium boxes of mushroom and shepherd’s pie. Would we need to order some pizza as a supplement?
You don’t need to do that. You will be very full after the duck. The duck is a signature on the EMP tasting menu, so it was nice that they were able to offer it in the take home kit. On the other hand, preparing the duck was probably the hardest thing about the kit. Everything else just required some reheating, but you had to pay attention to the duck. It required some pan frying, which in itself is not hard, but paying attention so that you didn’t overcook it was a little stressful. You only get one shot at this very expensive duck, so the stakes are high. If you cook it on low heat and just watch it, though, you’ll likely be fine.
But other than holding my breath around the duck prep, the meal kit was pretty simple to pull off, and everything tasted excellent. The foie gras in preserved pear was insanely delicious, and they were generous with the portion. We ate the leftovers with some Japanese milk bread toast the next day. The celery root veloute, I was so skeptical of, but this rich, velvety vegetable cream soup was my favorite part of the meal.
Despite the drama with the duck, it was of course a highlight. The only course I probably could have done without was the oyster mushroom. The mushrooms were earthy and tasted like they had been marinated in some chocolate, which was just a little strange. The shepherd’s pie was quite the indulgence with the potatoes and the duck confit layer beneath, and this is the point at the meal where I got really full. I barely had room for the salad, but of course I somehow made room for the chocolate tart dessert, which tasted like a fancy Ferrero Rocher truffle.
The price tag is high. It’s a lot to pay for something that you have to make yourself. And it obviously will not be as good as how Daniel Humm makes it, but it usually comes pretty close. Playing chef can make for a fun and memorable evening, and it was a nice change from my monotonous dinner rotation of baked salmon and chicken. Each box also donates 20 meals to people experiencing food insecurity in NYC through EMP’s partnership with Rethink Food, which is a very good cause. EMP now has a cheaper Roast Chicken take home kit available, and I am tempted to try that at another point in the year. Nothing beats the EMP experience indoors, but the take home kit successfully recreates some of the magic in your home.