But you know how sometimes, you can spend years, over a decade even, day in day out with someone - and amass a moonbeam's-abundance of memories, shared experiences, life...
And it not have the supernova-like intensity and power to reach your very core, of an interaction spanning a single day (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), or relatively brief moments in time and space (Doctor Who)?
And yet even as you know that you can never take another breath without being conscious of the other, you wonder if they feel the same - if they passed you someday in the future, if they would even remember your face, your name - or if they would just have a flitting notion that you may be someone they might have known before.
In relationship terms (albeit much more one-sided in their favor), Eleven Madison Park never has to worry about that.
The 3-Michelin-Starred EMP has been on my bucket list for a long time. And on a recent trip to NYC, I was excited to finally get to experience it.
I fell immediately for the elegant, yet approachable vaulted space flooded with beautiful natural light - formal, but the tables were set up in different sections that gave some privacy - such that you get the 3 star vibe, without being uncomfortable, especially when dining solo.
This chosen flavor would then influence elements of the dishes that were to come in the tasting menu: I'd been forewarned the meal would span three and a half hours.
And there was still one more choice to make, for my entree: I chose duck.
Usually, rolls would arrive before your meal - but EMP serves theirs several courses in. And, they were one of the best rolls I've ever had - beautifully flaky, buttery, yet airy and served fresh out of the oven with two types of butter: cow milk with sea salt, and duck fat (the second type of butter is tied to your chosen main course).
EMP understands that visuals are a critical part of the dining experience: every course presented reflected the care they put into letting the diner in to their cooking process, like the asparagus, or in the case of the entree: what your dish looked like before they plated. In this, a vision of beauty: herb and spice crusted honey rubbed lavender scented duck, presented in a copper pan. I devoured it whole first with my eyes, but alas stuffing it whole into my mouth was not in the cards for me.
Thoughtfully weaving a coherent thread through the meal, the elegant sliver of duck was accompanied by cherry puree.
Putting the elements of surprise and fun into a fine dining meal in a non-pretensious way - the next course came as one of 'self-discovery', in a mysterious picnic basket. Where the preceding courses were always presented with an introduction to the ingredients, preparation and/or inspiration behind the dish - this one simply arrived with just a hint of glee in my server's eyes, like a grownup who had just placed the first present in a child's hands Christmas morning, and couldn't wait to see the child's reaction when they've made their way to what's inside. Except, this adult considerately walked away and gave me space to explore and enjoy on my own.
The edible contents were delightfully creative - there was a chevre-style cow's milk cheese (a beautifully dense, spreadable yet structured and smooth consistency, minus the funk of actual goat cheese), honey and parsley spread in an adorable mason jar (I would have never thought to put the two together, but I couldn't stop eating), pickled unripe strawberries, fresh pretzel bread made with the pale wheat beer brewed exclusively for EMP (and they included the full bottle in the basket! I don't normally like beer - but this one was incredibly refreshing, well balanced and a perfect pairing for everything in the basket).
This is hands down one of my favorite fine dining experiences of all time, because every element was so thoughtful and meticulously orchestrated. Every taste, every look and feel of every piece in the basket all worked in perfect harmony. I wish I could have ordered 10 of these to take home!
For dessert, they had created a sorbet using the whey from when they made the cheese for the picnic basket! Served with a smear of caramelized milk, and freeze dried milk foam that then crunches like the lightest shrimp chip! But, I think I liked the concept of this dish more than the taste - the textures were a little too thick and dense for me.
And in another lovely tableside entertainment piece, the second dessert was a Baked Alaska: I grew up loving these as a kid, that perfect and dramatic meeting of ice cream, cake, and mesmerizing show when blue flames lick the mountain / iceberg of meringue. Unfortunately these had gone out of fashion for a very long time, and were hard to find on restaurant menus.
Again, my chosen flavor, cherry, make an appearance here to add pops of color and sweet-tartness.
I also got a Ball jar filled with housemade granola! In a handy little shopping bag embossed with the symbols for the four flavors from which I made my selection at the beginning of the meal. A nice way to bookend the experience.
Although it was a singular encounter, a very long lunch yet very brief moment at the same time, it was decidedly one of the most artful, cerebral yet very accessible meals I've had the pleasure of experiencing in the country, and one that I will remember, always.
I was actually sad to have crossed this off the bucket list - and would relish the excitement of a return visit if I ever get another chance.