Eleven Madison Park

My sister and I had definitely splurged on food this trip to New York. I count myself fortunate to dine at these places and enjoy them all. Our final, and definitely the most impressive, fine dining place this trip was Eleven Madison Park. We figured it’d be worthwhile tasting their great valued four course meal for only US$74. Given the quality of the food to come, I still look at as a culinary experience bargain and highly recommend it.

Eleven Madison Park is easily found by following the trail of their four-leaf motif. It’s embossed into the door head and one of the lamp-posts in the park has the name and same four-leaf motif at the bottom of one of their hanging banisters. We were amongst the first to arrive for the lunch service arriving just before noon. I didn’t really want to wander too long to kill time considering how cold and windy that day was. Things already looked good when one of the maître de’s started spinning the rotating doors to help us get in. Taking our coats from us, it wasn’t long before we sat down at our table, fortunate enough to both be facing outwards into the grandiose setting, and soon to be, banquet room.

The restaurant certainly has some style. Describing the room with tall ceilings doesn’t really do justice to just how far the roof from us was away. To our left, long bright windows let plenty of natural sunlight in. Facing forward, we could see a number of tables and they set them plenty away from each other to avoid pretending not to overhear conversations. Further forward, we see a raised floor where even more tables sit and all the way to the right, the bar where we notice people welcomed to dine as well.

As a frequently travelling solo diner, I was also happy to note a rather poised lady dining by herself (food critic perhaps?) on the other side facing towards us. She seemed to be treated just as well as everyone else. Now, on to the meal. We found the tasting menu hidden underneath our dining napkin. Our waitress explained it very simply, “You may choose three courses or four courses. You effectively get to compose your own tasting menu based on key ingredients with the final accompaniments changing with availability of food. Each one will be fully explained on arrival. The first row are all cold dishes, the second and third all hot and the final one dessert elements. You may choose to even skip some of the dishes and, for example, go for another hot dish instead of a cold one.”

Whilst deciding on what to eat from the menu, the first thing to appear were these light gruyere puffs. Probably slightly bigger than a thumbful, these bite-sized morsels really started the appetite going.

When my sister and I dine, we don’t normally drink wine. Matching wine sessions are out of the question when dealing with tasting menus – there would be simply too much alcohol for our poor little Asian systems to deal with. Nevertheless, my sister picked a non-alcoholic drink and I, intrigued by numerous selections decided for a Hot buttered rum with the help from one of the waiters. As he put it, “This is the perfect winter drink. This is a classic drink that is resurfacing and will help you warm up.” It took some time for the drinks as they made it fresh and it was so good I’ve decided to try to replicate the recipe at home while the winter months are still upon us. It came in a wonderful beer-stein like container for the glass.

Here’s the first non-alcoholic drink, an Orange Julius.

And then the amazing tasting hot buttered rum. It reminded me a little bit slightly of those butter menthol sweets you suck on when you have a cold but only in the good way (they are just too tasty to have just one).

Our amuse bouche soon arrived. Here was a lightly toasted brioche with truffle butter and chives. I have to admit the truffle flavour wasn’t the strongest in the butter (it never is) although I could tell some earthy undertones separate to the chives. This went with the next dish.

A small tea cup of chicken soup. They even poured the lusciously creamy chicken soup out of a tea-pot like construct. The soup had everything you could ever want in a chicken soup. It was creamy. Packed full of flavour. Perfectly seasoned. I just wanted more.

Soon after that dish came an American Sturgeon Custard. It arrived in these immaculately cut and cleaned eggs where we used tiny spoons to pull out spoonfuls of flavoured custard. I have no idea how they cut the eggs so clean. It almost looked like they used a laser, or sanded down the top to get a consistent edge. I almost thought they weren’t really when they first arrived.

Continuing the theme of small bites for appetisers, a small glass bowl soon arrived. Explained as “poached egg with truffles”, they explained the slowly poached egg sat with the truffles to absorb their flavours and then they topped the cooked egg with a truffle infused sauce. Imagine a luxurious version of an eggs benedict (minus the ham and English muffin) and this pretty much captured the essence.

With all of these small plates brought out, they finally brought out the bread and butter. Here you can see the disc of butter etched with their signature four-leaf motif. This small round was the standard American butter that we cut into for our bread. This butter looked much more yellow than what I’d seen most American butters to be but I still think the English or French butter is the best so far.

One butter isn’t enough for this place. They also had to serve a Goat’s Milk Butter. Whilst my sister didn’t like the distinctive goat’s milk flavour, I liked it better for its strength of taste compared to the rather bland American stuff. Using the goat’s milk butter helped me avoid putting [fleur de sol] salt when using the other one. They don’t really stop at just two butters if you really want. We heard the table next to us explain a whole list of food allergies (poor them!) and/or food dislikes. We saw the attendants bring olive oil to the table instead of butter.

Compared to a number of the restaurants in the UK, bread doesn’t tend to play a strong part in many American restaurants we ate in. Eleven Madison Park did two types, that they brought to the table, one being some sort of olive bread, and another sort of white bread. Both served freshly warmed but nothing to write home about.

Here is where it starts to get complicated where I’ll tell you about the parts of the dishes that I can remember but when you’re having so much good food, it’s hard to note down all the elements. My sister ordered the turbot to start off with, accompanied by some soy beans, shaves of fennel and I think it was sun dried tomatoes. Pretty good from what she said.

She’s not really a fan of cold food so she skipped the first line. I decided to take one dish from each line and I’m really glad I went for the Foie Gras dish. Served in two parts, the first was a creamy foie gras terrine served with pearl onions and pineapple. Very similar to our dinner at WD-50, the chefs knew about cutting through the richness of the foie gras with a slightly tart fruit sauce and it worked really well.

The second part to the dish was definitely one of the best dishes, made up of a toasted brioche and foie gras brulee. It sounds a bit strange but here, they somehow made a savoury brulee that worked amazingly well. The caramelised top gave away hints of bitterness that worked well instead of being too sweet and the natural creaminess of the foie gras fooled the mind into thinking about the perfect set custard. I enjoyed every last spoonful of this dish and, after talking to our attendants, it was one of their most popular dishes.

Here’s the lobster dish served with walnut and squash.

My second dish, the crab with fresh Meyer lemon juice and fresh Tagliatelle pasta. At first glance, it seemed like a simple dish but I could tell immediately the pasta had been freshly made, and they were extremely generous with the amount of crab throughout. I wasn’t left twirling pasta without any crab by the end of the dish. I did find two small pieces of crab shells but that’s a risk I’m happy to take with any seafood dish.

For round three, my sister got the pork three ways. The belly part, fatty as usual, had the perfect crisp top, and the loin still moist with each bite.

It seems like Americans are getting more of a taste for lamb which is why I wondered how they might prepare it. My dish was a lamb collar with garlic, apple and crispy bits and some sort of green and lamb jus. I can’t remember exactly what the crispy bits were but they tasted like toasted garlic mixed with some other nuts. Whatever it was, it went with the lamb very well. I thought the apple seemed a bit strange with this dish but overall a very nice one.

It seems like Americans like their lamb not excessively rare. Whilst still juicy and slightly pink, I do think that the lamb was slightly overcooked.

On to desserts, and the first was a pre-dessert of champagne foam a top a number of other elements including crushed meringue and a raspberry sorbet. I tend to dislike the trend with playing with “foam” but I have to say, this one really worked. It seemed a bit closer to almost a thick creamy whip than a foam but what worked really well is they kept the champagne flavour and they somehow kept its fizz. The fizz and the tart sorbet worked to prepare our palates for the upcoming dessert.

My sister got the coconut dish made up of toasted coconut, coconut ice cream, pineapple and chunks. All elements tasted great and it almost seemed tropical for a moment.

I ordered the dessert based on lemon. To be honest, I though it as the most disappointing dish. Good but just not wondrous. They had a lemon curd, lemon sorbet, light flakes of lemon and poppy seed shortbread and lemon cake crumbs. Looking back, they had enough textures to make it interesting. I think what took it away from me were the cake crumbs that seemed to blur into every bite.

Post dessert, they still had more things to come including a peanut brittle, and a chocolate covered milk ice cream lollipop. Both very small bites and both very good.

We asked for the bill and when we opened their four-leaf motif covered folder we discovered…

An impressively hand written bill. Simple and elegant, just like everything else that we experienced that day.

Just as we asked for the bill, our waitress seemed a bit thrown off because she had planned to take us for another treat. She asked us if we had time for another course and a tour of the kitchen to which we both replied almost immediately in unison, “Of course!” It really came as a surprise and definitely made it the highlight of our, already wonderful, meal and trip. We paid the bill and then followed her past the streams of people coming out of the kitchen to arrive at a high table covered in a white table clothed tucked against an inset in the wall. From this vantage point, we could see the whole workings of the kitchen. Although Noma boasts an open kitchen where many of the dishes are finished, here we also got to witness all the chefs preparing for the dinner service. Two things struck me immediately. Firstly, there were a lot of people in the kitchen. At a good guess, I would say almost a hundred people, each one working on some small element for each dish. Secondly, I can’t believe how immaculately clean everything was. Now, I’ve watched a lot of cooking shows, many of which go behind the scenes of kitchens but this one looked almost impeccable. Even though there was lots of action going on, the kitchen almost looked like it was in a unused state, waiting to kick off for another day. Very impressive.

The person who walked us through explained each of the different stations and the hourly roster, answering many questions that we had. I’m still humbled from the experience but that wasn’t all. In front of our high table sat another work station, this time for their pastry chef to make another dessert. Using liquid nitrogen, she made our final dish of the meal.

Raspberry meringue, popping candy and sorbet. I’m sure they told us more details about the ingredients but there was so much to take in I just decided to sit back and enjoy this one. This rounded off an already perfect meal.

This restaurant made it on San Pellegrino’s Top 50 restaurants in the world list to which I’d easily agree to. From what I can tell, they have at least one Michelin star, but I really do think they deserve two. From what I understand about the guide, the second star is often about the service, and I have to say that Eleven Madison Park did a great job. Water constantly topped up, people constantly attending to you but not excessively so, and everyone was polite, helpful and friendly. It seems like I’m not the only one that thinks they deserve more.

Name: Eleven Madison Park
Found at: 11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10010
Website: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com/

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