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Eleven Madison Park | New York | Nov ’13 | “I <3 NY"

10 Nov
  • Address: 11 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10010
  • Telephone: (212) 889-0905
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $295
  • Courses: (12 main/16 total) 1 amuse / 9 savory / 3 dessert / 2 mignardises / 1 take-home
  • Price/Main Course: $25
  • Rating: 18.5/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 230 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 14.5 minutes
  • Chef: Daniel Humm
  • Style: French / Theatrical
  • Michelin Stars: 3
  • Notable: Reliance on sous-vide cooking

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I must have walked past the art-deco building with high ceilings in Madison Park at least five times previously without realising that it housed the restaurant I had been so eager to try. With its high ceilings, I had assumed that it housed a bank. In days of yore, Eleven Madison Park was an Italian restaurant, under its old ownership of Danny Meyer, New York restaurant empire-builder. But since Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara bought this place over in 2011, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that has become known for risk-taking.

I’ll give you the punchline: Eleven Madison Park is the most fun restaurant I have ever been to, hands down. There are so many toys being used in service – meat grinder, tartare tray, eggcream cart, Manhattan cart, playing cards, tied-up white boxes, glass cloches, picnic baskets, portable barbecues. Fine dining is never just about the food (thought experiment: would you enjoy your dinner as much if it were given to you in take-out boxes?), it is about the whole package – service, ambience, fellow-diners (both across the table and adjacent tables), and the innovative ways in which food is presented. In most restaurants, innovative presentation stops at plating. Not Eleven Madison Park; here presentation goes the whole hog.

This incarnation of Eleven Madison Park is about one year old – the $195 NY tasting menu was introduced mid last year, replacing the $125 four-course prix fixe where diners would choose their courses based on a 4×4 grid of ingredients. We were treated to a four-hour extravaganza of New York lovin’, and I would have not wanted to be anywhere else on the planet.

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EMP’s plate with recessed hole: a conceit to make the dishes pop.

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1st: Mystery Box

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1st: CHEDDAR: Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple

A tribute to a New York black-and-white cookie, usually made with vanilla fondant and chocolate fondant. Here the biscuit is made savory, and tasted like a Nabisco Ritz cheese cracker with the texture of butter biscuit. A small dollop of applesauce within for contrast kept it interesting.

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2013-11-09 13.55.332nd: OYSTER: Grapes, Bulgar Wheat, and Sorrel (4.5/5)

A remaining core of 10% of the Oyster, which was plump and mild, not briny – maintained the marine taste of oyster. The outer 90% had the texture of oyster but taste-dominated by a Concord grape granita. Interesting.

“… and lucky sorrel” – parting words of our server. At first I thought lucky sorrel was some rare aberration, like four-leaved clovers – but it turns out it’s a thing.

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3rd: SHRIMP: Marinated with Sea Urchin, Foie Gras, and Chervil. (4.5/5)

A bottarga, dried and shaved, made of sea urchin, coats sweet Maine shrimp. Foie gras paste with chervil foam. Good.

(Obsiblue prawns at Jaan spoilt me. When I think of sweet shrimp now, I think of those little buggers swimming of the great barrier reef. Of course, Eleven Madison Park, with its focus on the New England and Yankee hinterland, would probably not import those prawns from halfway across the world.)

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4th Part One: STURGEON: Sabayon with Chive Oil (4.5/5)

A foamy Sabayon, over a base of chunks of smoked sturgeon in verdant green chive oil.

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4th Part Two: STURGEON: Smoked with Everything Bagel Crumble, Pickles and Caviar (4/5)

This dish is the bastard child of Caviar-Sturgeon & the Smoked Lox and Cream Cheese on a Everything Bagel that is classically New York. Served theatrically with a glass cloche (plated smoke that isn’t part of the cooking process), the smoked sturgeon was fair. Continuity was emphasised with half-a-quail egg (the other being in the sabayon one dish ago?) and the sturgeon. Our server explained that this was a celebration of New York’s bagel traditions – an evocative montage without being supremely delicious. Caviar was served a tin with cream cheese – their tastes didn’t combine in any significant way. A play on sense memories.

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Bread, Butter, and Butter fortified with Venison Trimmings

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5th Option One: FOIE GRAS: Terrine with Plum and Bitter Almond (5/5)

A stunning dish. 3 sweet crisp layers of tuile sandwich savory blocks of foie gras, cut to perfect and uncloying thickness. Soursweet dark complexity from an umeboshi (pickled plum) puree and syruped plum bits with plum jelly. Tremendous. The umeboshi puree was a perfect complement to foie-tuile sandwich.  The best foie dish I have ever tasted, as far as I remember.

2013-11-09 14.45.242013-11-09 14.45.165th Option Two: FOIE GRAS: Seared with Oats, Sage, and Apple

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6th: CARROT: Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments (5/5)

Carrot from Upstate New York is put through an old-school meat grinder, a tribute to the steak tartare in New York steakhouses [1]. The carrot was moist and provided a good base for the seasonings – the combination with quails egg, salt, carrot vinaigrette, bluefish shavings (etc.) great. Reminiscent of some of the best steak tartare I’ve had in Prague.

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Foreshadowing: Butternut Squash pasted with butter and herbs within. A sourdough ring is pasted on the squash to keep the aromatics in.

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7th: LOBSTER: Poached with Brussel Sprouts and Guanciale (4.25/5)

Guanciale is an unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks. Draped on a lobster, with brussel sprout puree, roasted leaves of brussel sprout, brussel sprout crumble, and roasted whole brussel sprouts. My companion and I both enjoyed the myriad ways of preparing the humble brussel sprout, but agreed that the lobster was a tad stringy and overcooked.

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Guanciale

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8th: SQUASH: Roasted with Cranberries, Pumpkin Seeds and Sourdough (4.75/5)

Squash is ubiquitous during Fall in New England, and what better way to celebrate Halloween and the coming Thanksgiving later this month than with cranberries and squash? The highlight of the dish were the perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds, coated in a thin crisp glaze. Chanterelle mushroom puree and chicken jus made this dish, the epitome of fall, earthy.

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Earlier, we were given a choice of venison or duck for our main course. We plumped for the venison, and were treated to a natural-sous-vide method of preparing the meat. I think we were told the black thing encasing the venison was bread, but I’m not 100% sure.

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9th Part One: VENISON: Grilled with Pearl Onions and Chanterelles (3.5/5)

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9th Part Two: VENISON: Roasted with Pears and Sunchokes (4.75/5)

Another two part dish. We were directed to grill the kebabs (part one) one minute (timed on my iPhone). The taste wasn’t bad, but it was fairly simple. I enjoyed the venison greatly. The natural sous-vide bag had rendered it perfectly succulent, and it was garnished with the aromatic black trumpet mushroom, which can only be foraged. It was a dish reminiscent of an autumnal hunt in the forest, playing again to the fall theme. Again, I enjoyed the complicated two-part plating of this dish.

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10th: GREENSWARD: Pretzel, Mustard, and Champagne Grapes (4.5/5)

Jasper Hill soft rind cheese from Vermont, washed with Ale specially bottled for EMP, and aged for 3 weeks in Bleecker Caves. Violet Wasabi jam. Very sweet grapes with skins so soft they’re almost vestigial – Baby Thompson grapes, served as if we were going out for a Picnic. An ingenious serving trick, the picnic basket amused both of us.

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11th: MALT: Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer. (4.5/5)

“and Seltzer water, from the Bronx.” Our server emphasised.

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INTERMEZZO: The Manhattan Cart

At this point, we decided to order a Manhattan, made with rye. So we got a second cart service. Whee!

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12th: APPLE: Sorbet with Bay Leaf, Creme Brulee and Hibiscus (4.75/5)

A croissant ring around a honey creme brulee, where the creme brulee was somehow hardened on both sides without blowtorching the croissant ring into oblivion. Excellent technique, with the sourness of the hibiscus sorbet as counterpoint.

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13th: SWEET POTATO: Cheesecake with Honey and Chestnut (4.75/5)

Cheesecake in sorbet form, good. Sweet potato went very well with the cheesecake. As you can see, our 4 hour extravaganza is nearing its end – night is already falling at about 4pm, some of the servers are resetting the tables for the dinner service later tonight.

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14th: PRETZEL: Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt (5/5)

15th: CHOCOLATE: Sweet Black and White Cookie with Cinnamon [in the box]

Our post-meal snacks takes us full-circle to the beginning of the meal. Black and white cookies are served straight up this time, in a sweet form. The pretzels were very good – that makes it two New York restaurants with chocolate pretzel finishes. (the other is atera).

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To ensure you don’t starve, EMP gives you some 3 Michelin Star granola to eat for tomorrow’s breakfast. A nice touch.

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Looking back on the meal, Eleven Madison Park’s menu succeeds admirably in its goal of evoking all things New York. The restaurant’s love for New York and its history is apparent in the food, the plating, the props and the service. I was very lucky to be able to experience this with my dining companion. To be honest, many of the dishes in themselves were polished to an extremely high level, but there were comparatively few wow-dishes purely in food terms (the notable wows were the carrot tartare, and the foie gras terrine). Instead, what makes EMP unique is the sheer ingenuity of this menu’s presentation – cloches, picnic baskets, grinders, carts – which evoked my own love of the City. The presentation is half the substance at EMP. I do wonder how a repeat diner might take this – once was magical, but I’m not sure about twice.

Today’s visit: My favorite New York restaurant experience, ever.

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Rating: 18.5/20

Memory: Foie gras terrine sandwiched with sweet tuile & umeboshi puree, Carrot tartare.

Other significant write-ups

  1. NYTimes announcement of Eleven Madison Park’s 2012 menu change.
  2. Pete Wells’s critical look at the incipient months of the New York menu.
  3. Beautiful photography from Tina Wong on a 2011 visit.
  4. Review by the Ulterior Epicure in 2009. Choice quote:

“I like the service at Eleven Madison Park.  Whereas eating at per se is like attending Her Majesty’s Privy Council meeting, Daniel like attending mass (in Latin), and masa like attending an open heart surgery, I’m not sure I can object to four-star service with a smile and a wink.”