I had to plan a great day in NYC for my sister’s milestone birthday. She loves good food, and wants the place to have great atmosphere and ambiance. After a lot of research, I decided on Eleven Madison Park. I’m so happy I did! Short version: my sister loved it and so did I!!
After reading so much, I decided that the eight course tasting menu would be the way to go. My sister always complains that there is too much food if we order appetizers and then main courses. This would be perfect for her, and the day was all about celebrating her.
We had 5:30 p.m. reservations for Saturday night. We were a little early, and saw that they were having their staff meeting, so we decided to walk across the street and sit in Madison Square Park for the 15-20 minutes we had to kill. I was very excited to see that Shake Shack is in this park! I knew I couldn’t have any burgers this day, but we’ll be back some day this summer to try them out.
When I made the reservations, and when I confirmed them on the phone, I made mention that this was my sister’s 50th birthday. We were greeted, and they kindly took our coats, and the wrapped gift I wanted to give my sister prior to dessert. I asked them to bring it out and present it to her then. We sat at our table, and there was a card with my sister’s name on it. There was a letter opener to facilitate opening it. Inside, there was a hand written note wishing her a happy birthday. We were off to a great start!
As I said, my sister enjoys eating where the ambiance is as good as the food. The room is beautiful, with at least a 40 foot ceiling. The room has huge windows. The tables are not too close, and the seating is comfortable. One of the elements of the room which is repeated in multiple places are “trees.” These are bunched like a tree. And on many branches hung single roses, in full bloom, each one attached to their own water supply. Very elegant and beautiful. The music played quietly in the background, and this hit all the right notes for my sister to be comfortable.
Each person who visited our table wished my sister happy birthday. Everyone who waited on us was knowledgeable, pleasant and knew the food well so they could answer our questions. We were having the tasting menu, and they asked if we had any allergies, or if there was any food that we didn’t like. They also asked if we would eat offal. We replied yes, but didn’t have any (I don’t think!).
We were open to eating anything they put in front of us.
For drinks, my sister chose to have two wines, a white and a red. She enjoyed them both. She mentioned that I didn’t drink to the sommelier, and he pointed out their “soft” cocktails. I chose “Up the Alley,” which was delicious. It was served in a martini glass with an orange garnish. I found out later it contained pressed honey crisp apple juice, maple syrup, lemon and French sparkling cider. It was so good I had two. Now I’m on a quest to figure out the proportions, so that I can recreate this drink at home. I have the ingredients and it’s time to start experimenting!
On to the tasting menu. This is their winter menu. We started with 6 cheese gougeres. Hot and perfect. Then we had apple tea, which was amazing. It had a small bouquet garni in it, and I’m not sure what that was. I think you could call the tea transcendent. It was served with a tiny quail egg with bacon. The surprise in this bite was that the yolk was warm, and liquid. But still cooked enough to maintain its yolky integrity on the cracker. Wow!
Next out was the hamachi with pickled ginger and lemon. This was the single dish that I didn’t care for. It was too fishy tasting for me. I don’t mind some fishy taste, but this seemed overwhelming. The complementing ceviche scallop with tangerine was delicious.
On to the frozen yogurt lollipop with curry on it. It looked great, tasted great and was fun to eat. I noticed that other diners who were having traditional meals got these pops too. Accompanying it was a panisse, which is a fried chickpea flour cake, which also had yogurt in it. It was small, delicate and delicious.
Next was a single cup called borscht. It was grated beet, beet gelee with egg, grated really tiny (both the yolk and whites), sturgeon caviar and a tiny rye cracker. It was actually a nice sized portion of caviar, and it was fishy and delicious.
We got to have our own personal clambake. A tiny stove with seaweed on top was placed on the table. The stove was doused with water, which created a lot of steam, and generated a very briny smell which added to the presentation. There was lotsa wow factor in that presentation! There were four different iterations of clams, and each different and enjoyable. In the center was a teapot of clam chowder. In the past I have not enjoyed clam chowder, but now I’m a convert!
Next came puntarella, salad with tardivo, anchovy and garlic. The anchovy was crisp granules, and the single piece of garlic was roasted and mellow and delicious. The fois gras was prepared terrine style with black truffle, which isn’t my favorite way, but it was good, especially with the black truffle and another tiny rye cracker.
Somewhere during the meal they delivered two delicious rolls, served in a cloth pouch. They kind of peeked out, begging us to eat them. We had our choice of goat butter and cow butter. Salt was served on the side. The rolls were light, yeasty, crusty and almost ethereal tasting. I’m a bread fan, and I think this might have been the best roll I’ve ever eaten in my life! Next time, I’m asking for seconds, and maybe even thirds!
The big surprise for me was the sun choke course. They are also known as Jerusalem artichokes. We had them three ways: roasted with watercress, raw and breaded and fried. I couldn’t pick a winner, and I’ve vowed to try to cook them all at home because they were so good!
The lobster was poached with meyer lemon and delicate. The leek was burnt, but not charred. They even left the roots on the leek, and they were fried to a crispy goodness. There was also a squid ink bisque on the plate. The squab was tiny, and probably the reason the word unctuous was invented. The complimenting sauce was a bitter chocolate jus. Yum!
Now we were down to the cheese course, which features New York state pasteurized cheeses. There were three varieties featuring pumpkin and apples.
So much food keeps coming, you start to wonder how many courses do you have to go, and can you keep eating?
I knew that we were coming to the dessert courses, because they brought out my sister’s gift. She opened it, and was delighted to find the EMP cookbook, which I figured would chronicle our visit much better than anything I could put together. I inquired if the new owners and authors were available to autograph the book, but unfortunately Saturday is their day off. However, they offered to keep the book and have them sign it and mail it back to us. We declined, but it was a generous offer.
To further homage New York, they prepared an egg crème, tableside. It wasn’t a typical egg crème, but had very citrusy notes of orange, some chocolate from the cocoa nib and selzer from an old fashioned selzer dispenser. They get their selzer from the only remaining company that refills bottles in New York. The bottles were antiques. The egg crème was fabulous! Dessert continued with a chocolate sorbet and caramelized cocoa pastry, bergamot and olive oil. My sister’s came with a candle in hers, a further acknowledgement of her special celebration. We had a cheesecake make from goat cheese with a blood orange sorbet that was really exceptional.
We finished our last dessert tasting, then another staff member came over and said that she had a surprise for us, and wanted to know if we would like a tour of the kitchen. We both gasped at the same time, and immediately accepted. (I know, we’re both dorky like that!) The kitchen is 4,000 square feet, hot and bustling. It is also pristine in terms of cleanliness. They escorted us to a table where we met one of the pastry chefs, who lives in Hoboken. She prepared a Jack Rose for us, and utilized liquid nitrogen to freeze some of the elements. The Jack Rose was amazing, and it was fun to crack the frozen element of the drink she made right in front of us! I wish I could remember all that she said, but it was very interesting to look around the kitchen, and see how the food magic all comes together. In addition to the 4,000 square feet we could see, there is another 4,000 square feet behind the scenes consisting of the floral room, storage areas, coolers and freezers. We got to watch the kitchen flow for a few more minutes, and then were told that they had one more surprise for us, and to follow her out of the kitchen.
We ended up in the front of the restaurant at one of three tables set up in a private nook in the front corner. On the table was a bottle of cognac. All of our personal items were already there. She told us that we were their guests and could stay for as long as we wanted, and help ourselves to as much complimentary cognac as we liked. She also had more sweets delivered to us. They were a black truffle ice cream and a white truffle ice cream. They were wonderful. My sister also received a candy bar, which looked like it had silver on the top of it. Luckily there were two pieces in the box, and she was generous enough to share one with me. We each also got a jar of granola, which I’m still enjoying.
We stayed for a while, enjoying the atmosphere and digesting our food. We finally decided to call it a night, and headed back outside to catch a cab. We made it home, and both of us consider this the best meal of our lives! It was just that good!
For those of you considering going, keep in mind, when they say it’s a tasting menu, they REALLY mean that. Going in to the experience, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to eat it all without being full. But keep in mind it’s usually a 3 ½ hour dining experience. We were actually there for 4 ½ hours. So, make sure you eat every single bite they put in front of you! We let a couple of cheese gougeres go back into the kitchen, along with ½ of my roll, and I know we didn’t finish the clam chowder. Big mistake! Next time I’ll be cleaning my plate of every drop because I know it won’t be too much food. You will not be stuffed when you leave, just comfortably full and extremely happy!
All in all, it was absolutely fabulous, from beginning to end. My sister was happy, and that was the whole point of the evening. I loved it, and when the time is right, I will be back. They have earned every one of those Michelin stars, and they definitely deserve them! It’s a sign of a well run restaurant when neither of the owners is on site, and they still produce such exceptional food!
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010