this was cut and pasted from my blog, so it reads more like a blog than a CH review/report...
Restaurant Review: Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu, Mar. 4, 2005
Having been to Eleven Madison Park several times before, thus having three $20.05 gift certificates (from Restaurant Week), I decided to return once more but this time to put my food choices in the hands of Chef Heffernan.
When Cleed (?), my waiter, came around to ask me for a drink order, I asked him if the tasting menu was at all substitutable - just to see. Because if I had a choice of what to eat or rather what not to eat, such as sweetbreads, I'd vote in favor of not trying the thymus gland of a baby cow. It's never been something I've had the urge to try.
But as irony would have it, sweetbreads would later arrive at my table. As would another dish I have been avoiding for years.
With Danna out of town on a business retreat (at Disney World) and three gift certificates that are about to expire, I decided to cash them in...only to find out later that I could only use one of them. Ugh. An inexpensive meal got pricier in a snap.
I really wanted to try the Graves, Chateau du Seuil (Bordeaux) 2001 - thinking that I need to try more Bordeauxs. I know I like Burgundy's, so lets work on Bordeaux (still working on Italian wines as a whole, but that's another story) and see. So I get a glass, give it a swirl and check the bouquet. I check it again. Something isn't right. I taste it. No. I tell Cleed that I think it tastes corky. He says "really?" Uh oh. I haven't been here for more than five minutes and I'm haranguing the waiter over wine. I am the youngest person in the joint except for the college kid a few tables away who is eating dinner with his parents and I have the uneducated audacity to question this wine. Oh boy. In the distance I see my waiter hand off the bottle to the maitre d, a Dr. Niles Crane doppleganger, and say something t him."Niles" takes a smell. Then gets a glass from behind the bar, pours some in, smells again and takes both the bottle and glass through the kitchen doors. Great, now there is a going to be a committee about this wine and I am going to look like the fool who doesn't know his wine other than recently reading about the war of traditional corks versus new technology corks in the recent/current edition of Wine Spectator.
Then Cleed comes back. I plead that I wasn't trying to be difficult, knowing that the wine was probably fine to an educated nose, and his response was - "You were right. It was corked. Second bottle of Graves in a row".
I almost couldn't hold in my smile as I felt vindicated, no, educated! Or just lucky. So quickly that smile can go back into hiding. But after Cleed left with my new request for a glass of the Margaux, Chateau Soussans (another Bordeaux), 1999. This one was drinkable, easy on the tannins but somewhat boring. Oh well. I'm not about to push my luck on this one.
First, I got a basket of the gougeres, which as always, were excellent. Forget M&Ms, these truly "melt in your mouth" almost like cotton candy. The Margaux's best quality was bringing out the flavor of the Ementhaler used to make the gougeres. I did everything in my power not to eat all of them. I don't want to look like a pig, and I enjoy keeping the staff and other diners guessing as to who I am. If I ate all of them, I'd be a dead giveaway for a novice. Ah, the art of dining alone.
The real amuse was a Tuna tartare with lemon vinaigrette on a wheat crisp. Simple, perfect. Nothing crazy going on, as it should be. A good tidbit.
Braised Root Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese
The vegetables included some frisee, cippoline onions, baby carrots (clearly from Union Square Greenmarket), parsnips and my recent favorite, beets. The vegetables were braised using truffle butter and also included a lump of goat cheese (which almost looked parfait-like, with a shade of gray ring on the bottom) with truffles sprinkled on top. A really good salad - one I probably wouldn't order on my own, but very solid. The truffle butter wasn't overpowering and brought out the best in each of the vegetables. The colors were nice as well, but even better after the plate was cleared.
So here we are. I'm face to face with the one dish I really and truly did not want to face. Of course I was up for the challenge though. Why else would I put myself in this position. I somehow knew this would happen, and heaven knows I wouldn't order it myself. This dish also came with frisee, haricots verts and a single verjus grape. All of which were fine, the madeira wine glaze that accompanied it being memorable. The sweetbreads themselves had a crunchy texture with a hint of thyme, and a flavor that I will not soon forget. Once it hit my lips, some slight shock went through my body. My body seemed to know I didn't want this, but I had to get it over with. Overall the taste was better than I thought. A slightly creamy taste/mouthfeel once you got passed the crunchy exterior and had a pretty nice taste to it...or rather, it was cooked as it should be. You could discern that much. As for ordering it again. I don't think so. I'll rack it up there with Uni and Vegemite on items to order, and to order only once.
There was a bit of a gap in getting my next course but that gave me time to confer with my waiter about my upcoming wine selections. I asked him to help guide me, as he was privvy to the tasting menu. He told me my next course would be a fish course and the following would be a beef couse. So he chose a Chablis, Moreau Pere & Fils, Burgundy, 2002. It was full bodied, crisp, and went pretty well with the next course...
Sauteed Skate Wing "Grenobloise"
Another first - skate wing. For whatever reason, I've been avoiding this. Probably because I love to swim with the stingrays down off of Grand Cayman, and it seems too cannibalistic since I enjoy their company so much. But anyway, here we are. It was served with a brown butter sauce, caperberries (which apparently is why it is called "Grenobloise". Without these, it isn't "Grenobloise".), wilted spinich and bacon beurre fondue. Another waiter came over and deboned the wing for me...allowing the crusty underside to be accessible. This was actually quite good. Its flavor and smell was very "flounder/fluke"-like to me. Was never my favorite as a kid, but reminded me of it. The caperberries were spicy and the wilted spinach was perfectly cooked. They really know how to cook their greens at EMP. Overall, a good dish. Again, not something I would return to order, but a good dish. Very well executed, just not my type of fish.
A quick transition this time around. I asked for Cleed's help once again, this time he brought out the big guns. He gave me a taste of the Alexis, Swanson, Oakville Estate, 2001. Wow. Big and bold. This will do perfectly. It was so good that I ordered a second glass for dessert. Instead of the 3 oz that I'd been given all night, Cleed generously poured me a good 5 oz. Cheers. He returned the formality...and even more surprisingly, gave me the label at the end of my meal. He told me that it was the best Cab that they served and was new to the restaurant.
Cote de Boeuf with Swiss Chard, Potato-fennel gratin and onion crisps. They call them onion rings, but I think that is misleading. I have a new found respect for Swiss Chard. It, like the spinach, was cooked perfectly. It had the steamed flavor but still kept a crispness to the veins. Very good and perfectly matched for this dish. The gratin was skillfully made but in the end was average. The prime aged beef was very good and reminiscent of my Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience - but remarkably different at the same time. The presentation and quality of the cooking was nearly identical, but the flavors of beef versus the flavors of grass-only fed beef on an organic farm are very noticeable. Even at this level of cooking. Or perhaps especially at this level. Still, it was excellent. The one problem I had with the dish was the sauce it sat on. I think temperature might be an issue in the kitchen. The white wines are usually too cool and the sauces are often reduced 30 seconds too much. It was a very thick sauce in taste, but not visually. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but was heavy for a sauce. I did an experiment with this dish. I tried a bite of each individually and a bite with each of the ingrediants included. My opinion is that each worked much better individually. The gratin was indistinguishable except in mouthfeel, when combined with either the beef or the swiss chard. The swiss chard would be a bit strong with just the beef and all three together was confusing. So best to eat them individually.
Dessert Course #1
Well, I was only supposed to get one dessert, but as it turns out, they gave me two. The first one was the chocolate souffle, but a very miniature version of it, along with three melon-ball sized scoops of ice cream ( I can't recall the delicious varieties I'm afraid) topped with toasted coconut. Oh this was phenomenal, and I don't care for too much chocolate. The four top that sat down to my left during my cote de boeuf course said to me "Not to be rude, but that smells remarkable". It did, and I told them it was very good - also reminding them about the timeliness of your order if they chose to get it. Very good dish.
Dessert Course #2
What was this? More utensils? But what for? Cleed smiled and went back to the kitchen. Then to my surprise a long plate with a Dark Chocolate Dome (with chocolate mousse inside) atopped with gold leaf and a mini pineapple and toasted almond cheesecake and lemon sorbet. Good lord!
This was fantastic. Hats off to pastry chef Nicole Kaplan for a double dose of dessert. Good thing I ordered that second glass of Alexis.
More? Well, I knew they were coming. The lady to my left inquired, "Looks like the 7th course to me". Indeed. The only one I couldn't finish. I had a white sugared almond and two creamy chocolates but left two. I couldn't fit any more.
Then I was given the bill and told that they could only honor one of the gift certificates. Which I think is bunk, but I wasn't about to put up a struggle. I'll just use it for brunch tomorrow and I gave one of them to the lady next to me, who's husband it turns out writes for a travel magazine. Didn't hurt to have my name and contact info on the gift certificate already. They were a very nice group of four that seemed remarkably familiar to me. Nonetheless, I hope they enjoyed their dinner as much as I did.
Service was good. You expect good from D.M's restaurants and staff. That's what you got. But one thing that stood out was that everyone that served me, Cleed, the fish deboner, the busboys - all of them were difficult to understand. I could barely decipher what they said were ingrediants for each dish. Fortunately I could tell on my own most of it or look it up online, but wow. Very challenging. The waiter to my left, the Jeremy Sisto lookalike, seems to be a staple of EMP. We've never had him as a waiter, but he seems like a pretty cool guy. The coatcheck and reservation staff were warm and welcoming as always.
Chef Heffernan came out to say hello and we talked about his hand which has healed up well. It was indeed from a surfing accident out in California...and it defintely was fine enough to cook up that meal. Thanks.