Eleven Madison Park, NYC 3
September 1, 2009
In my humble opinion Eleven Madison Park is one of the top three restaurants in New York, with Per Se and Le Bernardin, and has been so for the last two years. The New York Times finally gave it the top rating a few weeks ago. The Michelin Guide, inscrutably, has not even given it one star. Linda and I went back to EMP, as it is known to restaurant bloggers, for dinner on August 29, 2009.
After we had been seated, the sommelière asked us if we would like an apéritif; she then returned with the champagne trolley. There were five bottles. From the wine by the glass list we chose the Pouillon, Brut Vigneron, Premier Cru. According to the list:
“This is a special disgorgement for Eleven Madison Park. Equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from 2005 as well as a Solera which Fabrice Pouillon started in 1997. The Solera adds maturity and depth while the excellent 2005 vintage gives vibrance and lift.”
We thought it was excellent.
A little bowl of warm gougères arrived. They were light and fresh.
We were each given five hors d’oeuvres.
There was a garnished radish, a cucumber mound with salmon roe, foie gras with a fruit gel on top, a little quiche and a faux carrot filled with delicious sweetbread purée. They were an indication of a fine meal to come.
We consulted the menu. There was a three-course prix fixe with ample choices per course at $88, a five-course “Taste of Summer” menu with no choices at $125, an eleven-course Menu Gourmand at $175 and, our choice this evening: the five-course “Four Story Hill Suckling Pig” menu at $125. After consultation with the sommelière, we ordered a bottle of 1995 François Gaunoux “Le Clos des Chênes” Volnay. This was rich and delicious with enough fruit to go well with the pork.
The first amuse-gueule was a sabayon of smoked ham with chive oil in an eggshell. This was really delicious.
The second amuse-gueule was an equally delicious sea urchin cappuccino with peeky toe crab.
The sea urchin was top quality and plentiful. The frothing brought out its flavor.
The first course on the menu was: Tête de Cochon, Pommery mayonnaise, pickled and raw vegetables and grilled country bread.
This was a refined version of what is usually a rustic terrine made from the meat from a head of a pig simmered all night. The round of finely ground pâté was lightly vinegary. The traditonal recipe calls for soaking the head in vinegar before cooking. The crisp raw vegetables were a fine offset, but the pickled vegetables and cornichons were somewhat redundant. We did not start drinking our Volnay until this course was done and our palates cleared.
The second course was pork belly, chanterelles, Bing cherries, mustard seeds and tiny potatoes.
This was very nice. The flavors and textures all blended well, with only the cherries for contrast. The potatoes were exquisite.
The third course was confit of pork shoulder, apricot chutney, baby leek, sweet crumble on onion.
This has become a signature dish of EMP. It appears on the à la carte menu. You will see it in our blogposts from a year ago and from two years ago. The garnishes are the same, but they are both from summer. I saw in another blog that this spring the garnishes were “Rhubarb, Ramps & Black Pepper Jus.” This confit is excellent and deserves its fame. The skin of the piece of shoulder meat is nice and crisp.
The fourth course was rack of Four Hill Farm suckling pig, savory oil, summer runner bean salad.
The two chops and the piece of crisp bacon are on top of a foam which covers the mixed vegetables. The meat was particularly luscious. Four Hill Farm is an ecologically correct operation in Pennsylvania which provides many top restaurants with meat and poultry.
As we were just finishing our lovely Volnay the sommelière came around and suggested a glass of wine for our dessert. I chose a 2002 Stein, Bremmer Calmont Riesling, Auslese, Mosel. It was nice as the sweetness was quite restrained. There was a nice austerity to it rare in dessert wines.
The pre-dessert was strawberries, strawberry sorbet, Champagne emulsion.
Very nice. The generous glob of cold foam contained the strawberry richness.
The dessert was cornbread cake topped with sweet corn sabayon and crunchy corn kernels; blueberry and buttermilk sorbets.
This was superb. All the American country flavors worked together. By using the sugar in the sweet corn the chef achieved a restrained, natural, elegant effect which cane sugar would not have provided We are glad we asked for a substitution for the chocolate dessert which was programmed.
We finished with macaroons: caramel popcorn, peaches and cream, passion fruit.
These were quite sweet, but the flavors came through.
We really enjoyed this meal. I would not suggest ordering the suckling pig menu on your first visit to EMP, as you would want to sample the mainstream fare, but if you can dine here several times, it is a fine experience. Whatever you order, the service will be excellent and the pace of the meal just right. The ambience is fine with the tables well spaced and the sound absorbed by the high ceilings. It is a real accomplishment for this Swiss chef to adapt classical and modern French techniques to American ingredients and idioms. No wonder the Michelin Guide does not understand it.
To see our blogpost on EMP from July 2008 click here.
To see our blogpost on EMP from July 2007 click here.
The restaurant’s website: