Eleven Madison Park, NYC 7
December 28, 2010
On December 4, 2010, Linda and I dined at Eleven Madison Park, celebrating our wedding anniversary the next day. We were seated at the corner table where we could look out over the whole upper part of the dining room.
The lighting is nicely muted all over the dining room; there are glass enclosed candles on each table. The tablecloths and the dishes are white, so my little camera had a hard time figuring out the exposures and focuses, but I got a usable photo of each dish. Sorry they aren’t better, but using flash was out of the question in this serene ambience. (We had a lovely dinner at Le Bernardin earlier in the week, but the lighting was even dimmer and with sixteen different dishes for the four of us, I didn’t do a blogpost. Sorry.)
The view from our table: The former upper back section, where you now see a mural of Madison Park, has been closed off and is a serving kitchen. The private dining rooms are still behind the windows upstairs.
The Champagne trolley arrived and glasses of Pouillon Brut Vigneron were poured. The usual warm gougères arrived.
Since September there has not been a conventional menu. The printed menu now explains the restaurant’s new philosophy:
“Our menu format is intended to offer an experience in which our guests can enjoy the inherent surprise of a tasting menu, while still maintaining some control. Dishes are listed solely by their principal ingredients, and guests are invited to make their selections, share any thoughts or preferences, including any ingredient dislikes, and allow us to design their meal from there.”
For our evening the grid was:
Scallop Fennel Langoustine Foie Gras
Cauliflower White Truffle John Dory Lobster
Chicken Pork Squab Beef
Chèvre Coconut Cranberry Chocolate
Each diner chooses one item from each row for each of the four courses. The cooking, seasoning etc are then discussed and the meal is designed. The four courses cost $125 in the evening and $74 at lunch. A tasting menu at $195 is still offered, but is only eight courses, as opposed to the former eleven plus. Since we were celebrating, we chose the tasting menu despite wanting to see how the new formula works. You will see that our meal was mostly composed of elements from the grid, although that was the chef’s choice, not ours: langoustine, foie gras, cauliflower, squab and cranberry. The new concept doesn’t provide any written descriptions, either on paper or on the web, so I have written my own below and they will necessarily be incomplete. I managed to pick up some of the wording from the descriptions as the dishes were being served.
Another change is that several of the courses are served by line cooks who are ready to discuss the preparation and seasoning. We found this enjoyable.
After discussion with the sommelier, we took his suggestion of a white Burgundy which was not on the list. It was from prestigious Dominique Lafon; he mixes chardonnay from several of his parcels in and around Burgundy, thus merging different characteristics and achieving a more complex wine. It was lovely with our first few courses. We also ordered a half bottle of red 2006 Aloxe-Corton from Edmond Cornu.
Two small breads were served along with regular butter and delicious goat’s milk butter. The first pair of amuse-gueules was a cup of rich chicken velouté and a sensational truffled brioche.
Next came beet marshmallows; they were not sweet, but had a bit of tang from the flavor of the beets which was nicely captured. The frozen lollipops were passed; this time they were of goat cheese with dill and caraway on the outside. Excellent.
The next amuse-gueule pair was a cevice of Nantucket Bay scallops with a foam and rice crackers with seared hamachi.
Next came a bread rectangle with Meyer lemon, Santa Barbara sea urchin and shaved foie gras.
Too much was going on here for the sea urchin to come through.
An eggshell of sabayon with smoked sturgeon and chive oil. An oyster with caviar for me and for Linda a piece of smoked sturgeon.
This finished the small plates, part of which were considered to be the first course of the tasting menu.
Then came two langoustines in a celery/apple nage with a green apple granità.
The granità was entirely unnecessary as the apple and celery broth was all that was needed to bring out the flavor of the langoustines.
Marinated foie gras with golden pineapple, two little pickled pearl onions and a rum-raisin brioche.
Pineapple is unusual as an accompaniment to foie gras, but works as well as any of the more conventional fruits. The two little pickled pearl onions gave a nice contrast in texture and flavor without being too much. The fresh warm rum-raisin brioche was superb in itself and as an accompaniment to the foie gras.
Roasted cauliflower with light curry, raisins and fresh almonds.
The flavors were also nicely balanced here with nothing dominating. It is tempting to say that I could do this at home. I’ll try, but this sets a high standard.
Black sea bass with celery and black truffles
The piece of sea bass was surprisingly firm, almost like swordfish. The garnishes were evident, but not dominant, and well matched to the fresh flavor of the fish. It is interesting to combine a very ordinary ingredient like celery with a noble one like fresh black truffles.
Variations of squab with apple and cabbage. A chicken liver mousse on a crisp.
Some of the squab had been roasted and some cooked sous-vide, which made a nice contrast. Both cooking techniques brought out the flavor of the squab. Apple and cabbage are classic garnishes for squab, particularly in the fall and went very well. The crisp slice of thin toast gave textural contrast; the chicken liver mousse prevented it from being boring.
“Kir Royale” Cassis sorbet with a Champagne foam
Clever name. Nice, but nothing special.
Roasted apple ice cream, cranberry sorbet, brown butter sponge cake.
These novel treatments of ingredients of the season created an interesting dessert.
From the left: banana ice cream in chocolate, almond tuiles, macaroons and white chocolate truffles. All good.
Finally a bottle of Alsatian pear eau-de-vie was put on the table for us to sip before our departure.
The meal was excellent. Each dish was well composed and the menu itself had a logical flow.
The downsizing of the tasting menu was not just in the number of courses, but also in its general atmosphere of going all out for a celebratory experience. Compare this meal with the EMP Tasting Menu we had just over a year before. (Click here to see it.) It includes, among other things, caviar, oysters, foie gras, both black and white truffles, sea urchin, langoustine, Dover sole, wagyu beef, a cheese course and three desserts. Some people may think that is excess, but we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly for four hours.
We regret that the extraordinary eleven-course event is no longer available, but the cuisine, the abilities and attitude of the staff, the overall atmosphere and the sheer quality of Eleven Madison Park continue to make it New York’s best dining experience.
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