**EDIT** October 2011 - Eleven Madison Park has been awarded three Michelin stars (they previously held one star). Well deserved, and I cannot wait to dine here again… hopefully soon! They are also no. 26 in the world’s top 50 restaurants (from no. 50).
Every so often, you have a meal that completely blows you away. The day I dined at Eleven Madison Park was one of these days.
They have a unique take on the whole dining and ordering experience, in that their menu is set out in a grid format where only the main ingredients of each dish are listed.
The idea behind this “grid menu” is to offer the surprise of a tasting menu, whilst still maintaining some control by being able to choose the main ingredient of each course. You are of course encouraged to share your preferences/dislikes/allergies with the waiter, which is in turn relayed to the kitchen. I have heard that some people are not a fan of this format as they prefer to know exactly what they will be eating, but I’m sure the staff would happily elaborate on the dishes if needed.
Gougères. These little babies were to be the start of a very delicious meal. These warm savoury mini choux pastries were very good, and I could have eaten ten of these without much of a problem. I stopped at four though, as I knew I would become too full otherwise.
Halibut dashi. This is one of the best soups I have ever tasted. The dashi had just the right amount of smoky fishiness, and the bunch of seaweed and rosemary in the cup enhanced its fishy flavours. I adored this, and almost wished that this was an actual menu item.
The halibut tea was served with seaweed lavash crackers – I could only imagine how much work (and skill) goes into creating these, as they were paper thin, allowing just a hint of light to shine though it.
Sturgeon sabayon with chopped sturgeon pieces, served in egg shells. This sabayon was beautifully light yet extremely flavourful, and I found myself repeatedly dipping my spoon into the shells trying to get to every last bit of sabayon.
Bread rolls. Oh, the bread. These were unlike any bread rolls that I’ve been served at restaurants, in a good way. These bread rolls were very flaky, and reminded me of curry puffs (a popular Malaysian snack). And somehow, it still had a soft and fluffy interior – I would pay good money to learn how to make these! The rolls were served with two types of butter – one made from goats milk, and the other from cows milk. I really enjoyed the goats milk butter, but R found it a tad overwhelming (he doesn’t like goats cheese either, but I quite enjoy it).
At this point, I was already loving Eleven Madison Park, and we had yet to be served our first course! Always a good sign I think.
First course #1: Foie gras brulee with variations of apples. If you like foie gras, you will LOVE this. Beneath the crispy brulee topping lay the richest, most decadent brulee I have ever tasted. So, so good. The slightly sour apples provided both a textural contrast, as well as helped to cut through the richness of the brulee. I also enjoyed the crumble which was sprinkled on the apples – I think this was made from brown sugar.
First course #2: Hamachi with fennel, horseradish and meyer lemon sauce. Compared to the foie gras brulee, this sounded a little boring in comparison. Thankfully though, it did not taste boring. The fennel complemented the mild flavours of the hamachi beautifully, and the horseradish added the right amount of heat to the dish.
Second course #1: Seared cod with fennel, clams and a bergamot sauce. This was cooked to absolute perfection. The cod had been seared to give it a wonderfully crispy crust, and the cod flaked away beautifully at the mere touch of a fork. Fish is so often overcooked, and I was so pleased that this wasn’t the case with this dish. Simple yet so well executed.
Second course #2: Lobster claw and tail with edamame. This was as pretty as a picture, the sort of food you almost do not want to eat because it’s too beautiful. Almost being the key word, naturally. Again, the lobster was cooked perfectly, and went well with the smoked sauce and edamame. There were also these little crispy slivers on the plate, and neither R or I could figure out what they were. I suspect it was derived from lobster, but I may be mistaken. I was going to ask, but I got too engrossed with eating and errr.. forgot.
Third course #1: Pork (belly and loin) with mustard seeds and spatzle. Oh. My. This was obscenely good. The pork belly was tender and melted in the mouth. Nothing like well cooked pork belly to make my day. The mustard seeds added a really nice twist to the dish, and in my opinion elevated it to something a little more special. Though to be honest, the pork was cooked so well that I wouldn’t have cared if I was only served the pork belly and loin with no accompaniments.
Third course #2: Veal with winter vegetables and sweetbreads cooked two ways. You might be getting bored of all the superlatives I’m using to describe the food, but it’s hard to not use an abundance of superlatives when the food is so good. The veal was by far the best piece of veal I have ever tasted. Hands down. It was wonderfully tender and worked very well with the sweetbreads.
Pre-dessert: Tangerine with jasmine and celery. Looks can be so deceiving. This looked like a “normal” plate of tangerine granita… oh, how wrong I was. The tangerine granita had pieces of tangerine in it, and was paired with the most delicious jasmine ice cream and jasmine foam. The thing that made it special was the inclusion of micro celery leaves in the dish – I normally hate anything with celery in it (yes, hate with a capital “H”), but I really enjoyed this. In fact I think it wouldn’t have been as good sans the celery leaves. This doesn’t mean I now love celery though, mind you!
Dessert #1: Lemon frozen yogurt with lemon crumble, candied lemon and candied olive. The frozen yogurt was bursting with citrussy goodness, and was served with variations of lemon cake – a lemon crumble, a lemon cake “slice”, and small morsels of lemon cake. The biggest surprise of the dish was the candied olives, which I thought would be out of place in the midst of all the lemony goodness – but actually worked very well.
Dessert #2: Coconut and passion fruit ice cream, with papaya and bruleed pineapple. This was a tropical island on a plate. Both ice creams were refreshing and bursting with flavour (I preferred the coconut – only just!), yet very creamy. The mini meringues also were a very nice touch, and helped to add texture to the dish.
And to finish off the meal, some peanut brittle and lime pate de fruit. I especially liked the pate de fruit and its zingy-ness.
All in all, this was a fantastic meal. I now understand why Eleven Madison Park is so highly recommended – it definitely lives up to the hype. And I haven’t even touched upon the service, which was absolutely impeccable and made the meal even more memorable. I am definitely a fan, and will definitely be making a reservation at Eleven Madison Park the next time I find myself in New York.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010-3643
Lunch: Monday–Friday, noon–2:00p.m.
Dinner: Monday–Saturday, 5:30 p.m.–10:00p.m.