Wednesday, 24 July 2013

New York Series - Eleven Madison Park

Every now and then I have a meal that is so good, so totally amazing, that I need to set time aside to reflect before I can start to write about it.  There are very few restaurants around that deliver on the promise, sure, you might have a dinner that is almost perfect and would have been if only they'd (insert improvement here).

When planning our visit to New York, I had always planned to get along to a couple of the best restaurants in the city.  This is a little harder than is sounds.  Eleven Madison Park was one of the three or four restaurants on my hit list and the fact that it has just been named as the 5th best restaurant in the world by the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants in the Word made it al the more appealing.  The fact that it was just named 5th best restaurant in the world also made it a tad harder to get into!  After serveral anxious weeks of trying to get in, I managed to snag a lunchtime reservation on a Friday afternoon, score!

It's an amazing feat to be named as one of the top 5 restaurants in the world, but Eleven Madison Park is used to the awards, it's been in the top 50 list for some time (number 10 in 2012) and has held three Michelin Stars for a while too!  It has always been difficult to get a booking at EMP, but moving those extra five places in the San Pellegrino list made it much more difficult to find a seat.

Head Chef and creative genius behind Eleven Madison Park is Daniel Humm, a native of Switzerland who started his culinary training at the age of 14.  After working in some of the finest hotels and restaurants in Switzerland, Daniel earned his first Michelin star at the tender age of 24 as the executive chef of Casthaus zum Gupf in the Swiss Alps.  Daniel moved to the United States in 2003 and by 2006 was the executive chef of Eleven Madison Park.  Awards continued to come Daniel's way, with four stars from the New York Times, six James Beard awards, including Best Chef: New York City.  In 2011 Daniel joined restauranteur Will Guldara to purchase Eleven Madison Park outright, a bold yet smart move for the boy from Switzerland.

Like many of the finest restaurants that you will visit around the world, Eleven Madison Park is a degustation only restaurant.  This is a bit of a departure of the last few years for EMP.  In previous years, you would be given a list of ingredients instead of a menu and the kitchen would produce a unique meal for you based on the ingredients chosen.  There were questions asked about the new degustation only approach, questions that were answered with a rise up the world top 50 list!

It was a disgustingly hot day in New York when we ventured over to Madison Park for our lunch reservation and I had 'suited up' for the occasion.  Once we walked into the air conditioned bliss of the restaurant, my jacket was promptly taken from me and we were ushered to our seats.  This was a glimpse of the breathtaking service that we would receive throughout the meal.

We knew we were in for an amazing degustation experience, but we had no idea what would come from the kitchen and were surprised and delighted with the first 'gift' that came to our table.  A beautiful white box tied up with string was placed in front of us.

As we opened the box and saw the contents our waitress for the day came over explained our first course, which was 'Cheddar' - savoury black and white cookie with apple, which was made with cheddar cheese.  This unique take on the black and white cookie, provided an interesting cheese flavour without being over powering.  The black and white cookie is quintessentially New York and a fantastic way to start off the meal.  While eating the cookie, I could not help think of the Seinfeld episode that explained the black and white cookie (see clip here)

After finishing off the black and white cookies we waited only a short while before our next dish arrived. 'Sea Urchin' consisted of sea urchin snow in a bowl with smoked cantaloupe and conch.  The texture of the sea urchin was really interesting, it was cold and crumbly and had a really distinctive flavour profile.  The overwhelming flavour was the sea urchin, but the smoked cantaloupe added some sweetness to the slightly bitter taste.  It was really interesting and complex dish that set the scene for the remainder of the meal.

The 'Surf Clam' came next, which was a clam puree covering fava bean, meyer lemon and green garlic, along with chunks of lightly cooked clams.  The plate was presented with the puree inside a clam shell, sitting perfectly atop some sand.  The flavour of the puree was subtle but once you reached the fava bean and clam chunks, the flavours intensified.  The puree was incredibly creamy and the added bonus of the clam chunks leant some complexity to the texture as well as the flavour.

There is a certain level of theatre when coming to a three michelin starred restaurant and the next dish certainly provided a level of theatre with the clam bake.  A tradition on Long Island, the next dish was a series of clam inspired dishes all centred around a pot of clam chowder.  The 'Littleneck Clam' consisted of clambake with whelk, a parker house roll and the chowder.  The clam chowder came out in a pot and the waitress added some water to the vessel and a wonderful steam enveloped the table.  I particularly loved the clambake with the whelk, which had a lovely flavour and texture.

However, the star from this dish was the clam chowder, which SC and I poured for each other from the clam pot.  The chowder was incredibly smooth and had an intense clam flavour, which was best savoured in little sips, as much as I just wanted to drink the whole soup in one fell swoop.

Next up was one of our favourite dishes of the meal and as with all of the dishes on the menu had such a simple sounding name.  'Lobster' salad with tomato and buttermilk was just delicious.  There was a salad of tomato and lobster, with the lobster ingeniously placed inside the tomato along with herbs which had a perfect level of acidity from the tomato to balance out the sweetness of the lobster and the buttermilk.  The buttermilk had a lovely lobster dressing drizzled over it to give it an interesting look.  There was also a lobster claw with more of the sweet lobster flesh for us to devour and a basil soda, to continue to add layers of flavour to the whole dish.

While we were waiting for the next course, we were presented with a packet of bread rolls, which were warm and clearly just out of the oven.  What was special about the rolls was the butter that accompanied them, one slab of which was described to us as duck fat butter!  For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know SC and I love anything with duck fat in and this was no exception.  We lathered on plenty of the duck fat butter which helped make these the most delicious bread rolls ever.

A very pretty dish was presented next for us with the 'Foie Gras', a brûlée of foie gras and a selection of summer berries and beets.  The foie gras was incredibly rich and very smooth, made all the more wonderful by adding a brûlée for more texture.  The richness of the foie gras was offset by the tartness of the berries, which included blueberry and raspberries, along with some berries that I could not identify but I suspect were elderberries.  There was a generous amount of foie gras with this dish and was another of my favourites.

One of the more original dishes I have ever encountered was next:  'Carrot' which was a tartare of carrot with rye bread and condiments.  We first knew that we were in for something different when a chef brought out and attached a grinder to out table and left it there long enough for us to ponder on what it could possibly mean.  Our questions were soon answered after a short while when the chef brought out some lightly cooked carrots and inserted them into the grinder.

At the same time, we were given a plate with all the ingredients to mix up a tartare, including a pea puree, sunflower seeds, a quail egg, smoked bluefish, apple mustard and chives.  The idea was to take the ground up carrot and mix in the ingredients yourself, then add mustard seed oil and spicy carrot vinaigrette to taste.  This was a demonstration of real creativity that allowed us to get involved in the making as well as the eating of the meal.  Oh, the carrot tartare was delicious!

I really loved the simplicity and flavours of the 'Striped Bass' which was bass poached with zucchini and squash blossom.  The bass was cooked to perfection, as you would expect, but was also coated in zucchini 'scales' which gave the visual impression of scales.  The squash blossom was was filled with zucchini and peppers, to give a little bit of heat to the dish and it was all brought together with a saffron sauce, which tasted wonderful.

'Ostrich Egg' was next, with two massive Ostrich eggs delivered in a 'birds nest' and filled with corn pudding with truffle and buttermilk.  There were two light and fluffy foams to give the impression of a egg white and yolk, and underneath was a creamy corn pudding.  What intensified the flavours of this dish for me was the lashings of truffle at the bottom of the egg, which made you want to dig around and mix all  the flavours together.  The creaminess from the buttermilk and the slightly earthy flavour from the truffle were a fabulous combination.

One of the chefs came to our table to present to us the star of the meal, the Duck.  For a moment I got pretty excited and thought that somehow the kitchen would be preparing a whole duck for us!  I wasn't sure how it would happen, but I was very excited about the prospect.

Sanity prevailed when an extremely refined looking dish was presented a short while later.  The 'Duck' was roasted with apricot and fennel and Sichuan peppers, and the perfectly cooked duck was simply presented with apricot puree, a piece of stewed apricot, some fennel and a jus.  The skin on the duck was perfectly crisp and had an intense asian flavour that was highlighted when combined with the jus.  The flavours were so intense that I really wished that the serving size was a whole lot bigger.  In fact, I could easily have eaten the whole duck and been happy.

Its been a while since I have had a degustation with a designated cheese course, they seem to have been dropped from most degustations that I have had lately.  'Greensward', the cheese course at Eleven Madison Park, essentially represented a Central Park picnic resplendent in a basket.

Included in our picnic was a beer (Eleven Madison Park's own brand), a pretzel, mustard and pickled strawberries, all with a soft house made cows-milk cheese.  I've never been a big fan of cheese courses, but this was just too wonderful to pass on, I even had some of the beer!

There was more theatre when our waitress came and started to mix together our next course 'Malt', which is the Eleven Madison Park version of Katz's Deli 'New York Egg Cream'.  The concoction was mixed at our table and had no egg or cream, yet ended up being a lovely and creamy drink, with a strong malt flavour.

I had had this recently at Katz's Deli, so had a comparison point, this was much more refined but no less delicious.

It was time for the first of the desserts with 'Sassafras' consisting of sorbet with banana cake, caramel and vanilla.  There was also a liquid nitrogen frozen 'seltzer' with the dish that you had to crack into.  The seltzer had the consistency of parfait and had a interesting flavour and texture when combined with the caramel and banana cake.  The caramel was sticky and wonderful and the banana cake incredibly smooth and creamy.  Each of the individual flavours were nice, but when you combined them all together, it was spectacular.

Last of the desserts included a bit of a magic trick that I have no idea how it worked.  The 'Sheep's Milk' was a deconstructed New York cheesecake with a lovely creamy cheesecake sitting atop mango and peanuts.  It was a really interesting combination, especially the peanuts, which provided some much needed texture to the dish.  The mango sorbet had a subtle flavour and I would loved to have seen a much stronger hit of the flavour, as it turned out peanut was the prevalent flavour on the dish.

While we were eating the 'cheesecake', our waitress came over with a deck of cards and explained that we would decide what flavour we would have for some chocolate.  The cards were shuffled and I was asked to cut the cards. Out of the fifty two different cards, each representing a flavour, I picked 2 cards, being raspberry and popcorn.  The magic part of the trick was that we already had the chocolates in a hidden bowl under our last dessert and sure enough, popcorn and raspberry were the two chocolates we had! Amazing and I am still not sure how it worked!

Our time at Eleven Madison Park was drawing to a close and our last two dishes were delivered to us.  Firstly we had 'Pretzel' which were chocolate covered pretzels with sea salt, which I quickly devoured (SC could not eat her's at all, so it was boxed up for us to go).

Lastly, we finished off where we began, with the black and white cookie, this time a more traditional 'sweet' version as opposed to the savoury cheese one that began our journey.  There was a lovely symmetry in finishing off with the same dish that started off the meal.

It was time to finish our extraordinary dining experience at Eleven Madison Park, the ever so friendly and professional wait staff had brought over our bill and we were preparing to leave when we were hit with one last surprise.  We were lucky enough to be getting a tour of the kitchen, so we were asked to leave our stuff at our table and made our way to the kitchen, where we were greeted by one of the many chefs.  We were to be treated to a quick view of the kitchen and an additional special cocktail treat!

The chef explained and prepared two cocktails for us, one non alcoholic (they had noticed that I had not been drinking on the day), an Arnold Palmer.  It was fantastic to watch the drinks prepared, especially since they both had liquid nitrogen used as part of the preparation!

Once we had finished our cocktails and had a little tour of the kitchen, we were escorted back to the entrance of Eleven Madison Park, where our gear, including my jacket and a number of presents were waiting for us, along with a heartfelt farewell...

This just capped off what was a truly unique dining experience.  From the moment we first arrived, to the moment we left, we were treated incredibly.  The staff were superb, all so friendly and professional, we could not fault anything on the day.  The food was amongst the best I have eaten, and the whole culinary journey was imaginative and well executed and we even got to play a part in the preparation of one of the dishes!

I've never had higher expectations going into a restaurant than when we went to Eleven Madison Park and usually this leads to disappointment.  Not so here, I could not have been happier.  Sure this was the most expensive meal we had eaten (but only just, some Australian restaurants are right up there) but it seemed like such great value when you consider the whole experience.  Our visit to Eleven Madison Park is one that I will never forget....

Oh, the package that they left us with when we left included a jar filled with granola for breakfast the next morning and a couple of lovely EMP chocolate bars.  The experience is so great, they want you to continue it the next morning.  Now that's a dining experience!


Cocktails in the Kitchen
The Kitchen in Action
There were about 40 chefs in the kitchen
Just one section of the kitchen
The Menu for the day

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon


  1. Replies
    1. I was very impressed with EMP and would love to come back again :)

  2. great details! thanks, plan on going next time I get out to NYC

    1. Thanks Judd, it was a great experience, one I wont soon forget!!


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