Monday, July 15, 2013

Feasting at Eleven Madison Park

There are a couple of restaurants in New York that are just known.

Known for their verging-on-absurd tasting menus, the impeccable service, the crazy chefs, the gorgeous d├Ęcor and the impossible-to-get reservations. A few that come to mind are Per Se, Daniel, Megu, Masa, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern.

And of course, Eleven Madison Park.
Kitchen Tour |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Kitchen tour before our molecular cocktail  }

Where I was most fortunately invited as a guest last week.

Thank goodness, too, because the restaurant only serves a 16-course tasting menu (both at lunch and at dinner), offered at $195 per person.

I had heard of the restaurant because it's so highly-ranked (one of the top restaurants in the world and the Swiss chef, Daniel Humm, has received a James Beard award, etc.) and it's apparently quite innovative (molecular gastronomy and all that).

Now, I didn't know I was invited until the day of, which is probably good because otherwise I would have been so hyped up, but instead, I just "prepared" by reading a few Yelp reviews that got me really excited because they all seemed to talk about the same good things: incredibly attentive service, a fun and surprising presentation with dishes that are actually recognizable and appetizing (not always the case, apparently, in these molecular gastronomy situations), and an overwhelming concurrence that it was completely worth it. The last is especially shocking because, let's be honest, that price tag (before tax and tip!) is quite steep.

As for my own review, post-meal?

Clambake  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Clambake with Razor Clam, Parker House Roll, and Chowder  }

I have to say everyone was spot on about the service and the presentation.

We were seated (each of us with our own seat-slider-inner) and the ladies were presented with a purse hanger (so essential!) and asked if we had any dietary restrictions before the dinner officially began.  Part of the concept of the restaurant is a focus on NY delicacies, so the first course kicked off with a sweetly-wrapped box containing a savory black and white mini cookie.

And then we proceeded from there for 4 hours until the final course, another box, but this time with a sweet black and white cookie inside. In between were the 14 other courses that were all extremely interesting and beautifully presented. We were also granted a tour of the kitchen—which was the exact opposite of anything you see on reality shows like Gordan Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. It was pristine and gleaming, and ran so smoothly with just a gentle hum, no yelling or banging around of the sparkling copper pots at all.

The nice thing is that we weren't just paraded around the stations, which would have been awful as I'd have felt so in the way. Instead a bar-height table was set up for us along the wall in the middle of the kitchen, where we could take a look around and learn about the restaurant's operations (here's some trivia for you: the kitchen is open 24 hours a day! Apparently there's always someone there either cleaning or prepping one aspect of the menu at all times). After properly guffawing over that tidbit, a pastry chef came over to demonstrate a special cocktail that involved nitrogen to make insta-sorbet, which was layered over muddled cherry preserves and topped with gin.

Then, back to finish the rest of our courses, which included a magic trick to deliver the final one (we each picked from a deck of cards, but this deck of cards had ingredients on them instead of a number and suit, and somehow the ingredient we chose was magically the flavor of the chocolate that had already been secreted under our dessert plate).
Lamb  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Lamb: Crisped with Leek, Bibb Lettuce & Meyer Lemon + Roasted with Freekeh, Mint & Leek  }
Pretzel Picnic Basket  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Picnic basket with Greensward cheese, Pretzels, Mustard and Pickled Strawberries  }
Tableside Egg Creams |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{ Tableside Egg Creams with Vanilla and Seltzer  }
Mint Sorbet |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Mint Sorbet with Fernet Branca and Chocolate Ganache  }

But, the real finale for me was the presentation of one, chef-signed (!) copy of the restaurant's beautiful cookbook (but really a coffee table book) to each of us from our generous host. This tome is seriously a work of art and it details the history of the restaurant, how it's run, the schedule and many of the dishes. Given the exacting standards and the variety of ingredients, this will definitely be more of an inspiration than something that will sit in our kitchen to be splattered on.
Cookbook |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Pretzel course served with Apple Brandy, presentation of the cookbook and the final wrapped cookie  }

We also didn't know anything of the menu ahead of time, and were only presented with a written copy at the end (so I could see exactly where I blacked out).
Tasting Menu |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Summer 2013 16-course Tasting Menu at Eleven Madison Park  }

And since that picture is a bit grainy, here's the entire menu served on July 8th, 2013:

CHEDDAR: Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple
SEA URCHIN: Snow with Smoked Cantaloupe and Razor Clam
TOMATO: Gelee with Summer Beans and Saffron Oil
SURF CLAM: Fava Bean, Meyer Lemon and Green Garlic
LITTLENECK CLAM: Clambake with Razor Clam, Parker House Roll, and Chowder
FOIE GRAS: Terrine with Black Truffle and Asparagus
CARROT: Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments
LOBSTER: Poached with Snap Peas, Morels and Sweetbreads
NETTLES: Creamed with Fingerling Potato and Goat Cheese
LAMB: Crisped with Leek, Bibb Lettuce and Meyer Lemon; Roasted with Freekeh, Mint and Leek
GREENSWARD: Pretzel, Mustard and Pickled Strawberries
MALT: Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer
MINT: Sorbet with Fernet Branca and Chocolate Ganache
SHEEP'S MILK: Cheesecake with Mango and Peanut
PRETZEL: Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt
CHOCOLATE: Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot

All of my dishes were prepared gluten-free and my favorites were definitely the Carrot (composed tableside with a meat grinder used to make the carrot puree that we then swirled with our mix-ins and sauces—like quail egg, horseradish, mustard, pea mousse, sesame seeds and chili oil—to create our own tartare), the Lobster, the Nettles and the Sheep's Milk.

Look how dreamily that Carrot dish was presented—I only wish I had a picture of the gleaming meat-grinder-turned-carrot-grinder that was attached to our table to create those silky mounds:
Carrot Tartare  |  Feasting at Eleven Madison Park on *sparklingly  |
{  Carrot Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments  }
I finally arrived home a little after 11PM, completely satiated (although, with a teensy craving for steak tartare—ha!). I don't know if I'd ever have indulged in that meal on my own, but I'm beyond grateful that I was lucky enough to have been treated to what can only be called an experience (not at all a mere "dinner").

P.S. We were also sent home with a beautiful bag containing a mason jar with Eleven Madison Park's homemade (gluten-free for me!) granola.

P.P.S. Apologies for the quality of most of my photos, but as the evening wore on and the sun went down it became hard to get a good shot—and this wasn't the kind of place to activate my flash in!

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