Monday, April 14, 2008

Eleven Madison Park

It's been awhile since I read Danny Meyers' book Setting The Table but I found his take on hospitality thoroughly enjoyable and in tune with my own sensibilities. So I was more than happy with our choice of Eleven Madison Park for dinner tonight. Earlier in the week, I had been thinking that another visit to per se was in order but Spike was uncomfortable about arriving at the restaurant without a reservation, based solely on my firm belief that "if you show up, you will eat."

The one thing about Eleven Madison Park is that it's polished. Everything is thought out and just right. From the time you call and speak with someone on the phone (try doing that for a per se or French Laundry reservation) through the end of the meal, everyone is so cordial - so filled with hospitality.

Even the reservationist was suitably apologetic and told me that they were "already committed" to a full dining room on a Saturday night but there was availability at 10pm, with a tinge in her voice that led me to think that she didn't think we would be interested. "I'll take it," I told her. Of course we'll take it. We're just the kind of weirdos that don't have a problem eating dinner until two or three in the morning, if necessary.

Hors d'oeuvres

In spite of my incessant desire to put things off until the last minute (like travel arrangements), I hate to be late for appointments. I want to be on time and we were at the restaurant at 10 pm sharp. Of course, it's a Saturday night and the place is packed, meaning that our table wasn't ready yet. Even the way the receptionist/hostess phrased that conversation struck me as well thought out and perfectly approached. She invited us to relax by the bar while the table finished and was reset.

I decided to avail myself of the mens room where I was greeted by little terry cloth towels to wipe my hands after washing. Nice.

At the bar, we were greeted by a cocktail server who brought us a round of drinks, inquired if we were eating at the bar or waiting, asked for the reservation name and proceeded to bring us a round of hors d'oeuvres, which would end up being the first round in the tasting menu (that we hadn't chosen yet). While Spike continued his quest to find the proper pastis (this wasn't it), I decided to sample one of their house concoctions of champagne, vodka, passion and orange bitters. Nice drink but the champagne overwhelmed the other flavors.

No less than three times in the ten to fifteen minutes we sat in the bar area did one of the hostesses stop by our table to update us on the progress of our table. That was really nice. No more worrying if they forgot about us, or getting irritated about it taking such a long time. The updates were frequent and properly timed. And when the time came for us to move to our table, our hostess swept up our beverages onto a silver tray, just in case our arms might have been too fatigued for the journey across the restaurant.

Royal Sterling Caviar - Soft Poached Knoll Crest Farm Egg and Tapioca

Once settled in and greeted by our server, we were presented with the menus.

To be honest, I hate reading menus. Especially when a tasting menu is being offered. I'm not a vegetarian. I have no aversion to seafood. I'm not allergic to anything. Just bring it on and let me have it. I don't want to think. I want to eat. Eat and be cared for.

Spike, on the other hand, has scrutinized the menu and decided that the order as presented would be better with a slight modification to accommodate the wine selections. Truth be told, in spite of the years I pretended to know wine and the years I spent making wine, I really know nothing about wine. I'm forever derided for allowing them to serve me Louis Jadot at L'Arpege. I think I'm scarred.

Happily, the kitchen, our server and our sommelier are more than willing to accommodate our request and the champagne flows.

With a tasting menu this large, it's really quite difficult to cover everything, so I'll just hit you with short blurbs on my thoughts with each course.

The sterling caviar was just a wonderful way to begin the meal. Beautifully poached egg whose yolk added that luxurious mouthfeel with every bite. And the tapioca must have been cooked in a fish stock of some sort because the flavor just permeated each luscious and chewy pearl.

Heirloom Beets - Liquid Sphere with Lynnhaven "Chevre Frais"

First you eat the Chevre and then you eat the beets. Definitely one of the most exciting courses of the meal. The beets exploded in your mouth with such intensity that just surprises.

Cape Cod Bay Crab - Roulade with Avocado, Lime and Yogurt

2004 Mersault Desiree - Domaine des Comtes Lafon

Wild Atlantic Halibut - Seared with Cauliflower, Green Almonds and Crayfish

It was the description that caught our ears: "Wild Atlantic Halibut" Aren't they a bit overfished in the Atlantic and in danger? Perhaps not the best description (or sourcing) for a sustainably-minded chef and barista. But it was tasty and I did like the little pieces of crawfish on top.

Nova Scotia Lobster - Poached with Wild Nettles and Oregon Morels

Definitely one of the most exciting courses of the meal. Just an explosion of flavor. Chewy morels, chunks of lobster and a green sauce that I wanted to guzzle down. Spoonful after spoonful, it was chock full of stuff and I loved every bite.

Foie Gras - Terrine with Rhubarb, Celery and Pickled Ramps

The bread accompanying the Foie Gras.

2004 Volnay Santenots-Du-Milieu 1er - Domaine Des Comtes Lafon

Since I'm perpetually single and a decided bachelor, I'm usually party to some sort of tomfoolery or debauchery that gets my friends into some sort of trouble with their significant others. But this was the first time wine has led to infidelity.

The Volnay Santenots-Du-Milieu 1er is, evidently, Amy's favorite wine in the world. Her and Spike have been to the vineyard and drank the wine straight from the barrels with Mr. Lafon himself. Even Spike commented that this is her favorite. It wasn't until later when he told her about the wine that she told him that drinking the Lafon without her was akin to cheating.

Note to self: never tell your S.O. about the time you drank her favorite wine without her...

Nieman Ranch Port Belly - Sous-Vide with Peas a la Francaise

Black Angus Beef - Herb Roasted with Asparagus, Parmesan and Sauce Bordelaise

Our Man Works The Cheese Cart

Fromage - Selection of Artisanal Cheeses

"Vacherin" - Strawberries, Basil and Black Pepper

Chocolate-Peanut Butter - Palette with Popcorn Ice Cream

Cappuccino - Latte Art Rosetta


All combined, it was a great experience. The food was solid. Excellent even. But the service was top-notch. It seemed as though everything had been thought through and we were never wanting. Combined, it was brilliant. Had it been one or the other and the experience would have been flat.

I don't know if I'll be clamoring to rush back anytime soon but it was a wonderful and delicious meal.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010

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