Normally a story needs to be told from the beginning but on very rare occasions the ending of a good story must come first. And the story of our afternoon at Eleven Madison Park is one of these exceptions. This was the best dining experience of our lives. Ever. No really, ever! Saying it is one thing but writing about it is entirely different. I do hope I am able to convey what an afternoon at Eleven Madison Park is like and why you must put it on your culinary bucket list, in the top five positions.
Eleven Madison Park is Chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara’s highly acclaimed restaurant in New York. Not only does the restaurant hold four stars from the New York Times, three Michelin Stars and a number of James Beard Foundation Awards, it also holds the title of fifth best restaurant in the world in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Guide 2013.
When it comes to the menu I just love EMP’s philosophy – there is no menu. You are there for their multi-course tasting or you are not there at all. Guests are asked about any allergies, dietary restrictions and ingredient preferences but otherwise there is just one menu, which is unveiled course by course. Sticking to their guns on this means that all efforts are focused on bringing you the very best they have to offer at any given moment, and that is what a place like EMP is all about.
All it takes is the slightest bit of encouragement and I am in. In to what you ask? The bubbles of course. A glass of Bérèche & Fils seemed like the perfect way to start the afternoon… when in Rome and all of that. Champagne in hand we allowed ourselves to calm down and begin to take in our surroundings. Inside the fabled Metropolitan Life North Building the finishings were wonderful, with massive windows allowing ample amounts of natural light in.
Tasting Menu – $195.00 per person / with wine pairing $340.00 per person
- CHEDDAR – Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple
(Bérèche & Fils, Brut Réserve, Ludes, Champagne, France)
- SEA URCHIN – Snow with Smoked Cantaloupe and Conch
- SURF CLAM – Tomato, Beans and Savory
- LITTLENECK CLAM – Manhattan Chowder with Whelk and Razor Clam
(Equipo Navazos, La Bota de Manzanilla para Eleven Madison Park, Sanlucar de Barameda, Jerez, Spain)
- TOMATO – Confit with Lobster Salad and Bonito Mayonnaise
(Claude & Florence Thomas-Labaille, Rosé l’Authentique, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2012)
- FOIE GRAS – Brulée with Summer Berries and Beets
(Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1998)
- CARROT – Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments
(Hermann J. Wiemer, Magdalena, Seneca Lake, New York 2011)
- STRIPED BASS – Poached with Zucchini and Squash Blossoms
(Domaine de Bellivière, Les Rosiers, Jasnières, Loire Valley, France 2011)
- SUNFLOWER – Barigoule with Sunchokes and Black Truffle
(Franz Hirtzberger, Rotes Tor, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria 2011)
- BEEF – Roasted with Onion, Cherries and Ginger
(Il Macchione, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy 2007)
- GREENSWARD – Pretzel, Mustard and Pickled Green Tomatoes
(Ithaca Beer Company, Picnic Basket Ale, Ithaca, New York)
- MALT – Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer
- SASSAFRAS – Sorbet with Banana Cake, Caramel and Vanilla
(Equipo Navazos, Pedro Ximénez, Casa del Inca, Montilla-Moriles, Spain 2010)
- RED PEPPER – Cheesecake with Strawberry and Cashew
- PRETZEL – Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt
- CHOCOLATE – Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot
CHEDDAR – Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple.
Bérèche & Fils, Brut Réserve, Ludes, Champagne, France.
After our bubbles our waiter for the afternoon, Cody, came out to present the very first course – cheddar. Presented in a little white box wrapped up with string it was very much like a present to begin proceedings.
So ‘New York’ in every way, this was a savoury twist on a classic sweet biscuit. It was so soft and barely able to keep shape as it was eaten (just like an Arnott’s Country Cheese biscuit but far greater). Full on cheddar flavour with a sweet apple filling keeping everything in check.
SEA URCHIN – Snow with Smoked Cantaloupe and Conch.
Snow, love it or hate you cannot deny that the process to make it is rather cool. I am in the love it camp but sea urchin snow is something new for me. As one would imagine as it hits the tongue (or even the side of the bowl) it melts away, but unlike normal snow it is not water but rather a delicate essence of salty sweet sea urchin. Smoked rockmelon (cantaloupe for the American folks) is so far out of left field and unimaginably perfectly suited to the urchin and conch it had me doing a slight double take on what it actually was. A wow moment.
SURF CLAM – Tomato, Beans and Savory.
The only time I have ever eaten surf clam before was as sashimi at Koko so it was pretty cool to have it not only presented in its half shell but to try it in a very different way. Pureed and so very delicate the creamy base was subtle enough to give a fulfilling richness but not impose upon the sweetness of the clam. Hidden beneath it all were broad beans and bacon to make this little dish have a very big presence.
LITTLENECK CLAM – Manhattan Chowder with Whelk and Razor Clam.
Equipo Navazos, La Bota de Manzanilla para Eleven Madison Park, Sanlucar de Barameda, Jerez, Spain.
Up until this point there was only a small hint of theatre to the meal. Not to say that Cody was not entertaining us with his extensive knowledge of the Met Life building’s history or the origins of the food and wine but thus far everything was all fairly standard for an establishment of this calibre. The fourth course began with a cracker, you may think that is very simple, but simple is not the EMP way.
Just like a prawn cracker but made from carrot, dehydrated and deep fried to puff it up to crispy wonderment, it did not end there. A few scattered greens and little dabs of onion cream paired with the vinegar powder just knocked it up a notch or three. It would have been amazing enough on its own but this was only the beginning of course number four.
Beyond the crisp we were presented with a glass teapot. Inside the teapot was a magical mix of herbs, clams and other savoury tones. This was then filled with a clam consommé and allowed to steep at the table while we enjoyed our crisp. As novel as the idea of having your clam chowder being finished at the table may sound it was a real treat to see it all happening.
After the crisp Cody came back to finish the dish and we were presented with a plate of clams. Littleneck clam shells made the base (literally) and we were served razor clams with pickled ginger, onion cream and dill fronds giving a sweet smooth flavour heightened by the dill. The whelk shells were filled with a cornucopia of ingredients; celery tips, dill fronds, avocado cream and a light citrus based cous cous making for a very intricate dish. The littleneck clams themselves were quite firm with a nice amount of give and although they were the smallest they packed the biggest punch.
Sipping on the extraordinary Manhattan clam chowder straight from the small bowl while sampling each of the different shellfish in the dish was a very soothing experience.
TOMATO – Confit with Lobster Salad and Bonito Mayonnaise.
Claude & Florence Thomas-Labaille, Rosé l’Authentique, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2012.
Half a confit tomato sat proudly on the plate for our next course, accompanied by some delicately picked basil and accented by a few strategically placed garlic croutons. The buttermilk foam was nicely accentuated by the butter and if that was the entire dish I would have been satisfied. But there was more.
Served on a bed of perfectly formed ice ‘nuggets’ we each had part of a lobster claw to add to our already impressive plate of confit tomato. Inside the claw was a delicate lobster salad that was ‘corked’ in place by a mighty good bonito mayonnaise. So many levels of yum with the lobster salad, confit tomato and buttermilk foam.
Although the broth of the previous dish was incredible it seemed as though the chefs were not done with amazing consommés just yet. Just to top things off we were also served a tomato soda. Yes, correct, a carbonated tomato consommé that was a revelation, so unashamedly good it just boggles the mind.
Still grinning from ear to ear from the first five dishes our smiles seemed to go into overdrive as the bread arrived. Two flaky buttery scrolls served warm and ready to be lathered with butter. The difficult part was to choose which butter would get the honours – and it was going to be a hard choice until our man Cody mentioned the word beef. I know he said something about trimmings and butter but he needn’t say any more, it was the beef butter for me, and loads of it. Oh my, it was so good, words cannot describe how wonderful buttery bread and buttery beef can be together. There was also another butter and some salt, but since they didn’t have beef in them I forgot they existed.
FOIE GRAS – Brulée with Summer Berries and Beets.
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1998.
One of the few choices we were given in the meal was how we wanted our foie gras cooked – was it to be pan fried or bruléed as the chef intended? Chef would have intended for it to be awesome, so we opted for awesome. Awesome is what we got.
A creamy disc of silky smooth foie gras that although quite rich never stepped out of line to make you feel like you were overindulging. Bruléed indeed, the firm disc of candied sugar on top was so wonderful and exactly what was needed to punch through. Summer berries – red currants, white currants, blackberries, elderberries, red raspberries, white raspberries – they were all there and amazingly paired to the unctuous foie gras.
CARROT – Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments.
Hermann J. Wiemer, Magdalena, Seneca Lake, New York 2011.
What do you think when a meat grinder is bolted to your table? Most likely you think meat. Well it seems EMP thinks carrot, and why not? It is nothing like you would ever expect and a pretty good showpiece too. As the carrot was being ground we were presented with a board of condiments to create our own carrot tartare as we saw fit.
Sweet plum sauce, sunflower seeds, pickled quail yolk, shaved bonito, chives, seeded mustard, horseradish, pickled plum, salt and a tiny bottle of carrot emulsion and one of mustard oil. We were of course given some lovely triangles of rye crackers to create our own tartare. Add as much or as little of any of the condiments as you like, or even add none, it is up to you to discover what you like best. We really loved the concept and the execution; it was great to have a little fun and not feel all stuffy like you often can in top end restaurants.
STRIPED BASS – Poached with Zucchini and Squash Blossoms.
Domaine de Bellivière, Les Rosiers, Jasnières, Loire Valley, France 2011.
When it comes to the next dish a picture really says a 1000 words. On presentation alone this dish was remarkable, made with such precision it was quite a marvel to look at. Zucchini slices layered just as if they were scales on the fish. Not only did it look amazing it tasted as such. Impeccably poached with clean and deliberate flavours it was just superb. Hiding within the squash blossom was a ratatouille of sweet peppers adding a playful touch to a remarkable dish.
I mentioned we had a couple of decisions to make during our meal. The first one was the foie gras and how it was cooked while the other was a choice between duck and beef. The duck did sound amazing but the beef did too. And since I was present we both knew it was something I would sulk about later if I didn’t get my own way. Beef it was. During the meal we were given a glimpse of the beef we would be eating later. 140 day dry aged rib eye supplied by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, I do admit it looked mighty fine.
SUNFLOWER – Barigoule with Sunchokes and Black Truffle.
Franz Hirtzberger, Rotes Tor, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria 2011.
Beef show over we were served the most intriguing dish of the day – sunflower. It had some familiar aspects, instantly reminding us of the sunflower dish at momofuku sieōbo. Just like at momofuku it was a strange dish, somewhat teetering on the line of brilliant and obscure. If it weren’t for the intense black truffle and roasted mix of Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) and sunflower seeds I’m not sure I would have been able to appreciate it as much as I did. Definitely the most left field of all the courses.
BEEF – Roasted with Onion, Cherries and Ginger.
Il Macchione, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy 2007.
After the little beef tease earlier we were finally treated to the main attraction, a magnificent slice of rib eye beef with all the trimmings and just a tad more. The toasted amaranth atop the beef really stood out as a quintessential pairing, a perfect toasted element to such a succulent steak. When the dish was finished with more beef jus goodness it was hard to slow down and enjoy all the nuances of it. Marinated cherries seemed to really hit the spot giving a deep fruit layer to contrast the sweet charred onions – yet they were both kept in line by the full flavour of the beef and jus.
In addition we had a little nubbin of crispy beef and to round it all out was a bowl of beef trimming consommé with a few pieces of beef, a few varieties of pickled vegetables and a touch of mustard seed for good measure.
I really loved the beef but no matter how amazing it was we both wondered how the duck may have been.
GREENSWARD – Pretzel, Mustard and Pickled Green Tomatoes.
Ithaca Beer Company, Picnic Basket Ale, Ithaca, New York.
After a nice interlude the theatrics ramped up once more we were presented with a picnic basket for our next course. When we were told the theme for the picnic was beer I think I may have let out a little scream of joy. Star of the show was the Picnic Basket pale wheat ale brewed specifically for EMP by Ithaca Beer Co. Each element of the picnic was given some beer love – the pretzel was basted in it, the mustard made with it, the olives pickled in it and the cheese washed with it. Everything made better by beer, the perfect love story.
This was a beer extravaganza indeed but much more than that. Everything including the beer was spot on. The custom made EMP Swiss Army knife was a really cool addition but the winner for all-out-cool were the plates. Just your typical paper plates, except they were ceramic and not paper at all, just made to look like paper plates! We both enjoyed the ale (me more than Lex obviously) and the cheese, the sweet mustard pickle and the olives but our favourite was the pretzel, it went so well with everything and was even amazing on its own.
MALT – Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer.
When we thought everything was slowly winding down out popped Cody once more to present and prepare our next dish simply called ‘malt’. An egg cream is a very New York thing (well Brooklyn thing, but close enough) and surprisingly these days it does not contain egg or cream. With a base of syrup and in our case vanilla malt syrup (with a touch of sea salt) Cody poured milk into each glass, a few drops of olive oil (to help emulsify it all) and picked up the soda bottle and a spoon before giving it a squirt and stirring like crazy as the seltzer filled the rest of the glass.
Magical is what I will call it. Creamy in a way that makes sense (the whole ‘egg cream’ part) with quite a good amount of sweetness. The seeds of the vanilla bean were dotted throughout and made it taste quite strong but it was the seltzer that makes it quite unique. This was very different to any kind of milkshake you could experience and definitely something I would make at home.
SASSAFRAS – Sorbet with Banana Cake, Caramel and Vanilla.
Equipo Navazos, Pedro Ximénez, Casa del Inca, Montilla-Moriles, Spain 2010.
Sassafras is an ingredient I had never heard of and it was explained as being similar to sarsaparilla so I was intrigued to see how this dish came together. The medicinal like quality of the sassafras felt strange as it was a little like a mint in the way it cooled the mouth but it then gave way to bigger flavours such as the vanilla in the marshmallow and the thick sugary caramel. Closer to a crumble than a cake the banana was the one thing that kept this dessert from being a little strange as you could get a good balance from each of the other components so long as there was a hint of banana in there.
RED PEPPER – Cheesecake with Strawberry and Cashew.
Dessert number two was a deconstructed cheesecake of sorts. But the best part of this dessert was the magic that came with it. While we were asked not to take photos of the trick being performed it is interesting to see photos of it on other blogs. I thought I could catch on to what was happening in the trick by spying on the table next to us. Though sadly (or happily, depending on how you look at it) Cody performed a totally new trick with much the same awestruck outcome.
Sorbet of red capsicum (sorry ‘red pepper’ ;)) brought a vegetal savouriness to the dessert but not so strong as to make it less dessert worthy. Frozen balls of strawberry were scattered around and some meltingly soft curls of pastry rounded out the ‘cheesecake’ aspect of the dish.
PRETZEL – Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt.
If you thought that was the end, you were wrong. Next we were presented with chocolate covered pretzels. You really cannot go wrong with pretzels covered in dark chocolate and sea salt. These were rather large considering the meal before us but naturally we demolished them.
It was now that a bottle of Liards Number Eleven apple brandy (specifically brewed for EMP) was placed on the table and we were advised to consume as much as we liked. Being 80 proof it had such a kick to it that can really knock your socks off. Now of course that sounds pretty dangerous as we’d just finished the degustation with matched wines and dangerous it may have been had we been able to down more than one.
CHOCOLATE – Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot.
The final morsel of the day took us full circle. We were once again presented with a small white box tied with string. This time around the contents were the traditional sweet black and white cookie with an apricot jam centre.
And last but not least we were given a little EMP carry bag containing a jar of granola, for breakfast the next day.
After more than three and a half awe inspiring hours it was all over. Not only was this the absolute no questions asked best meal of our lives, it was something that we will remember for a long time and not just because of the amazing food, but the whole experience from the moment we walked in the door until the moment we left.
Eleven Madison Park is on a complete other level to any other restaurant we have ever dined at. I cannot fathom how amazing places like El Celler de Can Roca and noma (which rank high on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) would be.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York NY 10010
+1 212 889 0905
Eleven Madison Park Website