Eleven Madison Park – Same Place, Similar Time but Still Fresh and New
How quickly time flies.
It’s interesting how a year can change someone or something a lot. Even for this restaurant. In case you haven’t heard or read, Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara are now co-owners of Eleven Madison Park. It was formerly owned by Danny Meyer. This restaurant recently earned its three stars from Michelin. Their highly anticipated cookbook is coming out in about two weeks (on 11/11/11). I was fortunate enough to receive a copy and I have to tell you, it’s worth the buzz. The drop-dead gorgeous photos by Francesco Tonelli. The restaurant philosophy. A number of recipes that make you want to go to your kitchen and whip out a few recipes from this book – that is of course, you are a good and/or ambitious cook. That’s all I’ll say about this book for now as I’ll go into depth with this book in the near future.
Anyway, I made a reservation for lunch to celebrate my birthday. Though it’s a few weeks earlier than the actual date, I still want to eat here since my schedule is going to be hectic later. My memories of last year’s celebration were memorable that I have to make this my annual tradition to have my birthday meal. The food was creative, beautifully plated, and most importantly – delicious. (Come to think of it, this is the third time I celebrated my birthday here since 2008. And that is a very good statistic in my realm.)
Like my previous meal, the neat handwritten birthday greeting. Except this time has more flourish, making me think I should go back to my old obsession in writing calligraphy on note cards for the holiday season.
Not too long after being seated, we’re greeted by our captain and she presented us with warm gougeres. Little cheese puffs that are delightful to pop into the mouth.
When we’re left to ourselves and reading the menu, it reads somewhat similar to last year. Several old standbys were there such as prawn, foie gras, halibut, lobster, pork, and chocolate but they have different variations of the main ingredient. Our captain was very knowledgeable as to what will be served and no issue informing us what would be served for certain ingredients. (Note: What you see above is a copy of my personalized menu card with the descriptions of what each dish I ate. It will not be the same format as you will see it when you order.)
The dish that I really wanted to eat was the famed Duck for Two. If you read around food forums and other food blogs, this dish is a not-so-secret secret and generally ordered off the menu. It’s due time that I get sink my teeth into that distinguished bird. I’ll get into depth about this soon. All the other dishes sounded great when I asked questions as to what would be served or how it would be prepared, especially the lamb served with sweetbreads (not seen on my personalized menu card, as you see above, but it was there). Alas, there’s so much that my guest and I can eat.
The second amuse of this meal was truffle “tea” with shaved Burgundy black truffles on toasted broiche. The beautiful white tea cups placed in front of us with a small tied bundle of lemon verbena and lemon thyme. One of the friendly line cooks poured in the earthy scented truffle “tea” into our cups. This tea is a fine line between soup and broth. It’s well seasoned, intensely mushroom-y as it’s steeped morels and Matsutake mushrooms and the herb bundle lightened the earthy flavors of the mushrooms. I wish I could drink a cup of this everyday. As for the brioche, it’s wonderful. It’s subtle to carry out the fungal flavors of the tea without dominating each other.
The smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil presented in chicken eggs. This is what I remembered eating last year. It’s what I would call “an oldie but goodie.” Flavorful, salty (in a good way) with a zip of chive oil to break up the heavier flavors of the creamy sabayon.
This particular round of amuses was both theatrical and delicious. A pair of waiters came to our table with a large silver tray with multiple dishes and components to build the concept of the clam bake. They brought out a large blonde wooden tray to hold up the ceramic tray of hot rocks with seaweed and the teapot of clam chowder. Then they set four small trays of different bites that reflect on the clam bake: little neck clams with chorizo, butternut squash purée, topped with caviar, little neck clam with lightly pickled onion, apple, and chorizo, mini madeline-shaped chorizo cornbread, potato croquettes topped with yuzu zest. Before they leave our table, our captain poured hot water onto the hot stones to create a dramatic plume of steam, wafting scents of the briny sea and seaweed.
The clam chowder is essentially done New England style but so much lighter (as in not as rich and viscous) and intensely flavored of the briny salinity of the clam broth. The bites of food were robustly flavored. My personal favorites were both preparations of the little neck clam – the sweet butternut squash purée was intriguing with the spiced chorizo and briny clam and the minimalist approach with the fruit was refreshing and played the sweeter aspect of the clam.
Starting from top left to right: Making the frozen cocktails, My frozen cocktail, The plating station with Executive Sous Chef Bryce Shuman’s back (him on the left of that photo), and The restaurant’s copy of their book, and the enormous white truffle in a jar filled with rice
Changing from last year’s schedule, they bumped up the kitchen tour with the frozen cocktail. The current frozen cocktail was made of pomegranate syrup, diced apples, liquid nitrogen frozen apple brandy and frozen pomegranate foam. You may view how it’s made with my video seen below:
While I was savoring my cold cocktail, I flipped through their own copy of their own book on display and shook hands with the chef who remembered me dining here a nearly year ago – Executive Sous Chef Bryce Shuman – and went back to our table.
After settling back on our table, we’re presented with bread service. A rustically beautiful pouch of brioche-like bread made from Cayuga‘s organic flour, served with goat’s milk butter garnished with dill and cow’s milk butter garnished with oats. This time, the bread was exponentially better – warm, fluffy and slightly sweet with flaky crust. When smeared with the goat’s milk butter, it’s bliss.
Then our first courses arrived. We ordered prawn and foie gras. The prawn crudo with grapes, fennel, and Marcona almonds was traditional in terms of the flavor pairing but creative in terms of its execution. The sweet-tart red grapes worked so well with the prawn crudo, and the Marcona almonds were prepared two ways – in its whole toasted form and in foam. The variations of crunchy, airy, silky, soft, and jelly (there’s grape gelatin in there too) created a wonderful symphony of textures and flavors ranging from sweet, salty to tart and delicately nutty.
The foie gras terrine with plum, bitter almond, and umeboshi was a winner. Frankly, Eleven Madison Park’s various preparations with foie gras can never be beaten in NYC and the flavor combinations get more interesting as I’ve dined here over the years. Anyway, this terrine was sandwiched with tissue thin tuile, plated with slices of fresh plum layered in sheets of plum jelly, umeboshi purée, and crushed toasted almonds on top. Crisp sheets of tuile, silky foie gras, tart and sweet plums, and crunch nutty almonds created new flavor profile of foie gras I never had.
Moving onto the second course, we ordered halibut and lobster. The seared halibut with cabbage, nori, and yuzu was a wonderful fish dish. French preparation with Asian flavors and it works. It plays on the sweet flavors of the fish with the napa cabbage (done two ways – caramelized and puréed and steamed and rolled with nori), subtle brininess of the nori and lightened up with yuzu.
The poached lobster with autumn mushrooms and spinach is like their foie gras – dependable, delicious yet new. The lobster is poached in sherry to infuse some sweetness and richness. The assortment of autumn mushrooms were chanterelle, matustake, and hen of the wood creating a robust, harmonious flavor of mushrooms. Each bite of this particular dish was mind blowing.
We finally head to the climax of the meal – the Duck for Two. One of the waiters rolled up a table next to us and set up for the duck. It just sat next to us for five minutes and we’re anticipation for this bird was killing us. Eventually, the beautifully glazed and bronzed Muscovy duck graced our table. It’s heavily speckled in dried lavender flowers, and stuffed in its body cavity a bouquet of fresh lavender. This bird drew stares from my neighboring tables watched curiosity of the carving presentation. Some even photographed.
If you are inclined to do so, I suggest you to watch this video clip of the duck carving ceremony. And I hope you are not watching this if you are either a vegetarian or starving:
Are you still there? If you are, you may watch a shorter clip of a different captain slicing and starting to plate the duck:
Slicing and beginning plating the duck breasts
This presentation, watching the efforts of the staff, breaking down the bird (by two people) and plating was mesmerizing.
When we finally get to eat this duck, it makes complete sense why every regular talks about it. This was an extraordinary duck. The breast was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Crispy skin with lots of meat and it’s sweet and savory from the lavender honey.
We’re also presented a side dish, a bowl of braised duck leg topped with foie gras in potato foam. The braised duck kind of reminds me of a hearty, soulful Chinese duck stew my mother cook from the use of five-spice powder. When you add on the foie gras and potato foam, it was extremely decadent but then again, I would not have mind eating a bucket full of it.
Before heading to dessert, the egg cream cart rolled up to our table. This particular version is made with orange syrup, cacao infused milk, a few drops of olive oil, and topped off with seltzer. (The original recipe usually chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer.) It’s unusual and lovely, especially with the fruitiness of the olive oil that makes this drink special.
Coming to dessert, we had blue cheese and pistachio. Normally, I would be the one who would pistachio since it’s my favorite nut in the world but I wanted something usual and opted for blue cheese. The blue cheese with pear, chestnut honey, and bitter greens was indeed something a cross between sweet and savory. The not too pungent, buttery blue cheese (I think gorgonzola cremificato) was worked with the sweet pear slices and purée and chestnut honey. The toasted brioche crumbles gave the needed sweet, crunchy texture for this dessert.
The pistachio cakes with grapes, almonds, and candied pistachios, pistachio ice cream and grape sorbet is an answer to my savory dessert. There were two types of cakes – a duo of pistachio butter cake and pistachio cheesecake dotted with fresh, crisp grapes, creamy pistachio ice cream, semi-tart grape sorbet to make things interesting and reflect on the season. It was simply delicious. The best part of this dessert was the intense, creamy pistachio ice cream (I want a pint of that to take home).
After clearing out our plates, we’re presented with the petit fours of pistachio macarons with fresh rose petal, plum pâte de fruits, and shortbread topped with lemon and chamomile cream. The macarons were dainty and adorable with the fresh rose petal. Despite of its petite size, it packed a ton of pistachio flavor, while the rose petal gave it a breath of delicate floral freshness. The pâte de fruits made me mentally note that I should try to whip a batch for the holidays, as these were fantastic. Not too chewy or gooey and the plum flavor was amazing. The shortbread was wonderfully crisp and buttery, while the cream was zesty yet had an noticeable undertone of fresh cream flavor.
To finish off our meal, we had a bottle of Maison Paul Beau Cognac VSOP, a cognac that has been aged for 12 years. Paul Beau is one of the oldest artisanal Cognac distillers in the Segonzac area of the Grande Champagne region. This wonderful spirit was great to sip. It’s delicate yet pronounced with flavors of honey and cedar. It matches the style of food Eleven Madison Park create and serve.
I asked my captain if I may sneak back into the kitchen again to talk to Bryce and thank him for the wonderful meal I had. I even managed to take a photo of the team of chefs who make Eleven Madison Park going without Chef Humm if he’s not working at that time. Photographed here are from left to right: Chef de Cuisine James Kent, Sous Chef David Nayfield, Executive Sous Chef Bryce Shuman, and Sous Chef Lee Wolen.
Thank you to all of the hard working cooks at the kitchen, and the dining room staff again for the wonderful meal. This is meal was flawless, creative, and splendid. The service was spot on. This experience made me want to book another reservation very soon – as in less than 12 months.
To view more of my photos, please click through my slideshow below: