Following our wonderful travels in Montréal, The Astronomer and I headed stateside to New York City! The moment we stepped off the train at Penn Station, we booked it to Eleven Madison Park for dinner. I would’ve preferred a later reservation in order to freshen up at the hotel, but the first seating was all I could snag a few weeks in advance. We arrived at the restaurant slightly sweaty from the heat, but ready to be swept away by one of the city’s finest establishments.
Opened in 1998, Eleven Madison Park is owned by restauranteur extraordinaire Danny Meyer. Chef Daniel Humm was brought on board in 2006, and under his care, the restaurant received four stars from The New York Times in 2009. Chef Humm was named “Best Chef: NYC” by the James Beard Foundation in 2010.
We were seated promptly upon our arrival along the row of tables situated toward the back of the restaurant. Our seat offered lovely views of the room’s grand windows and larger than life floral arrangements.
At Eleven Madison Park, diners can choose either four courses ($125) or a tasting menu ($195). Since I had to fit into a bridesmaid dress at the end of the week, we played it safe and went for four courses.
In place of a traditional menu, diners are presented with a 4×4 grid containing 16 ingredients. Each row represents a different course, and diners are asked to choose the ingredient that fancies them most. After years of eating tasting menus where my preferences were never considered, I appreciated this innovation greatly.
Before the “official” courses began, a series of small nibbles were sent out from the kitchen. First up was a dish of bite-sized gougères, served warm with the lightest sprinkling of salt.
The next bite to arrive was a petite saucer filled with chilled English pea and mint velouté. The smooth and refreshing soup was topped with buttermilk snow. For crunch and contrast, a slightly cheesy toast adorned with peas rested along the rim.
A duo of seafood preparations came next. Ceviche-style Massachusetts day boat scallops were served on the half shell with fennel, citrus, and orange.
Served in tandem were airy rice crackers topped with fluke, basil mayonnaise, and a teeny Meyer lemon sphere. Both bites were well-balanced, fresh, and bright.
The fifth little dish to grace our table was the most adorable goat cheese croquettes ever. The thumbnail-sized bites paired deliciously with the zippy watercress vinaigrette served alongside.
The final amuse bouche was a pair of charming beet and goat cheese lollipops. I liked how the savory ‘pops contained a buttery layer in between the cheese and beet powder. Mmm, boy.
Bread service signaled that our four course feast was about to begin. The warm rolls arrived tucked inside a burlap pouch along with two butters, goat and cow. Even though the flaky rolls were rich in their own right, we couldn’t help slathering on a little more decadence with each bite.
From the first row of ingredients, I selected “foie gras” while The Astronomer chose “trout.”
Foie gras in terrine form is my absolute favorite, so I was stoked to it see it prepared just so. The picture perfect terrine was adorned with rhubarb, pickled ramps, and pools of sauternes that had a gel-like consistency and tasted like honey. On the side was a rhubarb espuma and foie gras pudding, as well as black pepper brioche.
Of all the elements canvasing the plate, I found that the slightly tart rhubarb partnered best with the terrine. The rhubarb espuma with the foie gras pudding was a frothy and luscious bonus. EMP’s foie gras was the most exciting preparation I’ve ever encountered.
The Astronomer’s smoked trout platter contained a smattering of peanuts, asparagus, lemon, trout roe, rye crisps, and creme fraiche. The flavors were wholly familiar, while the presentation was thoroughly modern.
For our second course, I chose “egg” while The Astronomer chose “lobster.”
My “egg” came softly poached with snappy English peas, frog legs, ramps, and shrimp. The flavors were mild and harmonious, with the runny yolk effectively coating every element with its velvety richness.
While my dish was elegant and understated, The Astronomer’s butter poached lobster was bold and exciting. The lobster was served with a citrus foam, spring vegetables, carrot puree, and poached carrots. Chef Humm topped the succulent tail with a fabulously crunchy and spicy vadouvan granola that made The Astronomer swoon. Rumor has it, the chef has a thing for granola…
For our third course, The Astronomer and I bypassed the “eggplant,” “chicken,” “pork,” and “lamb” and went with the duck for two. Dry-aged for two weeks and roasted with honey and lavender, the Muscovy duck arrived at the table looking positively glorious. I’d never laid eyes on a more beautiful bird.
A dining room manager carved into the duck’s taut, golden, and crackling skin tableside to extract the choicest morsels for our consumption. Everyone in the dining room turned their heads to admire the pomp and circumstance. The remaining carcass was returned to the kitchen to be made into duck confit.
Splayed just so, the slices of duck were served with a celery and rhubarb compote and a rhubarb puree. The meat was perfectly tender with a succulent ring of fat, while the skin was caramelized and crisp. This is a must-order for duck lovers.
Served alongside the duck was a small dish of duck confit smothered in buttery potatoes.
In between our meaty mains and sweet desserts, we were served fizzy glasses of egg cream. Made tableside by another dining room manager, the egg cream was comprised of vanilla malt, whole milk, seltzer water, and a few drops of olive oil.
The tall glass of egg cream cleansed our palates and readied them for the final stretch.
For our fourth and final course, I chose “strawberry” while The Astronomer chose “pear.”
My dessert was a vacherin accented with lemon, basil, and strawberry. The bits of meringue added an element of crunch in an otherwise gooey and creamy landscape.
The Astronomer’s pears were poached with honey and ginger and were served with a honey crumble and a creme fraiche sorbet. When it comes to desserts, we lean toward the fruitier end of the spectrum. These two creations satisfied our sweet tooths without sending our blood sugar levels into overdrive.
After we polished off our desserts, The Astronomer and I were invited into the kitchen for a brief tour and liquid nitrogen cocktails. We couldn’t believe our good fortune!
Made right before our eyes, the cocktail was comprised of champagne solidified in liquid nitrogen, orange juice, and bits of fruit. As we drank our cocktails, we learned about the restaurant’s history, philosophy, and the importance of Miles Davis in the kitchen. Our meal was already brilliant, and this special detour made it even more so.
As if taking a peak behind the curtains and being treated to cocktails wasn’t enough, The Astronomer and I were led to the Flatiron Lounge to enjoy our mignardise and a digestif. We were each poured a splash of the Guillon-Painturaud Cognac V.S.O.P. and invited to drink as much as we pleased. A jar full of granola was presented to us on the way out. I told you the chef had a thing for granola.
Eleven Madison Park is my kind of fine dining—phenomenal and interesting food complemented by friendly and professional service. Best of all, the “pick an ingredient” format allowed me to customize my experience from start to finish. From here on out, I cannot imagine visiting New York City without sitting down for dinner at Eleven Madison Park.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010-3643