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Eleven Madison Park - Same Place, Similar Time but Still Fresh and New

To view the photos and all of my short videos, please head over to my site's post: http://thewanderingeater.com/2011/10/...

It's almost a year since I've been to Eleven Madison Park.

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.

)

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.

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.

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:

http://youtu.be/D58eBsnRKh0?hd=1

Are you still there? If you are, you may watch a shorter clip of a different captain slicing and starting to plate the duck:

[Please go to my site to view, if interested

]

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.

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Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

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  1. Wow! Thanks for the review, pics and video. I've always admired your photo skills!

    I'll be dining there in a couple of days and had a question about the duck. How subtle is the lavender? I like it, but when I once offered DH some of my delicious lavender scone, he compared it to munching into a bar of soap (not that he's ever done that before).

    4 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      Thanks for the compliment!

      The lavender flavor was very subtle (to me at least). I tasted more caramelized honey than floral essence of any kind. I understand your hesitation for lavender, as I have encountered dishes in the past (not at EMP) that were overwhelmingly floral tasting like potpourri.

      1. re: Miss Needle

        My husband is just like yours - he has compared rose-flavored macarons and lavender ice cream with eating soap. Definitely not a fan of such flavors. However he loves the duck @ EMP. I would definitely take a chance!

        1. re: Miss Needle

          very subtle! does not interfere w duck taste nor will it taste like a bar of soap.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Well, the duck was absolutely wonderful! DH was quite relieved he didn't detect a floral note. Coriander was more prominent. Perfectly cooked and tender. Only regret is that there's one less item we can try as we share our courses, and the duck is meant for two. But I'd love to get it again at some point.

          2. this is a great review and i'm happy you enjoyed the meal, but i wonder if there haven't been too many posts about EMP recently. i mean, there must be at least 2-3 per week, with long threads included. i get it: people like EMP (i did, but not as much as everyone else here) but there are other high-end restaurants in manhattan that don't get nearly as many write-ups as this place. there is no way that EMP is doing something "more right" than any other high-end place.

            incidentally, what happened to the old chowhound, the one where someone would give you a tip for a great bowl of soup in the diamond district, or the best deli in alphabet city to get a great variation on an egg & cheese sandwich? honestly, that stuff is much more helpful than hearing yet again how delicious the petit fours are at EMP.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jon

              totally agree...suffering from EMP exhaustion....

              1. re: jon

                I understand why a few people are weary EMP lauding reviews. Yes, we talk about it a lot but there are a good reasons for that as I've probably written above in length. But there aren't that many inexpensive places any more that are good inexpensive finds that you've indicated, IMO. Most of those places migrated to Brooklyn and Queens partially because of expensive real estate.

              2. Fantastic review, photos and video! The duck is gorgeous! Seems like I need a return visit to EMP soon! Glad you had a wonderful birthday celebration.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ellenost

                  Thank you, ellenost!

                  The duck was indeed gorgeous. A friend of mine who saw the duck photos almost made her think of peacock because of the beautiful lavender flowers sticking out. Haha.

                  Tina
                  http://thewanderingeater.com

                2. Thank you for your sharing your experience and photos with us; I'm always grateful to see New York's food and restaurants through your eyes (and camera).

                  I can understand why some people might grow weary of the EMP-lovefest on these forums, but there's a simple solution: don't click on topics labelled 'Eleven Madison Park' or 'EMP'. I realise EMP will still come up in other discussion threads, but refraining from the above should help a bit.

                  I for one am grateful for new reviews and photos of top restaurants: menus change. Current reviews help me make up my mind where to book a table in the near future (I plan on revisiting EMP next month, for instance). The expenditure at a top restaurant is great enough for those of us in the 99 per cent, that I welcome any further information.

                  Given my tastes, the 'old Chowhound' was less helpful to me than the current, more 'bourgie' version. In any case, I think that sort of thing is still common on outer-borough discussions. For better or worse, Manhattan is literally becoming a millionaire's isle...

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Winterpool

                    Love this! Gorgeous photos. And ITA with Winterpool!

                    1. re: pizzajunkie

                      Thank you both for the compliments! :)

                      Tina
                      thewanderingeater.com

                    2. re: Winterpool

                      let's take it easy: if you're eating at EMP (and revisiting it) you're closer to the "1%" than you let on. there's nothing in any of the countless reviews here that you couldn't have already reasonably deduced from a review from NY Magazine or the NY Times so it's not like any of the chowhound reviews add much more than what you would have read there. perhaps they are more timely, but the menu does not change on a day-to-day basis; in fact, it seems very similar to the menu i was served when i went there last january.

                      i'm not saying that there should be a moratorium on EMP reviews (i'm glad everyone has a voice) it's more of a general rant that this board has become more focused on the EMP's and Per Se's of the city than, for example, the amazing doner at Bi Lokma or the awesome off-menu new england clam chowder/maryland she crab soup mix at the take out counter at the grand central oyster bar (sorry, writing this from near my office), two great cheap bites at two places that either get little attention or the wrong attention.

                      now if you were going to tell me i could get a great off-the-menu hamburger by sitting at the bar at EMP, that would be a different story, and more in line with what i thought the original intent of chowhound was: finding great/interesting food where you wouldn't expect it.

                      -----
                      Per Se
                      10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                      Bi Lokma
                      212 E 45th St, New York, NY 10017

                      1. re: jon

                        jon - just for you -- Joe's Dairy has great smoked mozzarella. And if you are hung over in chelsea, Dish has a chicken parmigiana sandwich that is the perfect cure.

                        -----
                        Joe's Dairy
                        156 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012

                        1. re: jon

                          My theory is that EMP actively cultivates the blogger and tweeter demographic which is why there are so many EMP threads on Chowhound.

                          In addition, there have been a few recent negative (and very long) threads about EMP, so I think there's a tribal dynamic going on, with threads like these reinforcing the fans' solidarity (as well as the pecking order of EMP regulars). This isn't a criticism in any way as this happens with all groups. I'm also not saying that threads like these aren't valid, just suggesting why they can seem repetitive to someone who doesn't feel the need to patronize EMP that often.

                          1. re: jon

                            I think you should feel free to start a new thread (or threads) on those places you mentioned! Not trying to be snarky - I'm sure there are other 'hounds who would love your tips.

                        2. Choco, do you know if the recipe for their bread is in the cookbook? If it is, I'm buying it the moment it comes out!!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: biondanonima

                            If you're referring to the rolls made of Cayuga flour, it is not in their cookbook. :(
                            I flipped to the index and it's not listed there. (Seen a few variations of brioche to pair with their savory courses and a bread tuile.)

                            There were a few recipes I would love to get from the book (or even from the chefs/staff at EMP) but they're not in the book since they're too new(?) after publication. I would be a happy clam if they would divulge how they made that mushroom truffle tea.