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Jan 4, 2012 10:55 AM

Eleven Madison Park wine pairings: yes or no?

My wife and I are going to Eleven Madison Park in about 10 days. We have been there three times previously, but this is our first visit in the 3-star/grid menu era.

I am wondering whether we should go with the wine pairings with the basic four-course menu. This is somewhat addressed in a previous discussion, but I would welcome some additional advice.

I have two concerns with the wine pairing approach. One is cost. (I know, why bring this up since we've decided to blow the bank just by going to EMP in the first place?) We probably go to high end places three or four times a year and have never spent more than $110 on a bottle of wine. Since two wine pairings cost $190 I wonder about value for money since we have never splurged for a single bottle of wine in that range.

The second concern is more fundamental. I've gone to excellent restaurants with wine pairings twice in the past year and both times came away frustrated with the overall quality of the wines served; the amount served, with the pours definitely less than the by-the-glass offerings; and the sense that the experience with each wine was too short to fully enjoy.

The alternative would be to get two half-bottles or dispense with trying for perfect matches all together and just get one excellent bottle of wine, which I'm sure we can do for less than $190, even on a wine list as glorious and ambitious as that of EMP.

Most of the posters on the restaurant review sites that I've read have raved about the EMP wine pairings, but I'm wondering if any of you would mind being more specific. How did you feel about the quality/quantity to price ratio? Were you satisfied with the experience overall? Any tips on how to approach the sommelier in terms of specific preferences or just turn the experience over to them?

Thanks in advance.

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

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  1. Their pairings are good, but I know what you mean about feeling they (wine pairings in general) can be a bit overpriced. I'd say probably ask the sommolier to pick out a couple bottles based on your set price and what you ordered - though I'd probably do one full bottle and one half, maybe a full white and a half red for the final course.

    Another option is, if you're fans of artisanal suds, to go with a beer pairing - it'll be cheaper than the wine pairing, and their beer selection is one of the finest in the city, hands down. Or one of you could do beer and the other wine, that way you get to try a lot of different things. They've got some large-format bottles (wine bottle size) as well that are much cheaper than most wines but not in any way lower in quality - it's just a question of if you're a beer afficionado or not.

    7 Replies
    1. re: sgordon

      I came to this thread just to suggest the beer pairing option. That is my preferred way to dine at EMP, as it is one of the few restaurants fully up to the task.

      1. re: nmprisons

        may I ask what the price of a beer pairing would be for the four-course grid? I'll be dining there soon and this is something I would consider (even though I don't have all that much extra room in my wallet to budget in a pairing…). thanks!

        1. re: bagwhat

          The beer list ranges in price from, say, 10 bucks a bottle to 40 bucks a bottle for small format beers (350 ml), and between 30 and probably 100 for large format beers (750ml). When I go with one other person, we usually split a couple of large format and a couple of small format beers and the cost depends on the beers selected.

          My advice would be simply to set a budget for the sommelier and work from there. You could easily try four truly great beers for under $80/person (not that that fact has stopped me from going way, way overboard). Since many of these beers have high alcohol content splitting a bottle with each course would be more than appropriate.

          1. re: nmprisons

            I don't know of any beers in the $100 category. The current menu lists a number of selections at $8 - $15 for draughts / standard (12 oz) bottles, $15 - $25 for mid-formats (500 ml), and $25 - $70 for 750 ml bottle, most of them under $50.

            The lambics & guezes, for whatever reason, seem to make up the higher price ranges in each category ($20 - $25 for single bottles, $50 - $70 for lfs) - but damned if they don't make spectacular & often superior replacements for most tart, crisp white wines in the same price range. That said, I'd do lambics & guezes in summer. Autumn food calls for hearty Saisons, Winter Warmers, Belgian Tripels & Quadrupels, Stouts & Porters, etc. Nice thing about a great Stout or Porter is if you're partial to chocolate or nut based desserts, it'll carry right through from your entree. I'd be quite happy splitting a 750 of, say, Brooklyn Black Ops with a companion if we were both getting heavier proteins for our savory finales.

            But you could quite easily put together a great beer pairing for as low as $40/pp or so for a two-top, and a tremendous splurge one for double that (still lower than the wine pairings) - depends, though, what you're ordering to eat.

            1. re: sgordon

              While the current online list only has one beer over $100 (a hard to find tripel from Corsendonk), they have had a number of offerings in the past in that ballpark. But, you are right, that the bulk of the list is in the 20-40 dollar range.

              1. re: nmprisons

                Ah, I missed that one somehow - it's a Jeroboam / Double Magnum, though (3 liters) so you'd need a good size table to polish it off - or dedicate yourself to drinking nothing but that beer for the whole meal... and even then it'd take two to three people to do it in. It's not a terribly expensive beer to begin with (nor is it a terribly interesting one IMHO) though, so other than the novelty of getting a gigundo bottle I'm not sure it'd be worth it.

                Most of their beer prices follow standard wine markup - around double retail, some a little more - I'm quite fond of lambics, and noticed that most of theirs in the 40-45 range are usually around 20 in stores. Many restos mark up even more than that these days - triple retail is not unheard of, and I've even seen nearly quadruple in a couple joints - so comparatively they're not bad, price-wise.

                One nice thing about beer pairings, too, are that the pours - bottle or tap - are going to be larger than wine pairings, as well.

          2. re: bagwhat

            When my husband and I went to EMP we asked to do a beer pairing instead of the wine pairing. We thought it may be the same price as the wine pairing, but when we got the bill it was less. We can't remember exactly how much it was at the moment, but it was either $65 or $70 each... and it was amazing

      2. Joel, I am dining at Eleven Madison Park in two days...that is if I don't fall ill. (This incipient cold will not happen. It -must- not happen!) I've always ordered bottles before. Their 1/2 bottle list is quite respectable. And the wine list in general is more reasonably priced than, well, Per Se. There are many excellent wines below $100, particularly if, like me, you enjoy Teutonic rieslings. I presume you've perused the list published on their website?

        I am strongly inclined to try their pairings on Friday, partly to see what they come up with, partly as I'm somewhat weary of the oenophile's burden. If I do go with their wine pairings, I'll be sure to report on this thread.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Winterpool

          Thanks. If you do go with the pairings, I'd really appreciate your take. I have looked at the wine list and eventually got lost in the sheer vastness of it. So the advice of the sommelier will be key. At least we know what we like.

          As for the beer pairing option, I like beer and appreciate that their selection is unique, but I'm not enough of a fan to go with this option, which I saw mentioned in some other EMP threads.

          1. re: JoelC

            It could wind up potentially being a costlier option but what we have been doing for the last couple years at EMP (when not doing beer pairings) is ask the Sommelier to suggest a bottle that can cover the majority of the meal and recommended additional glasses if something would be particulary nice with a given course, it has ALWAYS worked out wonderfully. And be very honest with the Somm when it comes to price point, they know their celler better than anyone else and they can hook you up.

        2. we haven't been to emp in a number of years but I'm 99% we brought a great bottle wine from our cellar and they had a reasonable corkage fee. We called in advance to make sure they didn't have the bottle in their cellar. might be another way to go.

          3 Replies
          1. re: vinouspleasure

            Of the four-starrers, they have the most reasonable corkage, $35 for "up to four bottles" - whether that mean $35 per bottle up to four or $35 flat fee total for up to four, I'm not entirely sure. Either way, it beats any other resto in the NYT-four / Michelin-three category handily.

            1. re: sgordon

              it is $35 per bottle, limit of 4 bottles. In the past I have done wine dinners there where we had a lot more bottles and the fee was a flat number, somewhat up there but reasonable and we had a private somm for the meal (we were in the private room with 8 people). This was before the reformatting of the restaurant a year ago or whenever that was.

              1. re: sgordon

                if you are going to drink 1st or 2nd growth bordeaux or grand cru burgundy or the like, you really will do better bringing your own bottle though the prices on the wine list at 11 madison are fair by industry standards.

            2. I did the wine pairing at lunch last month and in my opinion it was a great value and I was able to try some amazing wines that I most certainly would not have selected from the wine list. Highly recommend.

              1. I'm not a drinker, but my husband is and loves wine - he thinks EMP's wine pairing is fantastic. The pours are pretty generous as well. Too generous, in fact, on one instance that my husband left the lunch a bit staggering (I know, not their fault - but he couldn't resist.)