Thursday, October 1, 2009

Eleven Madison Park

Restaurant Name: Eleven Madison Park
Location: 11 Madison Avenue, NYC

With my foodie parents (Between Courses bloggers Steve & Cindy) in town for a visit, we were lucky enough to recently try Daniel Humm's excellent cuisine at Eleven Madison Park.

My gut response (after about a million courses and a *bunch* of wine) was: outstanding. And I still stand by that several days (and a little detox) later. The food here *is* outstanding, both in terms of flavor and in terms of preparation and presentation. The closest restaurants (that I've visited) which I might compare it to would be Thomas Keller's Per Se (which I felt achieved something closer to perfection) and Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin (which was quite comparable, though working in very different proteins). The comparison here would be based on the shared practice of serving a well-executed tasting menu of very elevated presentations and high quality ingredients.

One thing that set Eleven Madison Park apart from both of these places, though, was its emphasis on more cutting edge techniques and presentations -- particularly its focus on incorporating some of the tricks of molecular gastronomy. Indeed, some of my favorite courses here had been given some sort of unusual treatment (such as a "caprese salad" that consisted of two perfect spheres, one of tomato water and one of pureed buffalo mozzarella, that had been created by suspending those ingredients in water with sodium alginate. When you ate them, they burst in your mouth, releasing a flood of goodness.)

The other thing that set Eleven Madison Park apart from other high-end tasting menu-focused places was the sheer number of "additional" courses (e.g. tastes you get between the courses listed on the menu). I'm pretty sure we'd eaten about four courses before we even got to the first course.

So, on to the food. We opted for the Early Autumn Tasting Menu, a 5 course sampling of the season's best.

The meal began with an amuse bouche -- a tiny coronet of veal sweetbreads wrapped and deep-fried. One perfect bite of salty, creamy goodness.

Then we were served a plate of "Hors d'Oeuvres" (the first listed course), which consisted of several single bite nibbles, including: a "beet marshmallow" (too sweet), a clam tart (good, but did not taste of clams in way, shape, or form), a tuna tartare (my favorite - one great bite of the sea), and a square of foie gras with jellied cranberry on top (a *great* combination). This was an interesting start to the meal, but not all of the bites were as well-executed and arresting as they might have been.

Next came another amuse bouche (that's what they called it, but in my opinion it was too big to qualify): a sea urchin foam with crab. Very tangy and not too overwhelmingly sea-urchin-y.

Then came my personal favorite, the caprese salad (described above), followed by the next listed course, the Greenmarket Heirloom Tomatoes Composition with Terre Bormane Olive Oil and Fino Verde Basil. This was, in my view, the least successful of all the courses. It consisted of three preparations, a savory tomato sorbet (the best of the three), a slice of tomato sauced with an olive and roasted tomato spread (not attractive nor tasty), and a "tomato cloud" (tomato foam) on top of several small balls of tomatoes. Meh.

This was followed by the Organic Rabbit Rillettes with Concord Grapes, Pickled Onions and Grilled Pistachio Bread. The rillettes were rich and delicious and paired very well with the jellied grape and pistachio sauce. My only issue with this course was its size -- *too much*!

Next came the Nova Scotia Lobster Poached with Lemon Verbena and Flavors of Ratatouille. This was delicious -- the sauce was both slightly sweet and slightly tangy and was a beautiful, rich, almost pink color. The quenelles of ratatouille veggies were a great pairing for the rich lobster.

The main course was probably the most sumptuous: a Dry Aged Black Angus Beef crusted with Bone Marrow and served with Saffron Onions and Braised Shallots. Crusting the beef fillet with bone marrow was genius (a creamy, crunchy layer of heaven on top of the sous vide beef). This was served with an overly-rich side (potato foam on top of oxtail ragu, on top of foie gras) -- no one could finish it.

At this point in the meal, I was beginning to feel a little bit *too* full. I see this as one small failing of the menu. The courses could each have been smaller so that the diners could head into dessert with anticipation rather than anticipation/dread.

Before the listed menu dessert arrived, we were treated to a really amazing palate cleanser. A champange foam was somehow perfectly molded in a sphere around a strawberry sorbet. I think I would have been almost happy to end on this sweet, boozy note.

Dessert proper was a Chocolate Peanut Butter Palette with Caramel Popcorn and Popcorn Ice Cream. This sounded weird, to be sure, but it tasted great. In fact, the popcorn ice cream was probably my favorite bit of the whole dessert - salty, sweet, and almost savory...all at the same time. Yum!

Dessert was followed by the usual parade of Mignardises, including a host of different macaroons and gift of gelees to take home.

We waddled out into the night, vowing a week of salads and exercise.

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

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