I really love the tradition that Mike and I have of treating each other to really awesome dinners for special occasions. I took on our anniversary this year and made sure to get a reservation 30 days in advance (I set my alarm for midnight to do it) at Eleven Madison Park. I took the day off of work (and Mike a half day) to be able to have a 16-course, 4 hour lunch here. (Yes! 16-courses!)
Mike had no idea where we were going until we pulled up in front of the restaurant.
I had been wanting to visit Eleven Madison Park for a long time, having read about the amazing meals there. I was hoping it would be in the top 10, but I didn’t expect what we got… the new NUMBER ONE. This was the meal of a lifetime. The best meal of my lifetime. In fact, it was so grand, it wouldn’t fit in 1 post. So I had to split it into two parts.
We arrived to greetings by name and a warm wish for a Happy Anniversary (they had asked if it was a special occasion when I confirmed the reservation a few days prior). They took our coats (and we realized a bit later that they didn’t give us a tag for them) and showed us to our table, which had a card sitting on it, wishing us a Happy Anniversary and thanking us for choosing EMP for this special occasion.
The restaurant itself is quite grand, with very high ceilings. It looks like it has not changed in forever, yet was somehow modern.
I loved the murals on the wall and the general clean aesthetic of the dining room.
And I’m glad we went for lunch, when we had a lovely view of Madison Square Park right next door.
The sixteen courses are all a surprise, and you only get one choice. Beef or duck. We chose beef.
And then… the adventure began…
With a classic pastry box.
Inside was EMP’s take on the classic New York Black & White Cookie. This one was a savory version made with apple and cheddar cheese. The moment I took a bit, I knew we were in for an amazing treat. These were the perfect balance of everything, and in such a novel delivery.
Bite number two was a Long Island oyster with wood sorrel and mignonette snow and crispy buckwheat. A perfect treat of an oyster, with things that complimented it without taking away from the flavor of the oyster.
Bite number three was a cranberry snow with beets, goat cheese, Greek yogurt, and caraway. It was very refreshing and a nice balance of tart and sweet. As a beet lover, I enjoyed this dish, but Mike said it was his least favorite dish of the meal… not that it was bad, but just because everything else was that much better.
Course number four was sea urchin custard with shellfish ragout and apple espuma (foam). It was a great balance of flavors, with a seriously seafood taste balanced perfectly with the apple.
We were starting to get curious where our drinks were, since we ordered them when we first sat down and we were now already 4 courses in. They came with sincere apologies that the bar got slammed, and we were soon sipping away on a Lafayette for Mike (Scotch, Cynar, East India Solera Sherry, Chambéry Dry Vermouth, Maple Syrup). Mike thought it was extremely well balanced with a nice oaky nose.
And a Sleepy Hollow for me (London Dry Gin, Amaro Abano, Chambéry Blanc Vermouth, Apple Cider, Spiced-Pumpkin, Lemon, Egg White). I thought it was an awesome drink, with a perfect balance of sweetness and alcohol, with that excellent egg white foam.
Course number five was, at first, a big mystery. This was a strange misstep in service. Since the full tasting menu is a surprise, you don’t know what you are getting until they put it in front of you and describe it. We had a server (who we only saw once during the meal) put these lovely eggs in front of us and then… leave. Not a word. We sat for a few moments, not knowing what to do, taking in a delicious smoky smell. It became too much, so we had to dig in with our little spoons. The egg was creamy and delicious, and we got a smoky flavor that we were trying to identify before we heard the description… we thought it might be smoked ham, but we weren’t sure. We stopped a server to ask what we were eating, and she told us what it was: egg sabayon with chive oil. It had pieces of smoked sturgeon in the bottom. Delicious.
This little blip in service was quickly recovered. As we tried to get every morsel out of that egg shell, a beautiful cloche filled with smoke was put on our table with the instructions that it was still cooking and not to lift the lid.
At this point, they put in front of us a plate with everything bagel crumbles, quail egg, and a baby romaine salad.
They then put down a jar of homemade mini pickle spears.
Two slices of thin rye toast.
And a jar of caviar and cream cheese.
And then, they lifted the lid.
The amazing smell of wood smoke took over all my senses and Mike and I immediately said to each other that it is one of our most favorite smells.
On top was smoked sturgeon (complimenting the egg course before).
We scooped out the cream cheese and caviar and made our own little bites of deliciousness.
At this point, the Maitre D’ came over to say hello and then… invited us into the kitchen for a quick tour and a drink.
Don’t mind if I do!
We walked into the front part of the kitchen where a little table was set up. He told us about how the kitchen operates (they use no computers, everything is figured out by the Executive Sous Chef and Expediter and they write down the times of every course to determine the pace at which people are eating. We discussed how good service should mean that you never notice its there. You should never wait too long nor feel rushed.
He then told us about how the pastry and cocktail teams came together to figure out a fun cocktail for this kitchen service. One of the pastry chefs came to make it right in front of us (WHAT FUN!)
They came up with a new spin on a 1920s, Prohibition style cocktail. It had gin, grapefruit, and pop rocks in it.
First, she used liquid nitrogen to freeze the gin.
Then more liquid nitrogen to make a ball of grapefruit foam into a ball that resembled a meringue consistency (but cold).
Then she added some grapefruit.
Some other stuff that I don’t remember but tasted damn good.
The frozen gin.
Then pop rocks. (YUP! Pop Rocks!)
And then the ball of frozen grapefruit foam.
You “drank” this with a spoon, that you used to crack into the grapefruit ball.
It all mixed together so well, and the pop rocks made for such an interesting and fun experience. (I can’t call it a drink… it was really an experience)
The Executive Sous Chef, Bryce Shuman, also came by to chat with us for a bit. He told us that they have nearly a 2 to 1 ratio of staff to diners during lunch and nearly 1 to 1 during dinner. This helps make the service totally flawless.
It was so exciting to be in that kitchen.
They even offered to take a picture of us in there (while joking that we probably would only want pictures of the food… which I couldn’t argue with… but figured we would make an appearance for this special occasion).
On the way out, I took a photo of the butter station, which the Maitre D’ appreciated that I appreciated.
And just like that… we came back to butter on the table.
On the right was a cow’s milk butter and on the left they mixed that same butter with beef compound. The salt in the center was a special salt that the chef loves (it was very, very good).
I was so curious about the meat butter. It was actually similar in taste to bone marrow (which I jokingly call “meat butter”) and it was something I was very curious to try.
I loved the flavor but it needed the salt to cut through the greasiness a bit. I liked it in small doses, but wound up using more of the regular butter.
The bread was almost a roll, almost a croissant. It was the best of both worlds. Buttery and flaky. We enjoyed making a mess of crumbs with that bread. It was delicious.
Our next course (at this point… I don’t even know what number we hit), was salsify roasted with bulgur wheat, mangalitsa ham, and hazelnuts. They told us that the ham was a special ham… and it certainly tasted special. This was a nice combination of textures and flavors and had a nice freshness that went well after the bread and butter.
What was next? The table next door was a hint since they were 1 course ahead of us. What on earth was a meat grinder doing on the table?
You will just have to read Part 2 to find out!