Saturday, August 2, 2008

Eleven Madison Park

I've mentioned it before, and it really hasn't changed. I apparently like self inflicted stress because we found ourselves in a time crunch yet again before dinner on Day 2 of our NYC trip. Thanks to extra innings to an already long game, we nervously kept peeking at our watches wondering if we'd have to risk losing our reservation at Eleven Madison Park to see the outcome of the game. While I'd rather the A's have pulled off a win, the Yankees sent us running towards the subway just barely in time for our dinner at Eleven Madison Park.

Eleven Madison Park is one of many fantastic restaurants that along with Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, Shake Shack, etc., etc. make up the Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. In 2006, along came Daniel Humm (I really didn't PLAN on going to former Bay Area chef run restaurants), previously of Campton Place in San Francisco's Union Square. While I hadn't been to the restaurant prior to Humm's arrival, from the many articles I've read, he's really taken the restaurant to another level.

After being seated, we were handed our menus, which AB didn't even open. He looked at me and asked if he even had a choice in ordering, a well made point since the Gourmand tasting menu had to be selected by the entire table. It's nice to dine with people that know you well.

Before we even had waters or drinks on the table, the waiter presented a long oval plate of Hors d'oeuvres. Both of us eyed the plate as it was placed on the table and were delighted to find that there were two of each so we wouldn't have to fight over them. I would have won anyway. Nothing comes between me and food. Especially good little morsels like these:

Sadly, I can't remeber exactly what was in each. My best guess, clockwise on the bottom: rabbit; tuna; asparagus and fois gras on cracker; parmesan, tomato and basil with cracker.

And then the fun continued...

These savory types of ice cream always make me a bit nervous. I ADORE ice cream, actually obsess over it, and baked potato ice cream just doesn't do it for me like mint chocolate chip does. But this dish was great. The little crispy potato crisp with the creamy ice cream, sour cream and chive tasted like one of the best baked potatos I've had. And royal sterling caviar...I would eat this out of the little jar with a spoon if I could afford it, so paired well only makes it that much better. Great start to the dinner...

Part of the reason I love my Mystery Thursdays from Mariquita Farms is because it makes me try, and often times makes me loves, new foods. I've mentioned before that I'm on a quest to remove all my food dislikes and beets were a newly removed item, thanks to some freshy fresh beets from the farm. Even if you don't like beets, you'd like these beets (the yellow, pink and dark purple squares). Then the little beet gelee placed on top of a goat cheese panna cotta. Cheese and beets can't be beat. Oh, the cheese(ness)...

A friend of my complained about a recent fine dining experience where he felt that the dish was just "vegetables thrown on a plate." While this dish was certainly not "vegetables just thrown on a plate," the tomatoes were so amazing, I would have been equally pleased with "tomatoes just thrown on a plate." While the tomatoes may have outshadowed the tuna on this dish, the basil gelee really tied it all together and made us go "wow." Gelees seem to be so hit or miss, but when it hits, the intense flavors sure do make mouth happy. I wish I could make this.

The one "eh" dish of the night was this three part fois gras course. I love fois gras as much as the next person and the cherry+fois gras combination is something like Remy's mushroom revelation in Ratatouille. My favorite part of the dish was the cherry in the first picture was stuffed with a delicious fois gras mixture. But, the cherry mousse with a fois gras liquid in the bottom and cherry brioche left me wishing they left these two out of the dish. The texture reminded me of toothpaste foam and the brioche was dry and almost flavorless. Perhaps the let down though made the next dish all the better.

You really can't go wrong with bacon. Or corn. Or lobster. So throw all three together, and I'm one happy happy girl. I loved this dish if you can't tell. I don't even have words. Just enjoy the picture.
Speaking of pictures, this is the one picture I really screwed up. This was my absolute favorite dish of the night and one of their signature dishes according to the waiter. On the right, the most delicious slow cooked piece of skinless turbot. On top, what looks like scales is actually little pieces of zucchini. A marvelous saffron sauce (although the fish didn't really need it in my opinon, but it added a nice dimension) and then...the zucchini blossom.

Cut open the zucchini blossom and see what happens!

I forgot to get a picture of the finely minced ratatouille contained in the zucchini blossom, thus the link above. Perfectly executed. I'd eat this daily.

This is the dish for my dad. The pork had a perfectly crispy top with juicy pork beneath. I noticed a lot of people that ordered off the regular menu had ordered the bigger version of this dish, so I suppose it must be popular. The onion was amazing...I know, an onion? Talk about intense flavors.

Again, I think the accompainments to this dish outshined the main attraction. While the lamb was perfectly cooked, the fried sweetbreads and the creamy eggplant and cumin sauces would have been enough to satisfy my palette.

There might be one thing that beats my love of ice cream and it's cheese. Having missed out on the cheese cart at Gary Danko, I can't make a comparison, but we enjoyed our cheese selection that night.

Oh no, we were getting close to the end of our meal. Can't we extend this a bit? This was a relatively simple dessert dish, but a nice refreshing begining to the end of the meal.

I'm always hesitant to mention bananas when they ask about dietary restrictions. No, I'm technically not allergic to them, but they will cause me to lose my entire meal at the table if I eat them. I dislike them THAT much, despite how much I want to like them. Thankfully I brought them up (though almost ducked under the table as I said it out of sheer embaressment) since this dessert featured bananas. So I can't tell you how this dish is, other than I wanted to eat the caramelized sugar off the banana.

Instead, they gave me caramel ice cream! You couldn't have done a better job of substituting cream and caramel as you know are at the top of my love affair list. And no, I wasn't just being overly sentimental in my description because AB kept sneaking bites of my dessert.

We were stuffed. And then they brought these out...again, with one each so we didn't have to argue. I wish we had thought to take these home because we were stuffed. But, even in our stuffedness, these were delicious tasty snacks to end our meal.

Overall, I'd easily go back and do another tasting menu during a different part of the year (for variety). The service was pretty unpretentious, although there were a few awkward "why are you standing there" moments. On the other hand, once the sunlight had faded and the darkness made it impossible to get good photographs, the waiter did facilitate my trigger happy finger by shining his little flashlight on the food to get the cool lighting effect that you see in the second half of the post. And any decent restaurant that will do little things that make my dining experience complete like that certainly wins my affection.

Link Love - Read about other visits to Eleven Madison Park.
The Amateur Gourmet
Hungry Hedonist