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Inspired, Fresh, and Vibrant: Eleven Madison Park

The Dining Room at Eleven Madison Park

About a month ago, I decided that I wanted to do something special for Ryan. I mean, it seemed only fair considering that it was him who treated me to tasting menus at both Per Se and wd~50 less than a week apart.

My immediate restaurant of choice was Eleven Madison Park, the winner of this year’s Outstanding Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation. We had a tremendous dinner there prior, so I couldn’t imagine it being much better, but we’ve both known for awhile that a return visit was in order.

From the moment we stepped through the door last night and were greeted by Stephanie, the fabulous maître d’, until the moment we left, we were treated to the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had—both personally and gastronomically—in my fine dining life. Yes, even better than the do-no-wrong Per Se (which was fantastic in its own right).

We were first treated to their signature gougères—a delightfully airy choux pastry, made with cheese. These were served piping hot out of the oven and presented their own enticing aroma the second they were sat upon our table.

Madison Park Smash at Eleven Madison Park

From there, we each ordered our first cocktail. I ordered the Monferrato, a balanced blend of Cocchi Americano (similar to Lillet Blanc, and a substitute for the now-extinct Kina Lillet), Triple Sec, Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, and champagne. Ryan tried the Madison Park Smash, a potent drink of cognac, Royal Combier, lemon, turbinado sugar, Angostura bitters and mint.

We knew from the beginning that we wanted to do the tasting menu rather than the four-course prix fixe, but we weren’t sure what exactly we wanted to drink. After speaking with a sommelier, we elected to do wine pairings, but with a twist—we wanted beer and cocktails as appropriate too, and we were also thrilled to try more unique wines, rather than traditional pairings.

From there, we were off!

Chilled Pea Soup at Eleven Madison Park

The cavalcade of amuse-bouche begin immediately, opening with a chilled pea soup with buttermilk snow a ham crisp.

Fluke at Eleven Madison Park

Scallop Ceviche at Eleven Madison Park

The next amuse was a fluke, served on a crispy rice cake with basil and Meyer lemon, accompanied by a scallop ceviche with tangerine. The scallop, which was beautifully presented in a scallop shell, was so good that I briefly had to close my eyes and simply absorb the overwhelming wash of flavors.

But no time to waste—our third amuse was waiting! The third amuse was a goat cheese lollipop with beets, served with goat cheese croquettes with watercress and chive. The last time at Eleven Madison, we absolutely adored our heirloom tomato lollipop, but dare I say that the goat cheese and beet version was even better. (Is that even possible?)

And with that, the real fun began, as our first course, a sea urchin cappuccino with crab and apple, made its way out of the kitchen, along with our first beverage pairing.

The cappuccino, carrot-orange in color from the urchin, was served in a white porcelain dish, modeled after a true sea urchin’s shell. The dish’s top layer—an ethereal foam—was atop sweet slivers of king crab and apple. This dish was paired with a French pear cider, Domaine Christian Drouin Poire Cider, from Pays d’Auge, France, near Normandy.

Goat Cheese and Sturgeon at Eleven Madison Park

Our seafood theme continued with the second course: smoked sturgeon and caviar. This dish was served in two variations. The first, a dainty fingerling potato, was topped with crème fraiche, caviar, a bit of preserved Meyer lemon and a few chive flowers for a pop of color.

The second variation, one that Eleven Madison Park is well-known for, was a smoked sturgeon sabayon, served in an eggshell with the top so very delicately carved out. After devouring the smooth sabayon, a layer of pungent, chatreuse chive oil awaited me in the bottom of the egg shell.

The sommelier got a little funky (in a good way!) with our wine pairing for this course. To accompany, we were a Gurrutxaga Txakoli de Bizkaia, a white wine from Spain’s Basque region. As explained to us, the soil where these grapes grow is extremely salty, giving the wine minerality and even a little bit of fizz.

Foie Gras Terrine at Eleven Madison Park

The next course was perhaps the one that Ryan—let’s call him the Foie Gras Freak—was waiting for all night. A foie gras terrine with strawberries, celery and balsamic. We’re no stranger to unique foie preparations—in fact, one of our all time favorites in wd~50’s passionfruit-filled foie with dehydrated Chinese celery—so I knew from the moment this dish touched the table that it would be a hit.

Of course, it was, but perhaps even more intriguing to both of us was the wine it was paired with. Ryan is a huge Bordeaux fan, particularly a good Sauternes, so imagine our surprise when we were poured a Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese from Burgenland in Austria.

This wine, almost honey-like in both taste and texture, was virtually indistinguishable from a good Sauternes except for one thing: its color. The Kracher is a pale ruby, rather than honey-toned. (It’s also, upon research, much more wallet-friendly than the bottle of Château d’Yquem that you’ve been coveting.)

Scallop at Eleven Madison Park

Next, a scallop, perfectly seared with crayfish, smoked potato puree and black garlic. This was served with my favorite wine of the night, a 2006 Domaine Bruno Colin La Boudriotte Premier Cru from the Chassagne-Montrachet, an appellation in Burgundy, France.

I’m going to pause here for a minute to talk about the service. The people are one of many things that make Eleven Madison Park such a special restaurant and once again, they didn’t disappoint. There is never any pretension, snobbishness or haughtiness in the dining room. The staff is jovial, genuine and knowledgeable. They walk a tremendously fine line of being there just when you need them without hovering. It’s truly remarkable.

In fact, Ryan and I even chuckled as they would seemingly appear out of nowhere to pull out our table whenever either one of us needed to scoot by the use the restroom. Not once did we manage to trick them! (They must have eyes in the backs of their heads.)

After the scallop, we were quite full, as expected, but we powered through. Fine dining can be painful.

Broccoli at Eleven Madison Park

Anyway, the next course was variations of broccoli with parmesan, lemon and lardo. Broccoli is my favorite vegetable (how did they know?) and this dish reminded me exactly why. Perfectly-formed cylinders of broccoli stems were served along roasted stems and leaves, all topped with a broccoli jus. The pairing, Dugges Nevermind the Bollox India Pale Ale, from Mölndal, Sweden, was superb too.

Eggplant at Eleven Madison Park

Vegetables starred in the next course too, as a trim slice of roasted eggplant was served alongside bulgur and licorice. It was also accompanied by a crispy eggplant chip—paper-thin and perfectly crisped. Our pairing was an earthy Rioja from Spain, a 2002 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Reserva.

Lamb at Eleven Madison Park

And finally, the last of the savories (and my all-time favorite protein): lamb. A succulent, juicy pink loin with morel mushrooms, English peas and a lamb-mustard seed jus. This was accompanied by a 2004 Olga Juge Cornas from the Rhône Valley.

Then, the most extraordinary part of the night: we were treated to a tour of the kitchen. Stephanie took us back as service was winding down.

We stood briefly in awe of the massive spotless kitchen, adorned with photos of Miles Davis (more on that in a minute), a list of a few adjectives (a few of which are included in this post’s title), and a large sign that says “Make It Nice.”

In the Kitchen at Eleven Madison Park

Stephanie told us that when Chef Daniel Humm first moved to the U.S. from Switzerland, he knew very little English and “make it nice” became a catch-all phrase.

The story of the Miles Davis photographs is a little more complex: in a 2006 review, a critic from the New York Observer said that Eleven Madison Park needed “a bit more Miles Davis.”

The restaurant took the suggestion to heart and created a poster of a few of the words used to describe Miles, used in the title of this post and hung prominently in their kitchen. Last year, Sony Records gave the restaurant two photos of Davis, which now also proudly hang in the kitchen.

Nitro Cocktail at Eleven Madison Park

While we hung out in the kitchen, we were treated to an Aperol nitro “cocktail.” I was never good at chemistry, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves on this one. (Another fun fact: the chef in the photo, Becky, went to the same high school as me and even graduated the same year! Small world, huh?)

Nitro Cocktail at Eleven Madison Park

After this, we returned to our table but Eleven Madison Park was still not content just yet. Our next pre-dessert treat was an egg cream—or Eleven Madison’s take on it anyway.

Fresh malt syrup, vanilla and olive oil is whisked together table side and then topped with soda from a classic seltzer bottle. The smooth concoction was not too sweet and just the right balance of tradition and innovation.

Chocolate Dessert at Eleven Madison Park

Our real dessert came next. It was a chocolate cannelloni with espresso, caramel and yogurt. The chocolate cannelloni had the thickness of a tuile and gave off a satisfying crunch when the spoon touched it.

We even had a pairing with our dessert: a coffee cocktail with cognac, port and demerara sugar.

Egg Cream and Mignardises at Eleven Madison Park

The parade of mignardises came next. Too many and too delicious to even describe. We were left with a complimentary bottle of V.S.O.P. cognac to supplement these—just another special touch from Eleven Madison.

As our evening began to wind down we realized we were the last table in the restaurant and still felt absolutely no rush from the staff.

In fact, while we sipped our cognac, we spent a few minutes chatting with our service captain about everything and nothing—favorite restaurants, The British Invasion, and the things we love about EMP and food in general. It was a relaxed, yet engaging conversation.

This sort of dialogue extends not only into the service, but also the menu, the food, the drinks. This is exactly what we love the most about Eleven Madison Park.

– Laura and Ryan

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The British Invasion At Eleven Madison Park

When you think of the revered Eleven Madison Park, fish and chips, gin, and Beatles tunes aren’t exactly what immediately comes to mind.

But on Sunday afternoon, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic transformed Eleven Madison’s patio to Liverpool, complete with English weather (read: cloudy and damp!), English bulldogs and English gin.

Despite the weather, I’m sure other attendees would agree that the British Invasion was, hands down, the best event on this year’s MCC docket. The event featured Beefeater and Plymouth gin (our favorite!) cocktails made by head bartender Leo Robitschek, music from The Crooners, and fish and chips from Daniel Humm’s legendary kitchen. The ever-charming Eleven Madison waitstaff were particularly adorable in their Union Jack dresses.

The menu offered six superb drinks, mostly classics such as Negronis, South Sides, Pimms Cups, but one of my favorites of the afternoon was one of Robitschek’s own creations—the English Heat—made with Beefeater 24, jalapeño-infused Agave, lemon, Tuaca, and Dolin Dry Vermouth.

The event would have been lovely regardless, but having it at Eleven Madison Park was particularly special. After all, could there be anything nicer than sipping a cocktail, overlooking Madison Square Park, with the real, live (okay, sort of…) Beatles playing in the background?

Penny, the English bulldog and the party’s official matriarch (see above) patrolled the patio to ensure that everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves, but as you can imagine, fun wasn’t hard to come by as people danced, sipped and ate into the evening.

Needless to say, the next time the British invade Eleven Madison Park, we’ll be among the first in line!

– Laura

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Friday Night At Madison Square Eats

Tonight, we walked over to Madison Square Park to explore the plethora of good food that has temporarily landed in General Worth Square. Madison Square Eats has brought nearly 30 food carts and restaurants to the tiny square for the remainder of May and into early June.

There’s an overwhelming amount of delicious food in such a small area, so we started by making a few laps around to size up our options. While we were deciding what we wanted to sample, we started with a homemade soda from P&H Soda Co.

P&H is Brooklyn-based and makes all of their soda syrups from fresh, all-natural ingredients. Our hibiscus lime rickey was just the right balance of sweetness, without being cloying.

Next, we wandered across Spices And Tease. The Spices And Tease booth was awash with the aroma of, well, spices and teas, and the colors and textures of the various spices and teas made for some fun photos.

They don’t yet have a permanent storefront, but their selection included some really rare things that I’ve actually never seen in the city before—dried long peppers, Ras el Hanout, and juniper berries, to name a few. They also had their own proprietary blends of rubs and teas.

Our next stop was the tent for Roberta’s. We love Roberta’s, but we don’t get to make it over to Bushwick as often as we would like, so getting the chance to have a Roberta’s pizza close to home was a treat.

We went for the Bee Sting—tomato sauce, mozzarella, and spicy soppressata, finished with a drizzle of honey. The soppressata had a nice kick, but just as the spice began to take hold, the smooth sweetness of the honey drowned it out. It was an interestingly simple combination, but certainly one that I would try again.

The Hong Kong Street Cart had a Beijing Ya bun that I wanted to try, so we got that and then headed over to former Vendy Award winner Calexico‘s cart. My duck bun didn’t disappoint, and I don’t think Ryan’s gringo ground beef taco did either.

By this point, we were pretty full so we settled in at Resto‘s comfy bar (in the middle of the Square) and shared a glass of Allagash White Ale. (By the way, we didn’t try it, but Resto apparently has a pig’s head Cuban sandwich that is so good that they keep selling out. Maybe if you get there early enough, you’ll get to see for yourself.)

The evening wasn’t complete without one last treat though—a hand-shaved ice with rhubarb syrup.

Madison Square Eats runs through June 3 and is open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Enjoy!

– Laura

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The Breslin’s Beef

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to stop in at The Breslin and watch the kitchen staff carve up an entire side of beef.

Billy Barlow, who has previously butchered at Marlow and Daughters and Emeril’s Delmonico, led us through the process of making each cut. He also described specific cuts, e.g. the top sirloin, tenderloin, ribeye, and so on. The amount of work that goes into ensuring everything is cut correctly is intense. The entire side weighed in at around 300 lbs. and took a few hours to completely carve up.

In an age of factory farms and pre-cut meat, it’s becoming more difficult to find restaurants that break down whole animals. In doing this, a restaurant is obliged to use as much of the animal as possible.

I think you’ll find that the photos speak for themselves.

-Ryan

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