Friday, July 6, 2012

Eleven Madison Park: Third Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Our reservation at Eleven Madison Park was a few days after our wedding anniversary and at 9:30 p.m. We drove down and parked in the lot nearby, though as we walked over, we saw a bunch of street parking. Lot parking was cheaper than taking a cab round trip though, so it wasn't a huge deal. Plus after viewing the Louie episode about the NYC parking signs and having gotten an $80 ticket in that area before, it just made sense to park it in a lot even if we're slightly unsure about the parking rules on that block.

Anyway, we arrived, and instead of being ignored like we're some lost street urchins like some restaurants have done, we're greeted immediately and very warmly by a host. While we waited for our table, I went to check out the bathroom. (We've been there twice previously--once in college for restaurant week with an old chef when it was nothing spectacular, and once for brunch with our families to celebrate our engagement and start talking strategy--but I've never had to use the bathroom, and I wanted to see how it compared to the other top ten restaurants in the world.) The bathroom is big and has multiple stalls and a few sinks. I've been looking out for another bathroom like Le Bernadin that carries feminine supplies in case you forgot yours or need to stock up on some. At least that's how that bathroom was in 2009. I've tried to grow the mythology of the feminine supplies so far as that it's Ripert branded and has his face on the wrapping. It'd be awesome if a chef did that. Just saying. . . . As far as how it stacks up against Noma and Can Roca and Per Se (I don't remember visiting the Arzak or Alinea bathrooms), it's a little old fashion, but nice. It fits in the art deco building and has the nice almond soap that Jon and I love.

We sat a a lovely table facing the center of the room. Jon overheard that the reason they had so many Riedel decanters all over the place was because the Riedel people really enjoyed dining here. Makes sense. And the chairs were comfortable.

Since we were eating so late, and it was such a hot day, my appetite was a bit suppressed. And when the waitress said that the chef's tasting could take about three to four hours, I was totally not prepared to stay awake past midnight. But then Jon put on his sad face, and we decided to just go for it after we confirmed with our server that it wouldn't be too late to start the chef's tasting menu. And I'm really glad we did because it was overall my favorite dinner in awhile in New York. It was reminiscent of our honeymoon dinners at Per Se and Jean Georges, but it didn't seem to try as hard to please as those restaurants. It felt relaxed, which was a really nice change of pace for NYC dining. Their effortless cool made me really appreciate the meal even more.

So, first, before I forget, Jon got two drinks with the meal: a cocktail and a beer that he can tell you more about if you ask him. The sommelier guy was very jovial. I overheard him speak to an old man who had been dining by himself (from Houston) about how tonight was his last night and that he was moving to Puerto Rico.

So what'd we eat? Jon took these notes and then somehow erased them, so this is just based on memory, but I think it's a good idea of what we ate with my notes after the semicolon:

Appetizers--they're like one or two bites (for real; not like some chefs that lie and you're full before the courses even start):
1: Black and white cookie with truffle and cheese; think of a Ritz cheese bite.
2: Tomato tea with lemon-thyme parmesan lavash; the tomato tea was the most amazing thing I've consumed in the past few months--I'd like a whole pot of this to drink daily, thanks.
3: Scallop on a scallop-chip with daikon and sesame; this will make you go "ohh, so fresh!"
4: Mackerel and horseradish mustard; this will make you go "mmm, so fresh!"
5: Greek yogurt pop (made on an antigridddle) with cumin; this was refreshing and delicious.
6: Chickpea panisse, trout roe, watermelon snow, basil leaves, yuzu, some lactic flavor; watermelon snow!

Main Course 1: Clambake: summer succotash, clam, scallops, zucchini-corn bread grilled in a corn husk, corn soup; this looked like it would a Japanese-inspired dish because it was set up with tea cups and a teapot, but it wasn't. The teapot was surrounded with seaweed, and the server did something so that we got some impressive seaweed-scented steam happening on our table. This was reminiscent of Alinea where each dish was inspired by something from the chef's memories. But it was more to celebrate a NY summer, with fresh seafood from Long Island. Everything about this course was delicious and thoughtful. This is a dish could totally stand on its own with its bread, soup, and main components.

Bread: Butter brioche with a choice of goat butter and cow butter and a little bowl of Long Island sea salt; think the best Grands biscuit you've ever had. The goat butter was so good, and anyone who's ever had it will tell you that it's amazing. It's like a very light and creamy goat cheese. The cow butter was good, but the brioche was so buttery already, that the goat cheese paired incredibly well to provide contrast to the buttery flaky bread.

Main Course 2: Melon with smoked couscous, yogurt, tomato confit; smoked couscous was a bit of a revelation. I want to try it, but I need to figure out how to smoke things without burning down my apartment.

Main Course 3: Rye/caraway gnocchi with whey and spring leaves; it wasn't my favorite, but it was very similar to ALL the rye dishes in Denmark, and I, with my American palate, preferred it to the stuff they were serving in the motherland of rye-tasting grains.

Main Course 4: Foie gras with black sesame and pickled strawberries, duck prosciutto, and pickled lettuce; hello, perfect bite! The components alone were great, but a little bit of each piece made for a delicious explosion of goodness in my mouth. (The whole perfect bite philosophy reminded me of how to best enjoy the old menu at wd~50.) What really impressed me was that the (cold) foie was rolled up like a baloney slice. It was really cool and unexpected presentation.

Main Course 5: Lobster tail, black seafood sauce, charred leek, charred bits, and lemon rind; this is the most traditional dish, but was executed wonderfully.

Main Course 6: Lamb with artichokes and green tomatoes and freekeh; the lamb medallion was the perfect size. At this point I was getting full and swearing that if another protein appeared, I'd probably need to throw in the towel and ask to get it wrapped, but it was as big as the circumference of my thumb and pointer finger: the perfect size. And the green tomatoes added a beautiful freshness that made me hungrier as I ate the dish. The lamb was perfectly cooked too--not overdone at all. And not gamey. It was a great dish to end dinner with.

1: Egg cream: orange oil, cocoa cream, real seltzer; I don't love egg creams, but this was tasty and I love how it was made table side. It was interesting that the cocoa cream wasn't chocolate-y brown.
2: Goat cheese: one fresh, one aged two weeks; a server showed us the little wheels in a box--the older one looking slightly smaller and dehydrated--and told us about it. The servings were also perfect--where you had a taste to contemplate the goatiness. The fresh cheese was very goaty while the aged goat cheese felt like it had some time to mature, which it obviously did. My point is that this looked exactly how you thought it'd be and better. But what was nice about the thin slices too was that it was easy to consume and tasty--you didn't feel like you need anything to cut the goat flavor.
3: Cheesecake, chamomile, and raspberry jelly; this was good, and the chamomile was a nice soothing note for the dish.
4: Chocolate mousse and soil and lavender bits; tasty, but a bit too much soil, I think. Maybe replace with fruit instead? Chocolate seems heavy for heatwave weather.


Peanut butter cookies; think Ritz cracker peanut butter cookies.
Traditional black and white cookies; the perfect snack for the following day.

Gosh, cell phones need to be made to take better pictures in the dark. As our take-home gift, we got a jar of granola that we need to mix with some yogurt or something.

The couple that sat next to us got some chocolate bonbons to take home for celebrating their anniversary there, but Jon never said that we were visiting for our anniversary, so we just got the standard granola. If you like free stuff, tell the restaurant you're celebrating something. (On our honeymoon we got bonbons and extra desserts at most places, but that just made us superstuffed though the sentiment was really nice.)

Most of the people were celebrating birthdays, so there were desserts with candles coming out. The servers didn't sing happy birthday, but they did smile, which I thought was classy.

The couple that sat next to us after that anniversary couple had left were superweird tourists. They didn't know what a beet or hamachi or foie gras was. The woman had ordered hot chocolate or something ridiculous. (It was 90 degrees that night--90--and the restaurant wasn't cold at all since I didn't once need to put on my cardigan. It was comfortable.) The man didn't eat anything, and the waiter and manager let them leave their dinner with just paying for the wine--which the man had offered to do. I think the woman ate her food though. When they asked the manager to get them a cab, they were officially the dumbest people who ever went to a restaurant EVER in my book.

Bottom line though is that Jon and I had a great time and a great meal, and hopefully we'll be back during another season to try all that's fresh around NY then. Eleven Madison Park (EMP--as the cool kids call it) was definitely a solid NYC restaurant without being incredibly boring or stodgy or pretentious.
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