Eleven Madison Park is a gorgeous, gorgeous restaurant. Pristine, clean lines, a flood of soft natural light. I’d read a little about Eleven Madison Park’s history, steeped in the Danny Meyer tradition of enlightened hospitality, and its rise into the upper echelon of global fine dining.
It is one of New York City’s 3-Michelin-starred restaurants, now helmed by chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara, who bought out Danny Meyer some years ago and who have combined to somehow even further elevate the restaurant’s reputation. Everybody I knew who had gone spoke in hushed, gushing tones about the immaculate service, almost more so than the food. Their other restaurant at the NoMad is one of my favorites, with one mean roast bird. If their more casual spot is churning out brioche-and-truffle-stuffed roast chicken, I had high hopes for what the flagship could show me.
The other theme to the tasting menu was an ode to New York’s culinary history. A savory black-and-white cookie to start, with a cheddar filling.And then the decadence began. An oyster with the creamy smoothness of savory vichysoisse, speckled with caviar.
Scallops, with a shower of apple snow. A duo of beef: first, a beef tartare dotted with caviar and packed on both sides with a luxurious spread of smoked bone marrow, tucked into a neatly cleaned segment of bone.
The the next course: seared foie gras with sunchokes, hazelnuts, and Solera vinegar. I liked the plating and the combination of sharp vinegar, crunchy toasted hazelnuts, and buttery sunchoke puree. An elegant two or three bites, enough for a rich splash, a vignette. And on the heels of several rich courses, it was perfectly proportioned.
At some point, I think it was here, that we took a guided break to step back into the kitchen. The sense of order and meticulousness is apparent, the dedicated hum of cooks at their stations, the whirring, mechanical engine that drives the can-do ethos of “Make It Nice,” one of Chef Humm’s early English phrases and a phrase that adorns a wall in the pristine kitchen. Our maitre’d told us that the kitchen operates 23 hours a day, in shifts of course, to handle the requirements of the full tasting menu during both lunch and dinner.
A simple contrast of celery root, braised and puréed, with a black truffle jus.
This was followed by duck broth, with a gruyère crisp with sausage and mustard seeds. I could drink that umami-drenched broth all day. I liked the presentation as well, like a casual mid-day serving of tea. Quite a remarkable tea.A beautifully-dressed roast duck stuffed with lavendar, with the whole tableside presentation for which EMP is well-known, then sliced and plated with honey and rutabaga. The duck was well-cooked, a tender medium-rare, more gamey than fat, but that lack of confit-soft meat didn’t exactly jive with the crunch of the oat crust was distracting.A dose of fresh-baked rolls, accompanied by two butters, one made with duck fat. Crisp and buttery, with a touch of self-applied sea salt.I don’t have a shot of the picnic basket, but the next course came bundled up, a cheese course on our way to dessert. Murray’s Cheese, a New York purveyor, had made an exclusive creation for EMP, this gooey cow’s milk cheese that you can spread on the pretzel baguettes with dried fruit. The hardiness of the bread went well with the Greensward’s earthiness. It was a pleasant transitional cheese, between the extreme saltiness of some cheeses I love (e.g. Délice de Bourgogne, Midnight Moon) and some stinky mushroom tones.On to the sweets: sweet potato curd with espresso meringue and orange sorbet.And the baked Alaska, rum-scorched in another tableside display of precision. I’m not a huge fan of meringue, but the Alaska was admittedly one of the most beautiful displays of meringue I’ve ever seen. Some intricate Pokemon-level craziness.
If there’s anything about the Eleven Madison Park experience, it is the effortless and elegant thoughtfulness so seamlessly threaded into the dining experience, the ceaseless flow of crafted details and the dedicated thoroughness in their execution. The art of service, summed up in this wordless, thankless exercise in precision and care: