eating nyc 1.4: eleven madison park

Finally. My long awaited post wrapping up my September trip to NYC. The ridiculous thing is I’ve been back to NYC since, so there will be a future post on my subsequent NYC trip. All this traveling is bogging me down.

It’s funny what they say about being careful what you wish for. Travel has always been something at the top of my list of favorite things to do in life. But lately, I’ve been traveling so much that all I really want nowadays is to read and sleep in my own bed.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Let’s talk about my first 3-Michelin star experience ever. I got us (and by “us,” I mean myself, my cousin Pauline, and Frank from the show) reservations at Eleven Madison Park. A couple of people who work at Pauline’s Manhattan firm had highly recommended 11 Mad, so we decided to pop all three of our 3-Michelin cherries together in one big hoopla of a meal.


The restaurant is in an old bank building, so upon entering through a revolving door, I heard my steps and voice echo on what seemed like marble floors (somebody correct me if I’m wrong, please). The ceiling seemed immensely high. The maître d’ greeted us immediately and ushered us to the bar.

When I go to a place as fancy as this, I don’t like to make decisions. Instead, I prefer to let the experts guide my experience. And so we told the bartender what we like and don’t like and let him come up with a palatable cocktail for each of us. My and Pauline’s cocktails were savory and manageable but Frank, being the only male in our group, received a drink that would make even a girl grow chest hair.

We were soon seated at our table and told about the tasting menu: multiple courses framed around particular ingredients we select from four columns. I chose foie gras, potato, pork, and chocolate. And here is the menu they devised for me:

Black truffle and parmesan savory black and white cookie

Tomato gelee with gooseberries and tarragon

Cucumber snow with lapsang souchong and grape

Eel roasted with foie gras and Swiss chard

Sturgeon sabayon with chives smoked with everything bagel crumble, pickles, and caviar

Foie gras torchon with maple, walnuts, and cremini mushrooms

Carrot tartare with rye bread and condiments

Potato baked with pike roe, bonito, and bay leaf

Pork confit with red cabbage, black bean, and grey peas

Green sward pretzel, mustard, and beer

Malt egg cream with vanilla and seltzer

CHocolate lavender sorbet, orange, and Maldon salt

Huckleberry goat cheese, cheesecake, and lime

Pretzel chocolate covered with sea salt

THen came our monumental mistake. Instead of ordering a bottle or two for the three of us or even getting wine pairings, we let the sommelier bring us a bottle every couple of courses. THis translates to so much wine that we couldn’t even enjoy our food towards meal’s end. We were all too tipsy and tired to think straight. We had moved from a riesling (delicious) to a rosé (not good at all) to probably a red (by which time I hadn’t a clue what I was drinking). So learn from our mistake: just order a bottle and go from there instead of getting all willy-nilly with the wine. FOr what it’s worth, here was what we had:

Bereche & Fils, Vieilles Vignes Selectiannees, 2004

Domainede I’Ecu, Granite, MuscadetSevreet Maine, Loire Valley, France 2010

Selbach-Oster, Spatlese, Zeltinger-Sonnenhur, Mosel, Germany, 2007

Hermann Wiemer Riesling, Magdalena, Seneca Lake, New York, 2010

DomaineGioelli, Rosede Provence, France, 2010

Scaggs Vineyard, Montage, Mt. Veeder, 2009

Ithaca Beer COmpany, Picnic Basket Ale, Ithaca, New York

Chocolate Quinta do Noval, Colheita 1997

Since my dining experience was pretty much a blur, I can’t really say how I felt about each particular course. I can, however, say that there were some highlights. What I enjoyed most was the tour of the kitchen (which my cousin told me was so clean you could eat off the floor). Every time the chef stated an order, his staff of cooks would shout in unison, “Oui, chef!” ALthough it is not my dream to work long hours in a commercial kitchen, I do love observing the keenly organized brigade system Escoffier put into place years ago. We were placed behind a table in the kitchen, and a chef whipped us up a cocktail using Pop Rocks (yes, those powerful little candies from our youth). This Pop Rocks cocktail was my favorite ingestion of the night for both its taste and its ingenious novelty.

My other most memorable moment at 11 Mad was the very last dessert. OUr server spread out a deck of cards on the table, explained that each card had a different ingredient written on it, and then asked us each to pick one card out of the 52 and flip it over. Pauline picked mint, Frank had hazelnut, and I chose lime. We were then instructed to lift our plates from a previous dessert, and appearing immediately below the old plates were chocolate desserts infused with the ingredient we’d picked.

“How the hell did they do that?” I kept asking over and over.

“We don’t know, Christine,” Pauline and Frank said. “We can see, and we still have no idea how they did it.”

I was dumbfounded. Of course, for all I know, it could’ve been so obvious, but the three bottles of wine plus two cocktails could’ve slowed down our reflexes quite a bit.

Throughout dinner, I often felt uncomfortable as I was not used to this caliber of fine dining. My discomfort mixed with alcohol resulted in my constant chuckling.

“What’s so funny?” Frank asked me.

“THis just all seems so pretentious to me.” Indeed many of our dishes came out smoking. And while I know it does less for me because it’s often visual, I couldn’t help but feel I was overdosing on modernist cuisine. Call me lowbrow, but at the end of the day, food, to me, is about sharing it with enjoyable company. And while, yes, I did share my Eleven Madison Park meal with very enjoyable company, I’d rather do it in a more casual setting where I could guffaw out loud at my friend’s jokes, not caring who was watching, and eat things that didn’t require new utensils with every bite. Don’t get me wrong—I very much enjoyed my dinner, but when I take into consideration my Theory of Gastronomical Satisfaction, I simply can’t justify the price point for the flavors of the dishes themselves. A caveat is the menu was brand new the evening we came so maybe there needed to be a period of adjustment following the trial. (Of course, it was pretty cool to have an almost one-to-one ratio of server-to-diner, and to have them rush over and refold our napkins every time we got up to use the loo.)

Eleven Madison Park is definitely doing some cool stuff, and if you’re into molecular gastronomy, this place is for you. They take it seriously and to the nth degree. Me? Plop a pizza in front of me, and I’m elated.

Have you been to 11 Mad? What did you think?

23 Responses to eating nyc 1.4: eleven madison park
  1. J. Dent Reply

    I have to to say I'm a little envious. I'd love to be able to travel like you're doing and eat all of these things. I wouldn't have even heard about these places if I hadn't read the posts. But then again, I could always go for reading and sleeping too. If I'm not mistaken, you've also just had a trip to San Francisco too, so it sounds like you've had quite a time.

    Anyway, 11 Mad sounds like quite the experience. Sounds more like a dinner in Vegas than New York: place your bets and see what you get, except you're picking ingredience, not numbers. The menu they came up with for you sounds both intriguing and, admittedly, a little strange. But I guess as long as it tastes good, that's the main thing. With how that last dessert just appeared, it's almost like a Vegas magician decided to change careers. So, it sounds like it was a real blast. Can't say I'd blame you for being lowbrow though, and I agree whole-stomachly. Bring me a pizza, and I'm happy.

    Also, thanks for the tip. Not much of a wine drinker myself, but if I ever start, I'll keep that in mind.

  2. Eats Meets West Reply

    Hello Christine! I'm Ethnic Foodie, a new food blogger over at eatsmeetswest.net (which I've just started and is currently in construction). I'm new to your blog, and I must say, I too share your love for writing and cooking! Seeing as you are already epicly awesome in your cooking skills and are my culinary hero, I thought I might learn from you :D

    Anyways, I, too, feel a bit awkward in fine dining situations. As someone who wears a Niqaab (you know, the Islamic veil?), I often have trouble eating food in public. I usually use one hand to hold what I'm eating, and the other hand to lift up my Niqaab when I want to take a bite. I don't really mind the trouble, but many times, I do wish I could just run out of the restaurant with my food and gobble it up like no one's watching :) . One time, I was at an expensive and formal dinner, and I kept cringing every time I dropped a piece of cutlery too loud or nearly missed getting some sauce on my Niqaab. Don't worry, Christine – feel ya :D

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Thanks for sharing. I can only imagine. :)

      • Ethnic Foodie Reply

        Oh, the sacrifices we'll make for food x) ! Aww, you're most welcome, Christine. And I forgot to mention, thank you for the very cool post on 11 Mad in good ole' New York. The restaurant sounds pretty exciting (picking your dessert ingredients would make me want to have dessert first!). I am also envious of your experience, but alas, my home city (Toronto) has its fair share of interesting restaurants too. To each his own, I guess :)

        Also, I am interested that 11 Mad serves a Pretzel chocolate covered with sea salt. Was it just a chocolate-covered Pretzel, made in house? It must have been pretty good to be served on its own :D

        • Christine Ha Reply

          I regret to admit that I don't even remember much about the pretzel. THis means 1 of 2 things: (1) it wasn't extraordinary enough for me to recall, or (2) I was too tipsy by then to recall. Or both.I've heard great things about Toronto's food scene. I hope to visit one day.

          • Ethnic Foodie

            Hello again, Christine. How are you doing these days? Aw, it's okay if you don't remember :) . I was simply wondering what an upscale pretzel would taste like (because hey, who doesn't like chocolate!). Perhaps one day, I'll be able to taste a NY pretzel covered with chocolate and sea salt – it sounds quite appetizing to a chocoholic :D

            I have to agree with you about Toronto's food scene, and I am very proud for my city for having great food. In terms of fine dining here, I haven't been able to try many places out, so I can't really recommend a good place. However, if you plan to go to Toronto in the future, be sure to check out the annual Dine.to's Best of Toronto restaurant list before you go – http://www.dine.to/bestofto.php . The list is divided into categories, from best ambiance, to best live entertainment, to even best wings. Restaurants can have horrible food or terrible service, or both – and as this annual list is user-voted, you can be armed with knowing where the best place to eat is each year, according to the foodies among us :)

          • Christine Ha

            Thanks for the link. :)

          • EatsMeetsWest

            You're very welcome :D

          • Ren-Yi

            hi @Ethnic_Foodie – if you're a chocoholic, you'll have to try Soma in the Distillery District in TO. If you're there in person, get a chocolate shot of the dark (slightly spicy) liquid…it's divine. they also have one in milk chocolate. i also bought a few bars, including a milk chocolate with sea salt, a dark with some chili flakes, and another dark bar that also had some spice infused. it was all delicious.

            If you're looking for good food places to try, let me know your constraints. I have a list … ;)

          • Eats Meets West

            Oh, I totally forgot to reply back to you! My apologies for the late reply! Thanks for the recommendation :D . I'll be sure to check out Soma if I'm ever in the area.

            Also, thanks so much for letting me know about good food places :) . As for my diet, I eat halal (huh-laal) food, which means that I do not eat pork or alcohol [or its derivatives], and if I do eat meat, it is slaughtered following the Islamic procedures. I don't go to places that sell pork, alcohol, or non-halal meats because there are chances of "cross-contamination". There are also a few other things, but those are the basic things I avoid. Anyways, I can't wait to hear about the good food places you know :)

            If you could post your list here on my blog (http://eatsmeetswest.net/thebigto-dolist/), then I'll be sure to add the places to my Big To-Do List :)

          • Christine Ha

            Yes, I understand halal diets. We personally try to buy halal meat at the grocery store even though we are not Muslim.

          • Ren-Yi

            @Ethnic_Foodie – had a quick look through the list. it has a few good things, but a lot of misses too. I think Buca, Ki, The Gabardine, Blowfish, and a few others…Anyways, just my two cents.

          • Eats Meets West

            I don't really frequent restaurants too much, but if you know of some good places in Toronto, be sure to vote for them next time! Everyone can benefit from good foodie advice :)

  3. Mike W Reply

    Christine,

    I was there the day after the marathon was supposed to occur (3 of us were supposed to run the marathon). They gave us a 16 course marathon dinner, four hours and four minutes, complete with a marathon completion certificate. I actually felt like they didn't take themselves too seriously for that type of experience (the meat grinder for the carrot tartare, the card trick for dessert, the playful presentations). So I got a different impression than you–of course, we were more measured with the drinks.

    Mike

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Hi Mike, thanks for the input. I actually think your whole setup for the marathon dinner implies a more whimsical experience (i.e. the certificate of completion). I blame my not being able to see the playful presentations and my preliminary expectations for my ultimate judgment. Had I gone into the dinner knowing from the beginning that there would be theatrics, perhaps I'd take it less seriously too. I think I was trying hard NOT to take it seriously, but that's difficult to do when you're dropping that much $$$$. Either way, it tickles me to hear about your own personal experience at Eleven Madison Park. P.S. Congrats on the hard training in spite of the marathon's cancellation. I hope you enjoyed your rewarding dinner.

  4. PMY Reply

    Totally share your view on super upscale dining! While I enjoy my occasional special nights out, I love delicious food in a casual setting!

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Amen to that.

  5. dude Reply

    i love u so much

  6. @snowcones Reply

    Hi Christine! I'm excited to see they served you a couple of Finger Lakes selections, the Wiemer Riesling in particular–it's probably the finest example from the region. I haven't had the Ithaca Picnic Basket Ale so I have put that on my list for the next time I'm home–I'm from the Finger Lakes, if that wasn't readily apparent.

    If you liked the Wiemer you can get another good quality Finger Lakes Riesling at Spec's Downtown. Dr. Konstatine Frank sells their Dry Riesling, and an adequate Pinot Noir; the Chateau Frank Brut is a solid sparkling white. Spec's also has their one-off label Salmon Run, which I recommend if you like a semi-dry Riesling otherwise stick w/ Dr. Frank Estate labels.

    Your meal sounds astounding. I, too, am guilty of over-imbibing and missing out on meal details. Your recap made me smile. Cheers!

  7. @snowcones Reply

    I know a lot about Finger Lakes wines but other than that I'm a novice :) Next time you go to Himalaya bring a bottle of cold, dry Riesling–so great with spicy Indian food! I think Roses are tricky–I only like them bone-dry, and usually with light appetizers or a slice of pizza.

  8. Steve Reply

    Hi Christine,

    This has probably gotten incredibly tiresome for you, but I'm a huge fan! I'm Vietnamese on one side of my family, and my mom and aunts freaked out when I showed them your ca kho dish during your audition. (I myself was losing it when you turned the corn mystery box into what seemed to me like an interpretation of che bap, my favorite! Totally called that one…) I love your take here on haute cuisine—the food, the setting, and the pretentiousness. It's refreshing to see that your perspective on food hasn't changed from day one. Nothing gets me going more than a $6 styrofoam box of com tam.

    I'm eagerly awaiting your cookbook! I'm excited for everything, but I hope the Viet food is well-represented!

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I appreciate your support. :)Yes, I ended up making a dessert similar to che bap.My cookbook will have some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes so I hope you'll think it's well represented. :)

  9. Chocolate Bars Reply

    Chocolates are my favorite i love it very much. more smoothie of chocolates are my weakness

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