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?