World’s best restaurants NYC – Eleven Madison Park
On our first visit to New York City, five years ago, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband scored the almost impossible – a booking through online channels for the extraordinary Eleven Madison Park. It was so good that barely an hour into our meal, we requested another reservation and had two incredible nights out in this magnificent city for dining adventures. Sadly, we weren’t able to score a table on our subsequent visit to NYC (two years ago) but mined our networks to ensure we were able to get in this year.
This beautiful art-deco room on Madison and 24th Street has seen a few changes in style of menu over the last five years but its rating as one of the world’s best restaurants has stayed strong. Still under the direction of Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park took fifth spot on the last San Pellegrino listing. It is, without doubt, one of the greatest treats any self-respecting foodie or lover of fine dining can experience.
We’d managed to secure our table courtesy of the worldwide hospitality network. We’d met the delightful Jonno at Dinner by Heston in Melbourne during gluttonous husband’s birthday dinner late last year and he was kind enough to reach out to his friend, Kevin, one of the dining room managers at EMP. Huzzah! A booking was secured on Greedy Girl’s birthday. Could it get any better?
Well, actually, yes it could. We’d long raved to everyone about our first experiences at EMP and Greedy Girl wondered whether her expectations were just too high. On our first visit to NYC we also had a sublime dining experience at Per Se – but the follow up visit there on our next trip (two years later) while enjoyable, just didn’t hit the same heights.
The welcome at EMP is genuine and authentic. Shown to a table on the lower level of the restaurant (on both previous visits, we’d been on the higher level, up a few stairs), we were welcomed with a cocktail each and the sight of a little white box on the table. Greedy Girl got a little excited – wondering if gluttonous husband was surprising her with another birthday present, but she quickly discerned that the boxes were on every table. Gnats! She wasn’t disappointed with what was inside: Black and white cookies – savoury style with apple and cheddar. Beautifully crunchy and tangy. We asked for a dozen to go. To quote Rocky (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame): “That trick never works”.
While we sipped and sampled. Greedy Girl perused the wine list, selecting a Bereche et Fils brut reserve champagne – beautifully dry with a medium body, the sommelier agreed it would work well with the food. Settled. We moved on to some more amuse bouches, presented in a stacked wooden tiffin box, which was separated on the table to reveal four different nibbles.
We started with the whitefish salad – sturgeon with roe, baby radishes and snow peas and a delightfully crunchy amaranth. One picked up a veggie, dipped it into the fish and then the grain. Delish.
Next, we had a fava bean croquette with smoked bacon and shallots. Crisp, crunchy, yummy.
We then attacked the morels that had been whipped into a light mousse and sandwiched between rye crisps. Greedy Girl popped hers in the mouth whole, lest it disintegrate in her hand, but gluttonous husband (he who eats slower where the food is at its best) nibbled it delicately.
Our final nibble was a Wellfleet oyster, studded with caviar. Greedy Girl had already advised she didn’t enjoy raw oysters so hers was cooked and is the slightly smaller one in the photograph. Gluttonous husband, a connoisseur of oysters, thought it was delicious but not as spectacular a species as he’s had on this trip. The caviar studs looked pretty but we felt they didn’t add hugely to the flavour.
By this point, we’d drained our cocktails. Such is the standard of service here that we didn’t have to ask the sommelier not to pour any champagne until that point – he was right on top of things. While that may be commonsense, it is far from commonplace. We really appreciated that little touch.
More caviar followed next – the restaurant’s take on a benedict, pictured at the top of this post. This was a runny quail egg below a coating of dried egg yolk, the caviar, and combined with ham and spring onion. It was served with four tiny house made Engllish muffins. Not a skerrick remained. Greedy Girl even licked up any stray bits of yolk that fell over the side of the tin. If only every eggs benedict was this good.
We were then invited into the kitchen for a little palate cleanser, made from freshly-shaved ice, strawberry syrup and champagne foam. We were struck by how quiet the kitchen was – over a dozen chefs beavered away at their stations all knowing exactly what to do and when. We were introduced to the executive sous chef, Dmitri who was from Estonia, overseeing the pass that evening (although we did meet the founding chef/owner Daniel Humm later in the evening, who walked around the dining room).
Next was the first of the choices. At the start of the evening, the wait staff explained we had a number of choices to make for the various courses, so it wasn’t a traditional tasting menu, although all the little additions made it feel that way. As is our custom, we took an option each so that we could taste as many dishes as possible.
Greedy Girl’s starter was Hudson Valley foie gras, gently seared, hidden underneath the sorrel leaf you can see below. It sat on a small bed of fava beans and a pool of sorrel sauce and some amaranth grains. It was spectacular. Usually Greedy Girl has had foie gras paired with fruit but the bitterness of the sorrel worked outrageously well. If anything, it almost made the foie gras seem lighter.
Gluttonous husband had fluke caught off Long Island, marinated with pea and grapefruit. The grapefruit didn’t really come through but the freshness of the fish and earthiness of the peas combined well with a pouring the sommelier recommended – a Prairie Standard artisan dry-hopped ale from Oklahoma. He’d been told by another of our hospitality mates, the dining room manager at EMP’s ‘sister’ restaurant, the NoMad, that gluttonous husband enjoyed ales. It worked for Greedy Girl – she got more champagne …
Greedy Girl then moved to butter-poached lobster with morels, peas and a delightful potato puree. If there was one tiny quibble, it was that when all the elements of the dish were taken together, the flavour of the lobster became a bit lost. Still it was exceptionally yummy.
Gluttonous husband had red snapper topped with tiny mushrooms, pieces of clams, fava beans and a nettle sauce, topped by a potato tuille. He was a very happy chappy. The nettle sauce didn’t overpower the snapper, which is a strong fish anyway; the clams added a little bit of chewiness and the potato was beautifully crisp. Lots of great textures and beautifully balanced flavours.
Next up was the floor show – asparagus braised in a bladder in the style of Paul Bocuse with his legendary Bresse chicken (we’ve had that also – see the blog entry here). The inflated bladder is wheeled to the table and basted with an aromatic broth. It’s then snipped to remove the asparagus which is plated with a potato puree and a pork jus sprinkled with tiny pieces of black truffle. It was a delightful pause in the menu.
That was followed by another little treat – a small bowl of lamb and duck broth. It was sublime. If Greedy Girl hadn’t already consumed a power of food, she would have loved to get some fresh tortellini and dump it in a giant ladle of this stunning, deep flavoured clear soup. It was so good, we asked for the recipe – and this time the request did work – the delightful dining room manager Whitney brought it back for us – there were two – one for lamb, the other for duck. The recipe provided makes, ahem, four gallons. Perhaps we’ll be scaling that down when we try it at home.
We then moved to the meat course – for Greedy Girl it was variations of Spring lamb, served with romaine lettuce, head cheese, and a delightful ginger lamb broth. The shoulder was particularly flavourful and gluttonous husband certainly enjoyed that texture. The sommelier brought her a glass of a deep pink champagne – a rose de Saignee by Vincent Charlot, produced not far from Epernay. Most French rose wines Greedy Girl has tried (and savoured) are a very pale colour – this was an intense pink, almost fuchsia and very, very drinkable.
Gluttonous husband’s dish was dry-aged duck, honey and lavender glazed, topped with Szechuan pepper, served with spring onion and rhubarb and broth. He described it as sumptuous. Often duck isn’t cooked through and can be a little chewy. It was hard to tell in the low light how pink it was but it melted in the mouth. The sommelier brought him another brew to pair with this – a Maine Beer Company ‘Weez’ ale. This was a very dark colour but not at all heavy. It reminded him of his favourite French beer, a Pelforth Brune, which he enjoys every time we are in Europe. Sigh.
The meat dishes were served with two sides – a dish of morel mushrooms sitting in a morel custard, which was almost like an old-fashioned ‘junket’ consistency and a dish of turned, tiny new potatoes with a potato crisp on top. Both delicious.
We were then presented with another treat – Camembert-infused puffs and two dipping sauces – rhubarb and the other was Spring onion mix, with what tasted like a very light cream cheese. Greedy Girl lapped up the Spring onion variety. She really enjoyed this take on a cheese course – again, it didn’t feel heavy on either the palate or the tum.
It was time for dessert. We opted for the retro charm of a baked Alaska. The full ‘pud’ in all its meringue glory is presented at the table and then set alight to burn some of the sugar. It’s then removed and a portion each presented. It was flavoured with strawberry, lemon and vanilla ice-cream. Greedy Girl’s portion had a candle in honour of her ‘bonne anniversaire’.
And we were done – we thought. Greedy Girl took a sencha green tea from Japan to help with digestion. But wait, there’s more. Two chocolate pretzels were brought alongside a bottle of an apple brandy – gluttonous husband was in his element. We also had a guessing game. Four packets of chocolate were laid out on the table, each featuring one of the graphic symbols of Eleven Madison Park – four different types of tree found in the adjacent Madison Park – maple, ginko, linden and London plane. We had to guess which chocolate came from the milk of which animal – with cow, buffalo, sheep and goat’s milk being the choices. We didn’t do well – picking only the goat’s milk variety.
Over and out. We headed into the night – having spent over five hours at the restaurant – armed with a farewell gift of their signature granola and another little box of chocolate and salted caramel treats. Greedy Girl was also presented with a birthday card signed by the whole team. A very special touch.
The menu here is not inexpensive but, in Greedy Girl’s opinion, an investment in world-class cooking. It’s currently set at US$295 per person. Yes, there is starched linen and it’s an imposing room, but the night was a huge amount of fun – without any gimmicks – and that’s due to the enjoyment of the food and the amazing team on hand.
A note with the bill says that service is included in the cost and gratuities are neither expected nor accepted. To say this is an unusual approach for NYC is an understatement, where we’ve become used to tipping everyone. The restaurant obviously values its staff and, after chatting to EMP’s general manager, Billy, who was on the floor that night, we got a great appreciation for the team ethos here. EMP absolutely deserves every accolade that comes its way. This was an extraordinary night out and an experience we won’t forget.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue, NYC (Flatiron district)