Eleven Madison Park has been my favorite restaurant in NYC, I somehow like it more than Per Se. I decided that we would have a special occasion at Eleven Madison Park on 6/28/14. I liked to see how much has been changed from my previous visit in Sept. 2013. The menu style remains the same offering prix fixe at $225 for 14-16 courses. Unlike the European fine dining restaurants, amuse bouche at Eleven Madison is not something additional outside the framework of menu; it is part of the 14 courses.
Before we started, each guest was given an envelope. Inside each envelope there was a card with four different flavors indicated. My card had celery, strawberry, cherry, and blueberry. The flavor each guest chose would be the theme flavor for the evening. I chose cherry as my theme flavor.
1st Course – Cheddar, Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple
It was a black-and-white (two-colored) cookie with cheddar cream sandwiched in between two pieces of shortbread, looking vertically, half in cream white and the other half in off black. The texture of the cookie resembled more like shortbread, but, with a much lighter and softer taste. The white part of glaze was made of cocoa butter and the off-black part was made of vegetable ashes. Since cheddar cream was mixed with green apple, it produced a mild taste of cheddar. Both halves of the white and black taste outstandingly well with the cheddar and apple cream.
2nd Course – Oyster, Baked Potato Ice Cream and Caviar
There were two parts for this course. One was a fresh piece of oyster from Elliot, Maine in vinaigrette sauce. The other was baked potato crème fraiche with Royal Sterling caviar. Oyster was very fresh and refreshing in vinaigrette sauce. I recalled I had mashed potato ice cream as a palate cleanser a year ago at L’Astrance. Here at Eleven Madison, potato was used for part of cream as a savory dish instead of a palate cleanser. Creative chefs can use the same ingredient for different purposes. The potato cream was softer than the ordinary cream, but may be because of the potato’s texture.
3rd Course – Morel, Custard with Maine Sea Trout Roe
There was Morel custard at the bottom of the bowl with orange color of Main Sea Trout Roe on the side. Morel mushroom custard was delicious and with the right consistency, gave you a melt in your mouth kind of taste. Main Sea Trout Roe had a mild taste so that not to overwhelm Morel’s taste.
4th Course – English peas, Warmed with Meyer Lemon and Egg Yolk
Peas can be made into a very impressive dish. English peas were from upstate NY. They were so young and tender, served with drops of Meyer lemon juice and cured egg yolks and cute tiny lavender flowers. This peas dish was truly excellent. Last time I had another excellent peas dish was at RyuGin in Tokyo in May 2014. Even if you are not vegetable lovers, you would love this pea dish.
5th Course – Beef, Pastrami with Ramps, Rye, Mustard, and Cherry
NYC is famous for its kosher food. This course imitated the well-known Katz Deli’s sandwiches. I got an open rye sandwich with house made pastrami. There were four pieces of pastrami in the plate, two lean pieces and two marbled pieces. Around the piece of open rye bread, there were drops of flavors made of peas, mustard and lemon drops. Pastrami was excellent in both texture and flavor. Since I chose cherry as my theme flavor for the evening, I got a bottle of house made cherry soda. It was quite flavorful because it had much less artificial ingredients than what you would get from most of the markets.
Around this time, we got our favorite brioche-croissants. They were made from Finger Lake whole wheat flour, so flaky and crunchy on the skin part that you wouldn’t waste a single crumb. They were served with two butters, one ordinary butter and another that was butter mixed with lamb fat with crunchy lamb crumbs on top. I would love to eat half-a-dozen. But, if I do I would problems in finishing the whole meal.
6th Course – Foie Gras, Cured with Orange-Chamomile, White Asparagus and Bitter Almond
It was Hudson Valley Foie Gras served with white asparagus foam. White asparagus foam looked a bit thicker than ordinary foam. On top of the foie gras, there was a piece of almond tuile (thin cracker) and slight caramel sauce. It was a very refreshing. Almond Tuile was a true piece of work, with the nice texture, flavor and fine, thin appearance.
7th Course – Apple, Waldorf salad with Celery, Rhubarb and Walnuts
The original version of Waldorf salad is comprised of three ingredients – apple, celery and mayonnaise. There were two parts for this dish. The 1st part was the salad served with local blue cheese, candied walnut and pickled rhubarb. Our server went thru the whole preparation process from a wheeled cart in front of our table. The 2nd part of this course was soup made of apple and celery, garlic and crouton. There was a small piece of apple jelly rested by the spoon which was placed on a dimple especially carved on the inside of the bowl to hold the spoon’s spot. Soup was excellent, with well-balanced taste and very refreshing.
8th Course – Lobster, Poached with Beets, Ginger and Nasturtium
There were two small chunks of lobster tail poached in butter to keep its tenderness, juice and flavor. They were served with roasted beets (in red color), and dehydrated and then roasted beets (in off-black color). Nasturtium is the largest green leaf in the plate. It is the 1st time that I have ever tasted this vegetable. It did not have a distinctive taste. It might be used for the visual appearance.
It seemed that chef Daniel Humm has adopted more from Noma’s approach of emphasizing the old ways of drying, smoking, pickling and curing, and turning the dial toward the natural world. This new adoption was reflected in a few dishes.
9th Course – Asparagus, Braised with Potato and Black Truffle
This course had some showmanship. One of the chefs came to our table with a pot, sitting inside the pot was a transparent looking ball with about 6-in of diameter. When you looked carefully, there were some sprigs of asparagus at the bottom of the ball. This ball was pig’s bladder. When asparagus were cooked in a sealed environment, their flavor was better preserved. In addition, the flavor from pig’s juice also enhanced asparagus’s flavor. Asparagus was served with black truffle and pork juice, potato purée, and black truffle purée. I enjoyed the taste very much, but, was a bit disappointed because I only got one single sprig of asparagus.
10th Course – Lamb, Broth with Cured Lamb and Watercress Roasted with Lettuce, Garlic and Onion Blossoms
There were two parts in this course. The 1st was lamb broth on a chip. Lamb broth was condensed into jelly form and sat on a piece of chip. Very simple looking, but was very sumptuous. The 2nd part was the trilogy of various parts of young lamb prepared in 3 different ways – shoulder (in square shape), torchon (in round shape), and loin cooked medium rare. Each of the trilogy offers different levels of taste. Shoulder offered the spiciest taste, and loin offered the most tender texture. They were served with braised gem lettuce and onion blossoms.
11th Course – Fresh Cheese, Parsley and Pickled Pearl Onion
The original item was a piece of picnic bread, sausage and a bottle of beer. Since I did not like it when I visited Eleven Madison Park last September, I was offered the fresh cheese course instead. Cow’s milk cheese was from Salem, upstate NY, served with pickled pearl onion and parsley. Fresh cheese was fresh, but, taste was not as full of flavor as the imported ones. Using pickled pearl onion was a brilliant idea to enhance the overall taste.
12th Course – Whey, Sorbet with Caramelized Milk and Milk Foam
This is a very quasi-Noma dish. Unfortunately, the dairy products produced in upstate NY had a different level of acidity from what produced in the Nordic region. Sorbet had an overly strong acidic taste and we were offered to have coconut milk flavored sorbet instead. However, it still did not work out well and was not as balanced as the other dishes.
13th Course – Almond, Baked Alaska with Rum, Caramel and Cherry
A beautifully arranged meringue was set in a plate. Our server set the rum sitting in a small pot on fire and sprinkled plenty of rum around the meringue. The meringue was consequently lit on fire and while some of the alcohol burned off. She sprinkled rum very evenly and slowly to make sure the optimal synergy of all ingredients. Then, the whole plate was returned to the kitchen for serving into the individual plate. When each of us received our individual plate, we noticed that there were candied cherries and toasted almonds scattered around the meringue. You can taste rum in every bite.
14th Course – Brownie Sundae, Marsh Mellow, Vanilla Ice Cream, Salted Caramel
We were asked whether we would like to have more deserts and were offered a chocolate themed dessert. Chunks of marshmallow, vanilla ice cream, salted caramel were all in a thin, edible chocolate bowl. That size of chocolate bowl is difficult to make and handle.
15th Course – Pretzel, Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt
Each of us got a chocolate covered pretzel hung on a rack. It was a simple version of petit-four.
16th Course – Chocolate, Sweet Black and White Cookie with Mint
It looked the same like the starting course, except this one was a dessert, not a savory dish. In a way, each guest made a full trip from beginning to end, from the first black-and-white cookie to the second one.
We were offered the opportunity to visit their kitchen. Because it was Saturday night, kitchen was quite busy that we had to wait. While we were waiting, we were offered another light course of dessert.
Chamomile Cheese Cake with Raspberry Sorbet. Chamomile cheese cake was very creamy and had the taste of chamomile. It was served with raspberry syrup. Raspberry sorbet was very refreshing, especially for a summer night.
Kitchen Tour and Additional Extra Course
When they were ready to show us their kitchen, we were offered a jar of their house made granola comprised of roasted oats, multiple grains, raisins and roasted sliced almond. I have always liked their cereal; it was tastier than other cereals. Once you had the taste of it, other cereals seem to be a bit boring.
As we walked into the kitchen, the 1st thing that I noticed was the reception area has some new counters. Other than that the structure of the rest of the kitchen remained the same (4 major stations) as what I saw last September. We also noticed as the dining hall staff brought in orders he/she would make a loud announcement of the numerical number. In turn, the kitchen staff (one from each station) who received the order would make a simultaneous loud response in French “oui” in quasi-military style acknowledging “YES, we received the order”.
However, they have got something new going this time. They have acquired a vintage ice-shaving machine and reconstructed and tweaked it with some engineering expertise. The machine is able to produce a coarse level of shaved ice. We were thrilled when each of us was offered a cup of freshly shaved ice with apple syrup, apple jack, and jasmine infused cream. It was so good that I had to restrain my urge to request for more. It was surely and truly a happy ending for a wonderful meal in town.