November 21, 2016 / Leave a Comment
Situated parkside at 11 Madison Avenue, the much lauded venue with the self explanatory name is nothing if not a New York institution. The pride and joy of Daniel Humm’s ‘Make It Nice’ group, Eleven Madison Park (or EMP for short) is the three-star older brother to one-starred little sister The NoMad, but stars aside – both are must visits when in NYC.
As if EMP’s recent promotion to top three on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants didn’t raise expectations high enough, they also took out 50 Best’s Art of Hospitality award. It’s a lot to live up to, but nothing Chef Humm’s expert team can’t handle.
Those who know me know I like to make plans on the fly, much to the detriment of my restaurant bookings. This did mean there was no hope in hell of scoring a table last minute at the NYC fave, but I’ll let you in on a secret – you don’t actually need a reservation to dine at this three-star stunner. Like it’s much lauded, but slightly more controversial three-star compatriot Per Se, EMP has an entire bar area just for walk-ins. I say bar area but there are also around four or so tables available, so it’s not bar counter style only.
You can’t go full dego at the bar area, but you can order each dish separately (well, many dishes from the degustation menu are available plus some other options) – so in a way you get to create your own custom tasting menu. Prices are still eye watering, but you can choose your own number of courses – honestly three or four would probably do the trick for most, and if you’re watching your pennies you can get away with less than half of what you would have to spend on the full blown experience.
Before we get into the dishes proper, let me say that oh-em-gee, the bread is fab. Kind of a cross between a croissant and a bread roll, this is one you’re going to want multiple servings of. Not sure if that’s the done thing at EMP, but I’m sure they’d happily oblige with more delicious bread scrolls – #ArtofHospitality, right?
Foie Gras – 35
Marinated with White Asparagus and Chamomile
A dainty lemon and honey hued dish, this was a pretty intro to EMP and looked rather at home on the artfully lit wooden table. That’s where the good things about this dish stopped however – yikes, this one just was not for me. Cold and altogether too sour, I just couldn’t get on board with this dish. Eeek. But that’s not where the story ends for course one, as the ever watchful EMP staff noticed that perhaps this was not my fave, and despite my protestation, insisted they swap it with another dish. They enquired as to what I liked when it came to foie, (which I’ll admit, I don’t usually gravitate towards on a menu but the choice in terms of starters was somewhat limited) and I replied that I had recently had some great pan fried foie. Before long, an entirely different foie dish wings it’s way to my table as if by magic – and suddenly I see why Eleven Madison Park is 2016’s chosen recipient of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Art of Hospitality award. No questions, no complaints, no issues – just a straight, ‘Hey, if you don’t like it we’re going to do our damnedest to find something you do love’ attitude. I was flabbergasted. How refreshing is that?
Two One, Take Two…
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Sorrel, Amaranth, Fava beans
Needless to say, foie the second was much improved and quite the stunner. Oh how I was glad that the EMP team went the extra mile and insisted they replace the dish! It was absolutely delish. Warm foie with a crispy sear, fava beans, fresh sorrel, smoked wood sorrel sauce…this had all the flavour balance that it’s predecessor did not, while still being innovative. Props to the EMP team for turning around what may have been a disappointing start to my Madison experience.
Duck – 55
Dry aged with honey, lavender and rhubarb
You might know by now I can’t resist duck on a menu, the Beans and Beef had no chance. My choice is vindicated when I’m told this classic has been on the EMP menu for countless years – they dare not remove it or the regulars will revolt! The signature dish features duck that has been dry aged for two weeks and roasted in honey and lavender. It’s tender yet crispy, curious yet classic – and it holds a well deserved permanent spot on the EMP menu. You’ve just gotta order this dish.
Camembert – 29
Brioche rolls with rhubarb and sorrel
I’ll admit I wasn’t all that enamoured with the savoury selections on the a la carte menu, so being that it was a short journey thus far, it felt only right that a cheese course of sorts should interject before dessert.
This is not your average cheese course, that’s for sure! A sack full of beautifully baked brioche nuggets arrive, hiding warm and gooey camembert inside…oh my. Cheese lovers rejoice, for this is cheese meets devonshire tea. Quenelles of sorrel creme fraiche and rhubarb are provided to elevate your brioche beauties to heavenly status…this dish is innovative, yet homely and comforting. Don’t miss it.
Strawberry – 22
Poached with vanilla and elderflower
More mainstream than the other three courses, this one takes classic dessert flavours and executes them perfectly. The poached strawberries, the delicate dusting of meringue, the rich and creamy vanilla ice cream, the elderflower bavarois…seriously, I don’t think I need to describe this dish any further. These things just go together, and when they are elevated EMP style I’m sure you can imagine how divine this dish was. Take me back.
A salted chocolate pretzel arrives on a coat hook style apparatus and with the perfect final flourish, my EMP experience is over all too soon. Well, it’s not quite over yet, as I’m sent home with a gorgeous EMP logo emblazoned canister, filled with Daniel Humm’s signature granola…could there be a better way to keep the good EMP vibes flowing right through until the next morning? (Well, apart from the EMP hosted, Quest Love DJ’ed World’s 50 Best afterparty that is? But that’s a story for another time!) It’s scrumptious, and I’m so relieved I’m taking it back to the UAE, a country where we don’t have strict customs regulations when it comes to food (apart from chicken) – oh, I’d cry if I had to leave this crunchy concoction behind! Now, I just need to find out how I can order granola refils to Dubai… Next time Eleven Madison, I’m coming back for the whole shebang (I promise I’ll book ahead next time 😉 )!
Overall Rating: 9/10