Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eleven Madison Park, New York New York

Arriving at Eleven Madison Park for our 2:00pm lunch reservations after a long walk from the Morgan Library, expectations and hunger were admittedly elevated. Having read glorious reviews of Chef Humm's cooking, great service, and a beautiful dining room the bar was set high....and EMP cleared it with ease.

Seating was prompt and from the moment we found our booth we were treated to a seemingly endless pampering from the staff led by our server Dayna. Cold water and bread appeared promptly and although the wine was turned down, we were never pressured to order drinks like many other wine-centric restaurants. My sister opted for a glorious Iced Tea served with 3 different syrups (mint, plain, and pomagranite/passion fruit) while I myself decided to stick with water. Breads consisted of a delectable wheat, crisp white roll, and a tangy olive roll served with an unsalted (and unfortunately far too cold/hard) butter. Both beverages and bread were replenished promptly without additional requests throughout the meal.

Wanting to experience the full range of Chef Humm's talents, the Gourmand menu was selected with a slight modification, substituting the pork main with the daily special as its description was too good to resist. The modification was made without hesitation, question, or additional charge. Less than 10 minutes later, course one arrived consisting of Heirloom Beets roasted with Olio Verde, Aceto Balsamico and Lynnhaven Chevre Frais. All three varieties of beet were served in three different styles on a beautifully geometric plate and each delivered a new experience in terms of taste, mouthfeel, and style. A great start for sure.

Course two, at least for myself, was the show stealer. Foie Gras Terrine with Cherries Lemon Balm and Sicilian Pistachios; essentially Foie Gras served in four stellar manners, the first baked in a brioche, the second a thin strip with cherry gelee, the third a foamy cherry custard with foie on the bottom, and finally a delectable pitted cherry restuffed with a cremy liver paste. The salty pistachios contrasted flawlessly in taste and texture and when the stip was spread on the brioche....heaven.

Course three entailed Mediterranean Loup de Mer Slow Cooked with Artichokes, Squash Blossoms and Sauce Amer. While this dish was actually my least favorite of the 5, it was still mindblowing in its delicacy and presentation. Perfectly tender veggetables and a rich butter sauce greatly complimented the flavorful and aromatic fish which literally melted in the mouth. While the translucent cooked Meyer Lemon was certainly attractive, I do feel it may have been a bit 'much' in terms of tartness and actually detracted from other more subtle aspects of the dish.

The final main, our substitution, was Butter Poached Skate with Cauliflower, Potato, and Rosemary Brie. In a word....sublime. I realize Skate wing isn't always easy to find, but this dish should be part of the regular menu. Soft and buttery skate and cauliflower set against the smooth brie and crispy potatoes was a culinary adventure with each bite and my only regret was that there wasn't twice the portion.

For dessert the chef provided another suprise in the Vacherin Lemon and Basil Parfait with Strawberries and Meringue. A deconstructed blend of inherent simplicity and complex flavors mesmerized on the plate and the palate as a thin strip of basil and lemon icecream, a dollop of strawberry gelatto, small cubes of gelatin, and dots of flavored gelee all blended flawlessly and equally tasted amazing seperately. Light and airy, yet clean and filling....a great cap to a great meal.

If I were to offer any complaint about EMP aside from the icey hard butter, it would be the lack of an amuse and petit fours. IMO, although the meal was great, a true tasting menu should always contain these items just as a great story often includes an prologue and epilogue. Regardless, as it had started to pour rain during our meal and we were in no hurry to leave, my sister and I ended the meal with a mellow house blend coffee that was refilled multiple times. There was no pressure to leave and although the check was delivered our serving team continually checked up on us as other tables were prepped for dinner service.

All told, amazing food and amazing service with very few oversights. Highly recommended and a great deal for such quality and quantity. Perhaps not as great as the lunch deal at Gramercy Tavern, but certainly worth the experience for Chef Humm's vision and cuisine. If you can, get the skate and the foie.

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