Last May I travelled to New York City for a wedding and took the opportunity to also visit with friends and, of course, eat my face off. One of such meals to mix friends and eating was a noon-time visit to Eleven Madison Park. I had tried tempering my lofty expectations, but not two weeks before my visit, the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list had come out with EMP jumping up to the number 10 spot. Ah well. They’d just have to live up to it then!
We’d arrived early, and to while away the time, we trotted across the park to loiter in the fabulous food emporium that is Eataly. Most certainly more than a little torturous when you’re hungry and trying to save yourself for the meal ahead. Oh, and one has to pass Shake Shack. Twice. Make sure you’re of the disciplined sort if you decide to run that gauntlet.
When the time was upon us, we pushed our way through the ornate revolving door and stepped into the lovely space that is Eleven Madison Park: soaring ceilings, tan wood accents, bright white walls, and art deco touches. Shortly after we had let our server know that we were all having the full tasting menu, the champagne cart made its appearance. While we weren’t there for an occasion, seated there with the crisp white linen table clothes under our fingertips and the light spilling in through the high windows, it certainly felt special. So just because, a flute of champagne made its way in front of me.
Now, the menu had listed 16 ingredients in a grid and we were to explore many (but not all) of them. However, let’s have a ridiculously long and delicious parade of appetizers first, yes?
At this point, we hadn’t even begun the actual courses listed on the menu. So how about that tour of the kitchen you asked for earlier? Well, sure!
The kitchen had been remodelled to accommodate a nook and short bar where patrons could view the goings-on and be out of the way. Here, we were regaled with tales of EMP’s genesis and philosophy. We also had a table-side drink prepared for us: the Jack Rose; a sphere of pomegranate mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen, cubes of lemon-soaked & compressed fuji apple, lemon syrup, and a scoop of calvados sorbet. Fun and delicious. After an enjoyable interlude speaking with the front of house, we continued to sip our drinks as we made our way back to our table.
Waiting for us was a rustic bag of bread and two butter options: cow’s milk and goat’s milk. Sea salt rounded out the accompaniments. It’s always hard to resist good bread and butter, and when it’s fresh and delicious, why try? I certainly didn’t! But not too much bread now, for we would at last begin the meal.
Elegant space, beautiful plates, fantastic flavours, and superb service. I found lunch to be very reasonably priced at $125 for such a superlative experience. In fact, I’ve had far more costly Michelin-starred meals and been less satisfied as the last crumbs were being brushed away (sob).
The general convivial atmosphere in our corner of the restaurant added another level of enjoyment to the meal. The many bottles peppering our affable neighbour’s table probably made it easier for them to swallow my otherwise impertinent inquiry of (and request to shoot) their fascinating domed dish. In fact, the dish was the catalyst for surrounding tables to chit-chat a bit. I love those moments.
On every level, this meal was top notch: visually, emotionally, taste-wise – and it was all woven together with fabulous service and excellent pacing. More than a fine meal, this was a dining experience. My expectations, though lofty, were met and easily exceeded. Eleven Madison Park’s top-ten designation from San Pellegrino is well deserved and ranks as one of my top meals, not just for 2012, but of all-time.
More shots on flickr.
- Eleven Madison Park 11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY