After weeks of trying to get reservations for Eleven Madison Park for our family’s visit, and ultimately failing, we were surprised when our friends came to visit for New Year’s and brought as a bonus a reservation for a party of four for the next day. I guess there is no better way to start of the year than at Eleven. The restaurant does not need any introductions, it simply was was rated #1 in New York by New York Magazine (#2 by NY Times, after Thomas Keller’s Per Se), and it has 3 Michelin stars. We knew it was great, but we certainly did not expect that great.
We went there on a storm winter night, and our reservation was for 9:45PM (only one we could get). We were surprised about the simplicity of the place. There was none of the pomp that usually is presented in restaurant of this caliber. The restaurant is plain, with high ceilings and creamy walls, lots of white flowers in tall vases. Although we did not understand it at first, it makes sense to take the focus off the decor, and rather leave it for the food.
Our hostess led us to our table, and our waitress explained that there was no menu, and that the courses are meant to be a surprise. She asked about allergies, but other than that, the menu was one blank page, which is kind of exciting. We only had one choice, regarding the main course, which had to be chosen for the entire table: duck or venison (which, I did not know, is like a hunting type of meat). We chose the famous duck and embarked in the journey…
Our first course came in a little white box wrapped like a gift: black and white New York cookies. Except that they only looked like that. These buttery cookies were indeed savory, made of cheddar cheese and apple filling. They managed to make it look like it had black and white chocolate frosting by adding lots of butter. I don’t want to repeat this as I explain every course, but it is going to be hard to find different words to describe: so good and so special!
Since most of the courses are based on seafood, we decided to start drinking a white wine from Germany, fruity and light. The second course was an oyster from Maine with iced grape powder and vinegar, bulgur wheat and sorrel. The iced grape chips melted in our mouths. Super cold on a cold winter night.
Next on came a marinated beet salad with yogurt snow. The beets were thinly sliced, pickled, with nasturtium. The yogurt snow was so different and incredible! The rest of the party got a shrimp with marinated sturgeon and sea urchin.
The fourth course was one of the most amazing ones. One of those rare dishes that completely surprise you. It is divided in two parts. First is the smoked sturgeon saboyon with chive. It comes inside a perfectly cut egg, which, as we were explained, is made achieved with an egg cuter and scrapped from inside to remove the membranes. Absolutely amazing. Creamy, with so much lightness.
Then comes part two. But before that, I just need to point out one of those details that make this restaurant one of New York’s top ones: there is a special waiter that comes between each dishes to bring the proper silverware. Each dish has a different fork, knife or spoon, that was especially tailored for it. With this one came a tiny, beautiful nacre (mother of pearl) spoon.
The idea of this dish is a deconstructed sandwich, like if you went to a Lower East Side fish market to have a bagel. It’s all about the experience. The sturgeon came hidden amidst smoke. When the waiter opens it, you understand that it is being smoked inside it, with applewood coal bringing the perfect smell. This comes at the middle of the table, to share. With it, they serve caviar, meyerles lemon bavoroise (cream cheese gelatin with whipped cream), rye crisp toast and pickles. They also bring you a plate with a little salad, baby lettuce, quail egg and pickled onion, as well as bagel crumble. The idea is for each person to make their own little bagel sandwich, but fancy ones. Definitely one of the most memorable dishes!
After that, homemade rolls made with flour from Finger Lakes, upstate New York, and two types of butter: a normal one and duck fat butter (OMG!!!). The duck butter was indescribable. I could keep on eating that for a while… Before I finished eating all the bread, comes the dish itself: Hudson Valley foie gras terrine with truffled potatoes, balsamic vinegar, and greens. With caviar and foie gras, you can rarely go wrong…
Then one of the several waiters, who, as we found out, was Brazilian, brought the squash dish. They bring the entire squash, which is about to be opened to be perfectly “platted” into our beautiful dishes. Before bringing it to the table, the squash is opened and filled with rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. They then close it again with doe bread before putting it in the oven. After it is done, they bring it to the table to open it in front of us. This kabuchy squash smelled unbelievably amazing! It was though to wait for that one to come back to us again…
But since one of the main attractions came up next, it wasn’t really that hard… Our seventh dish was the famous carrot tartar. First someone comes to attach a meat grinder to out table. Then he brings the Hudson Valley carrots. Since carrots become sweater when it is colder, it was just the perfect season for them. They are cooked in the sous vide before being brought to our table. The waiter explains that just as several New York restaurants have a beef tartar dish, Eleven Madison Park has a carrot one. He starts grinding it, and then brings each of us a little portion in our incredible little carrot board.
The plate itself is plain stupefying. A wooden board with 9 little round plates, two little bottles and a bigger round part where he puts the tartar carrot. The idea is for each person to make their own tartar, playing and mixing with the ingredients as one pleases. The ingredients are: pickled quail egg yolk, mustard seeds, chives, dried and smoked bluefish, toasted sunflower seeds, grated horseradish, sea salt, fat radish and pear. The little bottles: spicy carrot vinaigrette and mustard seed oil. The chef recommends trying it without the spices first, and mixing them up afterwards. It was sooo good! And the best part is that, since we know exactly the ingredients, it is probably easier to replicate it at home (or not…).
By this point, it was time for a little entertaining break. We went to visit the kitchen. It was surprising to see how organized it was. We usually picture restaurant kitchens as a pretty chaotic environment. They have different sections for each type of course: fish, patisserie, meat, etc. We loved the long lamps that are used to heat up the dishes.
Next up was the striped truffled bass with broccoli rabe and garlic, with a blue foot mushroom sauce that someone throws while the dish is already at our table. The rest of the party had a maine lobster poached with Brussels sprouts and lemon sauce
The eight course is the squash that was shown to us before. Roasted squash with cranberry chutney with pumpkin seeds and Sourdough. It was delicious, but we must say, after having seen that huge squash, we were expecting a little more of it. But it was really delicious, and we could taste and smell the spices perfectly. Part of the dish was the bread doe used to seal the squash, really yummy!
Then comes the main course and one of Eleven’s most famous dishes: the 10 day aged duck with a honey, lavender, coriander and fennel seeds, turnips and huckleberry crust. It smells amazing!! They bring the entire duck to the table for us to see, in a beautiful old copper pot and decorated with lavender.
The dish itself comes as little ravioli filled with duck meat, a pinkish slice of the braised duck leg itself – and that amazing crust – and radish shell. Also, foie gras and potatoes. The cutest thing and mouthwatering.
The following course was my personal favorite. The idea behind it is to recreate Central Park. And of course, there is nothing that depicts Central Park better than a picnic!! They bring the table a picnic basket, and tell us they will not explain anything, in order for us to discover its pieces by ourselves. We take off the blue tablecloth and put it under the basket. We open the basket and there is a bottle of beer and four glasses, champagne grapes, pretzel, dijon mustard and a little wooden box. When we open the little box we found the most adorable surprise: it’s a cheese course! After we finish “unpacking”, the waiter comes to explain us that this is a cheese course from Murray’s Cheese (and, as I told you before, my absolute favorite place in NY)! It was a greensward cheese, and the beer is incorporated with the cheese, dijon mustard and pretzel. Absolutely perfect! Swept me off my feet…
After that, another show and surprise. The waitress brings a table to fix us a drink from the 30s called malt. First, she puts vanilla syrup on those four glasses. Then, whole milk. After that, a little drop of olive oil. To finish, the Seltzer water that gives it the foam. She mixes it and tells us to drink it quickly. It was the course that officially switched the tasting experience from savory to sweet. This was also one of my favorites, and reminded me of a drink my mom used to make me on cold winter nights.
The first desert was a honey crisp sorbet with Bay Leaf, creme brûlée and hibiscus. There creme brûlée had a salty crust that just made it amazing. Never ate one like that. It also had a green apple slice and some rhubarb. Then came the one desert that defines New York: cheesecake. But of course, it was a cheesecake with a twist. It was made with sweet potato, honey and chestnut.
Next, another show: the magic card game! The waitress came and explained that our next course had to be magically chosen for the entire table, and one person should be responsible for choosing it. Our friend volunteered, and the waitress showed us the deck of cards. Each card represented a different flavor, and we would get whatever flavor was chosen. She cut the deck and picked a card for each of us. When we uncovered the card, she asked us to remove the plate where the cheesecake stood and see what was under it: another plate with a chocolate on it! And, what was even more amazing, our card corresponded perfectly with the chocolate we received. Each had a different flavor: we got passion fruit, bourbon, blackberry and honey. It is said that the servers learned the trick from David Copperfield’s actual magic consultants. So cool!
As the second to last, chocolate covered pretzel with melted white chocolate from the Mast Brothers. We almost did not it the entire pretzel, since we were already so full, but we just had to. When you reached the middle, little sea salt mixed with chocolate (another of my favorite things to eat!).
It only made sense to finish these incredible meal exactly where we started: black and white cookies! Except that this time, they were cinnamon shortbread flavored. But they looked exactly the same!
They also brought us a bottle of apple brandy from a local distillery in California. They said we could drink as much as we wanted, but I dare the person who can drink more than a sip. The thing is super strong!!
After we finished, they brought us the menu. I thought it really sweet that they did personalize it, and printed each one exactly what they ate, thus explaining the different dishes I had to have due to my seafood allergies.
They also gave each couple at the table a granola jar for the next morning. Since I failed to get reservations to take my brother there, and since I could not share any of this amazing experience with him, it was only fair that I sent the granola bar to Brazil for him to taste it. He said it was delicious!
It’s all about the experience, and the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park recreated several typical New York experiences, as if you were touring each neighborhood and its history. The service was impeccable, the food, impossible to describe, so creative, a real experience. It lasted about 4 hours and costed a fortune, but it was worth both the time and the money. I can’t wait for the next time I will be able to go there again. Since they change the menu every season, the experience will at least be partly different. Definitely the best restaurant we’ve been to in New York. Plus, since we left pretty late, we got to meet amazing Chef Daniel Humm on our way out. Priceless!
- Environment: *****
- Service: *****
- Food: *****
- Presentation: *****
- Rating: *****
- Price: $$$$
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
Reservations through Open Table, opening 28 days before.