When you are on your way to one of the world’s best restaurants a number of things go through your mind. For me, normally whether I can afford it, and will it dish up what I hope for.
This time around I had one main measuring stick, Columbus Circle’s Per Se. The walk from our friends place in Chelsea was short but very sweet. And in the park, the line at the Shake Shack was 200 metres long already (at least).
I know a fair number of people who’ve eaten at Eleven Madison Park and my expectations were tempered. It was my last day with Catherine before the World Cup, so good company was guaranteed!
The entry is not spectacular which straight away eases the pressure and intimidation that you can feel at such a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, the Art Deco entry is pretty cool. It is also below Credit Suisse which offsets the ease a little! The staff throughout were as you would expect at a three Michelin star restaurant if you are ticking off the good aspects. What we didn’t expect from the staff was the ease they put us at. Three or four very relevant and clear, but uncommon questions, and a few explanations were absolutely so juxtaposed to the stuff you get at many fine diners that we knew we were up for something not just special but magnificent.
And then came the food!
My main measurement of great restaurants is firstly not having any “misses” in a degustation – tick. Next comes new flavours and some surprises – tick, tick, tick. After that comes the fun, theatre, company, and a bill that is either commensurate or close to what you just experienced – all ticks.
The fun and theatre is epitomised by Eleven’s take on Katz Deli’s classic pastrami on rye. I love Katz’s but Eleven takes it to a level only a master could attempt. The pastrami itself is melt-in-the-mouth! Along with the sandwich is a surprise that I’ll leave to you to experience. Then there’s the picnic basket for cheese course – in this case you are constructing while laughing at how fun and elaborate the thought process for the chefs must be.
There is the joy of seeing the whole roasted duck with lavender stuffing. Which then is hastily, but very effectively, served to you with gorgeous accompanying rhubarb compote, and lavender jus. Remarkable. The best “main” or more correctly “finishing savoury” dish I’ve had at one of these multi course degustations.
I like the beginning that takes you to a number of flavours and influences, but not all in one mouthful. Bowls of all sorts of deliciousness to begin. From the combination of Beluga Caviar and baked potato ice cream, to the English peas.
Seared (my choice) or terrine, foie gras is offered. The rocket purée is not my favourite but the foie gras is perfect. There is nothing that is ordinary or used as a filler throughout the meal.
One of the themes of your meal (which you decide at the beginning) is used to great effect. In my case, coffee is used as a sauce for the stunning Bombe Alaska. I love how the staff talk you through the history of the dish – educational and incredible.
Another education is the Waldorf salad. Made in front of you, the waitperson explains the history of the classic you are about to eat, before lifting up your plate reveals the modern Eleven take on the classic which is obscenely well put together – linked by a perfect purée of celery.
The sommelier is helpful with the wines and our usual option is to have a glass with every couple of courses. What was nice is you speak about the style you like and they play with it from there. You are also asked for a budget in a completely unpretentious way – and what’s more is they stick to it!
The wine selections for me were great. I asked for unusual varieties I may have not tried that will go well with a couple of courses in a row. In particular the Austrian Nueburger with the Waldorf was fantastic. Catherine asked for some classics based around Chardonnay for white and Shiraz for red – again the wines were beautifully selected.
There was a lobster course, an asparagus and truffle course, chocolate covered pretzels with sea salt, and black and white cookies to begin and finish (savoury and sweet). It sounds like a lot of food (and it was) but it wasn’t in excess and we felt great throughout the meal. The timing of delivery had to have been well thought through because we didn’t once feel the need to slow it down as we often do.
Which brings me to dessert. The whey sorbet with caramelised milk and milk foam looked beautiful but not unique. Just like the rest of the meal, the great presentation was usurped by the flavour. Balance of sweetness, richness and lasting flavour. The caramel in particular a triumph. Then our waitperson presented a perfect dome of Bombe Alaska. Mouth’s watering, the dome is whisked away and brought back out in a much more reasonable portion, covered with our choice of sauce. It has ruined Bombe Alaska for me forever. Well, until the next time we are back at Eleven!
Spectacular in every sense of the word, Eleven Madison Park is a stunning example of how good restaurants can be. The lengths the staff and creators have gone to are best shown in the ease at which greatness is executed. Experience tells me that I cannot understate how special this dining experience is.