It's taken me ages to write this up because it was always going to be a long one! However, after sorting through my pictures, I decided they paint a thousand words (bloody good job too!). So I've decided to keep the waffle to a minimum and let you enjoy the show that was Eleven Madison Park.
The story started in drizzly Manchester at the Indy Man Beer Con 2013. This was the day that I had to make the phone call Stateside to book our table. What's great about this place is that unlike the methods of Noma, The French Laundry and The Fat Duck, once the lines are open, you get put in a queue. No redialling a thousand times (yes, we have done that...), but you can be on hold for quite some time... Forty-five minutes in the damp Victoria Baths gardens and I was through... We were going to Eleven Madison Park.
Fast forward... I had packed a pretty floral frock for the occasion, with pastel pumps - not a chuffing chance. New York experienced an unexpected cold snap so bitter that I'm sure bits were falling off left, right and centre! Suitable attire located, we walked from our hotel on 56th to 11 Madison Avenue, playground of those Mad Men and lots of pigeons.
First impressions: A modern dining room with a little old fashioned glamour. All the staff seemed quite young, and there appeared to be a genuine air of excitement when greeting diners. We perused the drinks menus, only to nearly give ourselves heart failure at the words 'Pliney the Elder' - a beer so rare I may be so bold as to liken it to rocking horse excrement - but alas no... it was a cocktail named after Russian River's special brew. Cheeky. They know their beer...
I defrosted with a warming ginger cocktail whilst my husband enjoyed sampling their extensive beer menu. He started with a Icculus Kolsch by Barrier Brewing, before opting for the Duchessic Ale by Birra del Borgo as we moved to the dining room.
Cheddar - savoury black and white cookie with apple: Two savoury biscuits with a sharp apple tang.
Oyster - grapes, bulgur wheat and sorrel: I normally detest the untrustworthy texture and salty taste of oysters, but this was to die for. Very delicate, very cold.
Shrimp - marinated sea urchin, foie gras and chervil: Reminiscent of some of the Scandinavian dishes I have sampled. Again, very light with a definite sharp edge.
Sturgeon - sabayon with chive oil, smoked with everything bagel crumble, pickles and caviar: A glass bell-cloche is lifted to reveal the most delicate scented smoke. I'm a real fan of finger food that you build at the table. This was a show that Heston would have been proud of, albeit a little more modern.
Bread and butters: The bread is very much like a tightly packed croissant; rich and buttery. The accompanying butters were a mix of churned cow's milk and duck fat varieties.
Hot foie gras option - seared with oats, sage and apple: A thick slab of foie on a bed of rich porridge.
Cold foie gras option - terrine with plum and bitter almond: Almost dessert-like, the plum made this version much sweeter.
Carrot - tartare with rye bread and condiments: 2013 must have been the year of the DIY tartare! The carrots were pureed at the table (great relief when no fingers were mulched...) and came served with lots of little pots containing condiments, drizzles and relishes. Very fresh yet very tasty!
Lobster - poached with Brussels sprouts and guanciale: Extremely rich but again had sharp elements to prevent it being overkill at the half way point.
Squash - roasted with cranberries, pumpkin seeds and sourdough: We were the first table to have this delivered, to the tune of many oohs and ahhs. Thanksgiving was just around the corner, and every doorway and shop window had donned their season squash as decorations. Perfect seasonal produce with an artistic flair.
Venison - grilled with pearl onion and chanterelles, roasted with pears and sunchokes: This is actually roasted inside hollowed out charcoal for extra depth of flavour.
Greensward, pretzel, mustard and champagne grapes: This was the bit I was looking forward to the most... the picnic basket! It arrived packed with goodies, including a Picnic Basket wheat ale specially brewed by Ithaca, a wooden box containing the greensward cheese and other goodies to accompany them. We particularly liked the Eleven Madison Park penknife - the devil's in the detail...
Malt - egg cream with vanilla and seltzer: mixed before your very eyes... this sweet drink was the pick-me-up I needed at this stage!Apple - sorbet with bay leaf, crème brûlée and hibiscus: Although this was very sweet, the hibiscus and apple with their varying textures made it feel very light.
Sweet potato - cheesecake with honey and chestnut: The perfect balance between sweet and savoury.
I don't want to reveal too much about the chocolates, but I'm fairly confident there is some sort of witchcraft going on here.Coffee - Chemex Pot: Created by Peter Schumlbohm in 1941, this method was designed to give the perfect cup of coffee. The Chemex pots are exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art - and yes, it was that good!
Pretzel - chocolate covered with sea salt: Even when you think you can't eat another thing, you find yourself chomping on a pretzel and sipping apple brandy like a trooper! They leave the brandy at the table, probably because they know you have very little physical space left in your stomach.Chocolate - sweet black and white cookies with cinnamon: A sweet version of those we started with.
A trip to the kitchen for damson gin cocktails: After a quick tour round the kitchen we were treated to some very refreshing gin cocktails sprinkled with violet dust, made using liquid nitrogen. Needless to say brain freeze was in order! Stunning.
San Pellegrino awards, but it's more than that. What made this a truly memorable experience was the fantastic hospitality, and the genuine buzz of excitement as each dish was delivered.
We spent some time with the general manager chatting about our food related plans for the rest of the trip, and my husband's love of beer. We were given a copy of their restaurant magazine, which focused on beer in the most recent issue.
We talked about their bond with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn, whose tweet led us to discover Betony. We had no idea that it was a chef from Eleven Madison Park who left to start his own venture.
It's not the kind of place you can visit on a whim because places are so sought after, however it's one of those restaurants that is truly world class. It's refreshing to see the young blood boldly delivering delicious dishes with an element of fun. They don't take themselves too seriously, but their critics sure as hell do.
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