Sunday, 12 January 2014

Foodie Abroad: Eleven Madison Park

They say that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, and up until a couple of weeks ago, I may well have believed them.  But let me tell you, beloved blog readers, there is no place in the world guaranteed to make you happier than a trip to Eleven Madison Park.

Let's face it, a surprise trip to New York is always likely to put you in a good mood.  But there is no way D could book such a trip without throwing in a decent birthday lunch.  EMP has no less than three Michelin stars and pops us in the top ten of the "World's Best" list, so good pedigree.  However, what attracted him to this place over the other swanky NYC locations (of which there are undoubtedly many) was the restaurant's ethos, which tends towards the localism approach becoming increasingly popular in the high end restaurant world.  In other words, food inspired by a sense of place.

Most of the ingredients we enjoyed during our lunch were sourced from New York state and some, like the beer which accompanied the cheese course, were created especially for the restaurant itself.  So that's great.  But as well as place there were some real nods to tradition and nostalgia in amongst the courses - black and white cookies, sturgeon and cream cheese on rye, egg creams...These were dishes that were rooted in the city itself, scattered throughout the menu like little love notes to New York. 

Of course, localism and nostalgia are all very well and all very interesting to read about.  But unless food can deliver in terms of taste as well then they are ultimately empty gestures.  EMP didn't so much deliver as present to us in personalised, hand wrapped, be-ribboned boxes and give us a foot massage while we ate.  It was that good.  There was not so much as an element of a dish, not a single leaf of a garnish that was not perfectly judged and an absolute joy to eat.  It was, I think, one of the only times in my life that I have looked back on a meal and felt genuinely sad that I would never get to eat it again. 

Some courses were quirkier than others.  A personal favourite was the carrot tartare which was basically a steak tartare only with carrot.  No, really.  Carrots, lightly cooked in stock and butter were put through a hand mincer at the table and then presented with a range of traditional accompaniments such as raw, lightly pickled egg yolk, horseradish, salt, mustard seeds...The diner then mixes the carrot up and spreads the resultant gloop on thin, rye melba toasts.  It sounds like it should be style over substance but it was ridiculously delicious. 

And talking of fiendishly tasty vegetables, what that kitchen could do with a humble squash!  Paired with chanterelles, cranberries and pumpkin seeds, this was squash as you have never tasted before.  Even D, famously dubious of vegetables, was prepared to lick the plate for this one.

Don't think the kitchen couldn't rise to the challenge of cooking meat beautifully as well though.  The main course duck was a thing of true beauty - and a side dish of braised leg, foie gras and mashed potato (essentially a very posh duck Shepherds' Pie) was ambrosial.
And desserts as well.  Sometimes this is where really good restaurants trip up - it was certainly my least favourite section of the Noma menu, for example.  Not here.  Here, from the sour sweet apple sorbet that accompanied the crème brulee tart, to the chocolate covered pretzels that made an appearance alongside excellent coffee, the pudding end of the menu more than held its own.

A word about the service as well.  D, being a typical Englishman does not believe in making a fuss about birthdays.  He happened to mention once, very briefly, during an email exchange, that he wanted a table for his wife's birthday - mainly because he needed to know when exactly to phone to book a precise date.  He thought no more about it.  I asked if I should expect a cake.  He snorted and said he'd stick a candle in a cupcake for me later in the week.  However.  The restaurant picked up on the comment.  Not only did several members of staff wish me a happy birthday when we arrived, but we also got the chance to visit the kitchen and enjoy a birthday cocktail (made with liquid nitrogen, natch) and I received a little box of birthday truffles (PB & J!!) to take away.  My point is that all three Michelin star restaurants will provide immaculate service.  EMP took it one step beyond.  It was exemplary. 

As I said, Disneyland has been ousted as the happiest place on Earth.  I don't think I have ever quite so whole heartedly recommended a restaurant before, and if I never do again then I will still consider myself an extremely lucky girl.  If you ever find yourself in NYC then do whatever you can to get a table here (and if there's a seat going then I have a kidney that I'd be perfectly willing to sell so that I could pop over and join you).

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave,
New York, NY 10010,
United States
+1 212-889-0905

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! That post just brimmed over with your remembered fizzy, excitement and joy at the experience. It was a joy to read too (although not as tasty). Smiling for you.

    L xx