Eleven Madison Park, April 20, 2006
On Tuesday, my Aunt Eileen called me having just come back from their place on Melrose, an exclusive island off of Hilton Head accessible only by boat, and asked to take my wife and me out for dinner. At first she suggested Union Square Cafe. I'd been once previously, but before I started my blog - so I was happy about that. Unfortunately reservations were impossible to come by.
She then tried Gramercy Tavern, which would have been great for the same reason as USC. But that got nixed when traffic coming in from NJ because of a nasty brushfire delayed her arrival to the city. They couldn't extend our reservation.
So she called back and said, let's go to Eleven Madison Park. Again, an exciting opportunity because a) I love the restaurant and go as often as I can b) I haven't been there since the menu and Chef changed and c) it was close enough to home and Danna's work to be able to get her to make it on time as well.
Let me just say that the menu and food is completely different under the helm of Daniel Humm compared to Kerry Heffernan. Not sure if it's better, but it is definitely more over the top - similar to what reports of Gilt have been saying.
I think we received twice as much food as we'd ordered. Maybe more. Let us count the ways.
The first series of amuses included probably the best dish of the night: a "miso soup" spoonful of foie gras creme brulee. Yeah, it was as good (if not better) than what you can imagine. Perfectly decadent and unbelievably tasty. Seriously, this was the best thing I ate all night. That was 1/5 of our FIRST amuses. At the same time we were given gougeres (the only hint of the Heffernan Eleven Madison Park) , Kumomoto oysters with avocado puree, a scallop topped with caviar, and a goat cheese and cheddar crisp or something like that. All were quite good.
The second amuse was a sea urchin soup with sea urchin foam (lots of foam tonight) and a mini peeky-toe crab salad with tiny slivers of zucchini keeping it together and topped with snappy flying fish roe. Wuh wuh wuh. The sea urchin was delicious. Perhaps my second favorite dish of the night. Oh it also came with a meyer lemon bread stick. That was just okay.
Our first courses arrived sometime after all of this food. Aunt Eileen had the house salad, which was a huge amount of greens. A bit too much for anyone. The bread on the table as well as the accompanying maple leaf-shaped butter sat forlorn at one end of the table knowing we wouldn't even get to it. I've had it before...and its usually very good, but we knew it wasn't in the cards to try this evening. Both Danna and I ordered the Provence white asparagus veloute with lobster and applewood smoked bacon. It was very foamy but quite tasty. The portion size was just right considering how much food we were given throughout the night. But if it were an a la carte dish, I'd have felt cheated. The lobster was just right but the bacon essence wasn't as strong as I thought it would be. If the foam wasn't included (not sure it was necessary), this would and probably should have been poured tableside from a copper pot.
For our entrees, Danna ordered the seared daurade with artichokes and provencal flavors. This looked delicious. Aunt Eileen had the duo of natural veal with spring vegetables and tarragon. This dish was served and then the waiter poured some jus and herbal sauce into the bowl. Not pretentous at all - but also a similar activity to the former EMP ways. My camera isn't the best, but the lighting was giving off a yellowish-green glow. Danna's entree hardly came out at all in the photo, so I've neglected to include it. Here is my aunt's dish. This dish looked like something you'd get at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
I ordered the poached, milk-fed poularde with parsnips and black truffles. The dish got better toward the end. I think the truffles, of which a thin layer was put beneath the dermis of the poularde as well as minced and in a broth underneath the bird, had a chance to meld with it. Poached expertly and certainly tasty but probably not something I'd order again. I'm still perplexed by the avocado puree that came with it. It added nothing to the dish but confusion.
After our entrees, we were given a dessert amuse. This included a passion fruit beignet and a chocolate cappucino with some sort of ice cream in it. My goodness. The beignet exploded with flavor and the crisp coolness of the chocolate dessert really woke up one's senses. Wow.
Again, the photos really suffer from the poor lighting. Neither Danna's or my aunt's photos came out very good. Danna got the Chocolate Banana Souffle with peanut butter ganache and roasted banana ice cream - this also came with a chocolate sauce you were instructed to pour over the dishes at will. My aunt got the Sheepsmilk yogurt cheesecake with roasted pineapple, kafir lime and kili pepper shortbread. She loved it, and I can see why. Nicole Kaplan, the pastry chef at EMP does wonders. A true star at the restaurant and throughout the city. My dessert, chocolate-caramel tart with chocolate pudding, caramel popcorn and caramel ice cream was also a winner though the tart's cake-like piece was a little dry. The chocolate pudding had little "coco-puff" balls (like chocolate caviar) on top of the pudding. Yum.
Of course we wouldn't leave with only that. They served petit fours as well. This included a tootsie roll of sorts, a chocolate crown with chocolate-cherry sauce topped with gold leaf, a quince-like gelee, a chocolate tart with crumbled pistachio and a meringe thingy. Too much food. That didn't stop me from trying the gelee thing, the chocolate crown and the tart. These were fine but nothing really all that special.
Overall it was a very good dining experience. Dale was our waiter again and did a fantastic job of doing what was needed to be done without ever being intrusive. Truly flawless service on his part. One of the servers though, had such a thick accent and spoke so quickly (and I don't think was as educated on the food as he could be) that it was a bit difficult to understand his descriptions. We just asked again if we needed to.
I would be interested to see what Frank Bruni would give this restaurant. My guess would be 2 stars though I think it deserves (something the NY Times doesn't recognize) 2 1/2 stars. It's not quite an experience as you might get at Country but the room and service are probably equal to it. In any event, it was very good and a lot of fun to catch up with my wonderful aunt.