Last night, I may have eaten the most exquisite meal of my life. It’s a big statement, I know. But from unbelievable service to surprise courses to stunning flavors, our dinner at Eleven Madison Park exceeded even our highest expectations. Dining at Eleven Madison is a unique experience unlike any other I have had or even heard about, and you’ll soon see why! We owe a huge thank you to Foodbuzz and the 24 x 24 program for making this evening possible.
When we arrived at Eleven Madison Park or (EMP), we were warmly greeted. This was almost expected because everyone we had spoken to on the phone trying to reserve a table had been so friendly. We were shown to the bar while we waited for our table.
The bar area is very cool with a huge selection of liquors and stacks of old fashion bartender books in neat piles. The wine menu on the wall was made of little wood tiles, almost like a train schedule for wine.
I started with a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Frank had an A la Louisianne cocktail which was made with rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Before it was served the orange rind in the glass was lit on fire (sort of like Katniss)!
They also brought out a few little nibbles.
While we were enjoying our drinks, the floor manager came over and introduced himself and said that if there was anything we needed to simply ask. It’s very hard to describe the level of service at EMP. The service was friendly, but not overly formal, and yet unbelievably accommodating. The best I can do is to say that every single person working in the restaurant wanted to ensure we had the best evening imaginable, as if we were the only customers.
Our table was at the back of the restaurant and we shared one side of the table. This gave us a view of everything going on in the restaurant, as well as Madison Square Park outside.
We were given a hot cloth to refresh ourselves upon sitting.
Once we were settled in, the real excitement began!
EMP has a menu-style that I like to call “choose your own adventure dining.” The first time I saw this menu, I was a little shocked, take a look:
Unlike a traditional menu, you just select one ingredient from each line (with no additional description) and leave the rest in the hands of the chef! From the restaurant:
Our menu format is intended to offer an experience in which our guests can enjoy the inherent surprise of a tasting menu, while still maintaining some control. Dishes are listed solely by their principal ingredients, and guests are invited to make their selections, share any thoughts or preferences, including any ingredient dislikes, and allow us to design their meal from there.
I have to admit, I am not always the most adventurous person. I had to step a little outside my comfort zone, but in a way that was freeing and exciting! I actually love that the menu concept concentrates on just one ingredient and elevating it to the highest level.
After we selected our courses, we were asked our likes and dislikes. For me, I requested nothing with fennel or mushrooms including truffles and nothing too salty. I almost said my likes include Brussels sprouts, but decided to just let go and see what happened.
Before food, there were wine decisions to make. After a long conversation with the sommelier, we decided on a half bottle of white and a half bottle of red.
Soon after we ordered our wine, our first surprise came out:
A box of bite size black and white cookies. One of the fun things about the tasting menu at EMP is that they have lots of special dishes in addition to what you ordered. Many of them are new takes on NYC classics, such as Black and White Cookies!
This was a “savory” little cookie! It had a very intense flavor, almost like a rich cheese cracker!
Quail Eggs on toast crisps!
I told you I was prepared to be brave!!! I didn’t have too much to worry about – these tasted a lot like regular eggs.
Smoked Apple Soup with Thyme
This was almost like chicken soup. It had an intense flavor that almost reminded me of bacon, but it was really just the smokiness of the apple!!
Next up was two little bites, the first was a scallop with mustard seed.
The second was sashimi on plantain crisps. Both were light and delicious.
It was at this point I realized that we hadn’t even had our first course!!!
Dessert already? Kind of. This is the EMP take on fro yo!
Not quite 16 Handles, but interesting.
Little chickpea cakes!
I loved all the silverware at the restaurant,and believe me, there was a lot of re-setting throughout the night!
Oh, and here we are! One of the reasons I was so excited about this night, was because I am so happy that Frank ran his first half alone last weekend. I am very lucky that he takes interest in my hobbies (such as running). Now I just wish he wasn’t so much faster than me!!!
The bread came all tucked in (perhaps ready for a long night’s slumber). It was after 11PM at this point.
With two types of butter and fleur de sol.
I love the little details like the perfectly centered herb in the butter! So simple and yet, I wouldn’t have thought of it myself.
This warm little roll was sent straight from heaven. It was one of the best rolls I have ever consumed, and believe me I never pass on the bread basket. We were offered as much as we wanted, but I knew that I would never be able to get past the first course if I accepted that offer!
For our first course, we ordered:
Hamachi and cauliflower, these simple ingredients transformed into:
The cauliflower was turned into a cous cous that had black olive and an orange vinaigrette. Inside this pile was a delicious green parsley cream that mixed perfectly with the cauliflower. We both loved this dish.
Frank’s fish was served with a kale and olive oil sauce and rye crisps. The green sauce tasted a lot like green juice and was a stark contrast to the delicate fish.
Both plantains and lobster need very little to be delicious, so I was pretty excited to see what they did with these.
The plantain was left to shine and the garnishes only elevated it! Along with the seared plantain there was black-eyed pea and ham with a smoky au jus-type sauce. The black-eyed peas were a combination of half fried and half steamed. I noticed this technique used a few times over the course of the evening. It’s amazing how two different textures really make a big impact on the flavor.
Frank had the lobster, which had a very ethereal presentation, but was perfectly cooked and incredibly sweet.
For our main dishes we chose:
The chicken was simply roasted with sides of apple braised kale and cabbage and a slightly crunchy quinoa. This felt like a holiday,it would actually be fairly easy to create at home. In addition to a roast chicken,you would just need to braise kale and cabbage in a sweet red wine vinegar and apple and serve it with a lightly toasted quinoa. The ingredients worked together perfectly!
Frank had a perfectly cooked piece of filet with tiny little fingerling potatoes and an a burgundy sauce.
It was then time for dessert!!
Before our selections came out, there were more a la NYC surprises!
A take on the NYC egg cream made tableside.
The egg cream was made with orange infused syrup, chocolate infused milk and topped with seltzer.
Frank loved this!!!
The other NYC treat was a decomposed strawberry cheesecake. It was light and refreshing!
And finally…our dessert selections, chocolate and milk
I was asked if I preferred milk or dark chocolate, and the truth is I prefer the former.
Here it is milk and chocolate. There is a light olive oil swirl in the milk and chocolate sorbet buried under the chocolate crumbs.
Frank got the “milk,” which was a dash of ice cream surrounded by crunchy delights including walnuts.
But believe it or not, it wasn’t over! We were presented with yet another mystery box!
It contained the sweet version of the Black and White cookies we began with. We took it home because we couldn’t fit in another bite! However, just in case we didn’t feel like cooking breakfast the next day, we received a mason jar of granola on our way out the door!
Like everything we had last night, the granola is both simple, yet unexpected. In fact, you can try it for yourself, the recipe is at the end of the post!
As I said, I didn’t really know what to expect, except the unexpected—and that’s what I got! I was overwhelmed by how much care the staff took to make the experience special. I loved the little touches, like the NYC themed cookies and egg cream. A few of the surprise courses were a bit more exotic than I would order on my own, but I am happy that I tried everything.
This meal really showed me how to to take one ingredient and make it shine. I think it’s a fun way to think about recipe planning, to focus on just one item and building from there. It was fun to have EMP custom build our menu based on what we liked. If we had specified, vegetarian or dairy free, I am sure they would have accommodated us. In fact, vegetables are stars on the EMP menu, you can take a look at a few of their notable vegetable recipes here!
I want to once again thank Foodbuzz for this wonderful opportunity! We won’t have a meal this special again in a long time!
Eleven Madison Park Granola (recipe courtesy of the NYTimes)
2 3⁄4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1/3 cup pumpkinseeds
1 tablespoon salt
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3⁄4 cup dried sour cherries.
1. Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkinseeds and salt.
2. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.
4. Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups.