Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dinner at Eleven Madison Park (food, MomVisit09)

Barely eight days have passed since the Pascal Barbot at Ko dinner, and we've already had a meal that surpassed it. In fact, I think this may have been the best meal I've ever had. We ordered the 11-course gourmand tasting menu. It's tailored to be a personal taste experience, so I specifically requested to have his lobster, suckling pig rack, and suckling pig confit be courses featured in the meal. These are items that Chef Humm is known for and they did not disappoint. In fact, nothing did.

I have always loved the space with its high ceilings and large windows. We sat in an alcove in the far inside corner of the restaurant. They did a really smart thing in putting mirrors on the wall there. I didn't feel like I was staring at the wall all evening and managed to see all the action going on behind me, including the carving of the duck, which they now do table-side.

Service has always been an important feature of Danny Meyer restaurants, and the service here was just perfect. They have a huge and knowledgeable staff and all our questions were answered. Among the little things that I thought brought the service up to an even higher level included the fact that everyone was soft-spoken, and that when I walked around the establishment to stretch every now and again, the staff would make eye contact and smile.

But let's get to the food.
Gougeres. Warm and cheesy. Yum.
Assortment of hors d'oeuvre. From left, manila clam tart, jelly with foie gras, cucumber with balik (smoked salmon), fried coronet with sweetbread filling, and butter-dipped radish. I've had these before and they always come with dinner at EMP. The coronet is probably the tastiest while the clam tart had a lot of clam flavor.
The first course was served in a caviar tin. Hmmm, I wonder what's in it?

There was also this plate of deliciously warm and melty blinis that were replenished even before we finished them.

Oooh, caviar!
The first course was sterling royal caviar over panna cotta with columbian river sturgeon and lobster gelee. This was absolutely delicious and all the flavors and textures blended perfectly.

Next up were liquid spheres. Chef Humm's take on insalata caprese. The white sphere contained liquid mozzarella while the translucent one contained basil and tomato water. Both were refreshing, and when asked, we were told that the skin of the spheres was made by combining two chemical compounds the names of which I've since forgotten.

Part of our next course was a tomato cloud.

As well as tomato confit on the left and a tomato sorbet on the right. Accompanying the tomato sorbet was some fried pistachio which was an awesome flavor and texture combination. How does one come up with these things? We've eaten a lot of tomato lately, especially with the Blue Hill at Stone Barns dinner, but these were all really good and were a great showcase of the chef's skill.
Oh wait, there's more? Underneath the tomato foam were peeled whole cherry tomatoes.
Santa Barbara sea urchin cappuccino with pieces of peekytoe crab and cauliflower (our menu said cauliflower, although it tasted like apple when I ate this) inside. This was served in a porcelain bowl made out of a sea urchin shell mold. This was frothy, rich, buttery, oceany, and decadent as expected. I wished they fashioned an ear to attach to this bowl so that I could just pick it up and drink every last drop like a coffee cappuccino.

Next was foie gras mille-feuille with greenmarket plums, umeboshi, and bitter almonds. The plums worked well with the foie gras and this beautiful dish was good, but perhaps with all the crazy high end eating of late I've become a little jaded with foie gras.

I am mostly a pinot noir drinker, so even though there was no red meat, I chose one to accompany our main courses. I don't recall the name of this, but I remember that it was a 1995, and that it smelled wonderful and was really earthy. It even came in this special huge wine glass. Check out the comparison with the water glass.

Seared Atlantic halibut in a sweet corn nage with summer radishes, purslane, and dehydrated corn on top. We were both surprised at how perfectly cooked the fish was, almost like it had been steamed.

Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster with lemon verbena and flavors of ratatouille. Perfectly cooked lobster was sweet and tender while the vegetables were a great addition. However, I think I still prefer the lobster I had here last time that came with a meyer lemon puree.

Gold foil and egg shell. Had this been served earlier in the meal, I would have guessed some sort of eggs and caviar dish. Instead, this was Everglades frogs' legs with black truffles and vin jaune sabayon. I'm not a big sabayon person, but the frog legs were very sweet and full of umami.

This was an extra course that supposedly the chef is still experimenting with but really loves. Smoked suckling pig belly (BACON!!!) with slices of truffle and truffle puree. It came in a glass dome that was filled with smoke so that when they lifted the lid a waft of the smoke came rushing out. This was beautifully earthy and rich and I hope it's on the menu soon so that everyone can enjoy this dish. My reaction to every bite was "Wow."
Suckling pig rack with summer beans, tomato confit, olives and savory. A perfectly crisp piece of skin on top. The meat was full of flavor, and there was more of it than we first expected. The beans were lovely and the crunch went well with the perfectly tender meat.

Suckling pig confit with apricot and baby leeks. The top layer was again beautifully crisp skin, covering juicy and flavorful meat which matched well with the apricot. Absolutely delicious and rightfully one of his signature dishes.

Next was the cheese course, but we opted to substitute it with a fresh fruit course instead. We didn't take a picture, but there were figs, blueberries, strawberries, slices of apple, pineapple, and whatever else I've forgotten.

Our first dessert course was "strawberries and champagne". A strawberry sorbet and champagne emulsion and a sugar tuile. Nice, light, and fresh.

The menu says Jivara chocolate moelleux with vanilla, olive oil, and cocoa raspberry sorbet. I looked up moelleux and it's supposed to be a muffin/cake which this clearly isn't. It was more of a ganache. I'm not a big chocolate person but chocolate and raspberry is a good combination and the chocolate was dense without being too heavy.

Macaroons to end the meal, I forget which flavors were which, but I remember black sesame, chocolate plum, and peaches and cream. Nice, not too sweet.

They also offered us some cognac, and just left the bottle on the table for us to finish our meal as we liked.
We each got to take home a copy of the menu fit into a caviar tin and a box of mignardises fruit jellies.

In total, we were there for 5 hours! I've had many high quality meals and tastings before, but I feel that this was the best fully composed 8+ course meal I've ever had. Many places have tasting menus where it really is about tastes. You taste something, it's novel, you wouldn't want to eat a lot of it, and you move on. Or you taste something and you really want to eat more of it, but they only give you a sliver. The gourmand menu at Eleven Madison Park does not suffer from this problem. It gave me a very satisfying feeling not only of tasting the chef's genius but also of having a full warm meal in my belly. The price pre-t/t was $175pp for the gourmand menu and $34 for my special glass of wine, which is just a really good deal for this quality and amount of food.


ellenost said...

Great report! Beautiful photos. Glad you enjoyed EMP more than Pascal Barbot (especially since I missed Pascal Barbot and love EMP's Gourmand menu!)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a meal!!! Did not know anybody other than Russians eat blini and caviar. Live and learn.