Sunday, January 30, 2011

Just Another Spectacular Dinner at Eleven Madison Park (food)

I've mentioned many times before that Eleven Madison Park is my favorite restaurant in New York City. In fact, my review of their lunch has been the most popular post on the blog by far. Here is my review of our spectacular dinner there last week, where we went all out by ordering the new tasting menu as well as adding the signature off-menu duck.

In addition to the fabulous food and great service, I really love the dining room here. The large spacious room has beautiful high ceilings, tall windows, and a beautiful view of the park.

Here is a picture of the centerpiece in the middle and the large windows staring out into the snowy night. This was the last picture I took before I was asked not to use flash. For the food pictures the rest of the night, I did what I could, but increased the brightness after the fact for most of them. They might not have come out as clearly as I would have liked, but I hope that the beauty of the food presentations comes through.

I had been looking forward to the meal for so long that I dug right in and forgot to take pictures of the gougeres and the first selection of canapes.

HALIBUT with dashi and seaweed lavash
First came crisp and light lavash flatbread flavored with seaweed accompanied by a cup of dashi with a sprig of herbs and a piece of halibut fume. The smoky fish taste worked well with the umami-filled dashi and did a good job opening up the taste buds for what was to come.

MONKFISH loin with lemon and scallion
This was served on a rice cracker and I really liked how the puffed up texture worked with the texture of the ceviche-style piece of loin.

MONKFISH torchon of liver with apple and curry
The apple was terrific here to balance out the fatty fish liver torchon, but I wasn't sold on the combination of apple and curry.

MIREPOIX carrot celery and onion
This was for my friend DC who couldn't have the fish liver. I think there was some truffle or herb flavor added as well. But seriously, who doesn't love the flavors of a mirepoix?

SEA URCHIN toast with foie gras and lemon
This was absolutely wonderful. The meyer lemon puree and sea urchin worked terrifically together, and provided just enough brininess and acidity to handle the rich chilled foie gras mixture. For those who might be worried that the foie overpowers the sea urchin, I would say that there is a little bit of that, but the sea urchin still comes through.

MANGO pickled with brioche toast
DC said this was good, but I don't think he was swooning like we were over the foie and sea urchin one.

SMOKED STURGEON sabayon with chive oil
I've had this a few times before and it continues to be very good. Just a wonderful combination of the smokiness of the sturgeon, the warmth and earthiness of the chive oil, and the rich yet slightly acidic sabayon. Remember to mix the chive oil at the bottom thoroughly if you get this!

CAVIAR fingerling potato and creme fraiche
A classic combination presented here using a chilled fingerling potato as the vehicle.

BLACK TRUFFLE beignet with black truffle remoulade
Fried dough completely covered with black truffle aroma and taste. Mixing it with the remoulade added a lovely creaminess to round out the bite. Delicious and smart.

A picture of the remoulade, with an additional bit of truffle on top. This was the last of the canape courses, which were served in five waves and consisted of eight individual bites.

LANGOUSTINE ceviche with celery, apple and lime
The lime and celery in the broth allowed the freshness and flavor of the raw langoustine to come out, but it was the cold apple snow which added an extra texture and temperature dimension that made the dish stand out.

RADICCHIO tardivo with buffalo mozzarella and mango
What a beautiful and fresh looking presentation. I didn't have any, but there were certainly no complaints coming from DC.

Bread service remains the same with a baguette and a picholine olive bread.

The wonderful goats' milk butter. Once again we asked for more and polished it off.

CARROT roasted with dates, cumin and wheat berries
I liked how the sweetness of the dates and other components brought out the earthy side of the carrot, which was tender yet firm and not mushy. This was a terrific bridge between the cold refreshing first course and the subsequent savory fish course.

JOHN DORY with pickled daikon radish, dehydrated citrus, and edamame
This lighter, more colorful preparation was for DC due to his dietary restrictions for subsequent courses.

JOHN DORY seared with celery, artichoke, and black truffles
We had this heavier, earthier preparation of the john dory, which was lovely with the firm meaty fish. They replaced the john dory with striped bass and used the same preparation for DC's next course, and he loved it just as much as we did.

VEAL blanquette with winter vegetables and smoked bone marrow
The veal was tasty and the jus was rich, but what really made this dish for me was the wonderful selection of winter vegetables and the smoked bone marrow which added a depth of flavor and a variety of textures to the dish as a whole.

LAMB roasted with vadouvan, lady apples and puntarella
Although I love all the individual components of vadouvan spice, I'm really not a big fan. It worked in this dish because the combination of those spices with garlic, tender lady apples, and the bitterness from the puntarella came together nicely for me. The lamb was cooked perfectly I thought, although I know people who prefer their lamb bloody.

Here was our beautiful roasted duck being brought tableside to be carved. The secret is the dry-aging, which concentrates the flavor and allows the skin to become really crisp during roasting while the fat cooks down.

Here our server expertly carves out the breast. I asked about the other parts of the duck, and our server said that due to the dry aging process, the dark meat parts become very very gamey.

DUCK roasted with kumquats and turnips
Speechlessly wonderful. The kind where everyone just concentrates on the food and stops talking. The kumquats were nice and sweet and provided a good balance, but they weren't really necessary. Just close your eyes and savor the concentrated flavor of the duck with a few sips of lovely red wine. The crispy skin almost becomes overkill. DC compared it to having duck ages ago at La Tour D'Argent.

KIR ROYALE cassis, lemon, champagne
It seems to be a common theme that the predessert here at Eleven Madison Park is based off of familiar drinks. Besides this kir royale, I've had variations of a malted milkshake and strawberries and champagne before. It's a refreshing take, but truly nothing new in terms of flavors.

CHOCOLATE ganache with butternut squash and maple
This was good, and I liked pairing the chocolate ganache ribbons with the butternut sqush sorbet, which I thought was an innovative approach that worked. That being said, I continue to feel that the desserts are the weakest part of the Eleven Madison Park experience. I don't think they need to do the four or five courses of dessert tastings like at other top tier places, but I feel that they're caught in an awkward in-between spot. I've read that they do a terrific souffle, so maybe a solution would be to focus on classic desserts and just excel in the execution.

Mignardises included chocolate covered banana ice cream pops on the right, and something I don't remember on the left, except that I didn't really like it.

There was also peanut brittle and violet macarons. I thought these were fine, but nothing extraordinary, and certainly nothing novel. I thought the mignardises I had on previous visits were much better.

I enjoy good wine and appreciate its flavors as well as how it enhances good food. But I would not call myself a true connoisseur, and so I include pictures of the two wines we had, expertly chosen by DC, which were both splendid and delicious.

In all, it was just another spectacular meal at EMP. The portions are more in line with tasting menu portions I've had at other high end places, whereas the old gourmand menu seemed a little too overindulgent for some. The canapes have improved significantly in my mind compared to when they first rolled out the new menu. At the current price point of $195+t/t per person with a $30 per person supplement for the duck, there is value here, but not the outright bargain the gourmand menu once was. Still, it is roughly three quarters the cost of a meal at Per Se, which I think offers the closest in terms of dining experience.


Anonymous said...

if you open up the light exposure on your camera (I'm presuming it's a point & shoot) you'll get brighter, better quality pictures AND you won't have to keep pulling the candle over for light. I speak from experience. So roam through your camera's function options and give it a try.

donuts4dinner said...

EMP and Per Se are both on my must-have list for the year, though I'm a little disappointed that you think the quality has diminished here. The carrot dish actually looks the best to me, but that duck is pretty impressive.

The Pretender said...

I think both EMP and Per Se are must-have dining experiences. I think you will enjoy them both tremendously.

I don't think I said that the quality has diminished. The value may have diminished some because of the higher price tag and the new format, but the quality of the food is as stellar as always. The sweets have always been the weakest part of their repertoire so that's not new either. But I understand your concern given that you like donuts for dinner.