I write a good amount about Eleven Madison Park. After all, it has been and still is my favorite restaurant in NYC. Does that make my reviews biased? Yes and no. When I go to EMP, I don't necessarily have my "critic's hat" on, trying to analyze every dish. I go in expecting and looking to have a good time. While some may view this as self-fulfilling, I think this is a very important part of making the most of the EMP experience.
Take, for example, Pete Wells' 4 star review of Eleven Madison Park in the New York Times. That was the worst-sounding 4 star review i've ever read. There were clearly many things about EMP's approach that he vehemently disagreed with, from "dopey speeches" and "clunky, humorless history lesson[s]" to "entry-level locavorism" that "only underlines the shallowness of Eleven Madison Park’s approach to it." Yet, the end result was a 4 star review due to the sheer enjoyment being had by everyone around him: "a roomful of people almost goofy with happiness." In his own words: "Under the restaurant’s relentless, skillful campaign to spread joy, I gave in."
That campaign to spread joy was also successful when we dined at Eleven Madison Park earlier this month to celebrate last year's win in our bridge league. A grand time was had by all. I was especially excited to see what was on the late summer menu, as I'd only eaten at EMP during Spring and Winter the past few years. Some of the dishes are now staples of the tasting menu, so please refer to my previous review for photos and comments.
CHEDDAR - SAVORY BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE WITH APPLE
Similar to prior visits.
An interesting and refreshing take on a combination that's not new by any means. The marinade really came through strongly, and cucumber ended up being more of the focus in this dish than the tuna.
The mint provided a nice refreshing touch, allowing the eggplant to work as an early course even though it had a hearty taste.
Similar to the tuna course, the vegetables were the focus of the dish, with the squid providing a nice contrast in flavor and texture.
A delicious tomato salad, simple yet refined.
CAVIAR - BENEDICT WITH EGG, CORN, AND HAM
Absolutely amazing and vastly superior to a previous version of eggs benedict that they did with asparagus. The rich and satisfying nature of eggs benedict comes through without the heaviness of the common brunch version. The presence of corn and caviar provided a great sweet and salty contrast that took the whole thing to another level.
FLAVORED BUTTER - HOUSE MADE BREAD
Butters flavored with the fat of our chosen main course proteins. The duck was great but the pork was outrageous and a sign of what was to come later that evening.
FOIE GRAS - SEARED WITH PLUM AND THYME
FOIE GRAS - MARINATED, WITH PEACHES AND GINGER
I often end up choosing the cold foie gras prep for the sake of completeness and photos, but EMP continues to serve the best hot foie gras prep in New York hands down.
LOBSTER - BOIL WITH CLAMS, SHRIMP, AND BEANS
How many 3 Michelin Star restaurants (or even 2 Michelin Star ones for that matter) encourage you to use your hands in a communal dish? Once again, it's all about a warm, fun, collective dining experience. The seafood is delicious and cooked perfectly, with the crab stuffed tomatoes providing a nice textural component to the dish. While the broth is not served with the dish, you can request it and it's not to be missed if you like tomatoes and seafood.
SUNFLOWER - BRAISED, WITH GREEN TOMATO AND SUNFLOWER SPROUTS
This was more of an interesting dish than a tasty dish, but a big part of it is that I still don't know how best to describe the flavor of the sunflower and the dish as a whole. It wasn't bad by any means, and how often do you get to say that you ate cooked sunflower?
PORK - GRILLED WITH WATERMELON RADISH AND ONION FLOWERS
DUCK - ROASTED WITH LAVENDER AND HONEY
The duck was excellent as always, but as my friend put it, "The duck was fantastic, but that pork was something special." Grilling over binchotan imparted a fantastic, deep flavor that really highlighted the flavor of the meat, and not just the fat as is often the case.
FARMER'S CHEESE - SUNDAE WITH HONEY, GRAPE, SORREL, AND OATS
An ingenious DIY cheese course that showcased why cheese is used as a bridge from savory to sweet. Loved the different ways to go about it, and the choice of cheese was great. Strong for a cow's milk cheese, but milder than goat cheese so it catered to everyone.
Similar to last time, delicious but not particularly memorable.
While I enjoyed the cheesecake, the sorbet, and the vinegar, the dessert felt disjointed. The berries were not really highlighted by the other components while the cheesecake could be enjoyed without the berries. Their desserts have not been particularly novel or daring in combining flavors and textures ever since their previous pastry chef left.
CHOCOLATE - "NAME THAT MILK"
A great way to wrap up the night. Four different chocolate bars are presented, and the game is to figure out the animal milk used to make that chocolate. The foodies/gourmands can take the challenge seriously while more casual diners can just enjoy different chocolates.
SPOILERS: highlight to read: Of the four choices, the cow's milk chocolate and the buffalo milk chocolate should stand out the most, being the most common tasting and the fattiest tasting respectively. Of the remaining two, there was one with a decidedly grassy flavor which I assigned to sheep's milk while the other was mild with a faint tang, which reminded me of goat cheese. However, it turned out that I got those two mixed up.
PRETZEL - CHOCOLATE COVERED WITH SEA SALT
SWEET BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE
Similar to prior visits.
Look, if you go to Eleven Madison Park with the mindset of "this is so expensive/this is a 3 Michelin star restaurant, every dish must blow me away", you're missing the point. But if you're going to celebrate something or looking to enjoy the whole experience of a night out, EMP will rarely disappoint.