Vanessa: I’m going to open this post with a very brave and bold statement. That is that I was recently fortunate enough to have had the best dining experience of my entire life to-date at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. A big call I know and I do encourage you to stay with me as I attempt to succinctly summarise the delights that Executive Chef, Daniel Humm, has brought together in his 15-course degustation menu.
My companion for this four hour dining adventure was my newly betrothed, whom we shall refer to as Mr M. As this restaurant was one of our desired honeymoon experiences, we were delighted to have been fortunate enough to secure our ideal date when we booked in 28 days prior, as per their reservation policy.
The restaurant currently holds the accolade of fourth best restaurant in the world* and if this is the standard of the fourth, I honestly cannot imagine what kind of experience patrons at number one restaurant, Noma, are having!
Situated adjacent to Madison Park, in midtown Manhattan, the restaurant boasts enormously high ceilings which accommodate large full length windows that allow patrons to gaze out over the park whilst dining. Whilst the dining room has a sense of grandeur, the simply décor adds a comforting feeling which we certainly felt as we settled in at our table.
The first thing we noticed as we sat down was the presence of a small box, an envelope and letter opener. Our friendly waiter explained to us that this was the first part of the dining experience in which we had to open the envelope to determine our individual flavour themes. Inside the envelope were two cards containing four different perforated symbols which represented various flavours. We were each instructed to punch out a flavour and told that it would appear over the course of the meal. I chose Maple and Mr M chose apple.
As we were not presented with a menu, we had no idea what each course consisted of. I have to say this further added to the element of intrigue and suspense as we eagerly awaited the arrival of each course.
The entire menu has been created as an homage to New York. The ingredients used are all sourced locally and some dishes synonymous with traditional New York cuisine. Each dish within the 15-course degustation was so well thought out both in terms of flavour and presentation. Couple the outstanding food quality with the smooth, impeccable service and you have one unforgettable dining experience.
Course one: Savoury black and white cheddar cookies with apple
We began the degustation by opening the box to find two small black and white cookies, which to our surprise were savoury rather than sweet. The savoury element definitely played tricks with the mind but tasted sensational. At this stage, the excitement levels from the cookie alone were high.
Course two: Duck broth, two hot bread scrolls and homemade butter
The broth has a bold, salty taste and the bread rolls had a similar texture to that of a croissant. My observation was that the butter was quite salty as was the broth, so as a whole the course was a little oversalted for my liking.
Course three: Kabocha squash with pear, chestnut and radicchio
This dish was beautifully assembled on the plate. It was light dish and the presence of the chestnut gave it a crunchy texture which worked well.
Course four: Hudson Valley foie gras, marinated with grapes and mushroom breadcrumbs
The taste and texture was incredible and my only gripe with this course is that there was not more of it. Although around course 13, I was very grateful for the portion sizes throughout! Mr. M had chosen to have his portion of foie gras pan fried which creates quite a gelatinous texture, which is not to my liking but it’s good to see that they offer the option of having it cooked that way.
The next course was one of two main standouts of the degustation for me both for taste and presentation. The course plays tribute to the longstanding history of Jewish deli’s that are synonymous with New York. Two succulent pieces of pastrami were placed on top of the small circular rye bread and mustard to create a very high-end pastrami sandwich. The first element of my flavour choice of maple was introduced during this course when I was presented with Eleven Madison Park’s homemade version of Dr Brown’s Soda, with maple flavouring.
Course six: Long Island Seafood
Four small ramekins were set down containing four different seafood options that had been sourced from Long Island. In all honestly this was the only course I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, as I’m not a huge seafood fan but for those that are this course allows you to sample a variety of high quality, local produce.
Course seven: Atlantic halibut slow cooked with clams, squid and shellfish parsley sauce
This was a fantastic! A juicy serve of fish that was extremely flavoursome for a white fillet. The accompanying shellfish parsley sauce added a deeper seafood flavour dimension but was balanced by the presence of the parsley.
Course eight: Lion’s Mane Mushroom
When one of the kitchen staff appeared with a tray of three large, furry objects and explained they were rare mushrooms, we were intrigued. When they were then brought to our table having been cooked in their own broth, we were amazed at how succulent and juicy they were. They could definitely be considered the vegetarian steak, as their denseness is comparable.
Course nine: Duck charcuterie
When we arrived our waiter had asked if we would prefer duck or venison for two of our main course to which we chose duck and I couldn’t have been happier with that. We were brought a charcuterie board that consisted of duck sausage, liver on toast and cured breast. An absolutely delightful and rich course, which set up the palate for, the next serve of duck
Course ten: Finger Lakes Duck with apple, rutabaga and fall spice jus
As per the mushroom course, a kitchen staff member presented us with the entire duck that had been dry aged to ensure a crispy exterior and well covered with various spices. The result was an unbelievably succulent breast with a crisp, aromatic exterior. Delicious in everyway. The presence of the top of an apple that had been filled with a duck paste was a great addition to the overall dish visually, but I felt it was a bit heavy.
Course eleven: Cato Corner Farm Cheese
Our waiter wheeled over to us a trolley containing three sheep’s milk cheeses, two blues and three goats cheeses on display. We were given the choice of having one or all, but both myself and Mr M took the option of having one of each variety. As expected they were of high quality and served with a homemade soft pretzel, plum conserve and balanced nicely with a bitter green salad.
Course twelve: Whey sorbet with caramelized milk and milk foam
This was very much needed at this point to break up the richness of the duck and cheese. The sorbet was light but well matched with the sweetness of the caramel and levity of the foam.
Course thirteen: Baked alaska with rum, caramel and maple
The entire baked Alaska was brought to our table and then lit with rum by our waiter. The meringue was visually rich but rather creamy and light in flavour. It was well paired with the caramel and my flavour choice of maple.
Course fourteen: Chocolate Covered Pretzel with Sea Salt
I’ll be honest by this point my body was pleading with me to stop ingesting food, but I did manage to muster up the determination to have a bite of the pretzel. It was covered in dark chocolate, which I love, but I can’t say that I noticed the inclusion of sea salt as a distinct flavour
Course fifteen: Sweet black and white cookie served with apple molasses
The arrival of the familiar box, which unveiled two black and white cookies, was a great way to end off the degustation as it brought us back to the beginning. The traditional sweet black and white cookie was a great way to sign off our dining experience. Our waiter poured us a nip of the apple molasses each and left the bottle for us to consume at our leisure.
Feeling full and overwhelmed by the incredible experience we had just had, we requested the cheque and prepared to use our legs again after four hours of indulgence. To our delight our lovely waiter brought us parting gifts of house made granola and some boysenberry jellies. A wonderful touch, which topped off this incredible experience.
If you happen to find yourself in New York and looking to a restaurant for a special occasion or simply wanting to splurge, then I would definitely recommend putting this on your list. Do remember to plan in advance as they only accept bookings 28 days prior to the day you intend to dine.
I believe the degustation at Eleven Madison Park will hold the position of my greatest dining experience for a very long time… if not forever.