There are splurge meals, and then there are splurge meals, and Eleven Madison Park decidedly falls into the latter category: a 3.5 hour, 15-ish (depending how you count them) course culinary extravaganza. It’s possibly the longest meal I’ve ever been served at a restaurant, and certainly the most I’ve ever paid, but some occasions just call for such a splurge: my sister is moving from New York to LA at the end of this month, and so we decided it was time one last big meal before she goes.
We snagged a reservation (OpenTable failed me repeatedly; I recommend just calling – I got one right away that way) and headed to dinner on Monday night. At Eleven Madison, there’s no menu to read and choose from – you just sit down, settle in, and wait for them to bring what they’re serving that evening. We ordered a bottle of Albariño and braced ourselves for a feast.
When we sat down at our table, we saw there was a present waiting for us: a little box, tied up with string. Once open, it revealed our first treat: black and white “cookies” with apples and cheddar. The base of the cookie tasted like a classed-up Ritz cracker. It was a fun opening bite:
Next up, we had the tuna marinated with cucumber and a cucumber gelée. I really liked the tuna (though it was teeny tiny and I would have enjoyed a bigger piece), and the cucumber gelée was surprisingly good. I mean, is gelatinous cucumber something anyone expects to like?
One of the dishes I enjoyed most – and one I wouldn’t necessarily have thought I would enjoy, as eggplant is not really my favorite – was the “fairytale” eggplant, slow-cooked with shelling beans and mint. So tasty:
For me, the least memorable dish of the evening was the poached squid with peppers and artichokes. It’s not that this dish was bad – it wasn’t, at all – it’s just that it felt relatively standard compared to some of the evening’s more creative and adventurous plates:
Case in point, the tomato “salad“ with basil and red onion. When this came out, I confess I wrinkled my nose a bit; one of the foods I truly cannot stomach is raw tomato, and this looked like a tomato on my plate. I needn’t have worried, however, as this was more like a tomato paste arranged to resemble a tomato. This was intensely flavorful:
One of my absolute favorite dishes was EMP’s spin on eggs benedict: a tiny tin filled with quail egg, sweet corn, and sturgeon caviar, with a side of mini English muffins. This dish was just plain fun – and damn delicious, too:
Right around this time, they also brought us some bread, which was too-die-for. It came with two butters, one normal and one rendered in duck fat (intended as a link to and a preview of our main course, duck):
Next came cherries with fennel and ricotta. The fennel and ricotta balanced the cherries nicely, as they were very…cherry-ish (er, strong? flavorful?):
The next course was another winner. Two components came out together; first up were some beans and bacon:
And next, EMP’s take on a lobster boil. On a large wooden board, a waiter poured out a delightful mixture of lobster, clams, shrimp, and veggies. It was another way that EMP surprised me; I wouldn’t have expected to find a homey, New England classic at a fancy schmancy Manhattan restaurant, but there it was, and it was so good:
Another winner was the sunflower course. A server brought out a platter of huge sunflowers, and explained how the flowers before us could be made edible: they’re braised until they lose their bitterness, then plated with green tomato and sunflower sprouts. My sister especially loved this course (though I thought it was great too):
For our main course, we chose duck – the one choice you are given at EMP is your main – and it was fantastic. This was a roasted duck with lavender, honey, apricots, and fennel, and it was cooked to perfection, with a crispy skin that was incredibly flavorful:
Then it was time for the dessert courses, and the first was another of the dishes we most adored: a farmer’s cheese sundae. We were served cheese with a wide variety of toppings to pair with it: a stroopwafel, honey, oats, tomatillos, cherries, and sorrel. We had fun trying a little bit of everything with our cheese. What a clever way to do a cheese course!
Perhaps my favorite part of the dessert course – though not very photogenic – was the whey sorbet with caramelized milk and yogurt. This reminded me of something, though I could never quite pinpoint what; I just know it was very sweet and very yummy:
The next dessert course was also incredible, though it felt a bit more classic New York than some of the others – a berry cheesecake with white currant sorbet and raspberry vinegar:
Next came the chocolate game: our waitress brought us four bars of mast brothers chocolate, and a little card with pictures of four animals – sheep, goat, buffalo, and cow. Our mission was to taste each and figure out what kind of milk it had been made with. The chocolate was great, but…we were not the best at the game. My sister was 0 for 4; I pulled in a comparatively respectable 2 for 4.
Finally, we ended with a chocolate covered pretzel topped with sea salt and some very, very potent apple brandy (it reminded me of drinking Calvados in Normandy, except I’m pretty sure this was way stronger):
Before we left, we were given a parting gift: a mason jar full of EMP’s famous granola. It went perfectly with Greek yogurt and got me through almost a week’s worth of breakfasts at work – I joked to my sister that Eleven Madison Park was the meal that just kept on giving, and truly it was.
Eleven Madison Park was a restaurant I have long wanted to visit, for its Michelin stars and its hype, and most every course lived up to my lofty expectations. I loved the attention to detail, the creativity, and the high quality ingredients. This was a special meal.