New York Cuisine

When the judges on Top Chef say that they see a chef’s soul on the plate, I never really understood what they meant by that.  That was the case until my return to Eleven Madison Park.  In my previous visit, they had only one Michelin star (I didn’t understand why.  They were clearly at the three Michelin level at the time) and it had been less than six months since they had changed to the grid menu.  Since then, they announced that they would do away with the (controversial) grid menu and serve a multi course tasting menu.  Like always, people were split on the idea.  This time, Eleven Madison Park wanted to showcase New York, and in my opinion, they did just that.  Be warned.  If you intend to go to Eleven Madison Park before at least the summer of 2013, do not read it.  It will spoil the surprise.  Just know that it is worth the money, and that you will have a great time.  Also,  if you’re with another person, get the duck.

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After misreading the time, I realized I had only an hour to get to Eleven Madison Park.  There was also a super snow storm that was supposed to hit the city.  I was determined not to miss this meal.  It was the meal I was looking forward to most, and there wasn’t a power in the ‘verse that could stop me from eating at Eleven Madison Park.

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Once I arrived, I was asked to wait at the bar as the service team was still having their pre-service meeting, which they concluded with a loud, unified “oui”.  Once at the table, a captain explained that it was a tasting menu and asked if I had any allergies.  I notified him of my aversion to seafood.  I’m simply not a fan.  It’s like Daniel Boulud and bananas.  I wish I enjoyed seafood, but, it’s still a grey area that I’m trying to explore.   Also, as I was in a bit of a rush, I had left my pen and notebook in my hostel room, and so, I was not able to write down the details of the dishes, and am replying on memory and photographs to recount my lunch.

CHEDDAR
Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple

PEAR
Gelee with Shattered Foie Gras

BEET
with Goat Cheese and Cranberry

CELERY ROOT
Custard with Apple, Celery, and Chervil

SQUASH
Sabayon with Ginger and pumpkin Seed Oil
Smoked Dumpling Squash, Everything Bagel Crumble
Pickles, and butternut Squash Caviar

BREAD
Butter and “Beef Butter”

SALSIFY
Roasted with Bulgur Wheat, Mangalitsa Ham, and Hazelnuts

CARROT
Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments

POTATO
Baked with Lime Cream and Shallots

GUINEA FOWL
Roasted with Cabbage, Apple, and Quinoa

BEEF
Grilled with Mushrooms, Amaranth, and Dandelion Greens
Braised Oxtail with Foie Gras and Potato

GREENSWARD
Pretzel, Mustard, and Grapes

MALT
Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer

MAPLE
Bourbon Barrel Aged with Milk and Shaved Ice

EARL GREY
Sheep’s Milk Cheesecake, Honey, and Lemon

PRETZEL
Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt

CHOCOLATE
Sweet Black and White Cookie with Apricot

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The meal started with a white box, which, once opened, revealed a black and white cookie made of cheddar with apple.  It reminded me very much of a ritz cracker with the artificial cheese you could get in packs.  I do mean this in a good way.  Food always bring up different memories and emotions for people.  In my case, it happened to be ritz crackers and cheese.

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Next, a cook came out of the kitchen and presented this dish.  Pear gelee with pear, foie gras, and mint.  When I took a bit of each component and tried it, it was wonderful.  The gelee also had pockets of acid which, along with the mint, elevated the dish to another level in complete harmony.

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A classic pairing that Eleven Madison Park serves is beet and goat cheese.  Before the grid change, Chef Daniel Humm would serve it in two separate .  This time, the beet was served as a frozen “rubble” with the goat cheese underneath.  Dried cranberries added a tart element to the this.

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Surprisingly, CELERY ROOT was quite amazing.  It was served as a custard, with a green apple espuma, and celery root dice.  The dice of celery root, which I believe was cooked in butter…was freakin’ delicious.

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I was presented with an egg shell filled with Squash Sabayon, with pumpkin Seed oil in the bottom.  I mixed the delicious sabayon with the seed oil which gave it a nice nuttiness.   I was told that it was an introduction to my next course, which left me wondering what it might be.

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The same female captain came out with a glass dome containing smoke, and another runner or two  came out with the rest of the components of the dish.  I was also presented with a tin of butternut squash “caviar” (brunoise of squash), rye crisp, everything bagel crumble with quail egg, baby romaine and picked onion, and two kinds of pickles.  Before lifting the dome, she explained the history of smoked salmon bagels, referencing to Murray’s Bagel.  She lifted the glass which revealed two pieces of squash on a little grill rack above blackened wood. I wish there was more of the rye bread. It was really great.  While I may not have had salmon, it was easy to see the connection.

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Once my plates had been cleared, Zack, one of the Maitre’Ds of Eleven Madison Park, invited me for a tour of the kitchen, leading me through the Service room, into a place against the wall (a great view of the kitchen in service), where a pastry cook made what was essentially a cherry coke.

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Zack and I spoke about my previous visit to EMP, as well as the possibility of the Shackburger being a possible course in the future. Once i finished my cocktail, I was led back to my table, where two butters were waiting for me. Two rolls of bread were dropped on the table. They were like croissants without the flakiness. They were buttery and delicious. The captain explained that the “beef butter” was rendered fat from the ribeye. they serve. I only had about three bites so that I wouldn’t fill up.

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SALSIFY was one of the dishes that I could not connect to New York.  perhaps it wasn’t meant to, or perhaps it was just my limited knowledge of New York.  It was a nice dish, but nothing mind-blowingly good.

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A cook came by and locked in a grinder onto the table and left. It was obvious that the carrot tartare was next.

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This was, surprisingly, my favorite course.  A cook came out of the kitchen with the carrot, while a food runner carried the board and components and toasted bread to my table.  As the cook ground the carrot at the table, he explained this is the best carrot they could get, and that they sourced it from a local farmer in New York.  Once the carrot was ground and spooned onto my board, I was instructed to mix the tartare with the components to my liking.  I tried the carrot by itself before mixing in the rest of the ingredients on the board, and it was magical.  It was the best carrot I have ever had.  When I mixed in the rest of the ingredients and tried it, it truly was like a tartare.  When I first read about this dish, I was skeptical, but now, I’m a believer, and it left me wanting more.  Later on, when I spoke with Dining Room Manager, Adam Smith, I told him how much I loved the dish, and that if I dine at Eleven Madison Park again during my trip, I will be asking to sacrifice a course in order to have a double portion of the carrot tartare.

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While not all dishes during the meal were fully explained to show its connection to New York, there were some dishes that made it obvious.  POTATO was an obvious play on a baked potato.  The skin was baked into a crispy chip, and the potato was served baked with olive oil and lime cream.  At the time, I did not realize that the lime cream was meant to be the “sour cream” in the dish, but, now I realize it.  I had a texture problem with the dish.  The potato skin was baked so I had a slightly difficult time chewing it.  HAD it been fried, it would’ve been easier to eat, but then it would not be a baked potato.

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While I was waiting for my next course, a cook came out with a big piece of ribeye.  He explained that it was a 140 day (locally) dry-aged ribeye that the Chef had selected through countless tastings.  Then he took it back to the kitchen to be cooked. (No, I did not get to eat all of that).

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Next came the GUINEA FOWL.  At first I thought it was pork because of the beautiful golden brown crispy skin, but, it was not the case (when the captain explained the dish).  It was served with Quinoa and Braised purple cabbage.  It was a really nice dish.  The cabbage went perfectly with the Guinea Fowl.

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The Beef, like the Squash before it, was served in two “courses”.  First came a broth of beef, which I found to be overwhelmed by celery, but it was still good.  It was glossy, as if I was drinking a diluted beef demi glace.

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Next came the actual beef dish itself, as well as a layered side of Oxtail, Foie Gras, and Potato.  The side dish was very rich (as expected) and could have been a course on its own.  The beef was great.  When you think of New York food, steak comes to mind, and they basically just served a tasting portion of a great, juicy steak.  Served with it was Maitake mushrooms, cooked beautifully, as well as a small, fatty piece of beef which I was believe was likely to be on the bone.  That little morsel was actually my favorite part.

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One, if not one of many great things of not knowing the menu ahead of time during a tasting menu, is the element of surprised.  For example, my cheese course, a picnic basket which was brought out and placed in front of me by my captain, who instructed me to open it and set it up, as if I was having a picnic (by my lonely ol’ self).

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I reached in, set my “placemat” and then pulled everything out one by one.  The plate was actually porcelain, made to mimic a paper plate used at any pizza by the slice shops.  the mustard, was actually a very sweet and delicious squash mustard.  The wooden box, once opened, revealed a lightly warmed, creamy cheese.  The captain returned and poured a French apple cider (I will have to pick up a bottle for myself soon) while explaining everything.  He also joked that I should stay inside for the picnic as it was snowing at the time.  This was my second favorite course, but, it had the biggest “wow factor”.  This was a perfect example of the words that hang in the kitchen: Cool, endless reinvention, inspired, forward moving, fresh, collaborative, spontaneous, vibrant, adventurous, light, innovative.

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My captain came over with a cart next.  As he began to make the drink, he told me about the “Egg cream”, a drink of New York origin, containing neither cream, nor egg.  It was essentially a vanilla malt flavored “milk soda”.

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My first dessert course was one that was familiar to Canadians, specifically, Québécois.  I was presented a dish of ice, and the captain explained the process of how maple syrup would be reduced and poured over ice, which then the children would roll up into a taffy.  I remembered learning about it in French class back in school, but never tried it myself.  She then drizzled some maple syrup over the ice, which then I mixed and ate.  It took me back to my Korean roots, reminding me of a modern dessert called Patbingsu. It was nice, but, it was nothing compared to the lemon dessert I had in my previous visit (page 300, Eleven Madison Park cookbook).

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My final dessert was New York Cheesecake.  It was an airy sheep’s milk cheesecake (like an espuma, if not that) with a little quenelle of Earl Grey ice cream.  I am not a fan of cheesecake, but it was awesome, this is my favorite cheesecake.   It didn’t just taste like a cheesecake, it tasted like the best, yet light, cheesecake you could ever have.  It is also, to quote WWE Superstar, C.M. Punk, the “Best in The World”.

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Two last bites were presented with the bill: Chocolate covered pretzel with sea salt, and another Black and White cookie, this time with milk and chocolate, bringing the meal to a full circle close.   I requested a copy of the menu, as well as a copy of the label of the French Cider.  When the captain returned, he brought out a bag with a jar of granola inside, as well as a copy of the menu, and a note with the label of the cider.

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Before leaving, I spoke with Adam again, and told him that as soon as I got back to my hostel, I would ask if anyone would like to join me for a lunch at Eleven Madison Park.  I wanted to return, and with someone else so that I would be able to get the duck.  It wasn’t a perfect meal, and my mind wasn’t blown every single course, but it was still great, and worth every penny.   Eleven Madison park achieved what they had set out to do: capture and present the soul of New York.

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