It’s been several years since we visited Eleven Madison Park, a 3 star Michelin, because their focus seemed to shift to an emphasis on theater over taste. Recent reviews indicated that there had been a new change in philosophy and I agree that that is the case. There’s a lot more taste and less gimmick to their meal. It’s not all gone but what’s left is okay because underneath is a foundation of flavor. Also they re-did the dining room about 4 months ago and it is brighter with much more comfortable seating in a rich blue velvet. They changed the bar set up also, so the staff no longer line up on the wall and watch your every move, which I found off-putting. There is some nice background music, high ceilings and lovely large flower arrangements to enhance your experience. Tables have good space between them and are set with fine linens. Service is friendly and not too formal but very attentive, now without being intrusive. It is an 8 course tasting menu only with choices on several of the courses (same at lunch and dinner). There are no supplements but they do offer wine pairings and do give you a printed version of your menu when you are through. The pacing and portion control of the menu are very good.
They start with you with some wet, warm clothes which immediately set a good tone for me. The white box tied with string is still part of the menu and is on your table when you arrive. It has their famous black and white cookies which in this case were cheddar and apple flavored. The cheddar portion was buttery short and crunchy and combined deliciously with the apple portion.
The champagne cart visited the table. It is filled with wonderful and pricy choices.
A stack of boxes contained the next set of snacks and the boxes fit together in one layer for the table. Asparagus with Smoked Egg Salad were tips of green asparagus topped with disks of smoked egg yolk held on by some creamy mixture. They were very good. Spring Peas with Trout Roe and Lemon were explosive spoonfuls of lemony goodness. Quail Egg with Radish and Mustard Greens were not as intensely flavored but were a tasty pretty tart. Daikon with Ramps and Amaranth were curls of daikon with two bowls to dip into. One contained a puffed amaranth which was crispy and very flavorful. The other was a ramp cream dusted with botarga. It was fun to try the different combinations but best to me was a dip into the cream and then use that to pick up the crunchy grains.
Cheesecake was served with Smoked Sturgeon Caviar, Everything Bagel and White Asparagus. The cheesecake was embellished with a cream sauce with smoked mussels and then topped with the White Sturgeon caviar. It was served alongside a tin of shaved white asparagus strips. The everything bagel was the bagel crust on the cheesecake. The asparagus were crisp with not a hint of bitterness and quite tender and enhanced with bits of pickled asparagus. It went great with the cheesecake but was also good on its own. The caviar was delicious and was wonderful with the tasty cheesecake.
Bread was next and it was an amazing buttery roll served with cultured butter that was topped with cheese crumbles. The rolls were not baked in house but were quite scrumptious. The butter was nice but I would have left off the crumbles and let the butter stand on its own and enhance the wonderful bread with a strong butter taste.
Foie gras was the next course and it was offered seared with asparagus and white sesame or Marinated with strawberry and black pepper. We each had one way so we could try both. The seared option was cooked perfectly and served atop chopped asparagus and topped with thinly sliced grilled green asparagus. It was very good. Surprisingly I preferred the marinated option. It was creamy layers of foie gras, marbled with strawberry, separated with a layer of strawberry chutney. The layers were encased with a crispy cake like substance that added to the buttery delicious combination. Generally I prefer a seared foie gras but this was the exception. It was excellent.
The next course I chose the Butter Poached Lobster with Ginger and Dandelion Greens. A garnish of some tiny fried marigolds that were cooked in a tempura batter were spectacular and very different. The ginger sabayon sauce was divine and really set off the tender lobster.
The other option was Sea Bass Poached with Fava Beans and Green Tomato relish. The port reduction set off the strongly flavored pea shoots. Everything around the perfectly cooked fish tasted quite fresh and nice. A tasty dish.
Snails were grilled with Morels and Ramps in the next course. The snails were from Long Island and brought out on a skewer with their own fire cooker. They were actually already cooked and the display was mainly for show and to warm them at the table. The morels flavored a yogurt sauce and the ramps were in a relish with mint leaves and pickled watermelon radish. A set of leaves was flat on a plate and you removed the snails from the skewer and wrapped them up to eat with as much relish as you wanted. It was a course more about the show than the taste as the flavors didn’t really meld to me. It was messy to eat but they did bring out moist towels afterwards. Maybe if it had been composed in the kitchen it would have been a stronger dish but as it was it was a weak link on the menu.
There were 2 choices for the next course also, but both were served with 2 sides – Mustard Greens with Horseradish & Garlic and Snow Peas with Lemon & Goat Cheese. The Honey and Lavender Duck was glazed with Rhubarb and Spring Onion. The duck was aged for 2 weeks and covered with a coriander, cumin and Szechuan pepper crust. Next to the piece was a onion and daikon “flower” filled with a rhubarb chutney. The top of the duck was a perfect crisp and almost all the fat had been rendered in the cooking without leaving it dry. The seasoning layer really set this one off, though. It was quite good. The Spring Lamb was served with Fava Bean Relish and Nepitella. Some mint leaves topped the portion of lamb belly and the piece of shoulder meat was topped with mustard seed. It was all ultra tender and really filled with wonderful flavors. The mustard greens were mixed with watercress, kale and horseradish. The snap peas were crisp and well melded with the cheese. Both sides were fresh and fun but not on the same level as the 2 proteins.
Goat cheese was mixed with Rhubarb Chutney for the pre-dessert. A foam of goat cheese covered the panna cotta like custard below and was topped with shavings of aged goat cheese. All this was mingled with the rhubarb chutney which was quite tart. This was a good but not great course.
Next was our tour of the kitchen, which was also updated in the renovation process. It is a huge kitchen filled with lots of people. They have a special table set up for guests to stand behind and while there they made a fruit flavored popsicle which was tasty but most of the fun here is in talking with your guide. Ours, Annelise, was actually from Texas and is a musician studying the stand up base. Many of their staff are there studying the restaurant industry.
Dessert had 3 choices for flavors – strawberry, chocolate or lemon. We chose the first and last options. Strawberry was poached with Elderflower and served with Vanilla Ice Cream and bits of elderflower angel food cake. It all had excellent flavor and the plate held a good variation of texture, taste and sweetness.
The lemon was Black Sesame Shortbread and Ice Cream with Lemon Curd. A lemon frozen yogurt was topped with black sesame seeds and underneath was lemon custard and shortbread on the very bottom. It tasted really good but was not as sweet as the strawberry.
We finished with a chocolate covered pretzel and apple brandy. They leave the brandy at the table and you may drink as you wish – a long tradition here. However they probably know that you are so full at this point you really don’t want much. The pretzel was mixed with ground white chocolate and crisp with a good amount of sweetness. A parting gift of some of the best granola ever puts this excellent meal over the top.