Monday, January 24, 2011

Eleven Madison Park

As our graduation from The FCI loomed, I went with a few other girls from class to Eleven Madison Park for a celebratory dinner. We had an early reservation, 5:45, on a weekday, so when we were seated, we were alone in the dining room. This was perfectly fine with us, making it feel all the more special, as if they had reserved the beautiful dining room just for us.

The menu changes seasonally, but has a very unique format. For each course, only the primary ingredient is listed. When ordering, you inform your server of any allergies or distastes, and they will cater your chosen dishes to your specification. For example, I really don't like mushrooms (among other things) but when put on the spot, that's the one request I made. There were five of us and we all tried to order different things so we could try almost everything on the menu.

Although you order four courses, they also offer multiple small bites before the first course is served, which was a complete surprise for us. On the night we went, we were served a delicious chicken soup with a buttered crouton, two different bites of monkfish (liver and tail), and one more I unfortunately can't remember, but I think there was goat cheese involved and I think it was my least favorite of the three. I was so scared to try the monkfish liver since I typically don't eat much fish, and really can't stand fishy flavors, so I let everyone else try it first and assure me there was no fishiness to it at all. It was served with apple flavors, so on a dried apple chip with fresh apple and dill, and it was actually really delicious. I preferred it to the tail which had a tougher texture. Each dish was only one or two bites, but by the first course, I was already feeling a little full.

Another interesting thing about the service here is that multiple people bring dishes to your table. For all of our small bites, some of the chefs from the kitchen actually delivered them to the table. He or she then explained what they were serving and answered any questions we had. Everything was really delicious and even the homemade bread they served was accompanied by two different kinds of butter, one made from cow's milk and one made from goat's.

Finally, our first courses arrived and each was described in detail to the table. This is of course necessary and was continued for all our courses, since all we knew about what we ordered was what the main ingredient would be. I ordered "Radicchio" which was accompanied by buffalo mozzarella, mango, and a green sauce which I think had a basil in it. Now, had I seen this described on the menu, I probably wouldn't have ordered it. Although I love mango, and I love mozzarella cheese, I couldn't picture them together. But the combination of the crunchy radicchio with the chewy cheese and bright, sweet mango was amazing. It was refreshing and satisfying, and was the second salad I've had in New York that was utterly delicious (the first, and best, being at Picholine).

Although this is a picture of the same dish, it's not one of my pictures. I didn't take any pictures of the food, since I typically really hate when people photograph their food in restaurants. It just seems sort of disruptive or in bad taste. But if I'm going to continue writing about what and where I'm eating, I may have to start. (Photo courtesy of

For my second course, the warm appetizer, I had "Carrot" which I was a little hesitant about. I really love raw carrots, but I've never liked cooked carrots. They're overly sweet and I usually don't appreciate sweet notes in savory dishes. But these carrots were sublime. They were sliced about 1/4'' thick, and had been roasted and confited. They were served with dates and wheat berries, the latter of which was probably my favorite part of the dish. It was perfectly balanced in terms of sweetness and texture.

The third course, or entree course, I had "Chicken." A perfect rectangle of roasted breast meat was served with parsnip puree, roasted grapes, toasted oats, and a rich jus which was spooned on tableside. The chicken was expertly cooked, still tender and moist and flavorful. I loved the parsnip puree which was a great compliment to the chicken, and the oats which I was a little skeptical about provided surprisingly a warm, nutty, crunch to the plate. The grapes I found delicious on their own, but they weren't something I wanted to eat with the savory chicken. I did taste notes of grape in the jus, probably from a red wine, but for me, the flavor of the roasted grape paired with the chicken was just a little too intense.

Photo courtesy of Resto Manifesto. Not quite as appetizing as it actually was.

Before dessert arrived, we were given a "pre-dessert" or sort of a small bite before dessert. It was a play off of a Kir Royale and included a frozen meringue, a sour cherry, and an effervescent foam. I really dislike the texture of foams, and this was no different. I thought this was interesting, but not particularly delicious. The brightness did act as a bit of a palette cleanser, but the sour cherry was just a little too sweet and the frozen meringue had a texture a little too similar to Styrofoam.

For dessert, I ordered "Chocolate," of course, which consisted of ribbons of ganache with butternut squash puree, a maple glaze, and yuzu ice cream. I loved the combination of the chocolate, squash, and maple, which seems like such an obvious pairing, and yet I never would have thought of it. I could have done without the yuzu which added an intense citrus flavor to the dish which I really disliked with the rich chocolate. I prefer my chocolate unadulterated, but I felt like the yuzu was out of place with all the other elements as well.

Not really what the dish looked like, but isn't this beautiful? (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

Earlier in the evening, Valentina explained to one of the chefs serving our first amuse bouche that we were out to celebrate graduating from culinary school. She was so congratulatory, especially when we found out that she too had graduated from The FCI. A little while later, the manager approached our table having obviously been informed that we were culinary students, and congratulated us as well, even inviting us to come back into the kitchen once we had finished our meals. So once we finished dessert, he asked us to follow him as he showed us around. 

First, he showed us the staging room, which was just off the kitchen. It was actually a beautiful room filled with wood cabinets and mirrored walls where all the flatware, computers, and linens are kept. It's also where servers pick up food for service, so that none of it is ever delivered on a tray to your table. Next, we entered the kitchen which was immaculate. It was big and very bright, with white table cloths laid out on numerous surfaces for plating. I was amazed that each table cloth was spotless, and an expediter checked each plate before it left the kitchen. I was also impressed by the unity in the kitchen and the intense vibe in the air. It was clear people were working hard and focused on their given tasks. While we were there, an order came in and as the expediter called it out, all the chefs in the kitchen responded as one with, "Yes, Chef!" 

(Photo courtesy of tumblr) 

(Photo courtesy of flickr)

Although we were all so excited to just be in the kitchen, even more treats were in store for us. First, the Executive Chef Daniel Humm came and greeted us, shaking all our hands. In a small alcove at the front of the kitchen, a bar-height table had been set up with five glasses. We were joined by the pastry chef as he and the manager made us a specialty cocktail right there in the kitchen. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, it included grapefruit pieces, a flavored syrup, rum sorbet- frozen on the spot with liquid nitrogen, grapefruit meringues- also frozen with liquid nitrogen, and pop rocks! It was bright and refreshing of course, and the pop rocks were a fantastic garnish.
The manager showed us the pastry section of the kitchen, where fresh bread was coming out of the oven, and I continued to marvel at the overall precision throughout the kitchen. I don't exactly desire to work in a restaurant kitchen, but should I, I would want to work in that type of kitchen; everyone is relatively quiet, focused, and composed, which is just the way I like to work.

We were led out a different exit of the kitchen which opened into the front of the restaurant, and we walked around to a small lounge area I hadn't seen before. I was frankly blown away when I saw that all of our purses had been moved for us from our dinner table to the comfy couches and chairs of the lounge. On the table was also a bottle of cognac with glasses for each of us. We were encouraged to stay and enjoy as long as we liked. We were all impressed and felt so special. 
 Me and Diana

After a few minutes, petit fours were also delivered to our table, which we dug right into. 

Frozen Banana Pops, (Photo courtesy of flickr)

Nut Tuiles, (Photo courtesy of flickr)

Raspberry Macarons,

along with ganache circles sprinkled with salt (delicious!) and I think a chewy fruit gelee. Our primary server continued to check on us, and as we were nearing the end of the night, Laura reminded him that she had requested to keep her menu, which she had left at the table before we toured the kitchen. Our server said he would be right back, and returned with large, square envelopes. He said he had personalized each of our menus and began handing them out. We sort of laughed, assuming he was kidding, but when we opened our envelopes, we were each holding a menu that had been embellished with the descriptions of what that person had ordered. Here's mine

Ordinarily, just the single words are printed without the smaller print underneath.

If you read the description under chicken, you'll see that it's served with Hen of the Wood mushrooms, but those were of course left off my plate. Yet again, we were all pleasantly surprised at the lengths the staff had gone to for us, and also that our server knew exactly which closed envelope to give to each of us so we all got our own specified menu. 
Diana and Francine

 Valentina and Laura

Francine made a funny comment once we were sitting in the lounge. She said that she felt like we were on a first date... with the restaurant. Like we were being constantly romanced and surprised, just like you would want a first date to do. And it was true. From the moment the women at the door took our coats without needing to give us a coat check, to the manager bidding us goodnight, handing us jars of homemade granola, and inviting us to consider working there, both the service and the food were just exquisite. It was the perfect celebratory end to a grueling six months.


  1. Your account of dinner was wonderful. Obviously they know how to treat lovely ladies. May your next adventure be as sweet.

  2. Umm the next time we go out for dinner I am absolutely dropping that you recently graduated from culinary school! That entire dinner sounds amazing and I appreciate how much detail you went into. It definitely made me hungry. Especially those chocolate banana pops! Mmmmm


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