Eleven Madison Park
Executive Chef: Daniel Humm
My birthday took place last Friday. It is considered a very lucky day for the Chinese. 08.08.08. Beijing Summer Olympics’ Opening Ceremony took place. I got roses from an anonymous sender that morning. Friends were calling and emailing with wishes of Happy Birthday. The day was beautiful sunny and not very humid for August. The day was starting off just right and I was very much looking forward to my lunch with my very pregnant and very best friend at Eleven Madison Park.
The imaginary bell at the office went off (summer hours) and I sprinted out to head downtown to meet my friend. You walk up to the entrance of the building and it is a bit foreboding I must say. For some reason it all reminded me of Stonehedge: I think it was the fact that I was surrounded by very tall stone columns and slats and everything looks gray and massive.
My friend was situated in one of the booths and it was nice to sit next to her at a rather decent sized table rather than across. We chatted for a bit and while she settled on a glass of ginger ale, I chose a nice dry glass of a German white, Gruner. It was crisp, dry and delicious.
To start we decided to split an appetizer. We shared the heirloom tomatoes with proscuitto, basil and oilio verde. Four colorful pieces of tomato: sweet and delicious as they are in season, with one slice of proscuitto, albeit cut a bit thick for my taste, and a couple sprigs of basil. The dish was good, fine actually, but nothing to rave about. I’ve had similar dishes like this at other restaurants only they were more generous in portion and lower in price tag.
We moved on to our main courses. She had the pan roasted arctic char with summer squash and lemon verbena. This dish was phenomenal. It sat in a juice/gravy that simply melded the squash and the juicy salmon together. The skin on that arctic char was perfectly cooked to a nice crisp to complement the flaky moist meat of the fish. Taken altogether in one bite, it was fantastic.
I ordered the seared skate with cauliflowers, capers and beurre noisette. Presentation was beautiful. The thing about skate is if cooked perfectly and nestled in a browned butter sauce with capers (which is the preparation I often order), the skate’s meat tastes and has the texture of lobster. For that very reason skate is one of my favorite fishes. This time I was so disappointed. The fish was overcooked and the meat was left tough and dry. The beurre noisette, which is essentially a creamy more solid version of browned butter, though tasty, didn’t help to improve the overcooked fish. I was not impressed. It was after several bites I developed a bad case of food envy and would have bum rushed my friend’s dish if it weren’t for the fact that she had a tiny person that needed to be fed inside of her.
Dessert helped to forget the disappointing entree I had. We opted to share the peanut butter palette with caramel popcorn and popcorn ice cream. This dish screams decadence. Bottom layer of crunchy graham cracker (I think), topped with a layer of creamy rich peanut butter then finished with another layer of milk velvety chocolate. Couple spillings of popcorn with a side of cool ice cream and the flavors simply put one at peace. There was plenty of ooh’s and ahh’s coming from our table and clanking of our spoons against the plate.
I take great pleasure in writing about meals I thoroughly enjoy which is why I sort of dragged my feet through this one as I really desperately wanted to/and expected to write a glowing review of Eleven Madison Park. As a highly acclaimed restaurant often reviewed with high accolades, I may be one of the very few that didn’t enjoy it too much. I will definitely return to try the priced fixed dinner menu however, as I have not given up hope.
All in all, a great lunch: my friend enjoyed her meal, I loved my dessert and this was definitely one of those instances where the company and one’s surroundings can really elevate a dining experience high above the food actually served (and the hype). I will return to try their dinner menu and will report back then.
Until then, happy eating!!!
UPDATE: I went back for Eleven Madison’s priced fix dinner – here is the review.
Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY