Eleven Madison Park

January 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

The first and only other time I’d ever been to Eleven Madison Park, temple of gastronomy and world-class service, was as a Cahill summer associate, when the world of fine-dining was still brand new and, frankly, very intimidating to me. Cindy and I finally managed to get a 9:30 p.m. reservation towards the end of our summer and stayed until around 1:00 a.m., after finishing one of the most memorable meals ever.

So it was only fitting that, when Wes was deciding which restaurants he wanted to visit before leaving us for Austin FOREVER, he chose Eleven Madison Park as one of them and rounded up a crew of Cahill’s most delinquent current and former associates for one hell of a dinner. I arrived early and tucked into a Start Me Up – bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon, orange bitters – at the cozy bar (where you can order a shorter tasting menu, first come, first serve) and then we were seated and started with these black and white savory cookie with apple and cheddar, basically a fancified version of Cheez-its (in the most delicious way possible).

Next, a tower of beautiful wooden boxes that slowly revealed parsnip pie; celery root with black truffle; rutabaga with celery and walnuts; salsify with garlic and thyme. The parsnip pie, with its super delicate crust, was particularly delicious.

Caviar Benedict with smoked sturgeon, ham and pickled egg yolk – a supremely elegant and expensive version of an Egg McMuffin, presented in the most beautiful tin, a replica of which we got to take home with us.

Bread course. Note also the Jono Pandolfi ceramics, all of which I wanted to tuck into my bag and take home with me.

Foie gras – seared with Brussels sprouts and lemon. You can choose between a cold terrine and the seared, though to me it’s a pretty obvious choice. It’s a small, perfectly cooked portion of foie jam-packed with flavor and a nice hit of tartness.

Lobster – butter-poached with rutabaga and pear. Gorgeous to look at and the lobster was super sweet and tender. I don’t usually care for fruit in savory dishes but liked the earthiness the pear lended to this dish.

Our next course was a vegetable course of celery root with truffle jus that was prepared table-side a la Paul Bocuse in an inflated pig’s bladder.

The plated celery root braised with black truffle. Deceptively simple looking but for a vegetable course, had all the richness and savoriness of a meat dish. The black truffle jus didn’t hurt either.

A classic EMP dish: duck, honey and lavender glazed with turnip and huckleberry. Stunning and served with some some of the lightest potatoes I’ve ever had. They tried to prematurely clear the dish and I had to reach out my hand to stop the server so I could finish the last couple bites.

Our cheese course of the cutest little cheddar tart with apple and mixed greens. Honestly, at this point, I would’ve been happy to end on this note since I don’t usually really care for dessert but we had a surprise waiting of us.

Baked Alaska, set aflame at the table, with citrus, vanilla and rum

Towards the end of our meal, we were taken on a tour of the kitchen and served the last dessert course – an ice cream with a honey-colored dessert wine made from noble rot (botrytis) grapes. Felt so lucky to have a chance to see the workings of the kitchen (which was beautiful and spotless) and the giant Miles Davis photographs they have hanging on the walls for inspiration.

Fancy food with fancy friends

The wines we’d had that night – we’d opted to order bottles instead of the pairing, which was the right decision. A Keller riesling to start and then two different, fantastic bottles of Clos Rougeard. Our meal finally came to a close with chocolate covered pretzels and a guessing game of which chocolate was made from which milk (cow, goat, buffalo or sheep), which I failed miserably.

No matter – in the end, we all came out feeling like huge winners. Such a wonderful experience, top to bottom, from the warm and friendly staff to the perfect pacing and explanation of each course to the food itself, which was beautiful, whimsical and most importantly, downright delicious. A huge thank you to the Eleven Madison Park for exceeding all expectations once again…I cannot wait to visit again.

The beautiful dining room at the end of the night.

Hog Island and Michael Mina

January 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

We just got about two feet of snow dumped on us here in NYC. Everything is currently coated in beautiful, fresh white powder and I felt like a little kid walking through the streets last night but since I know it’ll all turn disgusting, grey and slushy in no time, here’s another California post.

Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building Marketplace: Artemis kept mentioning how she visits this place every time she makes a trip out to San Francisco and since I didn’t think I’d be able to go to Swan Depot, another famous seafood place, I decided to go to Hog Island for an early solo lunch at one of their counters during my second day. Started with some bubbles and their raw bar mix of five oysters. I quickly became addicted to their mignonette with cilantro and jalapeno and ended up ordering another half dozen at the end of my meal for dessert (again, not much of a sweet tooth).

I tried to be good and ordered their shaved brussels sprouts salad with pomegranate, bacon (OK, maybe not that good) and mustard dressing as well as two chipotle bourbon grilled oysters and two miso grilled oysters. So frikkin’ hot but worth burning my mouth for. I think the chipotle bourbon version was my favorite of the two and, given that broiled/grilled oysters tend to be pretty hard to pull off (so easy to overcook them) and these were perfectly cooked,  I was pretty effin’ happy. Also, towards the end of my meal, I saw Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio chilling at the opposite end of the bar shooting the shit with the chefs and sampling a bunch of their crudo dishes, so next time, will definitely have to try those as well.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and eventually made my way to the Mission. The line outside Bi-Rite Creamery actually wasn’t that long (maybe 10 minutes) so I figured I might as well see if it lived up to the fuss. Got a scoop of their strawberry balsamic, which was fine but didn’t pack as much balsamic punch as I would’ve thought, and the ricanelas (snickerdoodle/cinnamon) that I basically went batshit nuts for. Snickerdoodles always remind me of middle school, where at lunch we’d try to find ones that were barely baked and essentially still cookie dough. While I was enjoying my ice cream, I saw a kid drop his cone on the floor and proceed to have the most amazing, dramatic temper tantrum ever and all I could think was, “I feel you, bro.”

Admittedly though, I’d had a slight freak-out of my own earlier that morning when my high school friend Shirdoo messaged and said he’d no longer be able to make the 7:30 p.m. reservation at Quince that we’d made because he’d missed his flight from Austin (missing flights is apparently not an uncommon thing for him to do). After calming down (I was REALLY looking forward to going to Quince) and looking through OpenTable, I saw that Michael Mina actually had 9:45 p.m. reservations available for that day so it worked out fine.

The restaurant was spacious and beautifully decorated, though we noticed that we were definitely the youngest guests by far (and probably also the most casually dressed). We started with a glass of Bruinart rose champagne and decided to go all out and order the tasting menu and wine pairing, even though it meant we’d probably be finishing up around 1:30 a.m. Some amuses bouches to start…I don’t remember what any of them were though.

Onsen tamago – osetra caviar, uni and toast paired with 2004 Kathryn Kennedy “Cuvee Twenty Seven” Brut Blanc de Blanc from Santa Cruz. So happy when this came out…literally all my favorite things with super buttery toast.

Spanish bluefin toro sashimi with 2011 Vivera Etna Bianca from Sicily. Super fresh and the radishes added a nice bit of spice.

Cedar grilled sanma, a type of mackerel, with daikon and yuzu kosho paired with 2014 Andrea Felici Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Marche, Italy. This was actually one of my favorite dishes. Mackerel is a pretty underrated fish and grilled this way, it was super tender and flavorful and the yuzu kosho added some extra umami.

Morro bay abalone, baby squash and dashi paired with 2010 Marjan Simcic “Teodor” Ribolla blend from Brda, Slovenia.

Black cod, matsutake, watermelon radish paired with 2009 Domaine de Saint Just Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because the wine started getting to us (the pairings were pretty generous) or he’s just super clumsy but Shirdoo actually dropped his phone in his bowl of cod while taking a photo, which earned some chuckles from the staff.

Gluttony on a plate – Maine lobster, foie gras, butternut squash, misome and truffle broth paired with 2013 Halleck “Three Sons Cuvee” Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Goddamn this dish was good. Generous portion of foie and beautifully cooked lobster. The colors were absolutely gorgeous as well..sometimes you can’t get too much of a good thing.

Tolenas Farm quail, pomegranate, persimmon, roasted baby beet paired with 2009 Chateau Cremade Rhone Blend from Provence. Definitely buzzed at this point and while I don’t really like cooked fruit in savory dishes, the persimmon provided some nice sweetness.

Japanese wagyu, salsify, maitake, hazelnut, sansho pepper paired with 2006 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso della’Abazia” Bordeaux blend from Veneto, Italy. Really dug this dish and its beautiful earthiness. Beef was well-seasoned and a nice medium rare and the other elements were nicely balanced. I was getting pretty full at this point but had no problem finishing this dish.

Quince (hah), brown butter and lemon with 2010 Halter Ranch vin de Paille from Paso Robles. This veered on the too-sweet side for me so I could only take a couple bites, but I had a good time sipping the pairing. Our last course was a dark chocolate cake, cinnamon and apple paired with 2008 Kiraludvar “Cuvee Ilon” Tokaji but at that point I’d given up eating any more or taking photos and was just sitting in a fuzzy, happy daze.

We finally finished our meal around 1:30 in the morning and were the last people in the restaurant (though credit to the amazing, attentive and friendly staff as they never tried to rush us in any way and really made sure that we enjoyed ourselves throughout the meal) by the time we left. All in all, if you’re looking to splurge for a special occasion, I’d definitely recommend Michael Mina.

 

Eleven Madison Park

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Finally, exactly six months later, I’ve managed to post about Eleven Madison Park. This was without a doubt the longest (by the time Cindy and I finished this most expensive date ever, it was 1:30am), most extravagant, most memorable meal of Summer 2012 and going through the photos felt like I was reliving it over and over again. Apparently, a lot of the menu has changed since we visited – Daniel Humm, the chef, and the kitchen have revamped the menu twice, I believe – but I can’t imagine that the attention to detail, the warm service (unlike my initial impression of extreme fine dining restaurants, EMP’s staff was very friendly, un-pretentious, and patient, given our very late conclusion to the meal), and the exquisite food has gotten anything but better. I’m too lazy to go into detail about every dish, so just believe me when I say that every single course actually felt necessary (if that’s the right word) towards the overall progression of the meal and distinct in its own right, whether it was the concentrated flavors of the tomato tea, the nostalgia of the clambake, or the sheer unique-ness of the whey with curds and gnocchi.

Beautiful arrangement in the dining room

Beginning with savory miniature black and white cookies

A bit of New York City to start

And a lemony, gin cocktail

Tomato tea with parmesan lavash and lemon thyme

Mackerel and Scallop – horseradish and mustard; chip with pickled daikon and sesame

Yogurt lollipops with curry

 

Chickpea panisse with yogurt

Trout roe marinated with dashi, cantaloupe, zucchini and watermelon snow

The clambake – one of my favorite courses of the evening

Clam with chorizo, corn and zucchini

Pouring the most velvety clam chowder ever

 

The extra bread course – with goat and cow butters

A gorgeous plate of couscous smoked with tomato, yogurt, and olives

Foie gras marinated with nepitella and blackberry

Our wine for the evening, recommended by the sommelier

Whey with fresh curds, caraway gnocchi, and spring herbs – very different yet still delicious

Lobster poached with zucchini, avocado, and amaranth

Lamb roasted with artichokes, freekah, and lovage – another favorite and eye-opening course of the evening

Chevre meridian with strawberries, pistachio, and garlic

Our server preparing an updated classic tableside

Egg cream – orange, cocoa nib, and seltzer

Cheesecake – goat cheese, chamomile, and raspberry

Chocolate sorbet with lavender, orange and Maldon sea salt – everything I love in a dessert

Cognac, of which we could enjoy as much as we wanted

Additional mini desserts

And the bookend the meal, sweet black and white cookies

An empty dining room, 1:30am

The bar

Entrance

Our menu – July 16, 2012

A gift to take home – literally the best granola I’ve ever had. I’ve already tried making this at home using Humm’s own recipe but it never comes out nearly as good.

There’s been a trend lately for high-end dining chefs to explore rustic, comfort food at a friendlier price point (chalk it up to the recession or whatever you want) but there’s still something to be said about taking the time (and money) to sit down and enjoy a long meal that lets you forget about everything else. It’ll be a while before I get to return to EMP (I’d love to try the duck course that everyone raves about), but I do think that, if you manage to get the hard-won reservation, it’s definitely well worth the splurge. Thank you to Daniel Humm, the EMP kitchen, and the amazing EMP staff for a truly unforgettable meal, and to Cindy for being crazy enough to go with me and spend so much on a single meal.

 

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
212.889.0905

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WD-50, the new menu

August 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

Finally, a moment to catch my breath. I’m so behind on posting all the restaurants from this glorious NYC summer but thought it’d be nice to start with one of my favorite meals, the new tasting menu at WD-50 by Wylie Dufresne. It was surprisingly easy to get a reservation on relatively short notice and proved to be a good bonding experience with fellow food-obsessed summers and the odd associate.

To start, we began with some sesame crisps and an excellent beer from Brooklyn Brewery/Amacord called AMA Bionda recommended by our kickass server James, who was knowledgeable and great at explaining each of our dishes to us throughout the night without being dull or pretentious. In fact, the restaurant as a whole had a very casual atmosphere that didn’t leave you feeling self-conscious like at some other “fine-dining” establishments.

On to the real food! Our first course: mackerel, nigiri, salsify, seaweed and sesame. Nigiri, but not. The salsify, a root vegetable, was blitzed in a food processor and then mixed with hazelnut oil and other binders so it assumed the familiar texture of sushi rice and was blanketed with a pristine piece of cured fish. Gorgeous, isn’t it? It was a pretty compelling bite and even after 11 more courses, remained Christine’s favorite of the night.

Next: lobster roe, charred lemon, green grape, coriander-brown butter. Roe usually brings to mind fish eggs, but here, I believe it was pounded, spread into sheets, steamed, and cut into strands of “pasta.” Initially, it seems a bit gimmicky, but the sea flavors of the roe do come through and pair very well with the rich lobster, sweet grape, biting lemon and slightly nutty brown butter.

Course #3: pho gras, a luxurious play on the Vietnamese comfort food. Off center lay a generous slice of foie gras, accompanied by rice noodles and the usual pho accompaniments – hoisin, sriracha, lime juice. As the server poured the broth, the foie gras slowly slid into the bowl and the air was filled with star anise, cinnamon, and other traditional Asian spices. It strongly reminded me of the smells emanating from my mom’s kitchen when she makes her Chinese five spice pork belly. The deep fried bit of beef tendon, a fun take on the traditional chicharron, was a nice contrast with the silky liver and slippery noodles. This dish and the following were probably my favorite savory dishes due to their comfort level yet refinement.

Next up, amaro yolk, chicken confit, peas n’ carrots, another creative and mind-blowing take on comfort food. There were a lot of comments at the table about its striking similarity to chicken pot pie and I definitely had to agree. I still dream about this yolk sometimes, which stayed perfectly intact (no whites) until you eagerly busted it open with your fork and it had a thicker, richer texture than your typical duck egg yolk. The chicken confit was packed with flavor and very tender, but honestly, you could not get my mind off that yolk. Even the ingenious take on “peas,” which were carrots covered in dehydrated pea powder would not distract me.

Veal brisket, za’atar, plum, and mustard. The veal was very thinly sliced and came with scallions, plums, and interesting mustard wafers, which melted on the tongue after the first crunchy bite. The za’atar, a mix of Middle Eastern herbs and spices, went nicely with the rest of the dish and didn’t overpower the almost delicate brisket.

The next dish, though still delicious, was probably one of my least favorites, most likely due to the kaffir-yogurt (which Bert likened to bathroom sanitizer, in a good way). It certainly took a while to get used to and I think it was almost on the verge of drowning out the flavor of the sweet peekytoe crab and delicate rice puffs.

Another dish – sole, black licorice pil pil, fried green tomato, and fennel – that threw me off but was nonetheless very well executed. The fish was cooked absolutely perfectly and I loved the crunch of the somewhat random little fried green tomato. The two pil pil sauces (originating from the Basque region of Spain), a classic and then a black licorice take, balanced against the anise-y flavor of the pickled fennel and fennel fronds. I was pretty skeptical about this dish before trying it because of the licorice element, but with each additional bite, it started to grow on me.

Lamb sweet breads, nasturtium-buttermilk, zucchini, pistachio. I’d just had some amazing “buffalo” sweet breads at Recette about a week before, so the bar was high for these babies and Dufresne did not disappoint. I still have no idea how the dish was put together and what exactly a nasturtium is (flower maybe?), but everything melded beautifully, with the creaminess of the sweet breads contrasted against the crunch of the pistachio brittle.

Root beer ribs, rye spaetzle, and apricot. Overwhelmed with deliciousness yet? Well, here’s the last savory dish, a no-holds-barred heritage pork rib that’s been bound into a cylinder, smoked, and then drizzled with that root beer infused pork jus. This is meat at the highest level. The rye spaetzle served as a very earthy foundation and the sweetness of the dried apricot only served to bring out further the smokiness of the pork. Heaven.

Whew. Time for a pre-dessert palate cleanser – jasmine, cucumber, honeydew, chartreuse. Pastry chef Malcolm Livingstone’s first creation left us feeling ultimately refreshed, composed of chartreuse foam, a frozen film of cucumber, an almost bacon-y tasting cashew crumble, and then, after cracking the cucumber ice, more jasmine cream, honeydew and chartreuse, and cucumber ice cream. Wow.

Official dessert #1 was the dish of yuzu milk ice, hazelnut, rhubarb, and basil. Basil puree, strawberry and citrus reduction, hazelnut crumble, and on top, the lightest, fluffiest-looking yuzu ice cream ever. Which slowly worked our way up to…

The most outrageous, most ridiculously indulgent approach to s’mores that I’ve ever seen. Vaguely remember a lot of “wtf’s” and “omg’s” happening at the table as these were set down in front of us. I may have also blacked out briefly after the first bite. Two sauces – one, an acidic black currant sauce and the other, a chili hot cocoa – and generous shmears of torched meringue around the edge of the plate. In the center, the graham cracker and meringue ice cream, whipped and airy on the inside and torched and crisped on the outside so it really resembled and tasted like a toasted marshmallow, but on steroids.

Finally, the perfect end to a helluva meal – a single bite of gjetost, a Scandinavian whey cheese, surrounded by a thin shell of white chocolate and coated with tart raspberry. At this point, I would’ve been happy to just pass the eff out with my stomach full of, in my mind, the world’s most delicious food, but through Bert’s name-dropping, we managed to also finagle a tour of the kitchen.

The shot of chefs plating at the pass is probably my favorite from the entire evening (though the one directly above is a close second, thanks to Christine for the photo!). The kitchen was still manically plating dishes during our tour, so we had to make sure we kept out of the way, but it was stunning to see the inner workings of a top restaurant kitchen. In the end, we all had a truly amazing, memorable time and could not thank the chefs at WD-50 and especially our awesome server, James, enough! If WD-50 is on your list (and it better be), make your reservations ASAP! There’s also a menu called “From the Vault” which offers 5 courses for $75 (the 12 course tasting was $155), comprised of classic WD-50 dishes.

WD-50
50 Clinton Street
New York, NY
212.477.2900

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