For a gourmet wine is not a drink but a condiment, provided that your host has chosen correctly. – Edouard De Pomaine
Eleven Madison Park
It was the eve of my latest birthday. Jonathan and I were meandering through Madison Square Park on our way to my surprise dinner he had planned. Our taxi had dropped us off several blocks west of the park and as we were walking and chatting away, I was racking my brain; thinking of all the restaurants in a half mile radius that we might be heading towards. Gramercy Tavern? Three blocks south, but we were heading east. Hanjan? Two blocks northwest…not it. Blue Hill? Close, but too far south to walk comfortably in my pencil skirt and stilettos; he would have certainly taken us closer to the place by taxi. ABC Kitchen? Kin Shop? Where on the earth are we going? I didn’t actually say any of the above aloud because this man does not divulge any hints or clues to his surprises…never, never ever.
It wasn’t until we stopped for a moment to watch a live filming of Sesame Street that it all dawned on me. I looked at Jonathan and asked if he thought they always film in Madison Square Park. When I said those last three words, I heard this echo in my brain.. Madison Square Park, Madison Square Park, holy moly!! We are going to Eleven Madison Park!!! One block east…the direction we had been heading all along. I could see the entrance. I wanted to scream to all around me that I just guessed where I’m having dinner. That would just be totally wrong because if you know anything about NYC parks…you can scream anything you like and no one is going to acknowledge you, I would seem like a spoiled asshole AND the other reason I couldn’t scream it… Jonathan has this thing, if I guess right on any surprise or present then I don’t get it. Not that I really think he would ever do such a thing but there was no way in hell that I was going to jeopardize this chance to dine at Eleven Madison Park!
Walking into EMP is like walking into a spacious art gallery except instead of gazing at art you are gazing at the wait staff, completely dumbfounded by how they just appear and disappear when needed. They are everywhere but nowhere. It is honestly quite extraordinary. Diners were greatly outnumbered by the staff. But the beauty of this is that you never ever have to wait for a thing and they seem to be completely invisible until your face gives a look as if you may be thinking you want something…and poof! Like magic they appear before you even confirmed to yourself that you really needed to ask that dying question or that you would like another glass of wine.
And the real experience…the best I’ve ever eaten, hands down. Arguably my favorite fine dining experience and easy to see how Chef Daniel Humm has been awarded the highest of all honors; three Michelin stars.
Every course was a testament to how beautifully balanced and layered flavors can make any ordinary dish explode. Even the most delicate of all dishes, an oyster, was intensely flavored with simple wood sorrel and buckwheat. In a city with many extraordinarily talented chefs, you might wonder what makes EMP so special. Amongst many things, the two most evident reasons that EMP should be on any gourmand’s to-do list are the locally sourced ingredients that inspire the menu and the theatrical experience of dining here.
Eleven Madison Park’s menu is created from a love of New York. It’s hard to believe that with 16 courses, almost everything on the menu can be found on a farm or a shop nearby. Even the cheese on the 11th course (a picnic basket filled with pretzels, mustard, beer and cheese) was aged in the caves of the famous NYC cheese shop, Murray’s, in West Village.
Having been lucky enough to dine at many highly acclaimed restaurants, I’m familiar with the little things that restaurants do to surprise their diners or showcase their food. What I wasn’t prepared for during this meal was how entertaining each course was in the way it was presented to us. At some points our table was full of a mist from a table top clam bake, later we were watching our carrots being hand-driven through a meat grinder and near the end of our meal I was beyond delighted to dig into my picnic basket to discover one of my favorite cheeses. This style of presentation has serious potential to come off as artificial and overdone but that was certainly not the case. We enjoyed every moment and was impressed by all the details put in creating and presenting each course.
Bread & Butter
Course Fifteen (Not pictured)
Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt
I selected my quote for this post to make a point and unfortunately, EMP missed the mark on this one. Wine here was an afterthought, not a condiment.
As wine lovers, we opted for the wine pairing for each course. It was the only letdown of the evening. Just like the food, the wine is selected based upon your likes and dislikes. I told the sommelier that I was not a fan of many white wines but was open to them if he thought that the selected wine was a perfect pairing. Only three courses turned out to be served with red wine and not one course that was paired with white was a homerun in my opinion. If I had to do it all over again, I would have ordered a wine that I knew I would love and forget about the pairings. There’s nothing like experiencing a moment when the combination of food and wine is more grand than the individual components but that did not happen here with my dinner. For these reasons, I would not suggest a pairing unless you; are not a fan of red wine, don’t want to be bothered with selecting your own wine, or you are new to wine and want to learn a bit during dinner.
In my opinion, Eleven Madison Park is worth traveling to New York City just for this one experience. At $195 a person (wine pairing and gratuity not included), it is an indulgence that most will find hard to partake in. If you can swing it, do it. I believe it will be one of your best dining experiences ever…as I said, it is my all-time favorite to date.
Special thanks to my amazing husband, the man who first ignited my passion for good food and fine dining. You fill my life with so much joy and always make the best dinner partner. To many more amazing experiences to come!