Monday, May 19, 2014

11 Madison Park

Recently the beloved wife and I hired a babysitter, got dressed to the nines, and headed out to 11 Madison Park. I'm still not sure how to write about this dinner since it was less of a meal and more an experience of sensory overload. I've gone to movies and seen shows that were less entertaining than this. And certainly not as delicious.

Located right off of Madison Square Park, the restaurant is situated on the ground floor of the grand art deco Metropolitan Life Building. The dining room is a yawning arch of marble with huge tables spaced far apart. Honestly though, we didn't have a lot time to look around and get a vibe for the place since, from the moment we got there, the wait staff pulled us into easily the most unique dining experience we've ever had.

11 Madison Park is a tasting menu restaurant so you don't order a thing. There are only about 80 tables and the diners are seated at different intervals across the evening so each table gets an enormous amount of attention. The first thing the waiter asked us to do was to open a small envelope -- they even provide a letter opener -- and to select a flavor. Our choices were, if I recall correctly, strawberry, celery, raspberry and coffee (I chose strawberry, my lady selected celery). Then we got the extensive booze list and ordered a couple of cocktails. Shortly thereafter, the first of MANY courses came out.

I could write a lot about each dish but, in the interest of time, will simply list them and provide some commentary where I feel its helps. The menu consisted of:  

Cheddar - Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple: a wonderful little treat that loosens the taste buds and preps you for the food to come.

Oyster - Baked Potato Ice Cream and Caviar

Morel - Custard with Maine Sea Trout Roe

English Peas - Warmed with Meyer Lemon and Egg Yolk

Beef - Pastrami with Ramps, Rye, Mustard, and Strawberry: this was really fun. It was served in a basket and designed to be a high-end picnic. Think a very, very, very high-end deli sandwich. Also, the flavor that we had selected earlier was the flavor for a cola that was served with the sandwich. Very cool. It even came with an fake artisanal paper plate!

Foie Gras - Cured with Orange Chamomile, White Asparagus and Bitter Almond

Apple - Waldorf Salad with Celery, Rhubarb and Walnuts: they prepare this right at the table and the ingredients are very finely sliced.

Lobster - Poached with Beets, Ginger and Nasturtium: if I recall correctly, this was a little soup served underneath the Waldorf salad.

Asparagus - Braised with Potato and Black Truffle: this was actually cooked in a bladder and they showed it to us as it was being cooked. Mmmmm ...

Duck - Broth with Cured Duck and Watercress Roasted with Rhubarb, Shallots and Scallions: this was the highlight of the night. It was a freshly prepared duck (again, they wheeled it out to show us during its preparation) that was very carefully seasoned and amazingly tender.

Fresh Cheese - Pretzel, Parsley and Strawberries: a nice palette cleanser.

Whey - Sorbet with Caramelized Milk and Milk Foam

Almond - Baked Alaska with Rum, Caramel and Strawberry

Pretzel - Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt

Chocolate - Sweet Black and White Cookie with Mint

But wait - 'dere's more!

After the meal, we were given a bag containing two huge jars of fresh granola with dried fruit. This was a small present to take with us and, for the next week, I ate it for breakfast each morning (my wife took it to her office as a snack).

Then the most fun part: we were given a tour of the kitchen. It is a huge beautiful modern factory run with Swiss efficiency. Best of all, we were taken to a special place of honor, where they cut up some apple, used an old-time ice grinder, and created delicious natural frozen ices for us. Again, delicious. The wait staff was beyond polite, kind, and considerate. It's almost like they mad us part of the 11 Madison Park family. This is a place that truly views food and service as an art. At the end of the evening, we left the restaurant in a daze. It was an amazing, dare I say almost sensual, experience.

Besides the great food, wonderful service, and fun experience, 11 Madison Park isn't just another fancy restaurant: it's a New York-inspired restaurant through-and-through. Our waiter told us that 11 Madison Park is celebration of the city, and its food reflects this: the beef pastrami, the oysters, the Waldorf salad, the pretzel and the ices all have a literal and figurative NYC flavor.
This isn't a "brand" restaurant that can be franchised. This is a unique place, the food and experience found in only one place -- and one city.

11 Madison Park is the peak of excellence and a reminder of how eating great food in NYC can make for a memorable time. If you want a meal of a lifetime, you should definitely go there.

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