This post is a bit out of order, as we actually went to Eleven Madison Park in June 2016. I have been travelling so much that I haven’t been able to stop and write a proper, thoughtful review and I wanted to make sure Eleven Madison Park got the attention that it deserves! Unfortunately my pictures don’t reflect how amazing everything was, maybe the lighting or maybe because photographing taste is impossible.
I’ve wanted to go to Eleven Madison Park for a long time, not just because of all the great things I had read about their food, but also because Will Guidara, co-owner, is known for having revolutionised the service at the restaurant. My very talented friend Lesley (www.babbleandbite.com) also went many years ago and still raves about it being one of the best experiences of her life, and to me what she says is law, I trust her advice blindly.
I had the privilege of interviewing Chef Daniel Humm and Will Guidara a few days before the Top 50 Awards in New York and Eleven Madison Park, alongside Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, was rumoured to be one of the lead contestants to take the top spot (they ended up number 3, climbing from number 5 the prior year). I was even more blown away by Chef Humm and Will after the interview (snippet of it below) and got very excited about the upcoming meal. As number 3, they are now the number 1 restaurant in the US! In my opinion they are amazing but Blue Hill still takes the award.
Daniel and Will have recently changed the menu format from a very long tasting to a more focused 7 dish set menu, with service included. Even then, after having eaten two very long meals in Spain just the week before at Asador Etxebarri (number 10) and Celler de Can Roca (now Number 2 in the World’s 50 Best List 2016 and number 1 last year), coupled with the fact that Stewart had just landed from a long flight, we decided to go for the à la carte as opposed to set menu (a la carte served only at the bar but someone didn’t show and we ended up at a table!).
We started the meal with some bubbly, I knew just from that we were in for a treat…..
But Will couldn’t help it and threw some extras around, just to make sure that we tried some of the specialties that we may have missed out on, such as their exceptionally delicious Caviar dish – poached quail egg with a bacon gelee and nibbles of ham under a corn puree that emulated a hollandaise, covered by a healthy portion of caviar and served in a gorgeous little tin decorated in an Art Deco motif. The dish was served with a tiny and adorable side of miniature English muffins. It was absolutely heavenly and has converted me into a caviar fan. (I’ve always been a cheap date and not the biggest caviar lover!)
They also turned me into a duck addict. I don’t usually go for duck, but in this case I was letting myself be guided by them and they told me that the duck was their pride and joy, and now I know why. The beautiful breast was glazed in honey and lavender, served on a spring onion sauce with touches of rhubarb – exceptionally tasty.
The other incredible dish was the celtuce, which we all had not heard of before. Celtuce is a lettuce with a thicker stem, and this simple version of braised celtuce with pistachios was subtle, delicate but hearty and delicious at the same time.
The extra nibbles from the absolutely incredible flaky rolls with the most delicious butter to the addictive and incredible gougere type morsels served with Hudson Valley Triple Cream with Sorrel, Whipped Crème Fraiche, and Rhubarb.
Dinner ended with a delicious baked Alaska with strawberry, lemon and vanilla ice creams, set on fire at table-side followed by a fun chocolate game. We got several chocolate bars and then a little card with drawings of various animals and had to guess which of the chocolates was made with cow versus goat versus sheep’s milk. I was awful at it while Stewart and Amy guessed some of them. But it certainly gave us an excuse to keep going back for more and more nibbles to try to guess it correctly.
The service was an 11 (no pun intended) and better than any I ever experienced (they got the very well deserved best service award at Top 50 a few days later). Everyone was friendly and seemed truly excited to work there. Their enthusiasm and passion was contagious and transmitted great happy vibes across the restaurant.
When we first started discussing what to drink, they brought us a massive wine list and I asked the sommelier how often people looked at it thoroughly versus leaving it in their hands. I also showed him a photo of the three volume wine list at El Celler. I said: “they could even have half the list with a made-up Chateaux de Samanta and no one would even notice”. When we were about to leave, they brought me a little bag with a bottle of wine they had hand-written Chateaux de Samanta. They also replicated a page from their wine list and replaced one of the real wines with a Chateaux de Samanta, priced at $6916, the date we visited the restaurant.
We all got glass jars of granola to go and following a great visit to the kitchen that was still humming at 11pm, we went home happy, impressed and looking forward to eating Daniel’s food again.
In sum: they deserve to have such an amazing rating! I am a bit disappointed with the World’s 50 Best list and don’t agree with their choices. Dan Barber at Blue Hill got 48 for example and I liked my meal there better than at Celler. But Eleven Madison was fantastic and it made me want to revisit The Nomad, their hipper restaurant a few days later.