While the four-leaf motif was consistent throughout the décor, it also embodied significance with regard to the cuisine. Within moments of being seated, our server approached the table to welcome us and introduce himself. He asked if we had any allergies or food preferences, to which we replied we did not. Before leaving, he explained there was a letter for each of us, hence the letter opener on the table, and a welcoming “gift”. He continued by sharing that when we opened the letter, we would find a card with four leaves representing various flavors. Our task was to punch out the leaf whose flavor profile spoke to us the most in order to guide the chef as to which flavor we would like integrated into a dish we would enjoy during our meal.
Sitting on a comfortable and luxurious banquet made of rich brown and black leather, my eyes danced around the gorgeous dining room in an effort to take in the beauty that surrounded me. A wall of large windows with dark, carved stone grills, a tall gold leaf ceiling, crisp white tablecloths, Art Deco style light fixtures, and oversized twig and flower arrangements; this quintessential New York restaurant was perfectly paired with Chef Daniel Humm’s decadent French-grounded cooking and creative Manhattanite menu.
With a grand marble façade, oversized windows with soft, orange light pouring out, and an illuminated grey square boasting their four-leaf trademark, this is Eleven Madison Park. To say the Art Deco building, located in the famous Flatiron District in Manhattan, was magnificent would be an understatement. Walking through the revolving doors, we were transported in time and space to the 1920s; an era of opulence and progress accompanied by a jazz score playing gently in the background. We were warmly greeted by the host and hostess, who not only welcomed us, but wished The Skinny Chef, “Happy Birthday”; a thoughtful note they must have made in their computer system when I called to make the reservation several weeks prior. I was, at once, impressed by the attention to detail and as a detail oriented person myself, I continued to be astounded by the depth of knowledge, ease of conversation, and warm environment created and maintained by all members of the staff.
Now to the “gift.” Inside a bright white bakery box wrapped carefully with red string, sat a classic New York treat, two Black and White Cookies. Realizing there must be a culinary twist to these typically sweet treats, we eagerly took our first bite and our palates were met with savory flavors of cheddar and a hint of tart apple. Between the impending curiosity as to which plate would feature our chosen flavor and the pleasant surprise of a unique spin on a traditional New York dessert, we had the strong feeling that the time spent at Eleven Madison Park was sure to be an experience we would never forget.
Since it was a special occasion, The Skinny Chef’s birthday, we began with a champagne toast that was light and bubbly. Trying to decide between the wine pairing or purchasing a bottle of red, one of Eleven Madison Park’s friendly and down-to-earth sommeliers joined us at the table to provide some much needed guidance. Under his watchful eye, The Skinny Chef selected a bottle of red that was medium bodied, rich in color, had a smooth finish, and was well matched with each plate served. Thanks to the solid recommendation of one of their talented somms, The Skinny Chef and I enjoyed every last sip of Ferrando Carema 2009 throughout the evening.
According to the Michelin Guide a restaurant earning three stars is, “A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients” (Michelin Guide). Considering the fact that Eleven Madison Park has earned a three star Michelin Guide rating since 2012, The Skinny Chef and I had high hopes for the tasting menu ahead.
The menu consisted of fifteen plates that were served in thoughtful portions and timed just right. With each dish came a brief description of not only what was on the plate, but where the local, fresh, quality ingredients originated and why they were considered to be symbolic of “traditional” Manhattanite cuisine. Like children listening to a bedtime story, The Skinny Chef and I hung on every word our server uttered as our mouths watered in anticipation. Once each dish was placed before us, we were given time to engage our senses and take in the colors, scents, textures, and flavors. When ordering a tasting menu, patrons always run the risk of being rushed because, as we all know, restaurants are businesses and the faster they get people in and out the more money they make. Simply stated, Eleven Madison Park doesn’t work like that. They don’t expect to turn their tables around quickly or even have multiple seatings in a single night. Instead, their focus is on their patrons and giving each person that dines at their establishment the time to take pleasure in the surroundings and cuisine, which is a consideration that I believe makes Eleven Madison Park special and unique. Just as The Skinny Chef and I demonstrated respect for the work the staff in both the Front and Back of the House put in, we felt that the staff and owners of the restaurant respected our time and the money we were about to spend on one of their meals by giving us time to truly revel in it. For me, this sense of mutual respect enhanced the entire dining experience and brought it to a level we had never experienced before and haven’t experienced since.
Like the building the restaurant was housed in, the menu was built by an intelligent and innovative chef who understands the history of New York and the people who inhabit it in present day. With a focus on local, seasonal ingredients prepared using techniques grounded in French cuisine, we knew every dish was complex even though it was presented with ease. The components of each dish came together in perfect harmony. Every vegetable, fruit, starch, and protein were seasoned and cooked perfectly. The broths and sauces were so delectable I was tempted to pick up my plate so I could devour every last drop. While every dish was truly exquisite in both presentation and taste, several courses stood out to me for different reasons.
The BROTH or bread, butter, duck broth, and salt was the perfect combination of salty and sweet and I couldn’t get enough of it. When a chef is able to craft a dish with an ingredient I don’t typically enjoy, that is the moment I am won over. Chef Daniel Humm was able to do this with his KABOCHA SQUASH dish. This dish featured radicchio, which is a leaf I usually despise, but he made me see it in a new light and literally fall in love with it. Followed by a seared lobe and tureen of HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS served with marinated grapes and mushroom bread crumbs and a BEEF course consisting of pastrami with rye, leek, potato, and a maple flavored soda (made to order since I selected the maple leaf at the beginning of our meal), it was clear that Chef Humm knew the way to a Manhattan foodies heart.
Without skipping a beat, the meal transitioned from land to sea as our next course featured LONG ISLAND SEAFOOD. A succulent oyster with yogurt and lemon, a plump scallop with pistachio and apple, marinated blue crab with pickled radish, and vichyssoise with caviar, smoked blue fish, and quail egg; each flavor-filled bite left me yearning for more. Luckily, our dip in the ocean didn’t end there. Our next course, ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS, was slow cooked with clams, squid, and shellfish parsley sauce; simple yet multifaceted and flawless from start to finish.
Rarely do I have the pleasure of consuming black truffles, but to my delight, the CELERY ROOT course was braised with black truffle and the earthy flavors that met my palate made me smile instantaneously.
Back on land, the CHARCUTERIE dish, which had sausages, liver on toast, and cured breast, was everything I wanted it to be. It was sweet, salty, and mineraly in flavor and had a combination of textures that included soft, smooth liver and crunchy toast. The FINGER LAKES DUCK was presented beautifully at the table so we could appreciate the crisp, brown skin and aromatic herbs before it was carefully carved and bathed in a fall spice jus. The tender meat mixed with jus took hold of my senses and enticed me to slowly savor each bite.
When the cheese cart made its way to our table, it was a challenge to decide which of the local cheeses to select. Nonetheless, The Skinny Chef and I made our selections based off of the recommendations made by our server and we couldn’t have been more pleased with each rich, creamy, mildly funky morsel.
For dessert, we were treated to four courses of unique sweets. First up, WHEY or sorbet with caramelized milk and milk foam, which was, in a word, delicious. Next, the VANILLA or Baked Alaska with rum, caramel, and maple that was flambéed tableside and as exciting to eat, as it was to watch in its final phase of preparation. To finish the meal, Chef Humm along with his pastry chefs offered two quintessential Manhattan treats, the PRETZEL, which was covered in chocolate and sea salt, and the CHOCOLATE or sweet Black and White Cookie with apple molasses. A nod to classic New York treats helped Chef Humm end this meal on the highest of high notes heard throughout the evening.
Thanks to the outstanding décor, high quality service, and incredible cuisine, the chefs, servers, and staff of Eleven Madison Park helped make The Skinny Chef’s birthday one he will never forget because, together, we enjoyed a meal and dining experience of a lifetime and one that is more than worthy of another special journey in the future.
On our first night in Naples, the birthplace of pizza, what else would two New Yorkers crave? Pizza! So, we took a seat at Pizzeria Attanasio and felt our mouths begin to water as our eyes carefully scanned the menu. With so many choices, it was unfortunate we could only select two...scratch that...one because we agreed the first pizza we ordered in Napoli would be a traditional Margherita pie. It was a solid agreement too because the Margherita pizza had a beautiful, golden-brown and delicately puffy crust surrounding it's perfectly cooked center that stayed intact when we picked up our slices to take a bite. Topped with bright, flavorful tomato sauce and a conservative amount of rich, creamy, gooey, melted mozzarella cheese; each slice embodied the perfect balance of textures and tastes.
For our second selection, we ordered a pizza with several toppings and expected to get a pie with each topping scattered about. However, I am happy to say that was not the case. Instead, our next pizza was artfully molded into a five-pointed star and was appropriately called Stella. Each pleasantly plump point was filled with a different topping from pepperoni, to eggplant, to salami, to ham and soft cheese, all of which indulged and delighted us. With a "traditional" center of tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, taking a bite of this creation was all about combining the sweet, cheesy center with a bit of the savory, salty goodness encapsulated by each tip of this "stellar" take on pizza. Paired with two Peronis, this was a great start to our culinary travels in Napoli!