Restaurant: Eleven Madison Park
Cuisine: Upscale American tasting menu
Executive Chef: David Humm
Location: next to Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building.
For quite some time I’ve had the goal to write about the eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. We finally succeeded in making the necessary arrangements with the management. Due to their expected exclusivity, I was not permitted to take photos inside the dining room and instead used their stock photos of the food. Nevertheless, I was very excited. It’s not every day that one gets to write about a Michelin 3 star restaurant, especially one as renowned as Eleven Madison Park. I decided to take full advantage of this opportunity and invited my friend, a culinary enthusiast like myself, to have a long, luxurious lunch. She helped me to further evaluate the experience with a fresh, new perspective. Both of us are fortunate enough to have enjoyed dinners there on a few previous occasions but never a lunch. This is a special place that we admire for its culinary creativity and innovation, which is not easy in a city that is a veritable ground zero for culinary experimentation and mastery.
My goal is not to write a review or a critique of each dish but instead to describe my personal experience and connection with EMP.
In the foodie world, Eleven Madison Park is a Mecca where pilgrimage must be made at least once (and more if one is lucky enough). Chef Daniel Humm is world renowned for his serious approach to food. He has an almost military precision and exceptional attention to detail. In the kitchen since 14 years of age, Humm succeeded in creating his inimitable style, which became the trademark of Eleven Madison Park. Each dish is as close to perfection as humanly possible and not only in its structure and ingredients but also in its visual presentation. Regardless of whether one likes every dish or not, one cannot help but admire and respect the effort and technique that clearly went into each of his culinary creations. The nine-course seasonal menu is carefully designed by Chef Humm and his team. The menu reflects not just the cliché trends of the modern cuisine found in most fashionable restaurants today but his own unique approach to choosing a combination of ingredients and compositions for his dishes. Even the ‘after-the-meal’ goodie bag is different. No standard cookies or simple chocolates for Chef Daniel. Instead, he uses artfully crafted packages of homemade granola. It is the best I have ever tried that I kept on eating it from the jar until I realized that there was almost none left. Regretfully, I had to leave some for my hubby.
Your culinary adventure at EMP will start with a glossy white box placed on your table as soon as you sit down. Inside you will find two delicious black and white savory cookies with apple-cheddar filling to tantalize your appetite. After you’ve had a chance to enjoy these along with a drink, your server will stop by to explain their nine-course menu. The restaurant changes its menu seasonally with the “spring menu” in the beginning of April. Every dish is perfectly crafted and portioned so that you won’t feel stuffed, allowing you to fully enjoy the entire tasting course. Their highly trained, professional staff is attentive to guests’ dietary restrictions and will always ask beforehand. My friend was observing Lent at that time and they gladly accommodated her needs by adjusting the dishes she was served.
One of the first dishes was a delicately layered eggs benedict with potato, ham & osetra caviar with hollandaise on top, accompanied by miniature English muffins. You take a muffin, spread some of the potato-caviar mixture and enjoy the pure decadence in each bite! This dish was served in their signature shallow metal jar which was given to us at the end of our lunch containing the “garmoshka” (a small folded paper) listing all the dishes we had – a nice touch! Parsnip risotto with lavish shavings of Parmesan cheese was deliciously ingenious. At first sight it looked like a simple presentation but the complexity of this preparation shines through once you take a bite. It resembled a perfectly cooked, al dente risotto, but there was no rice!
I have a love affair with duck prepared in any shape or form, so to me it was a no-brainer for my main course. EMP’s version was honey and lavender glazed with salsify and pear—an outstanding combination further enhanced by a familiar crust of spices (caraway seeds, fennel) and a touch of saltiness of the skin. Perfectly roasted and shaped as an elongated triangle, this duck was a mouth-watering delight. My friend Tatiana had the sea bass which was equally superb.
Before the dessert was served, a very cordial maître d’ gave us a tour of the kitchen. It is a busy atmosphere with 30-35 cooks and chefs on rotation for lunch and dinner service. I expected to see lots of commotion and even havoc but instead I saw poise, composure and an almost Zen-like ambiance. Everyone knew their task and responsibilities. The kitchen hummed with focused enthusiasm to deliver an exceptional, haute cuisine and stimulating customer experience both for your brain as well as the palate. Executive Sous Chef Dmitri Magi, who speaks Russian and English, explained Daniel Humm’s vision and answered all food related questions, especially the functionality of acidity and salt in some of the dishes.
Speaking of desserts, I must confess that was my favorite dish at EMP! My friend and I went for the classic Baked Alaska with Meyer lemon and vanilla ice cream. The cake was rolled out to the table in a grand presentation with pristine, white swirls of meringue enveloping the ice cream sphere. The Baked Alaska flambe with rum was put on display at our table while the server recounted the history of the dessert. Then it was taken back to the kitchen and beautifully portioned for us both. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the rest of it?
The restaurant occupies a former bank space across from Madison Park, from the era when banks were grand monuments and testaments of wealth. Despite the fact that it is huge with very high ceilings, you won’t feel lost or swallowed, in fact, it feels quite comfortable and fits the style of food Chef Humm creates. If you look around the dining room while enjoying lunch or dinner, most likely you will observe an interesting phenomenon—almost every other table is occupied by stylishly dressed and coiffed tourist diners. Sophisticated couples, girlfriends, even an occasional lone diner taking notes and no-flash iPhone photos (by the way, there are plenty of those taken throughout dinner).
LOOK: The look was done to pay respect to this extraordinary establishment—elegant yet preppy. I wore a mid-length purple Bottega Veneta dress with sleeves, a thin Michael Kors belt and an oversized scarf. To balance the sophistication, I wore chunky heels with silk Prada socks and a Gucci navy pea coat with fur-trimmed sleeves.
Photographed by Gary Flom.