I decided to take Jenn out for an early birthday lunch, as she was visiting NYC. Ever since Frank Buni upgraded Eleven Madison Park to a four-star rating, I had been wanting to try it out. So, I made a reservation and there we were alongside businessmen and ladies who lunch.
The meal was flawless, as was the slightly-over-attentive service. Having not eaten at a four-star NYC restaurant, I don’t have any means of comparison, but Eleven Madison Park definitely felt like one.
Our meal began with two amuses: Gruyere puffs and a plate of salmon-stuffed cucumber and mayonnaise-dipped mini radishes. Gruyere is my favorite cheese, and the puffs were light, hot, and wonderful. They were small bites of perfection. Even the radishes, tiny as they were, were packed with flavor and had a pleasing bite to them.
Next came the bread, a choice of two types of mini baguettes: plain and olive. We each sampled both. I’m not a huge fan of olives, but I couldn’t stop eating the crunchy-crusted treasures.
For my first course I had the farro, which came in a light creamy broth with corn and chanterelles. I was formally introduced to farro, an ancestor of wheat, while interning at the Food Network and have been in love with it ever since. When cooked correctly, it has more of a bite to it than rice and this heartiness is exactly why I love it. Paired with the mushrooms and corn, this dish managed to elevate the somewhat pedestrian grain to a haute level. The creaminess around it was delicious, and I found myself wishing it was socially acceptable to lick your plate.
Jenn started with the octopus salad, which was mostly salad greens with some well-placed morsels of the grilled cephalopods. I had a bite of the octopus and it was tender on the inside, lightly-charred on the outside, as good as it gets.
Moving on the main courses, Jenn’s pork dish arrived, plated like a true work of art. There were two pieces of pork, one larger chunk and the other what we came to call a “pork cake,” which Jenn was gushing about as she ate it.
I went with the bouillabaisse, which came with red snapper, mussels, and squid in a delicate tomato-based soup. The potatoes alone, cooked to perfection, were enough to win me over. Needless to say, the seafood was also excellently prepared, and delicious.
We shared two desserts, the linzer torte and a blueberry tart. I hadn’t been to a restaurant with a dessert cart since the churrascarias of Brazil, which are not necessarily bastions of high-end cuisine. But, our server managed to make even a dessert cart, with its vanilla cream that he so artfully smeared onto both plates, synch with the vibe of Eleven Madison. Both desserts were good, well-executed, but not the highlights of the meal.
Before the check came a plate of colorful petit macarons, all different flavors. We were stuffed, but tried of few bites. My favorite was the passion fruit (yellow).
Four star dining is easy to love. Being doted on by more wait staff than there are people at your table is a nice treat, though I’m not one who allows service to make or break a dining experience. For me it is all about the food, and Eleven Madison Park lived up to its reputation and then some. I hope to some day return for dinner, I’m sure it’s an even more elaborate affair. Until then, I can sit and daydream about Gruyere puffs, mini baguettes, and some of the best sauces I’ve had on food, perhaps ever.