Hi, I’m back. The last time I posted was about my birthday, at home. In the meantime, I’ve been to New York City and back. Boy did I have a nice celebration there – the last, and most stunning was at Eleven Madison Park. Here is my review of this very special dinner.
There are those times in one’s life when you’re certain you’ve been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. One evening last week at Eleven Madison Park was one of those moments for me.
After a pretty grueling and somewhat underwhelming round of restaurant visits in New York, I feared that Eleven Madison Park, one of Danny Meyer’s many castles, would become a casualty of dining fatigue. Quite to the contrary, Daniel Humm’s Gormande menu, in its newest incarnation, had me doing cartwheels out of the restaurant at 1AM, when I finally left.
This was a very special dinner for me as I was re-uniting with my old college roommate, whom I had not seen in a couple of years. He’s one of those bi-continental types, and had just flown in from Paris to meet me. We both ordered the Gormande tasting menu with the wine pairings.
Short of cutting and pasting all of my tasting notes here from my flickr account (they are voluminous), I’ve simply re-typed the menu with links to my flickr account where you can see and read about each dish. If you want to be really lazy, you can just sit back and watch the slideshow here (and click on any of the pictures to pause the show and read the notes).
Gormande Tasting Menu
Maine Diver Scallops
Corolle with “La Ratte” Potatoes, Leeks and Sterling Royal Caviar
Dewazakura, Dewansansan Nama Genshu, Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Cappucino with celery root and Tricastan truffles
Claude Genet Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Chouilly, Cote des Blancs NV
Cape Cod Bay Peekytoe Crab
Cannelloni with daikon radish and Madras curry
2005 Bernhard Ott, von Rotem Schotter, Feurersbrunn, Donauldland, Austria
“Elevages Perigord” Foie Gras
Torchon with Venezuelan Cocao and Quince
2005 Heidi Schrock Beerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria
Mediterranean Loup de Mer
Slow Cooked with Saffron Endive Nage
2005 Domaine Pierre Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France
Nova Scotia Lobster
Veloute with Lemon Verbena and Violet Artichokes
2005 Barrere, Clos de la Vierge Sec, Jurancon, Southwest France
Sorbet with Satsuma Tangerines and Star Anise
Daniel Humm, whom I have been tracking with some interest for a time, is my age – just 29 and fresh in from carrying on the tradition of excellence at Campton Place in San Francisco not more than half a year ago, is pure *genius.* He earned his first Michelin star in his mid-twenties at the Gasthaus zum Gupf in the Swiss Alps and has just now picked up a nomination for the James Beard Rising Star Award.
Every single food item was impeccably cooked, prepared, seasoned, plated, and presented. Except the macarons (both the truffled foie gras macaron with the hors d’oeurvres and the pistachio macaron with the mignardises), which were soggy (n.b. it was a rainy day), everything edible was technically flawless.
But, beyond technical mastery, I found Humm’s cooking to be tremendously thoughtful and resourceful. Through this Gormande menu, he demonstrated a command of a wide range of cooking techniques, mastery across a wide range of foods, and proficiency in multi-cultural cuisine.
Everything, whether an age-old Indian Madras and cocout curry-informed course of sweet peekytoe rolled in a transcluscent cigar of daikon radish to a traditional or humble Anglo-French boudin blanc with first-of-the-season morels, came out with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Foie gras comes gorgeoulsy marbled and veined with Venezuelan cocoa and served with toasted brioche swirled with that same cocao and instead of a traditional cut of cheese plated on some obligatory microgreens drizzled with some fruity gastrique, Humm’s cheese course was a refreshingly different and free-formed riff – a goat cheese mousse served with a good dose of extremely fruity Laudemio olive oil and bijoux slices of beets.
What truly elevated this meal for me – beyond the wonderful food, was the wine pairings. Being a neophyte to wine, there were several points throughout the meal where I had that “aha!” moment that I have been waiting for all of my (very short) drinking career. For what it’s worth, I think John Ragan, the wine director, is an extremely thoughtful and playful sommelier.
It took me until the third course to discover the “madness to his method,” so to speak. While I tried unsuccessfully in the first two courses to compromise the wine with the “star” item for the course, in the third course – the foie, I finally discovered that the wines were paired with some off-key ingredient or accompaniment (with the foie, the wine especially highlighted the cocoa). After that, it became a fun cat-and-mouse game for me to find which element(s) on the plate the wine was meant to bring out. For the loup de mer, the pairing struck a special cord with the strands of fried ginger on top, for the suckling pig course, the pairing achieved nirvana with the five spice roasted cipollini. Of course, I realize the effect of each wine might be different for each person, but it was really neat how “locked in” dead sure I was when I found the matching ingredient – those specific food and the wine combinations confidentantly set off matrimonial bells and whistles.
The only two courses that I found predictable – your standard-issue fine dining courses – were the first and the last. First course always involves some kind of white vegetable/root vegetable cream with caviar. While I’ve encountered celery root mousses, cauliflower panna cottas, and turnip cream, Humm is the first to introduce to my repertoire a “La Ratte” potato cream – served predictably with rendered leeks and a quenelle of caviar.
The last course, almost begrudgingly, featured a chocolate moelleux – aka the seemingly obligatory chocolate molten cake. I think this was my fourth, but certainly not the least, one for the week. It was also slightly distinguished from the “standard-issue” by being bittersweet instead of bitter dark – which was to my dark chocolate-loving dismay.
I know that desserts at Eleven Madison Park have been the center of much discussion and the object of some finger-wagging. I know that the restaurant announced the arrival of a new pastry chef just a month ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name. And, because I ordered the Gormande, I didn’t get to choose my dessert nor see his dessert menu. However, if the dessert on the Gormande is any reflection of his work, I’d say that he has just a bit to go to match the creativity and wit of Humm.
That being said, I thought the passion fruit bourbin sour portion of the dessert was pretty damned smart. Also, our pre-dessert is probably the most memorable I’ve ever had – a shotglass of blood orange sorbet, vanilla ice cream, tangerine wedges and cleverly embedded sticks of baked meringue – sweet, sour, fruity, tart, creamy and crunchy – it was very enjoyable.
Where Eleven Madison Park might lose points is in the service. I cannot complain about the service we received. We were treated like princes from the greeting to the tip. Courses were evenly paced, the service was cordial, polite, informative (although a few times, the server had to stand corrected as a few items were mis-presented) and patient – if not pushing the cordial point a little too much. I don’t need a “bon appetite” before each course (yes, literally). However, apparently, the couple, or rather the gentlemen of that couple, sitting next to us did require such attention. He wasn’t getting it.
It was plainly obvious to both him and me that my friend and I were getting the attention he so craved and that I really didn’t care for. Ironic, really. I got the impression (and this is my perception) that he was of the dining-out-to-be-coddled crowd. Imagine – two twenty-something year-olds stealing thunder from a man twice our age with probably one-hundred times the net worth of my friend and me combined. Truth be told, I noticed a couple of occasions where his dinner was mishandled. After their desserts were cleared, the server came around again with the dessert menu – and just short of presenting them for the second time, said aloud, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, we’ve already done this here, haven’t we?” The man did not look amused. And, it shouldn’t have happened. His wife, all the meanwhile, yapped on and on – a headless well-spring of gushes and fluorishes about the meal, which only irked her husband more.
Chef Humm did come out of the kitchen at one point to make the rounds. Towering over our table, he was certainly one of the most humble-seeming people I’ve ever met – very soft-spoken and unassuming.
The dining room truly is as classy and grand as everyone says. I loved the space – airy, bright with huge windows looking out over Madison Park. The one thing that I found anomolous was the larger-than-life red lighted “EXIT” sign above the main door. I commented to my friend that, God forbid, if the room should fill with smoke, we would not be in want of directions out.
I am so thrilled that I chose to visit Eleven Madison Park as the restaurant to end my two-week long birthday celebration. I’m sure I will return.
Although I have been, and remain, a devotee of Chef Elliot Bowles (of the Avenues), I have to say that Humm is definitely a very strong nominee for the upcoming James Beard Rising Star award. I wish all the nominees the best of luck. Now I know at least two of them are truly worthy. I’ll have to catch David Chang on another visit.
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10010