11 Madison Park is an enchanting restaurant, seemingly inspired by as well the avantgarde like Noma, as by classics like Taillevent. Maybe it is the very best restaurant in New York these days.
I visited 11 Madison Park, prior to giving my votes as a juror in Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants, as I had heard many good things of the place. And I was not disappointed, as the visit literally made me happy for a few hours.
I review one restaurant every week and have done so for 10 years, and visited many of the worlds most famous restaurants. But only seldom do I get high and happy as I did at 11 Madison Park.
The feeling most often kicks in, when I visit a restaurant where everything seems perfect. Not only the food, but also the matching wine, the surroundings, the ambiance and – most important maybe – the service. No matter how great the food is, the experience can be ruined, if the waiter does not excel at his job.
I enter between the 2 marble pillars and is greeted by a sharp looking, suited waiter, who smiles as if I were a long time missed, cherished guest.
He grabs my suitcase and disappears shortly, before returning and showing me to the table, in the impressive dining hall. The ceiling is 35 feet above me, but kind of cozy anyhow. Thick, perfectly ironed, white tablecloth on the tables with comfortable, wide, chairs.
It is lunchtime and the clientele seems to be mostly businesspeople. By eavesdropping I understand that the chairman of Israels venture capital association is sitting at the table to the right. To the left a scriptwriter and film producer is sealing a deal.
I unfold the napkin, and learn that it is large enough to cover a small table, and that it is of the same luxurious fabric as the tablecloth.
The André Clouet champagne is poured elegantly, and one of the frenchest snacks imagineable is served; Freshly baked cheese soufflébuns, with a near crispy crust and soft, fat inside.
They are followed by what looks like a cup of tea, but is in fact a concentrated bouillon of mushrooms, the umami taste boosting my appetite, which is shortly satisfied by a piece of airy briochebread with lots of freshly grated truffle.
I think of Noma during the next amuse, a glass with soil and wheat grass. But where the nomanians serve edible soil, this really is soil and just for decoration. It serves as the base for a lollipop made of youghurt with a crunchy, sligthly bitter element. Please note, we are still only in the amuse bouche department, and it continues with – I should think – an ode to Alain Passard. It is an egg, precisely cut open and filled with an airy egg custard, containing small cubes of juicy sturgeon, plus some of its cargo; Caviar in a fresh, firm version.
An elegant, floral Rheingau riesling from Hansensprung is poured, for now we shall eat! Up untill now, the waiters have served the food, but now it seems to be the chefs turn. Just as at Noma, they present the dishes by turn.
First course is a cold fish bouillon with a raw razor clam, covered by chives, purple flowers and celerysnow. Beautifully fresh, clean and refreshing taste.
The next dish is just as pretty, with two large, orange seaurchins, shivering dots of apple gelly, 7 cubes of poached foie gras, 5 cubes of acidic apple og 3 moccaspoonfulls of sturgeon caviar. The dish clearly leans towards the classic gourmet restaurant, but is modernized via the seaurchin.
It is followed by a stroke of terroir cuisine, namely Long Island Clam Chowder. The soup is served in an ironskillet, and flanked by delicious Madeleine cakes mixed with small pieces of clam, clam shells with egg custard and caviar, some fried potato puree and a glass of Southampton beer.
After this I am invited to the kitchen, for a refreshing cocktail made in liquid nitrogen, while enjoying the sight of the many chefs, working concentrated in superclean surroundings.
Refreshed by this take on Le trouve normande, I return to the table, where a freshly baked wheat bread awaits me, together with 2 delicious butters from cows and goats milk.
The next serving is based on vegetables; Puree of celery and poached celery, boiled couscous mixed with crispy couscous, again a refreshing element.
Back to the animal kingdom with a kind of foie gras sandwich, a perfectly prepared terinne – or torchon – de foie gras between a thin, crispy flatbread. Accompanied by crunchy brioche crumbs and jelly of quince, and a glass of elegant auslese riesling.
And the beer returns, a bitter version that is perfect for the next course; Braised endive with small cubes of ham, served with black truffle.
Lobstertime has arrived, together with a charming glass of Chateau Grillet 2001. The lobstertail is deliciously close to raw, but perfectly tempered and very juicy. The taste is from the salty sea, garnished with rocket salad leaves, crunchy cocoabeans and strips of carrot.
A chef is approaching the table, carrying a glass jar with 2 white truffles, the size of a babys fist. Some of the truffle is grated over a plate of pasta with raw chestnuts in thin slices.
In the glass 1998 Barolo Fantino, in the mouth a firework of pleasant tastes.
Now what? A chef is at the table with an entire duck, thighs round and fat, breasts voluptous, all in a mahogany brown colour.
The taste is deep, quite bloody and very clean, the texture tender but also firm. Also on the plate is a piece of pan fried foie gras and some confit de canard, from a distant relative to the bird.
I know now, that chef de cuisine Daniel Hume masters the salty cuisine, and turn my attention towards the dessert. There is only 2 servings, so I do not get the same broad impression, as in the salty division.
The terroir kitchen rules. First an ice cream soda, mixed tableside with soda from an antique siphon. The last dish is a cascade of sweets; Cheesecake, grapes, sorbet, pistachiocake, butterfilled tuille, slightly chilled icecream, peanutbutter and a chamomille shortbread.
The coffee is brewed in front of me on a Chemex, delivering a lukewarm, acidic, light cofee. The waiter places a bottle of brandy on the table, asking me to have as much as I like. He explains, that this is a gesture, to make the guest feel welcome. Brillant.
Brillant is a word you can also use to describe the waiters, who impressed me immensely. I saw the best of the american schoool combined with the best of the french and italian school.
The waiters seemed as enthusiastic as the chefs, and together they delivered the most fantastic dining experience I have had in a long time.