I’ve insisted that I don’t really read restaurant reviews, and I swear that is true. That said, I agree completely with every word former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni wrote in in his four-star review of Eleven Madison Park.
Is it distinguished? Is it impressive? Progressive? Superb? Yes, yes, yes and yessir. And, even better, Eleven Madison Park offers a two-course prix fixe lunch for $28.00, three courses for $42.00, and a “Gourmand” lunch tasting menu for $68.00, so basically you can decide which option best fits your budget when you sit down. And yes, I am writing with the assumption that you’ll eventually make a reservation and have a meal here. I did — three times in the past four months. It’s that good.
Regardless of which menu you follow — Gourmand, two- or three-course — you’ll first get an amuse bouche: six gougères, cheesy puffs of choux pastry warm from the oven, and two other little bites. Once there were molded domes of golden potato and surprising savory beet-imbued marshmallows; another time there were foie gras macarons and celery root gelée. With the Gourmand meal, there was yet another amuse: a perfect pale pink scallop standing knee-high in cream of celeriac soup.
Though I’ll fight anyone for the last gougère, it was the soup that I fell in love with. Its celery root flavor was utterly delicious, that’s a fact not up for debate. What I became so enamored with was its astonishing mouthfeel: smooth and creamy, with a pleasant weight.
“How amazing would it be to have a robe made of this?” I asked Keith. Before he could respond, I interrupted myself: “No, wait — underwear. Can you imagine, long underwear with this texture?”
(Keith’s response: “You’re so weird.”)
I don’t care what you order when you come here, because I can guarantee you that it’s going to redefine the word perfect. I’ve had the heirloom beet salad, which features three different types of beet, each wearing a nasturtium-petal cap and a dusting of crumbled rye toast. The butternut squash velouté rivals my beloved celeriac soup in terms of texture, but its flavor is far bolder. Most recently I ate the balik salmon and its accompanying pommes Dauphine, which were lovely and pillowy and delicate.
Unfortunately, the Scottish partridge ballotine is not on the menu anymore, but I can only hope that some iteration of it reappears this fall so that you can try it. If it were possible to somehow beam a bite of ballotine to all of you, a small plate of it would be appearing at your elbow right now, along with its garnishes of fig, plum and black truffle.
Also no longer available is the lobster navarin — which is a fancy way of saying ragoût, which is the French way of saying stew — so try to console yourself with a plate of the linguini and Alaskan king crab. It gets its subtle citrus flavor from Meyer lemon, but coarse black pepper prevents the dish from being too precious, adding a much-needed edge.
Somehow I found room for venison and hen of the woods mushrooms; another afternoon, I managed to eat every morsel of my bone marrow encrusted beef tenderloin. It was a true struggle, but utterly worth it.
If after all of this, you can squeeze in another course, you must have the chocolate peanut butter palette. I can’t stress this enough: you must have the chocolate peanut butter palette. Yes, it’s crunchy, and sophisticated-yet-comforting, and there’s edible gold flakes glittering on its surface, and it’s a heck of a tongue twister. This is all true, but what takes the dessert from delicious and propels it into the next level is the caramel popcorn ice cream it is served with. Eleven Madison Park’s popcorn ice cream wasn’t my first, but it was undoubtedly the best.
Each of my three lunches ended with a plate of macarons — once, when eating there with Ben, we were sneakily given an extra plate, and when we had lunch with Stephanie on Friday two oval dishes of cookies appeared, sans the cloak-and-dagger. I like a bit of covert ops every now and then, but I can’t complain at all about these little meringue sandwich cookies. Of course, as it’s a risk-taking sort of restaurant, Eleven Madison Park’s macarons aren’t your standard everyday chocolate or raspberry. Instead they are peanut butter and jelly flavored, or chocolate-and-banana, or toasted sesame, or green tea, or violet, or pistachio-rose, or Meyer lemon, or brown butter-hazelnut, or whatever other fantastic combo the kitchen comes up with. I’m partial to the lemon, in case you were wondering, and the brown-butter hazelnut, while Keith always snaps up the PB+J.
One last word, and then I promise I’ll stop drooling (intentional pun!) over what just might be my new favorite restaurant: cocktails. I know I already insisted you have the chocolate peanut butter palette, but now I must put my foot down and stand firm and require you order a cocktail. I like the Painted Lady, with its frothy egg-white top and dash of house-made bitters. There’s fantastic non-alcoholic ones, if spirits aren’t for you, like the cool celery fizz and kind-of-dirty-sounding”Up the Alley.”
Okay, that was sixty-two words too many, so I’ll wind it up now. Just promise me you’ll go? Please?
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10010