Memories Are Made Of This.

Keith and I were supposed to spend last Saturday night at Eleven Madison Park, a favorite restaurant of ours in New York, but Irene threw a wrench in our plans.  Mayor Bloomberg shut down the city, and Eleven Madison Park followed suit.  I can’t say I blamed them, regardless of how much I had been looking forward to dinner.  The restaurant has never failed me in the past, and I know we would have had a spectacular meal.  I was able to get us last-minute back up reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but they too closed because of Irene.

So, reservationless on the eve of a hurricane, we stayed at home with my parents and ate reheated-in-the-microwave rotisserie chicken from Costco.  A few hours later, the power went out.

And that is how Keith and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.

I am not the kind of girl who cares about anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, or if my partner stays out late with The Guys.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Does Keith love me?  Do we still enjoy each other’s company?  Are we happy?  Yes to all of the above.  Isn’t that all that matters?

Okay, take all of that in and then scrap a third of it.  I mean, sure: love, company, happiness… I want to go to there, and most of the time, I do go to there.  But my relationship with Keith moved so seamlessly from platonic to passionate that until we got married, neither of us had a clue as to when it was we actually got together.  It was springtime, we agree, when I was nineteen and Keith twenty-three, but that’s it.  Was it March?  Or May?  Or in between, in April?

This is my point precisely: we have no idea.  And that’s why finally having an anniversary meant something to me.  Valentine’s Day can get bent.  It has nothing to do with me.  But a certain day in August…

It’s just plain nice to have one day marked in Keith and my lives that celebrates us, even if most of the time I don’t think about it unless someone asks or if the end of summer looms.  I feel that with Keith I’m part of something special, and though we take care to appreciate each other often, it’s important to take a minute once in a great while to formally acknowledge it.  Often with cocktails.  So when August 27th does come around, I like stepping into a dress and a favorite pair of heels, sitting across from my husband in a thoughtfully decorated room, and drinking a French 75 while talking about absolutely nothing related to our wedding.

Which is why I was pissed off at Hurricane Irene.

Now about those chickens…

My dad is a horrible snob.  He’s opinionated, and he’s particular, and sometimes — let’s face it — he can be a little racist.  That said, he loves Costco rotisserie chicken.

This is alternately bizarre and hilarious to me because my dad scorns places like IHOP and Outback Steakhouse (though he does like the occasional Red Lobster).  My father likes Peter Luger, drinking oghi on warm summer days and talking about life in Beirut.  Most modern American things are worthless, or a disappointment.  Case in point: Burger King.

In the seventies, when my parents were still dating, they went to a fancy dinner that neither of them enjoyed very much.  As my father drove my mother back to her apartment, he spotted a Burger King.  Still hungry, he pulled into the drive-thru.  They each ate a Whopper in the car, parked in the lot.  Now when my father talks about Burger King, what he has to say is all past tense, what Burger King used to be like.  He pinches an inch of air with his index finger and thumb and says, “The burgers used to be thick, like this.  And the lettuce was crunchy, and green.  The tomatoes used to be so fresh the juice would come out of it!  Now the hamburgers are so thin, like paper.”

For my father, the memory of something is always far more delicious than the reality.  So I can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the chicken?

To be clear, I fully admit to sometimes cheating a recipe and using a store-bought bird rather than poaching or roasting my own.  When I do that though, I feel like such a culinary con man.  My mother raised me better than this, I think guiltily as I hide the chicken’s take-out container deep within the recycling bin.

Of all the social stigmas in the world, the ones we’ve associated with food have got to be the strangest.  I mean, we have a whole category called junkBut is there anything junky about a rotisserie chicken?  If there is, like Valentine’s Day, does it even matter?  They’re flavorful and nutritious, and my Republican dad loves them.  And when I think about the day that marks my sixth year married, what I’ll think about is this: eating chicken with our crybaby puppy tangling himself up in the now-tattered quilt I made for our bed over a decade ago, while my parents — once so disapproving of Keith — tease and cajole my husband to eat some more as they piled more white meat onto his still-full plate.

And, for me, that’s what’s up with the chickens.

* The most popular recording of “Memories Are Made Of This” is by Dean Martin, but I’m quite fond of Johnny Cash‘s.
Advertisements

Every Picture Tells a Story.

The image in my new header is from my first meal at Eleven Madison Park in 2009.  The image in my previous header is from my meal at La Alqueria in 2007. They were two very dissimilar meals, but both were equally impactful on my eating life, so it made perfect sense to have photographs from them featured so prominently on the page.  In both cases, I chose my color scheme and then found pictures from my travels that coordinated seamlessly.  I guess I’m lucky to have eaten not just some lovely food, but colorful food.

Every Picture Tells a Story” by Rod Stewart.

Ben Eats Meat (and a Veggie Burger).

I don’t get to eat out with Ben nearly as much as I would like, mostly because he lives on one end of the country and I’m on the other.  The few meals we’ve been able to share have been memorable for their own reasons — like orange-chocolate lattes and pretty much everything at Eleven Madison Park — but we mostly listen with extreme levels of envy to the other describing a food-related experience.  Like, for example, the day Ben had recently.  He writes:

On Saturday, Jill informed me that she really wanted to go to a farmers market because she was craving fresh fruit that didn’t taste like plastic, chemicals and/or nothing. So Sunday morning Jill and Dave and Tim and I roamed the Hollywood Farmers Market for tasty fruit and fixings for dinner. We had no concept for dinner, so we let the market dictate what we were buying. Because we got there a bit late the protein selection was not the hottest, so after lunch we went to McCall’s Meat & Fish. (This was my second experience* with McCall’s and, despite my aversion to religion, I might form a cult for that place.) After a back and forth with Chef McCall, we opted for a 2.5 pound Kurobuta Pork Rack. This turned out to be a very good choice.

We avoided recipes with this meal**. There was something really nice about just taking the fruit and veg and herbs we’d purchased and kind of winging it, making it up as we went along. And I wasn’t disappointed: it was simple, unbelievably fresh and delicious.

Try and tell me you’re not jealous of that.

Morning Snack at the Hollywood Farmers Market: random sampling of blood oranges, blackberries, strawberries, English peas, almond butter, cashew butter.

Lunch at Kitchen 24: veggie burger, side of potato salad, Diet Coke.

Yes, I should have eaten at the Market. But K24 is around the corner and their homemade veggie burger was calling to me.

Afternoon snack while prepping dinner: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, almonds, pieces of olive/fig bread.  2 glasses of Ménage à Trois California White.

Dinner: Herb-crusted pork rack, dill & garlic fingerling potatoes with English peas, baby greens + balsamic strawberry with walnuts & chèvre, olive/fig toast, 2 glasses of Coppola Rosso.

Dessert: Strawberry + blueberry + blackberry in lemon juice with mint sugar.

* Two weeks ago we made a rack of lamb that was kind of a revelation; it was the first times where we prepared something that I considered truly restaurant-worthy. I have no doubt that it was largely due to the beautiful cut of meat, but Jill & I cooked that bastard perfectly. It was the best lamb I’ve ever had.
** That said, Chef McCall very helpfully gave precise directions on the butcher paper on how not to eff up the cooking of the pork.

Lunch at Eleven Madison Park.

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.

Elelven Madison Park amuse bouchesRegardless 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.”)

Eleven Madison Park Scottish partridgeI 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.

Eleven Madison Park macaronsEach 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
212.889.0905
elevenmadisonpark.com
Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Six.

1.15 – 3.30 pm: Lunch at Eleven Madison Park with Keith and Ben; it’s my second time here in a month, and I’m excited to eat.  We decide to do the three-course prix fixe for $42.00.  After an amuse bouche of gougères, sashimi and cucumber panna cotta, I order the chicken velouté with veal sweetbreads and black truffles, the linguine with Alaskan king crab and Meyer lemon, and the bone marrow crusted beef tenderloin with saffron onions and braised shallots (for $15.00 extra).  Try bites of Ben’s scallop with celery, more Meyer lemon and black truffles, as well as the poached pear and the savoy cabbage that accompanies his boudin blanc — though neither of us can remember what it is until Ben texts me afterwards.  Also sample Keith’s slow-poached egg with Parmigiano-Reggiano and mushrooms, his ricotta gnocchi with artichokes and bacon, and his suckling pig confit.  Ben tries to get me to eat some of his salad of heirloom beets with chèvre frais, rye crumbs and edible flowers but I’ve had this dish before so instead I order a non-alcoholic cocktail called “Up the Alley” that is so good I promptly get a second.  We’re too full for dessert but we make room for the two plates of macarons we are given anyway; Ben and I share a caramel-popcorn and a rosemary-pistachio, but after that I eat my own sesame and chocolate-quince.

4.45 – 5.30 pm: Cinnamon-spiced apple cider at the Grey Dog.

7.10 pm: Bowl of pilaf standing up in the kitchen while my parents eat dinner and watch Jeopardy!

7.59 pm: Handful of dried mangoes, which my dad has always fed to the dog, who stares unblinkingly at me — and indignantly huffing — until I share.