You can eat anywhere. The streets of New York are littered with places to fill your belly. Dining however is something different. There has been talk lately of the supposed death of fine dining. I get why people can feel this way. The public seems to have lost interest in dressing up. They have lost perspective of cost due to economic concerns. Casual and affordable are attractive, yet we need to remember how important dining out can be. Eating out can satisfy your appetite. Dining out can satisfy more.
After my tour of Hudson valley Foie Gras I headed into to NYC to dine at Eleven Madison Park. I went for foie gras, but left with much more. I remember holding the application for Eleven Madison in my hand during my job search in New York years ago. I could tell from the questions on the application that this place was serious. The accolades they have received in the years since are well deserved. They aimed for excellence and have achieved it. I found myself wondering what might have been if I didn't take another job offer back then.
Eleven Madison has moved away from a la carte dining and now offers just two choices of tasting menus. They have made cosmetic changes as well. They removed tables, moved server stations to lessen noise in the dining room and even repositioned the host stand. All these in an effort to make the dining room more comfortable for guest. The menu is now a 4 x 4 “grid” which just lists the main components of the dishes the chef is offering that evening. A four course tasting ($125) allows one choice from each of four rows. The top being cold preperations of first course apps. The second row is hot appetizers, third is your main course and fourth dessert. My selections for the evening were Foie Gras (first), Snapper (second), Pork (third) and Lemon (fourth).
Some may think $125 for dinner is expensive. It is in theory, but after dinner at EMP I felt it was a steal. The four courses you choose are not the only dishes you receive for the cost. There are several courses of amuse bouche that awaken every part of your palate. The rich flavor of the uni panna cotta, and earthy black truffle beignets. The simple clean flavors of fingerling potatoes and the salty sturgeon zabayon. Before my first course arrived I was blown away by the effort and execution of the culinary team. I was also impressed with how effortlessly our server guided our experience and made wonderful cocktail suggestions for my dining companion. I knew early on that I was in for a meal I would never forget and was already planning my next visit.
The first course was foie gras torchon. It was served over a quince gelee and accompanied with a chocolate brioche. I really would love to be able to make torchon this good. I would also love to see what the $195 tasting menu holds if dinner was this good for $125. Dinner at EMP did more than provide me with sustenance. It made me think about who I would like to share the experience with in the future. It made me remember lost loved ones I will not be able to share it with. It made me want to be a better cook. It made remember why I love the restaurant business. That is something that eating can never do.
The Skinny Fat Kid
Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue