13 days ago
Eleven Madison Park (EMP) just feels right from the moment one is greeted at the door. The room is expansive, with very high ceilings (I'm told it's a former bank building). The food and overall experience do not disappoint. We were there for 4 hours, so our time at EMP served as both a fine dining experience and the evening's entertainment. Service is friendly and efficient and the staff members are excellent at answering any questions. As has become the practice at most of the world's top restaurants, EMP offers a tasting menu only but not to worry--they ask about allergies, likes/dislikes, etc., and take all of that into account for each diner such that you may not get all of the same items as your table mates but you will never be served anything you don't want to eat (as long as you provided information in advance). Portion sizes were at times on the dainty side but after 11 courses with wine pairings, we didn't leave hungry. EMP has an extensive wine list so we both opted for wine pairings to take advantage of the sommelier's expertise. The night we were there, EMP was offering something akin to a "greatest hits" tasting menu, with a number of diner favorites from past menus reprised. The wine pairings were mostly whites and everything went well with the dish being served, as expected. I opted for the premium pairing, which cost the same as the meal. My companion chose the supposedly more basic pairing at $195. That way, each of us was able to sample each wine offering. The difference between the wine pairings was that the premium selections were all older or from slightly more prestigious vineyards/appellations. For example, for one course, I got a Sauterne while my companion received a wine from the same area but with a different appellation. All of the wines were good but throughout our self-devised taste test, the premium selections were more full-bodied. Our unanimous pick for the best course of the evening surprised both of us because it was vegetarian, but still an homage to New York's great steakhouses of the past. It was a representation of steak tartare but done with 2 perfect carrots. The server attached a hand-crank meat grinder to the table and put two large, perfect carrots through it. The result was incredibly flavorful even by itself, but it was served with a variety of sauces and oils. Another favorite of mine was a perfect piece of halibut wrapped in a very thin piece of zucchini. I'm not ordinarily a fan of zucchini but this dish worked for me. Also interesting was an homage to New England clambakes. The centerpiece was a white teapot of sorts, filled with a mix of clam nectar and cream, which was poured into little cups. Around the teapot were 6 different clams, one each of 3 different species of clam and each with a different sauce on top. They were delicious and this was the one course where I wish there had been a larger portion, just 1 clam of each variety per person not being enough. When writing TripAdvisor reviews, we are always asked to rate overall value. I find it difficult to call such an expensive restaurant a good value but for foodies, it's a pretty terrific splurge. I know that one European organization voted EMP the best restaurant in the world for 2017. Having looked at their list, I realize that counting EMP, I have only been to 3 of the restaurants on it so I probably don't have a good basis for determing whether or not they are correct. Whether or not EMP is the absolute best is of little consequence, though, when our experience was so good. If you are able to get into EMP, I have no hesitation about recommending it. It was a great experience.