Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review: Two-Course Lunch at Eleven Madison Park

Eleven Madison Park serves a two-course, prix-fixe lunch for $28 on weekdays. For the caliber of the restaurant, that's a steal of a meal... if you can manage to get over to Madison Avenue and 24th Street on a work day.

Luckily, my sister and I work close enough to the restaurant that we squeezed in a Friday afternoon "business express lunch" (as it's sometimes called when you're in and out in about an hour).

Two courses. Twenty-eight bucks. So what did we eat?

First an amuse bouche arrived: a single cube-cut beet marshmallow, pale pink, slightly savory, and airy in the mouth; paired next to the marshmallow was a foie gras canapé, barely wider than a postage stamp, topped with a dark pink fruit gelée and a dehydrated berry, which looked like a little, shriveled jewel.

Bread service consisted of two personal-sized baguettes, one classic white and one studded with Picholine olives, as well as gougeres, or little, airy puffs of cheesy dough made from pâte à choux.

For our first courses, I chose a bowl of tagliolini, strewn with Alaskan king crab, and tickled with black pepper and lemon. The plentiful portion of egg noodles glided across the equally plentiful crab meat, helped along by the cascade of clarified butter, which puddled in the bottom of my bowl as I ate my way down.

My sister chose späetzle with Niman Ranch pork belly, crispy but luscious, and supposedly finished "with Pommery mustard and spinach." I couldn't detect much green on her plate, but I tasted a rich piece of mushroom that sent my imagination to the Black Forest of Germany, somewhere woodsy and earthy, where wild boars might be heard scuffling about.

We debated about which main courses to order for some time, she and I both dancing around the idea of "herb-roasted Colorado lamb with eggplant, cumin and yogurt." Neither of us got that. Instead, we went for a fish dish: "bouillabaisse of striped bass, Bouchot mussels, manila clams and chorizo," finished table-side with chorizo oil; and a pork dish: "St. Canut Farm cochon de lait with Bing cherries, sweet onion and mustard," which actually had pork two ways as well as a smear of thick yogurt beneath each pitted cherry. The mustard was like nothing I have ever eaten before. It was like mustard seeds that had been lightly pickled, then displayed like caviar, draped over a single, sauteed spring onion.

Both the fish and pork were excellent. The portions were ample, but not exhausting. Service was exactly what I want it to be: attentive, yet respectful of the diners' privacy and conversation.

Could I pick apart this meal a little more? Certainly. The taglionlini did not need to drown in clarified butter. It left a heavy coating on my tongue, and it distracted my taste buds from enjoying the freshness of the noodles. Still, that's one mildly off-putting aspect of an otherwise solid effort.

If you've some extra time and money to spend on a fancy weekday lunch, Eleven Madison Park also offers a three-course meal for $42, or a tasting menu, which takes a full two hours, for $78.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY

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