The best meal we had in New York was at Eleven Madison Park. It was one of the most impressive meals I've had anywhere in the world and nicely complements one of the other finest meals I've ever had in my life, in 2004 at Campton Place. Same chef, Daniel Humm.

Eleven Madison is operating at a very high standard right now. If you live in New York or are going to visit make the effort to go: you need to reserve weeks in advance. They received four stars in the NYT two years ago and just recently got 3 stars and 5 forks in the NY Michelin guide. I had dinner there a year ago right after they switched to the current tasting menu and it was very good but not transcendent. In the past year they've found their stride and it is now as good as dining gets, anywhere in the world. Go.

Our meal consisted of some twelve amuse bouche followed by a four course tasting menu meal. The menu is deliberately abstract, just a list of main themes like "Lamb" or "Apple" that are elaborated based on the staff's reading of the diner's desires. An open mind is useful but they're not playing any games, no need to fear some unwelcome surprises. The cooking leans towards traditional, not molecular gastronomy trickery, and excels by being very well executed.

Langoustine: Marinated with Grapes, Fennel, and Marcona Almonds
White Truffle: Tortelli with Fontina Val d'Aosta and Chestnuts
Guinea Fowl: Roasted with Pear, Salsify, and Foie Gras
Apple: Ice Cream with Toffee Cake, Walnuts, and Caramel

Foie Gras: Terrine with Plum, Bitter Almond, and Umeboshi
Lobster: Poached with White Truffles, Autumn Mushrooms, and Spinach
Guinea Fowl: Roasted with Pear, Salsify, and Foie Gras
Blue Cheese: With Pear, Chestnut Honey, and Bitter Greens

1995 Meursault Les Meix Chavoux (Domaine Roulot)
1996 Corton-Bressandes (Domaine P. Dubreuil-Fontaine Père & Fils)

Sadly I have no record of the various amuse, they were extraordinary in their variety and complexity. The main courses were nicely paced and undiluted, each enjoyable and complete without being overwhelming, Often at a fine meal like this by the time you get to the poultry you're tired and just want to stop eating; Eleven Madison avoided fatigue.

But food is only half of fine dining, the room and service is the other half. And it's extraordinary. Terrifically personal and friendly service, not too formal, but very professional. I'd gotten the reservation by gushing on about having been to Humm's restaurant in San Francisco and was impressed the staff all knew my story. We even got a little visit to the kitchen, always fun, amazing to see as many cooks in the kitchen as there were diners in the room. All working precisely, neatly, for our pleasure.

Chef Humm is buying the restaurant from Danny Meyer, along with his General Manager Will Guidara. That's probably good news, but I'm a bit concerned that they are also taking on food and beverage at a nearby hotel. The best chefs always expand their empires, it's natural for his career, but I fear the risk of diluting his excellence. Did you know Wolfgang Puck used to do something other than frozen pizzas? They are also publishing a cookbook due Nov 11 (see video). We saw a pre-release copy. It looked beautiful and entirely impractical for the home cook, more of a monument to his art like Keller's French Laundry Cookbook.

  2011-11-08 00:57 Z