I have a pretty average palate.
But I enjoy almost every type of meal, from caviar to Taco Bell. The only food that makes me really angry is unripe (and always prevalent) honeydew and cantaloupe—these should never be the main ingredients in a “fruit salad.” My husband, on the other hand, is more of a foodie and can appreciate the skill that goes into making a great dish or cocktail.
So for his birthday, I saved up some money and made a reservation at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It was voted the No. 1 Restaurant in the World in 2017 and was recently featured on Netflix series, “7 Days Out.” They’ve also printed several cookbooks, recently renovated their kitchen, and have a team of “Dreamweavers”—people who overhear your conversations and try to surprise you with a small personalized gift.
Our review? Worth it—for people who love food, enjoy a long dining experience, and cherish excellent service. I appreciated every minute of sitting in this historic Art Deco building, sipping on cocktails, talking with staff, and spending time with my favorite foodie. I was positioned in the exact middle of the restaurant, facing the rest of the dining room. Waiters whooshed by with colorful plates. A champagne and wine cart clinked over to a nearby table. The Maître D' sat a family of six to my right, and a strange choreography of the server leading and the patron following bled into a memorable performance.
Note: It’s damn expensive to eat here, so if tasting menus aren’t your thing, check out the bar—or visit one of NYC’s many other amazing restaurants. I invested in a meal at Eleven Madison Park because I was seeking a birthday experience for a food-loving guy. (And it’s actually not the most expensive chef’s menu in this crazy city we call home; currently that odd superlative goes to Per Se or Masa).
If you’re interested in dining at Eleven Madison Park, or just want to see some fun photos, keep on scrolling to see how the whole experience works. I’ve also sprinkled in some tips for getting the most out of your meal.
Online reservations open on the 1st of every month at 9 am EST for the following month. This means all of February’s reservations become available on January 1. They tend to book up quite quickly.
When you make a reservation, you also pre-pay for your dinner. I actually loved this because when we got the bill after our meal, I only had to pay for the cocktails we’d enjoyed that evening. And because I’d already been paying off my credit card, it made the experience seem less costly.
You cannot tip. Don’t even try—they will not accept your cash! Gratuity is built into the pre-paid bill. And even if you order drinks the night of, the same rules apply. There will be no line on your check for tipping.
The restaurant gives you the option of putting your phone in a box at the beginning of the meal so you can be in the moment. I obviously did not partake (I needed a photo of my duck!), but my husband went phone-free. However, if you do a kitchen tour—more on that below—they will retrieve your phone for you. Had I’d known this, I may have relinquished my mobile. Maybe.
We were at Eleven Madison Park for approximately four hours. Most patrons on Yelp said their experience lasted between three and four hours for the chef’s tasting menu. They will also bring out a bottle of brandy with the bill. You’re encouraged to enjoy as much of it as you would like—this probably added 20 extra minutes onto our meal. I wasn’t ready to go!
There is no dress code; you won’t be turned away for wearing a tee shirt. But the majority of people in the restaurant will be in business attire. The night we visited, most men had on jackets.
A few days before your reservation, one of the Maître D’s will email you and see if you have any questions, special requests, etc. I explained we were celebrating my husband’s birthday and asked if they still offered behind-the-scenes tours of their kitchen. She said that the staff would try to meet the request—and they did! Based on our experience and on a few other blogs I read prior to booking, it seems that if you ask several days in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a tour.
Kitchen Tour (cont.)
If you tour the kitchen, they will have some little treat waiting for you in the back. When we visited, they were testing a few spices with fizzy apple-based drinks. We played a game: could we match the right spice to the three sample shots? (I would just like to say, I won—my average palate and I were elated!)
Some of the courses will have two options—I highly recommend you and your partner order different dishes so you can sample the full menu. Our favorite dishes were the duck, the halibut, the mushroom presentation, and the cheese course. Our full menu on the night of January 10th was as follows:
Dosa with black truffle and parmesan, potato salad with black truffle and black truffle tea (which was actually some sort of amazing broth)
Caviar and soufflé with clam, leek, and potato
Foie gras seared with beet and horseradish OR scallop cured with kohlrabi (similar to cabbage), sea urchin, and apple
Halibut roasted with black shallot and shiitake mushroom OR lobster, butter-poached with a celery root and apple tart
Golden oyster mushroom roasted with pine and coriander—wheeled to the table on a carving cart, like a steak
Duck, honey and lavender glazed with Napa cabbage and pear OR a steak of some sort. We both went with their signature duck dish.
Leeks with cheddar and parsley and winter squash with brown butter and thyme
Harbison in a washed rind cheese fondue with mustard and pear
Chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sorbet with chai and gingerbread OR pumpkin cake with butternut squash and sarsaparilla
Chocolate-covered pretzel—which actually tasted a lot like chocolate-covered cookie dough ;)
The staff are very warm here; it’s a fine dining restaurant without the stiffness of some other places we’ve eaten. Take the time to hear what they have to say about each dish and ask questions. For us, this rapport was what really made the experience stand out. Also, they were truly listening to us—for dessert, candles were placed on Ryan’s plate. And a T. rex cardboard cutout was served with our chocolate-covered pretzel display because I’d told a member of the staff that I work at the Natural History Museum! All the personal touches are what made our evening so memorable.