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February is not for diets…Eleven Madison Park and more…

Happy Lunar New Year! Welcome to the year of the Goat! (Or sheep, as it’s indistinguishable in Chinese). For me, February always signifies a month of non-stop eating, (warning lots of food porn coming). First off,early in February it’s my good friend Christine’s birthday and her dad always takes us out to eat at a Chinese banquet. Always a great time with great friends! Happy Birthday Christine and thank you to Papa Leong!

Thanks Papa Leong for a yummy dinner at Royal Seafood! Happy B-day Christine!

Then it’s Valentine’s day, which although is an annoying reason for restaurants to raise their prices for an evening out, I nonetheless relish a chance to eat out so we had dinner with my friend Anne at a new-ish izakaya in the West Village called Saikai. It was pretty good and we were pleasantly surprised because we thought it would just be overpriced small portions as is the case with most swanky izakayas, but we thought the food was yummy and we would return again.

Uni pasta from Saikai

A delicious truffle chawanmushi (savory egg custard) at Saikai.

I can’t say no to good sushi, and the sushi from Chef Toshio of Tanoshi Sushi and Sake Bar on the Upper East Side is absolutely sublime. When my friend Anne suggested we go back here, I immediately said yes. I highly recommend anyone visiting NYC to forgo the overpriced menus of Masa, Megu, and the like, to dine here at this counter-only sushi-lovers paradise. Reservations are a must, and it is a 75 pp omakase menu each night (well worth it). We always end up ordering more anyways, but it is BYOB which makes it a more affordable night out. I never ever go to the Upper East Side, especially York Ave, but this place is worth the trek (when the weather is decent, that is).

Chef Toshio’s Requirements

Tanoshi Sushi and Sake Bar

I’ve sort of given up on finding great eats that isn’t a diner or chain restaurant in NJ, and we have more burger restaurants that any state that I know. But what pops up just a few blocks from our house? The famed Habit Burger…which I daresay sorta lives up to it’s reputation as “Best Tasting Burger in America” by Consumer Reports. It’s probably the closest we’re gonna get to In-n-Out and I’ll take it!

Habit burger just opened a few blocks away from us!

This was taken at home (we got take out). I tried the teriyaki cheeseburger tonight which I think is a bit too sweet, but their regular cheeseburgers are outstanding.

The Santa Barbara burger – a double cheeseburger with avocado served on grilled sourdough. I think this is one of the best burgers in the Northeast. Sorry for the crappy picture. I had taken a few bites and was swooning and muttering how I should have gotten this instead of my burger while taking the picture.

February ends with my birthday (the 27th), and since this year we are going to be on Kauai, we thought to celebrate a little earlier by dining at a place I have been dying to return to, Eleven Madison Park. Steve and I first came about twelve years ago, before it became the Eleven Madison Park that it is today. We really loved it back then (I believe it was the original Chef Kerry Heffernan at the helm), and absolutely loved it last night, (with Chef Daniel Humm). I enjoyed the elegant, slightly whimsical food, and we liked that it wasn’t too formal (there is no dress code, but I wouldn’t wear jeans). The space has always been beautiful, in fact, one of my most favorite restaurant structures in NYC because of the soaring high ceilings and tall paneled windows. Here was our evening at one of NYC’s three-Michelin star gems:

It’s been really cold in NYC! You have to bundle up and wear thick boots. It’s hard to dress pretty in the winter…sigh.

The beautiful interior of Eleven Madison Park

A present when we arrived…an amuse bouche of sorts.

It was a savory black and white cookie with cheddar and apple…one of my favorite classic flavor pairings.

We started with wine…a bottle of Riesling, which was really good. I learned about botrytis, which is a fungus prevalent in Rieslings, from the Sommelier who was very helpful in selecting our wine. (I found out that I actually like both types of rieslings, those with botrytis and those without).

German Riesling from Donnhoff

Although it is a prix fixe menu, they asked about our allergies and restrictions (none) and then asked to make a few choices: Pork or duck? Duck (and I am really glad we did). Foie gras torchon or seared? I chose torchon while Steve chose seared.

First course: Widow’s Hole Oysters, served hot (with black chestnuts) and cold (with apple)

An ode to NYC, Sturgeon, smoked, with various accompaniments: Pickled mackerel, Fennel, Dill and Caviar; Whitefish Potato Salad with egg yolk; Pickled Cucumbers with Black Rye and Salmon; Beets with Apple and Trout Roe

My favorite of the sturgeon course, the Whitefish Potato Salad with the most beautiful satiny egg yolk (was it quail? not sure). It was presented so beautifully too.

Caviar topped cream cheese

Turnip course: Turnips braised, pickled, dehydrated in a turnip broth. I thought this tasted like Chinese fermented turnip. It really did! I’m glad to see turnips on winter menus. So many chefs use parsnips and I’m not a fan. I much prefer the turnip.

The delicious flaky rolls.

Two types of butter from a creamery in Pennsylvania: one plain on the right, and on the left, a duck fat butter (since we had ordered the duck course)

Hudson Valley Foie Gras: torchon style, marinated with Red Cabbage and Lettuce. This was divine.

Steve’s seared Foie Gras, with Brussel Sprouts and Smoked Eel. This was even better than the torchon (and I like it both ways). This was a brilliant foie gras dish and I absolutely loved it!

I asked about the butter and if we had chosen pork, would there be pork fat butter? Yes there would have been and would we like to try some? Of course!

Now we had a trio of butters. The pork fat butter was good but there was a faint hint of rosemary which is the one herb I never enjoyed. I think it overpowers everything it touches, so I’m glad we chose duck instead of pork.

There were a lot of theatrics too. Our server/table side chef told us the story of how dishes get named after people. After a lot of flambe-ing and stirring (good fun!) we were presented with: Lobster Neuberg.

Table side dinner theater. It was a lot of fun!

Lobster presented to us sans sauce, which was what was being prepared in front of us.

Our waiter really got into it.

Lobster Neuberg sauced…nicely done!

This bag in the saucepan is basically a pig’s stomach lining which is used to braise celery root. The brought it out to show us how it was being braised. We had no idea what to expect inside it.

The result: Celery Root braised, with pork jus and Black Truffle. The truffle flavor was amazing.

The duck course! Finger Lakes Duck, Dry-aged with Pear, Mushroom, and Duck Jus. That is lavender sticking out of it it too, and it is crusted with Szechuan peppercorns. Perfect for Chinese New Year!

Duck Breast, seved with Duck Jus and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, which I adore.

Our cheese course was really cute. It was fondue style, with the cheese melted and bubbly inside a roasted carnival squash.

Cato Corner Cheese, with Roasted Carnival Squash, Mustard and Bitter Green Salad with Quince dressing and Quince jam. Served with warm pretzel bread sticks.

The cheese was wonderful, but the quince jam was out of this world. Paired with the salty, stinky, gooey cheese and warm pretzel bread, it was a joy to eat.

Close-up of the cheese fondue in the roasted squash

Quince jam, where have you been all my life?

Our next course was a nice contrast to the wine we ordered, it was a sweet dessert Riesling, with a pronounced botrytis element, which gave it a candy syrup like flavor. This was served with a sorbet. I actually like botrytis too and will now discover new wines with and without it.

Sorbet with Bitter Almond and Ginger Crumbled, paired with a sip of Reisling Noble Select from Hermann J. Wiemer, Seneca Lake, NY

For my birthday they put a candle on the dessert course, which of all things to serve me, is a SHAVE ICE. MY MOST F-ING FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD. I was so giddy with joy! Not only is it a shave ice, but it has all my favorite flavors, maple ice cream, apple, creme fraiche, salty-nutty caramel…I love it all.

A very fancy shave ice with my favorite flavors. Aloha!

After I blew out the candle, they drizzled Bourbon Barrel Aged maple syrup on it. Are you kidding me?? Can I love a dessert more?

Not many people know this, but my favorite ice cream flavor in the whole world is maple walnut. It’s really hard to find nowadays, but more than 30 years ago, Haagen Daz used to make it and serve it in their stores. I have memories of myself when I was a young girl, barely 5-years old, eating a scoop of maple walnut at Haagen Daz with my parents (I was an only child back then and very loved). I rarely get sentimental with my food (nostalgic sometimes, yes) but this dessert brought me back there. It was that real for me. Thank you Eleven Madison Park for giving me my first “aww” food moment! Haha.

Final dessert course, salty white chocolate pretzels dipped in dark chocolate, all the Apple Brandy you care to drink, and a parting gift.

We come full-circle at the end of the meal with a Sweet Black and White cookie with Apple Molasses

Thank you for a most perfect Birthday dinner, Steve!

We absolutely loved our dinner there last night. We’re definitely returning to Eleven Madison Park. Note that dinner is a rather long affair (about 3 hours long) but I had a fantastic time. It’s the sort of restaurant you’d like to try menus for each season, much like Atera. Speaking of which, we’re sad to see Chef Lightner leave, but will be looking forward to seeing his new ventures and what the new chef does at Atera.

Our take home gift from Eleven Madison Park, a Ball jar of homemade granola and a chocolate bar for me!

Eleven Madison Park | 11 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10010 | Dinner is 225 pp, tasting menu only

Our family is celebrating Chinese New Year tomorrow with another Chinese banquet (my second of the month), followed by my official family birthday meal at an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant in NJ. This will be followed by a week of vacation in Kauai (we leave Sunday). I told you, February isn’t good for diets!

I wish everyone a happy and healthy Year of the Goat/Sheep! May we all get to love and enjoy good food and even better company in the new year!



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