Mom visited during her birthday week and I decided it was high time to treat her to something lavish as lunch at Eleven Madison Park, recently named #5 best restaurant in the world; 21 years of gifting scrapbooks and last-minute Bath & Body Works lotions calls for something as big as 3 Michelin stars. I never envisioned restaurant reviews on this blog, but think of it as one of my travel posts—after all, this meal shed light onto a whole socio-economic world that might as well be as foreign as the next hemisphere over.
I can’t even begin to describe the nuances of all 15+ courses or each passing minute of the 3-hour tasting menu, but one theme rang true: Every individual flavour was so distinct and striking and clean… but when experienced as one mouthful, they were harmonious and composed; nothing tyrannical—only leading like a gentleman in the foxtrot; nothing overshadowed—only subdued accompaniment like a left hand’s cadence in the piano solo. If that seems too dramatically poetic or evocative of performing and visual arts, then good—you now have a better idea of what the experience was like. It was akin to a gallivant through the museum or prime seating at a Yo Yo Ma concert (which actually ALSO happened during this week of too many ridiculously good things), and chef Daniel Humm is most certainly an artist.
The brussels sprouts garnishing the lobster and guanciale were impossibly crisp and caramelised, the Szechuan-pepper-encrusted and lavender-stuffed honey-roasted duck was every bit as incredible as it sounds, various organs of that duck were reconstructed as a delicious kabob grilled right at our table, the sturgeon sabayon with chive oil had us digging to the depths of our delicate eggshells, and there was the intermission of tea and coffee complete with a magic trick. Out of a deck with 52 flavours, we chose passion fruit and mint playing cards that corresponded with chocolates of the same flavour, revealed under our saucers.
The courses were all notable, but a few were exceptionally exceptional. A glass dome filled with smoke was brought to the table and unveiled perfectly smoked slices of sturgeon to be eaten with waif-thin rye crisps, whipped cream cheese, caviar, soft-boiled quail egg, everything bagel crumble, and homemade pickles.
Throughout the dinner, the importance of locally sourcing the best ingredients was rightfully emphasised again and again. The infamous Hudson Valley “muckland”-grown carrots, distinct in their flavour and texture, were perhaps the most outstanding example of this. They were cranked through a traditional meat grinder clamped to our table, the star of Humm’s steak tartare interpretation and served with the most adorable assortment of condiments (so conceptually similar to the miang kham I had in Thailand).
A kabocha squash was stuffed with herbs, sealed with sourdough crust, and roasted whole to serve with cranberry compote, caramelised pumpkin seeds, and maple-bourbon sauce that tasted like everything pure, earthy, and festive about Autumn.
The plating and presentation were thoughtful. The waiters were everywhere at once, swooping silently by to clear up utensils and bring new plates for each new course. They explained each dish, answered questions thoroughly, but put themselves out of the way. In addition to its artistry and seasonal flexibilities, Eleven Madison Park is, on the other hand, an extremely well-oiled machine capable of churning out amazingly orchestrated food.
Now, I enjoy a loud and sweaty hawker stall every bit as much as an afternoon in the plush seats of the world’s #5 restaurant, so it was a nice surprise when we were sent home with a humble jar of granola: “We made you breakfast for tomorrow.”
Turns out it’s more than any humble granola I’ve ever tasted. Leaving the restaurant both physically and mentally full enough to forego food for the rest of the day, I didn’t crack open my jar for a few days. When I finally tasted it, I couldn’t stop. Mom foolishly left hers with me, and both jars now sit empty upon my desk, echoing of no self-control. I’ve always stood solidly in the large clusters camp, but this cluster-less breed is confusingly perfect. You might think that granola is granola—one of those foods that’s incredible regardless of what recipe you follow or what you eat it with…but Humm will prove you wrong. There are ranks of incredibleness amongst granola, and this one’s at the top. It isn’t the most fat-free or low-sodium, it doesn’t involve healthy tricks like egg white or puffed rice, but it’s the best I’ve ever had. And that’s worth every extra teaspoon of brown sugar.
Eleven Madison Park Granola
Adapted from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
(makes 6 cups)
- 2 3/4 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 3/4 cup dried apple slices
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup dried currants
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 300ºF/150ºC.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, apples, pepitas, and salt.
In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, maple syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola in an even layer. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.
Remove granola from oven, mix in the dried fruit. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container.