Posts Tagged ‘Michelin Starred Restaurants’

Eleven Madison Park Revisited

Posted 10 Jan 2017 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It’s always nice to start the year with a benchmark visit to an excellent restaurant. I never take for granted how blessed and fortunate we are to have the opportunity to explore the food, beverage, and service at the best restaurants in the world. The creativity is amazing and every visit results in deep learning and reflection that I take back to my classroom and to life in general. This year we begin with a visit to Eleven Madison Park. It’s a Saturday evening at 7:00 pm and we have a prime table reserved for six (a wonderful group of chef-friends I have known for 25+ years). When we arrive we are treated like royalty – everyone is. We waltz over to our six-top round and take our seats. It isn’t long before we settle in for an awesome ride. Being here feels like flying first class on a great airline or taking a ride in my neighbors Mercedes S63 AMG – its so well engineered and thought-out, the experience and environment are luxurious and exciting while also comfortable, and relaxing. Lighting is great, acoustics are refined, spacing is excellent (there’s plenty of room to move) and the company I am sharing is world-class. It’s so darn easy to settle in here.

It isn’t long before the food starts to arrive. First there’s the mystery box with a savory cookie. You have to interact with this item and open it to enjoy it. Next a sampling of delicate hors d’ oeuvres presented in a set of artisan wooden boxes – the boxes themselves are striking. When the caviar Benedict comes the simplicity and contrasting flavor and texture is pure culinary craftsmanship at its highest level (this dish was mind-blowing) not to mention the custom embossed tin the dish is served in. Every item we experience is exceptional – in many cases producing pure awe and joy. Then we visit the kitchen for a standing course while observing service in action.

The kitchen at Eleven Madison Park is the epitome of professionalism. It is so nice to see a spotless back-of-house running like a Swiss watch. Every member of the culinary brigade in production has a pristine chef coat and hat, the kitchen is immaculate, every station is organized; you can hear a pin drop it’s running so smoothly. Though Eleven Madison Park is inspired by the tenets and philosophy of Jazz, executive sous chef Brian Lockwood’s kitchen is more like a well conducted symphony its so smooth. I don’t overlook how hard this is to achieve and have a new benchmark for my own practice. Humbled is an understatement.

And so it goes throughout the evening – incredible food paired with a refined and precise eye for all the tiny details in service, service-ware, guest interaction, timing, temperature, and aroma. This is hospitality, luxury, and craftsmanship at its highest level and it brings me such joy to see how far our profession has evolved over the past 30 years. I send warmest gratitude to Chef Daniel Humm and his partner Will Guidara, Manager Billy Peelle, Chef de Cuisine Dmitri Magi, Executive Sous Chef Brian Lockwood and our Maitre d’ Todd Holtry. Thank you Eleven Madison Park for teaching us what the finest hospitality is supposed to be like.

Black and White – Savory Cookie with Apple and Cheddar

Celery Root with Black Truffle, Salsify with Garlic and Thyme, Parsnip Pie, Rutabaga with Celery and Walnuts

Caviar Benedict with Smoked Sturgeon, Ham, and Pickled Egg Yolk

Crab with Sea Urchin, Kohlrabi, and Apple

Foie Gras Seared with Brussels Sprouts and Lemon

Lobster, Butter Poached with Rutabaga and Pear

Striped Bass Poached with Fennel and Clams

In the Kitchen – It Takes Many Years to Grow Old Friends!

Kitchen  Course:

Foie Gras Bon Bon – Pear Ginger Syrup Center, Candied Hazelnut Crust

Hermann J. Weimer “Noble Select” Riesling

Celery Root Braised with Black Truffle

Beets Roasted with Onions and Almonds

Duck, Honey and Lavender Glazed with Turnip and Huckleberry

Cheddar Tart with Apple and Mixed Greens

Pear Sorbet with Caramelized White Chocolate and Riesling

Chocolate “Name that Flavor”

Pretzel with Sea Salt

St. George Eleven Madison Park Apple Brandy Eau De Vie

Morning After! The Best Granola Ever – Thank you EMP

Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Avenue,

New York, NY 10010


Pineapple and Pearls: “In the People Business”

Posted 18 Dec 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

Chef Aaron Silverman’s team centered philosophy is primary cause for why I rearranged my schedule to include a dinner at his restaurant Pineapple and Pearls in the Barracks Row neighborhood just north of the Navy Yard in Washington DC. Though I did notice the two-star nod the Guide Michelin gave Pineapple and Pearls back in October, Silverman’s December 2015 TedEx talk 2015 is what really caught my attention. His heartfelt presentation centered on the connection between building and maintaining an outstanding team and achieving overall greatness. I couldn’t agree more with his perspective and I had to see for myself.

His first restaurant Rose’s Luxury won best new restaurant recognition by both Bon Appetit and GQ magazines in 2014. The restaurant was a game changer for the local restaurant scene and for the Silverman himself. Its customer centered casual feel paired with incredible – approachable food drew rave reviews and a steady stream of guests willing to cue up on the sidewalk in order to score a table upon opening. But behind the scenes Silverman focused on creating an environment and culture that would draw in the best talent. An environment where people want to work and that employees look forward to being part of.

My experience at Pineapple and Pearls provided deep evidence Silverman’s approach is working. It was illuminated by steady warmth and hospitality on a freezing December night. His team exceeded my expectation from start to finish and though the food was outstanding (the sturgeon rose was sublime) the service and beverage program was even better. Beverage director Jeff Faile has crafted an incredible program and one of the finest pairings I have had. We spent 20 minutes chatting in the kitchen after my experience (I sat at the bar for service). His approach is straight forward; he seeks great products that align perfectly with each dish on the tasting menu and he doesn’t leave non-alcoholic options as an afterthought. The non-alcoholic offerings were compelling, complex, and perfectly paired. Not an easy task. The Paliokerisio wine from Greece (grape varietals white Debina and red Vlahiko) was a favorite as was the alcohol free Jörg Geiger PriSecco sparkling cider made just east of Stuttgart in Germany. This is the kind of talent Silverman is attracting. What a great role model and example.

When a leader builds an authentic and engaging culture of excellence the impact of all involved is significantly amplified and Silverman has clearly figured this out. 2016 has been good to him – his recognition by Michelin was preceded by a Best Chef Mid Atlantic award by the James Beard Foundation. This is tangible evidence that leadership matters. Silverman ends his TedEx talk stating: “I’m in the people industry – it just so happens that I work at a restaurant.”  If people are his product – he should have three stars instead of two!

Fennel Absinthe Bonbon

Crispy Yuba, Cured Trout Roe, Garden Herbs

Beef Tar Tar, Caviar (retired dairy cow loin)

Sweet Shrimp, Ajo Blanco (almond gazpacho), Mixed Grapes, Cilantro

Sturgeon Rose, White Beets, Matsutake

Mustard Green Agnolotti, Parmesan, Greyson and Ricotta Cheese, Huitaloche, Mustard, Mushroom Kombocha Squash Gastrique

Atlantic Cod, Fall Vegetables, Pigs Head Terrine, Crispy Garlic, Garlic Fumet

Beef Loin Presentation –

Homage to DC Steakhouse – Dry Aged Rib Eye, Béarnaise, Truffle Pepper Cream, Popovers with Wild Mushrooms, Potato Onion Tart

Cheese Presentation

Warm Greyson Cheese, Purple Sweet Potato Brioche, Pawpaw Butter

Satsuma, Labneh Sorbet, Hibiscus & Whey Soda

Granny Smith Apple Crostata, Sundae Bar of Dark Chocolate, Tarragon, Olive Oil Sorbets, Lemon Glaze, Toasted Coconut

Cookies – Sesame Fortune Cookie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Red Walnut, Snickerdoodle

Coffee and Pistachio Shortbread Afterwards

Pineapple and Pearls

715 8th Street SE, Washington, DC

Eleven Madison Park ~ NY

Posted 19 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Being a chef, it’s a real struggle to remain objective when dining out. If things go well, I am elated. My level of trust and faith in the establishment goes up as does my spending. If things go poorly, I am devastated. Every missed sequence in service, every fingerprint on a plate rim or empty beverage glass that sits for a duration of three minutes or more, and my patience begins to sink. In contrast, when food and service are exceptional, it feels like I am part of a symbiotic dance; me as the recipient of service and my server the provider. Without me, my server has no one to deliver service to. Without him or her, I have no one from which to receive it. Logic dictates that good service can only occur between two (or more) individuals who are mutually committed to the experience. And committed I was when I made my way across midtown toward 11 Madison Park restaurant. 

The sun was shining as I passed through Madison Square Park; the place was packed. A canopy of new leaves was starting to form and the large cast iron planters throughout the park were loaded with fresh flowers and ornamentals. Shake Shack was in the weeds with 200 people in line waiting and 

Fountain in Madison Park

every seat surrounding it occupied. People were everywhere, sitting, standing and walking. Over the years it appears that Manhattan has become a children’s paradise as evidenced by a half dozen moms with kids in carriages weaving their way along past the ornamental fountain and Eternal Light Pole the park is known for. I have never seen so many happy, healthy kids in the city. It was just after 1:00 when I crossed Madison Avenue. 

Although my preference is to try high end restaurants for dinner rather than lunch, today my schedule didn’t allow this. However, I chose to use lunch as a way of testing the talent at 11 Madison Park. Lunch service for a chef can be more challenging than dinner. Finding the right balance between creativity, richness, and basic nutrition requires extra thought and refined restraint. The meal demands a degree of elegant simplicity. Move down scale and the meal could be deemed too common. Move up too much and the meal could be overwhelming to those who have to return to the office or some other commitment. It takes a special talent to find the middle. These were the thoughts running through my mind as I met a friend outside the place and we moved through the revolving door into the airy two story dining room. 

What has stuck with me on this trip is how youthful yet professional the service personnel I have encountered are. The hostess waiting at the entrance to the restaurant, attractive and in her late twenties, offered a warm and authentic welcome as we entered. She quickly found my name in the reservation system and came around her station to talk with us. She took my brief case and my friends coat and placed them in a closet and, handing him a claim check,  promptly took us to our table along the long banquette on the Madison Avenue side of the restaurant. I took the inside seat facing the dining room and my partner in this culinary adventure took the seat facing me. A few minutes later we were presented with our menus and offered a few minutes to look over the wine list before making a beverage choice. 

Our server was a delightful recent graduate of a prestigious culinary school in New York. After a brief chat about her background and menu favorites, she suggested we try a Pinot Blanc from the Terlan wine-growing region (Alto-Adige) of Italy. We both tried a 2005 Kellerei Terlan, Nova Domus, Resierva (60% Pinot Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc). After enduring the wonderful, unseasonal heat outside, the cool, refreshing taste of this Pinot Blanc from just south of the Austrian border was sublime. 

Carrot Marshmallow, Foie Gras, Asparagus

11 Madison Park offers a two-course Prix Fixe ($28), three-course Prix Fixe ($42), and a six course gourmand menu ($68) for lunch. My dining partner was pressed for time and could stay until no later than 2:15 so we both agreed to have the two course menu. We placed our orders and sat back for a few seconds to relax. The tall ceilings, natural stained mill work and art deco light fixtures awash in the natural light that comes in through the high windows creates a comfortable ambiance. Relaxing wasn’t difficult. As I soaked in the room, taking pictures as inconspicuously as possible, I took notice of the silver tray service being performed. Food sent from the kitchen comes out on rectangular silver trays with handles; two plates per tray. A back server carries and holds the tray while the front server removes the plates from the tray tableside and presents the items to the appropriate guest. I watched a team work its way from table to table within their section of the busy dining room performing this elegant and flawless service. While observing, it also dawned on me that my surroundings were exceptionally quiet. Although busy, the room wasn’t bustling, that’s the wrong word. It was cruising with pure comfort and precision. Then the food started to arrive. 

Our first course was a nice seasonal amuse-bouche of baby carrot marshmallows and foie gras terrine on asparagus gelee and a crispy wheat cracker. The presentation was well balanced and the flavor was stunning. Each marshmallow was shaped into a square and lightly dusted with a citrus powder reminiscent of dried Myer lemons. The foie gras 

Curry Soup with Langostino

terrine with asparagus gelee was a well conceived item with the foie gras stacked on top of the cracker base followed by the gelee. This approach allowed the fatty foie gras to serve as a barrier between the cracker and the moist gelee preventing the cracker from softening and crumbling. I tried the marshmallow first and it was light and smooth in texture, not rubbery like the commercial marshmallows you toast over a campfire. The light dusting of citrus powder provided a slight palate cleansing finish. Then I tasted the foie gras and asparagus gelee. A properly prepared gelee is so light in gelatin that it begins to melt in the palm of your hand after a couple of seconds. Both the foie gras and the gelee were perfect. The foie gras provided a wonderful rich burst of flavor followed by the postage stamp sized yet potent melt of the gelee. A very simple, delicious, yet technical start that left me excited for my next course. 

Next, our server approached us with a rosemary ficelle and a crispy mini baguette. Although perfectly prepared, the bread offering was made outstanding by the sweet unsalted organic cow’s milk butter and fresh goat’s milk butter served along with it. Contrasting the two, the cow’s milk was rendered even sweeter when compared to the slightly pungent yet mild goat’s milk butter. Both were tempered perfectly for service. These little details, executed in what appeared to be an effortless manner, are the hallmark of a great restaurant. 

Spaetzle with Pork Belly

With the mild taste of the goats milk butter just fading from my palate, our server arrived with a small cup of lemon grass and madras curry soup with petit langostino. The best way to describe this dish is subtle and subdued. Surprised to find a curry so early in a multi-course menu, it wasn’t until I tasted the dish that I understood the thought process behind it. This was an exceptionally light yet rich curry with a lightly foamed curry froth above a broth very lightly scented with lemon grass and langostino. The three or four langostinos in the broth were perfectly cooked with each taste ending with a wonderful langostino finish. The texture of the dish was enhanced by a crispy rectangular cracker perfect for dipping, served on the side. My only problem with this dish was the stalk of lemon grass placed in the broth for service. I am not a fan of such impractical garnishes but acknowledge that, even though it wasn’t a garnish I would eat, the scent of the lemongrass was mouthwatering. 

Daniel Humm, the chef at 11 Madison Park, is a wunderkind whose rise in the culinary profession has been meteoric. He’s over six feet tall and imposing but with a boyish face. He runs a large, spotless, almost militaristic (in a very positive sense) kitchen. Since arriving at 11 Madison Park, Humm has steadily earned an escalating level of acclaim starting with a three star review by the New York Times in 2007 and, more recently, a four star review in August 2009. Over the years I have learned that the best time to eat at a great restaurant is while it is on it’s way up and this is my impression of 11 Madison Park. This place is on its way to three Michelin Stars and there is no question in my mind that Chef Humm will achieve this result. 

Humm started his career as a teenager at a restaurant in Zurich in the North of Switzerland. Many of the dishes on his menu provide a glimpse into his Swiss heritage. This is why I chose the spaetzle with Niman Ranch Pork Belly, Pommery Mustard and Spinach as my next course. Surely this has to be a dish that Humm has made hundreds of times since his early years as a cook. He didn’t disappoint me. The pork belly was flawlessly cooked (sous vide?) and garnished with a cluster of tender yet plump soaked mustard seeds, and melt in your mouth lightly browned spaetzle. The rich pork contrasted with the tangy mustard and silky smooth sautéed spinach creating a balanced combination. 

Herb Roasted Colorado Lamb

With spring in the air, I ordered the herb roasted Colorado lamb with Sucrine lettuce, garden peas and pickled mustard seed. When the dish arrived is was stunning. The wonderful roasted lamb was presented three ways (roasted loin, rib and sausage), served with a lamb reduction with mint, black trumpet mushroom, butternut agnolotti. The Sucrine lettuce was lightly sautéed and served as a base to the agnolotti, peas and pea tendril garnish. At first I was worried that the pickled mustard seeds in this dish would be too similar to the mustard garnish in the pork belly but this proved to be incorrect. The flavors of the lamb were a stark and wonderful contrast to the pork belly and proved an excellent main course with little if any flavor redundancy. Every item on the dish was expertly prepared and cooked with precision. I get hungry all over again just looking at the photo. 

Dessert service at 11 Madison Park is a bit surprising. They use a traditional dessert cart with a clear glass rolled top. The cart had five options on it when presented to me and I selected a pine nut dulce de leche tart and a cappuccino as 

Dessert Cart

 my final course. The reason that the dessert service was surprising is that it takes tremendous trust and faith for a chef of Humm’s stature to allow his service personnel to portion and serve dessert via guerridon in the dining room. The loss of control is significant and the risk of inconsistent portioning and plating high. Such a decision is representative of a level of trust on part of Chef Humm and expertise on part of his servers that is nothing less than impressive. And, like the rest of my experience at 11 Madison Park, this too was flawless. The tart was delectable and, when paired with my cappuccino, a fitting end to my meal. My server, sensing that I was completely sated, and without hesitation, brought me a two ounce pour of a wonderful Sauternes to cap my experience. She read my every move and anticipated various ways to keep my dining experience consistently beyond expectation. What started out as a symbiotic dance ended with me becoming putty in her hands.  This was the best lunch I have had in years, as close as possible to perfect. With my meal finished, my server quickly slid over and suggested a quick tour of the kitchen. Instantly I accepted…but that’s another blog entry!