I'm not sure which is more embarrassing–to be pegged as a blogger or a tourist. I've always felt a little bit dorky breaking out the camera during meals, especially at higher end restaurants. It does become a compulsion, though, and one I’m not fully ok with. The conundrum is that no one has the attention span or wherewithal to actually read what a blogger has to say about a restaurant; people just like to scroll through photos. In fact, I'm wasting precious keystrokes this very second.
So, I found out that tourist feels worse when asked by our waiter if "we were visiting from out town." Dude, not everyone taking photos in restaurants are rubes. Er, or maybe I am a yokel in denial. Either way, it set a discordant tone for my leisurely day-off lunch.
I never take a real lunch. Usually I brown bag it and walk around the block for air, rarely taking more than 30 minutes of my afternoon (many males in my office take one-hour-plus lunches going to the gym. I would appreciate knowing how women manage that without having to shower and re-do hair and makeup because I hate wasting time after work at the gym). So, for pre-holiday July 3, I thought it would be fun to try an upscale prix fixe lunch. Jean Georges has a good deal with two courses for $28, additional offered for $14 apiece, but I was there for Valentine's Day and wanted to go someplace I'd never been. Eleven Madison Park wooed me with their two-course $28 deal. Apparently, $28 is the going rate for these fancy mid-day offerings.
It's a good thing we didn't go all out with the $68 tasting and $45 wine pairing, which I initially thought I might want. The more retrained option was sufficient, and as it was, I’m not certain that five courses would’ve been more enjoyable. Despite the room being about half full, the pacing felt off and there were minor distractions. I'm not a fuss budget (unlike the Louboutin lady next to me who sent her $10 supplemented lobster roll back for reasons I couldn't discern, then nibbled maybe two bites of the second rendition and left everything on her plate—maybe she was practicing that three-bite diet rule I still cant wrap my head around) but there were little things like not being brought any silverware to eat our entrees. It also would've been nice to have had our cocktails with the warm cheesey gougères, butter-enrobed baby radishes and cucumber-salmon rounds, but they awkwardly came right before the first course despite having ordered them before even focusing on the small nibbles.
I did like my Oaxaca 747, though, a smoky take on the Aviation that used mezcal and agave nectar in addition to the usual gin, maraschino and crème de violette. I'll order practically anything using crème de violette even though the deep amethyst color in the bottle always translates as gray in the glass, not even mauve. Once again, I encountered the big ice cube.
One thing is certain; their presentation and use of color is beautiful. Instead of feeling fussy, the baby vegetables and tiny bursts of pink and orange on this plate of tete de cochon provided more dazzle than was hinted at by mere “pickled vegetables.” The tartness of the radishes, onions and carrots and chopped parsley-onion condiment helped offset the richness of the pork, whose comforting texture reminded me of corned beef hash, not in a disparaging way. I couldn’t determine what flavor the ivory-colored gelatinous cubes were.
I wasn’t expecting such a golden exterior on the skate but it was fortuitous because sometimes I find fish too delicate (subtlety is often lost on me). This gave it enough heft to stand up to the strong, Spanish-ish accompaniments. I chose this specifically for the sweet-salty components: briny stem-on capers, oily Marcona almonds, neutral cauliflower, golden raisins and a few croutons that seemed to be rye.
The additional set of appetizer and main course that I didn't sample:
Slow Poached Organic Egg with Asparagus, Hollandaise and Parmigiano Reggiano
Suckling Pig with Broccoli Rabe and Pickled Mustard Seeds
Dessert was the biggest disappointment. Not that there was anything wrong with the lemon meringue pie. I’m just a sucker for trolleys and when the desserts came wheeling by I felt compelled to pick one. Soon after, though, I began to covet the plates of parting mini macaroons in unusual flavors and pastel shades that the non-dessert orderers around us were presented with. Unless you’re dead set on a particular pastry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $12 (strange, that I don’t normally discuss pricing so much—maybe the economy has finally sunken into my consciousness).
I will say that I liked the young British sommelier whose looks and uppercrust accent reminded me of John Brisby in the Up series circa 28 Up. He seemed genuinely excited to talk about Rieslings even though I was only ordering one by the glass. And the 2005 Hofgut Falkenstein, Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Trocken, which he claimed to enjoy as his after work drink, was pleasingly zesty and fruity. I’d like to track down a bottle.
The food was quite good but the experience didn’t do much to enhance it. Maybe this was just the result of Friday before a holiday afternoon sleepiness. Then again, maybe we were getting tourist treatment.
Eleven Madison Park * 11 Madison Ave., New York, NY