NYC: Eleven Madison Park

photoD and I always take an annual long weekend trip to the Big Apple and for the first time we opted to visit during the 2013 holiday season. Our last meal of our 3 day trip was at the 3 Michelin star and No. 5 Top 50 San Pellegrino restaurant (2014), Eleven Madison Park. It was the highlight of our NYC adventure with great company, exquisite food and impeccable service. We dined with another couple, New Yorkers, who also appreciate food which made for a very convivial evening.

Other bloggers may give an elaborate report on each course but I’d rather keep this entry concise without giving away too much. This 15 course feast incorporated fun and creative elements. The 4 hours tasting was much more than a dinner, it was gastronomical spectacle. First of all, the backdrop for this meal was held in a dining space I absolutely loved.  Although the ceiling was 35 feet high, the room felt cozy.  Men weren’t required to wear jackets but the ambiance was still very elegant.  The service was attentive without being too stuffy.  Almost every course on the tasting menu paid homage to all that is New York from local and seasonal ingredients to its gourmand history.  The dishes weren’t overly innovative but were still cleverly presented. I also really appreciated that it was a themed tasting menu and each course was thoroughly thought out.

Upstate New York dry aged duck

Upstate New York dry aged duck

Here are some of my comments about the main course and dessert.  Instead of the venison, we agreed on the upstate New York raised duck which was dry aged for 14 days.  The breast came with a side of roasted turnip and huckleberry gelée. Besides the canette (young female duck) I had at the Rino bistro in Paris a few years ago, this is THE most tender piece of duck breast I’ve ever eaten.  The herbs and spices on the skin heightened the aroma and gave an extra crunchy texture. The aging of the meat added more intensity to the flavour.   All together the crispy skin, layer of duck fat and tender flesh melded perfectly to create a mouth watering dish.  On the other hand, I was not as fond of their deconstructed sweet potato cheese cake for dessert. The sweet potato didn’t have the crisp and tanginess that I often crave with a cheesecake.

If you decide to try Eleven Madison Park I would suggest not reading too many reviews as it may spoil some of the many surprises. I also suggest dining in a group of 4-6 people to enhance your overall experience.

elevenmadisonpark.com

Price per person = USD $225

Toronto: Momofuku Shoto

shoto1After our gastronomical adventures in Paris and Central Italy last fall, I thought it was appropriate to have my first gourmet meal back in Toronto at the highly written-about Momofuku Shoto for our anniversary. I hadn’t really thought of trying it until my friend J dined there for her own anniversary and kept raving about it.  I wasn’t impressed with NYC’s Momofuku Ssam or Toronto’s Momofuku Noodle bar and I also read mixed reviews about Shoto. So I showed up with minimal expectations for the 13 course meal using local/seasonal ingredients with some Asian inspiration. This dinner cost us $150 per head, not including taxes or gratuities, by far my most expensive tasting menu in Toronto.  For those of you who aren’t ready to take the full plunge, Shoto has recently introduced a 5-6 course tasting for $95 per person from Tuesday to Thursday evenings.

I’ll share some of my thoughts and photos on just a few of the dishes to give you a sneak peak..

Amuse bouche: the petit pot had a bone marrow mousse on top of a beet jelly.  The mousse and jelly complemented each other both in texture and flavour.  My first impressions were very positive and continued throughout the meal.

Lamb consommé

Lamb consommé

Lamb consommé poured onto ground lamb with eggplant and tomatoes wrapped in a rice paper roll. The consommé had a very clean flavour. An excellent rendition of a classic Cantonese dim sum dish normally filled with shrimp or ground beef and then topped with soy sauce before serving.

Spaghetti: ramen like noodles sautéed with crab meat in Momofuku’s spicy sauce topped with white kimchi.  The kimchi was crunchy and a bit sweet. Personally, being Korean, I would have preferred a more fermented and sour white kimchi. This was Shoto’s version of a Korean Bee-bim-myun (cold Korean buckwheat noodles sauteed in a red hot spicy sauce).

Foie gras

Foie gras

Foie gras: Le plat de résistance and distinctly presented in an egg shaped bowl. Ontario pickled plums with Ontario walnuts and Ontario Reisling gelée topped with shaved cured foie gras.   I prefer pan seared foie gras but this was one of the most unique, interesting, fun and flavorful ways I’ve tried non-seared foie gras.  I later saw on Serious Eats that this was one of NYC Momofuku Ko’s signature dishes. I’m not surprised that some of Shoto’s dishes are Ko’s original creations with tweaks here and there.  Regardless of the dishes inspiration, it was amazing! Loved it and will be talking about it for a long time.

Brisket: the last savory course and least favorite.  Roasted beef brisket with green onions, cilantro and a white sesame gelato. It was a slab of gourmet smoked meat without any bread to soak up the grease.  A heavy finish before our dessert courses.

Sweet cream and popped corn

Sweet cream and popped corn

Corn: sweet cream, cocoa and popcorn.  Ever since I tried Korean corn flavoured ice cream I love almost any dessert with corn.  The sweet corn flavour and popped corn texture are a fun tasting dessert pairing.

Peach dessert

Peach dessert

Peach: white chocolate, spice cake.  This was a deconstructed pie using Ontario roasted peaches and topped with peach ice cream. D was not crazy about this last course but I love fruit with my desserts as I find it adds a crip freshness.

We thought $150 was pricey for a pleasant but not so impressive ambiance.  Some diners expect a white table cloth setting and service for that price.  The dining room was a U-shaped bar around an open kitchen with leather stools. Pictures of your food are permitted but kitchen staff photos are forbiden (as I was warned twice)! On the other hand, I thought the flavours were balanced and David Chang’s team made appropriate use of fall local/seasonal produce. I whole-heartedly agree with Chris Nutshall’s 2012 review giving it an extraordinaire 4 stars for the food. It definitely tops my list of high end and pricey meals in T.O.

momofuku.com/toronto/shoto/

10 courses five days a week (tuesday – saturday, $150)

5-6 courses including both individually plated and sharing dishes (tuesday – thursday, $95)