12 Nov 2009, 1:57pm
Girl Talk New York Restaurants:
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New York Splendor

Eleven Madison Park

Eleven Madison Park

Serendipity and travel go together like food and wine.  It’s usually the chance encounters or haphazard discoveries that occur along the way that make the difference in your journey, even if that trip lasts only a short while.

This was my experience on a recent flash visit to New York City.  I was to spend just under thirty hours in this bustling metropolis, primarily focused on the more business aspects of my work.  There was little time for travel writing research per se, so I knew I’d have to catch a story on the fly.  My best bet for finding my travel highlight was lunch on the second day when my good friend, Jane (see Gallery Going with the Ladies from Larchmont), was to meet me before I headed out of town.

I counted on Jane—someone who seems to be in the know about just about everything most of the time—to provide the restaurant suggestion.  She proposed Tabla, a swanky Indian restaurant, convenient for us both.  We didn’t call ahead and when I arrived, they apologized that they were exceptionally closed that day for lunch.  The rain was falling in sheets outside and I practically begged for another recommendation close by.  I was informed that their sister property, Eleven Madison Park, was just next door.

“Isn’t that expensive?”  I couldn’t help blurting out, aware nonetheless that these sort of remarks are more than acceptable during these challenging times.

“They have a $28. prix fixe menu,” Kevin, the manager at Tabla, replied.

I made a quick calculation in my head, figuring the price of at least one glass of wine, a coffee, tax and gratuity.  I had just come from my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, located nearby in the Flat Iron Building and possessed more of a sense of optimism about the publishing world than I had in a while.  It felt right.

I placed a call to Jane and made it a go.  A wave of excitement hit me as I realized I was about to experience the restaurant in New York that I really wanted to go to some day.  I had read a review of Eleven Madison Park in The New York Times a few months ago, one of the last written by Frank Bruni, their renowned restaurant critic, who bestowed four-stars upon this beloved New York dining establishment.  His description of this superior dining establishment was so vivid that I easily imagined myself seated in the restaurant enjoying a superlative meal with a glass or two of wine.

Jane and I were escorted to a corner banquette that furnished wide-angle views of the restaurant’s stately, high-ceilinged dining room.  “It’s a quintessential New York restaurant,” Jane remarked, referring most certainly to the dramatic tone set by this vast space and its decorative architectural embellishments, all representative of Art Deco design.  “We brought our friends from California here when they came to New York and they loved it.”

We took turns observing the details that make any dining or lodging experience stand out.  Jane pointed out the embossed decoration of leaves (representing the four seasons, not too unlike those of the Four Seasons), the trademark of the restaurant, on the butter.  I commented on the salt served as a side to the butter and made a mental note to ask about its provenance (but never did, sorry).  Of course we opted for the $28. prix fixe, one appetizer, one entrée menu and then selected a half bottle of chablis from the $28. page of the wine list that included two bottles, two half bottles and a few glasses, all at the $28. price.  The manager explained that these prices were introduced a year ago and are here to stay, at least for now.  “Oh, a woman must have designed that,” Jane quipped, an insightful remark lost on the manager that I didn’t comprehend until about ten seconds later.

We laughed and chatted, vainly attempting to encapsulate the essential of our current lives into a two-hour lunch.  Our attention hardly waned, however, from our table and the entire room.  A flourish of amuse bouches (mini-apps), which included heirloom tomato marshmallows and black pepper sablés topped with foie gras and cranberry gelée, wooed us from the get-go.  And we practically swooned over the savory gougères and mini olive ficelles and baguettes that had been served up both warm and imperceptibly.

Snippets of our table side critique continued in between volleys about our very different lives, hers in New York, mine in Colorado.  Our commentaries about each other’s activities intermingled with our impressions of our appetizers (Heirloom Beets with Lynnhaven Farms Chèvre Frais for Jane; Red Endive with Buffalo Mozzarrella, Basil and Persimmon for me).   All had been exquisitely plated.  Our entrées (Ricotta Gnocchi with Artichokes, Taggiasca Olives and Bacon for Jane; Seared Scallop with Celery, Meyer Lemon and Black Truffles for me) continued to provide a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.  For me, the utensils were far too small, especially in proportion to the over-sized plates.  For Jane, they were just right.  “Must be a European thing,” I commented.  “In France at least, the utensils are large and weighty.”

The end of our lunch neared, our broad plates were swept away and a most refined dessert cart was wheeled before us.  No gloppy confections here.  Instead we marveled at an array of stream-lined sweets that would be the envy of Paris’s most sophisticated pâtisserie.  Sadly we declined this great temptation since we had surely surpassed our calorie count and budget by now.

We wrapped up our visit over rich coffee, served with hot, steamy milk.  I was waiting expectedly for a little tray of sweets to be placed before us, just like in fine French restaurants.  (Eleven Madison Park is a Relais & Châteaux after all.)  Nothing came but I thought that maybe it was best not to overdo, keeping totally within the spirit of this sleek establishment.  It’s O.K. to feel totally satisfied yet wanting a little more.

I felt this way about Jane as well when we bid each other goodbye as I ducked into a cab outside of Eleven Madison Park.  I took solace in knowing that she’d be a best friend for life and that we had shared such an exceptional moment together.  Maybe next time we’ll try Tabla.

Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street, 212-889-0905, www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Tabla, 11 Madison Avenue at 25th Street, 212-889-0667, www.tablany.com

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