Restrained but glorious flora, service staff whispers, John Ragan’s selections, the Daniel Humm aura, soaring ceilings, Madison Park fauna, a team-in-motion “whoosh”, and Will Guidara sets the Eleven Madison Park tone. Like explorers’ in the deep rain forest, your senses are pumped with addictive tonic to lure you back; again and again. Returning recently after a regretfully long hiatus, I anticipated another evening of wine and food wizadry with my colleague who introduced me to Eleven Madison four years ago.
Our dinner that evening was, as ususal, a mosaic of flavors and textures that delight and surprise, pushing me to wonder if anyone could be eating as well at that very moment, anywhere, in the entire city. Without pause, I placed myself in the kitchen’s hands as I do on each visit. Chef Humm carries a reputation steeped in perfection with a dash of minimalism when it comes to margin for error.
Here are a few unique notes on this Eleven Madison evening. I chose the 1996 Zind Humbrecht, Reisling Rangen Clos St. Urbain to start and then a Bandol, the 1995 Domaine Tempier La Tourtine, as our red. The Zind Humbrecht showed its usual magic and I remember thinking I should stop being surprised when Zind Humbrecht (for fellow Bostonians that made it, here is a recap post on the Gordon’s ZH event) rieslings muster up a nose and advanced flavor like this wine did from a vintage that seemed far from perfect. Thirteen years old with all the benefits of aging’s advanced coloration and aroma, it was bone dry and still kicking. The Tempier was also what I was looking for, but never having tried a La Tourtine, I was thrilled with the way the cuvee worked with my veal. Two “old reliable” producers lent resounding harmony to an amazing Eleven Madison evening.
Things turned a bit reckless, in a fun way, when we doubled down on riesling and took a recommendation on the 1990 Dr Burklin Wolf Betina Burklin Auslese Trocken followed by a 1996 Dirler Pinot Gris Vendages Tardives. The Burklin Wolf was a disappointment at almost twice the ZH price showing itself tight with hard edges, an absence of fruit, and a nose that required coaxing from the glass. The Dirler VT was magical and paired with an ethereal souffle perfectly.
That final pairing touch was authored by Ms. Megan Vaughan. Ask for her when you go. Megan is an intensely focused and excited young woman that sprinkles her unique passion for people and service at each table she visits as Dining Room Manager (a role she recently earned through promotion). During her warm and welcome visit to our table, she noticed our wine line up and sensed we hit a speed bump with the Burklin Wolf. She swiftly brought everything back into Eleven Madison balance, designing the souffle pinot gris pairing on the fly, wrapping it with her hospitable and knowing glow. I don’t know Megan all that well, but am confident suggesting that she is a developing force and an important piece to the mystery behind the operation that Humm built; one that evolves and rises to surprising new heights with each return trip.
P.S. On a related aside, my son spent some weeks interning in the Eleven Madison kitchen last year, and the countless numbing hours he spent in cramped refrigerators selecting and carefully removing perfect herbs and greens each day, another step of precision before they saw a blade or plate, is merely one example of the myriad details that are deftly orchestrated by Humm and his team leading up to and through service.
P.P.S. Here’s a link to some Tanzer ZH reviews