When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

03 December 2006

Dinner at Danny's Place

Last night we had my delayed 40th birthday dinner (moved from its original date because I came down with the Mother Of All Colds the day before) at Eleven Madison Park, the flagship restaurant in the Danny Meyer empire.

We set out with the intention to do the "Gourmand" nine-course tasting menu, but that was just Too. Much. Food. when we actually contemplated the order, and so we went with the four-course prix fixe.

Because we are gluttons for punishment, or perhaps just gluttons, and because I'll only turn 40 once, we each ordered a course that featured shaved Alba truffles, thus incurring a "supplement" charge that essentially doubled the cost of dinner.

And worth every penny for a special occasion.

Carrie had:
  • Marinated Hamachi with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Oil
  • Lasagne of Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster with Satur Farms Spinach (with shaved truffles)
  • Herb Roasted Millbrook Farms Venison with Salsify and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
...and for dessert, a chocolate-peanut torte and Moroccan mint tea.

I ate:
  • Roasted Heirloom Beets with Lynnhaven "Chèvre Frais," Olio Verde and Nasturtium
  • Risotto of Acquerello Carnaroli Rice with Parmigiano Reggiano (and truffles!)
  • Fischer Farm Suckling Pig Confit with Cipollini Onions, Plum Chutney and Five Spice Jus
...and for dessert, black coffee and sheep's-milk yogurt cheesecake.

Every aspect of the food was gorgeous (the risotto with truffles and the cheesecake dessert were particular standouts on my side of the table; Carrie's entree, cooked a New York minute past blood-rare, was maybe the most perfect piece of venison I've ever tasted, but it was all absolutely sublime.)

There's a sixty-page wine list on offer at Eleven Madison Park, but the best option (to me) for small parties of wine drinkers seemed to be pairing wines by the glass with each course, since the menu is varied and the restaurant offers more wines by the glass than most restaurants do by the bottle.

I know a few people in New York who seem to find the "Meyer hospitality" approach (American-style service, relaxed and friendly) off-putting, and for the life of me I can't understand why. One thing I noticed immediately was how beautifully the servers seemed to mirror the moods of the tables they were handling.

Our waiter was friendly and thorough, but found us deeply engaged in conversation and kept a polite distance aside from service necessities. (Carrie and I have an abiding habit of falling into Intense Conversations at restaurants; if you eavesdrop, though, we're likely talking about something like the relative merits of different Tom Waits covers. Thank God we married each other; we're saving two families.) The pace of our meal was relaxed and pleasant.

At the table next to us, two very serious Europeans were tasting about five different champagnes before dinner, and the wine staff, recognizing wine geeks when they saw them, were reeling off information about the vintages like they were doing guest spots on the Food Channel.

Directly across from us, a smiling waitress gently led an enthusiastic but perplexed table of out-of-town businessmen through the "intricacies" of ordering without being a bit condescending (I think you could walk into Eleven Madison Park never having eaten in a fine restaurant in your life and be made to feel right at home--and I really like that, actually) and diagonally across the room, a SWAT team of waiters practiced damage control and noise containment with a huge party of garishly dressed Long Islanders who arrived drunk and might well have genuinely been as stupid as they were loud (there, in one sentence I've supplied enough condescension for a small army.)

The point is, everybody was getting the level and the kind of service that they seemed to need, as unobtrusively as possible. Despite the wonderfulness of the cooking, I notice that I wrote four paragraphs on the food and five on the service.

And I think that's the secret of Mr. Meyer's success.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Dude! Frank Bruni needs to read this in order to learn how to write a review.