As I read yesterday that renowned NY Times food critic Frank Bruni has elevated Eleven Madison Restaurant from three to four stars, the old Glenn Miller song, “Stairway to the Stars” came to mind. Eleven Madison Park joins the illustrious ranks of only a few NY restaurants to achieve this honor (Per Se, Masa, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges and Daniel). I am equally pleased because I have known and enjoyed Executive Chef Daniel Humm’s cuisine and acquaintance for many years. It does not surprise me one bit that he continues to climb the rungs of culinary success.
The first time I met Daniel was for a special birthday party we were throwing for my father at the Campton Hotel in San Francisco. As you know, helping to prepare a meal makes it all the more special and Daniel was gracious enough to allow me to come into his kitchen the day of the party and observe and help prepare some of the dishes we would feast on that night.
While many of us enjoy and see only the front house side of a restaurant, I always get my read on the quality of the establishment by what goes on behind the curtain. Is it shades of the supposed mighty and all powerful Wizard of Oz or truly the work of a culinary great? Daniel’s kitchen truly “hummed” (okay, I had to get that pun in somewhere) with the passion necessary to produce great food. That night, we enjoyed one of the best meals ever. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
At that time Daniel had already been named as one of the top, up and coming chefs by Food & Wine magazine and was gaining growing notoriety for his work. I had the pleasure to meet with Daniel several times again over the course of the next few years. Once was when I was able to reciprocate and cook a special brunch for Daniel. I think there are two sets of people who make you the most nervous cooking for. They are your parents and professionals in the business. Getting the nod that your dishes were acceptable (or at least consumable) from both these sets of culinary critics is one of the greatest joys of cooking. (And by the way, I was cooking for my parents, too, making me doubly nervous.)
I will say that most celebrity chefs I’ve had the pleasure to work with are for the most part very kind. And some are even down-to-earth. But few take the time to really connect and make you feel very comfortable in their presence. Daniel is one of those types of genuine people.
I then had the pleasure to meet up with Daniel again at a Meals-On-Wheels charity dinner in which many of the former chefs of the Campton Hotel came together to cook an amazing meal. Being able to watch, sample and assist Daniel along with Bradley Ogden, Laurent Manrique and Todd Humphries made for an amazing evening.
But one of the most enjoyable times was being able to spend an afternoon with Daniel playing Bocce Ball and enjoying some drinks and food. Enjoying the company and also being able to prepare the appetizers made me one up on him on the cooking scoreboard.
So finally on a trip to NY to visit my wife and daughter, we evened the score and I had the chance to dine at his then new restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. As I said earlier, I thought the meal at the Campton Hotel was good. This was even better. The meal started with a wonderful amuse bouche of Veloute with Day Boat Scallops. We knew we were in for a treat starting off with this light and creamy palate teaser.
Next we had two salads. The first was a Big Eye Tuna with a Satsuma Tangerine Dressing. The dressing had added a little bit of green Tobiko which gave it a nice texture balance and the right amount of saltiness. It was also served with some pickled radishes. The dish truly stretched the palate from sweet to sour and then to salty.
The other was a Jerusalem Artichoke salad with Endive and Hazelnuts. Those of you from California (like me) and used to hearing mainly about the Globe Artichokes from Castroville should know that a Jerusalem Artichoke is not really an artichoke at all. It is a tuber and a relative of the sunflower. Many people call it sunchoke. This dish highlighted the water chestnut type flavor and texture of this unique vegetable.
Next we had Gnocchi of La Ratta Potatoes with Hawaiian prawns. Gnocchi is one of those dishes that is easy to make but difficult to master. These gnocchi were perfect. They were just the right texture, light and pillowy and seemed to melt in your mouth.
This was followed by a Scottish Salmon “Mi-Cuit” (partially cooked) with a horseradish crust and kohlrabi. This was a unique and successful dish. The lightly cooked preparation made for a very flaky and moist piece of seafood. Daniel also makes this salmon with fennel and Fluer de Sel, which is also very popular.
For dessert we enjoyed an Espresso ice Cream accompanied with a Pastry Wrapped Banana with Chocolate Soup. There was also a Pineapple Coupe with Rum-Raisin Ice Cream. Daniel topped it off with a complimentary Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with a Pistachio Tuille. He certainly knows the way to my heart with ice cream and cheesecake. Needless to say, we certainly felt like we had dined amongst the heavens. It demonstrated to me that no matter how good you are at what you do, you can get even better.
So it does not surprise me that Eleven Madison Park, Daniel and his crew has been able to achieve this pinnacle. I usually spend my time in this blog writing about buying the best foods possible for the smartest prices. I don’t do a lot of restaurant reviews but I felt the need to pen this article as a tribute and congratulations to my acquaintance and accomplished chef, Daniel Humm, and his staff for achieving their fourth star. I encourage all of you to try to get to his restaurant and enjoy a truly magical dining event. I feel confident that it will be even better than the ones that I’ve enjoyed, as he continues to climb the culinary stairway to the stars.
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Filed under: We're Eating Out