Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eleven Madison Park: Cloud Nine

Even the coffee is extraordinary here.
Even at the finest New York City restaurants, coffee service is a relative after-thought that is hardly given the kind of attention granted to its entrees, desserts or cocktails.  Not so at the highly decorated Eleven Madison Park. This elegant restaurant, on the edge of verdant Madison Square Park, was recently minted with three Michelin stars. Moreover, it has won every James Beard award that it is eligible for, along with maximum starred-ratings from the New York Times and Forbes. Its coffee program, featuring the highest-end beans and siphon brewing, was started by James Betz, a bartender at the restaurant who enjoys brewing coffee at home.  (His uncle is Ken Nye of the New York coffee institution that is Ninth Street Espresso, but that’s strictly an aside.)
Siphon in the day.  Even more gorgeous at night.
It hardly takes a meal at this restaurant to see how attentive the staff is to details.  As soon as you walk in, you are cordially greeted, and taken in by the towering ceiling, cream colored roses, and linen covered tables.  This is a restaurant where every one of your servers—and there are several—are able to answer any questions you may have about where, exactly, the food is coming from and how it is prepared. If you show a particular interest in say the cakes of butter served with your bread, you will be presented with information about the farm it came from on a hand-written note on cardstock stationary.  If you step away from the table, you will find it in even nicer condition than you left it, with your napkin neatly folded, crumbs swept away.  The staff manages to accomplish all this without being a trace overbearing. And the food?  Almost too beautiful to eat, it is exceptionally delicious.
Jim explained his motivations to pitch the idea of a coffee program to the restaurant’s management.  “The pinnacle of coffee could only be found at coffee shops,” he said.  “I wanted to bring that kind of quality here. I thought it was possible, at a place like this, to do even more than what is done at a specialty coffee shop.”  On the first night of Eleven Madison Park’s coffee program, there were so many orders for siphon and Chemex (their other brewing offering) that Jim was on the phone to his supplier asking for all the specialized equipment he could possibly send over—pronto!
While Jim continues to manage the program, Eleven Madison Park has a barista on staff who, like Jim, the restaurant captains and sommeliers, has completed 14-16 hours of training in siphon brewing at the Intelligentsia lab across town.
So now an exquisite gastronomical experience at one of the most coveted restaurants in Manhattan can be finished off with some of the best java on the planet.

By the way, if I ever have the privilege of eating here again, I will never, ever take stealth photos  again.  It was like sacrilege.

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