Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eleven Madison Park: Fabulous Brunch

I went to brunch at EMP the other day. It's set in a contemporary and strangely beautiful space, with windows facing Gramercy Park. The interior is marked by icily beautiful vases full of bare willow stems, and on them roses bathing in tiny test tubes full of water. The inside is expansive and comfortable, suggestive of a chic but elegant hotel lobby. My one problem with the interior design was the ceiling. In the light of a gray Sunday morning, its long fluorescent light looked dingy, and the upper half of the room looked musty in comparison to the bottom half.

In any case, I ordered a baked goods package to begin with: two croissants, two pains au chocolat, and two caneles (rum cakes). All three were tasty and well-presented, but not pinnacles of their cuisine. The croissants were certainly competent but did not have the requisite flakiness and softness that defines the really great croissant. But well-presented they certainly were, and that was true for everything at this restaurant. Service was constantly friendly yet admirably detached -- watchful yet not overly intrusive or prying. Every detail has of course been thought about, including the very way that the basket of pastries is placed on your table when a coffee already sits on it.

I also ordered an egg fritata, which included zucchini, gruyere, and mushrooms. This dish was cooked to perfection, and the cheese and the vegetables all melted in my mouth. The richness of the egg and the richness of the cheese somehow came together and the result was not greasy or fatty but warm and golden. Even the side salad was carefully put together with the tenderest greens and lovingly coated with a vinaigrette, while the finger-knickingly light and airy triangles of toast next to it had a tender crunch.

Let me also mention the fantastic bread that I got served: both the french bread (especially) and the miniature olive baguette were hearty and solid on the outside yet soft and yielding on the inside. They both had the yeasty aroma that comes with really excellent bread, and compliments too to the butter, which tasted fresh and somehow European.

All in all, this was a really excellent and memorable brunch. I look forward to returning here for dinner someday (though vegetarians, my server cautioned, should call in advance to make sure the Chef has the right ingredients).

Stars: 5/5

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