Memorable Restaurant Meals in 2011

I didn’t title this list “Best Restaurant Meals in 2011” because for me, dining out is not just about the food. Other factors like the occasion and the company can make certain meals stand out from the rest even if the food might not have been entirely perfect. I did notice that many of the meals on this list contained a dish (and in some instances more than one) that made my other memorables lists.

Again, I didn’t limit this one to a particular number. I’m sure it will not surprise anyone who comes here with any regularity that we had quite a few memorable meals at EMP. Therefore, I decided to compile them separately.

There is one major difference with this list. Unlike the others, I was easily able to choose the meal that stood out from all the rest as THE most memorable.

First up, the other restaurants. All but two of them are in New York City, and only two of those are not in Manhattan.

notion, Oakmont, PA

notion

The only trip we took during 2011 was our escape from Hurricane Irene. I chose our destination, Pittsburgh, specifically because I wanted to try this restaurant located on its outskirts. Our experience there more than exceeded my expectations. My post about that dinner can be found here.

Photo set here.

Roberta’s, Brooklyn

Roberta's

Most food-obsessed people know now about Roberta’s, the pizza joint in Williamsburg where two days a week, Chef Carlo Mirarchi is serving an extended haute cuisine tasting menu to a single table of (max) four people. But when my friend uhockey emailed me about it in early March, the word hadn’t yet spread and I knew nothing about it. In fact, I wasn’t familiar with Roberta’s at all. Strange that a guy who lives in Ohio knew about a place in Brooklyn when I didn’t. In any case, he was coming to New York towards the end of the month and had been able to secure a reservation. Would Michael and I like to join him? A haute cuisine tasting dinner in a pizza joint? Are you kidding? Well, the meal was spectacular! And the fact that we were enjoying it in the last place one would ever expect it made it seem unreal. Carlo is a truly sweet young man. And literally a day later, Carlo and this special dinner became known nationally when he was named one of 2011’s Best Chefs by Food & Wine Magazine.

Photo set here.

Corton

Corton

We hadn’t been to Corton since September 2009 when we had dinner there with J and the P.G. (At that time, there was a ban on taking photos which lasted only a few months.) I’d been wanting to return for sometime, and we finally made it back during Thanksgiving weekend. The menu format has changed since our last visit. They are still offering the 9-course tasting menu. But the 3-course prix-fixe, where one was able to choose from among several options for each course, has been eliminated. Instead, there is a 5-course prix-fixe with only one course – the main savory – with a choice between two options. That’s the menu we did. Liebrandt’s cuisine is extremely complex, and though the staff provided a short explanation of the dishes, I was never sure exactly what I’m eating. Still, everything we ate was seriously delicious. Service was perfect, and while some people find the space too stark, I find it pleasant and soothing.

Photo set here.

Jung Sik Dang

Jung Sik

Our first foray into the world of haute Korean cuisine. A truly amazing experience which I described in this post.

Photo set here.

Tocqueville

Tocqueville

Tocqueville is one of our favorite restaurants. We ate many times in its original location (now occupied by the 15 East) and have continued to do so in its current elegant space, which I think is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city. While we’ve had dinner there a few times, we go more often for lunch. Their 3-course prix-fixe, at $29, is a steal for cuisine of such superior caliber. Oddly, despite the many meals we’ve had there, we had never done a tasting menu. That omission was taken care of in October when we had the 5-course tasting menu at lunch. My request for certain dishes to be included was met with not a quibble, and we added white truffles for the pasta. For that course and the foie gras, the kitchen sent out two different versions, which we shared. There was a gifted cheese course, we were each served a different dessert, and we received an extra plate of sorbets. Our captain, Miguel, is a charming young man and, as usual, provided very attentive service. Lunch at Tocqueville is always lovely, but this one was truly special.

Photo set here.

La Grenouille

La Grenouille

It really annoys the heck out of me that we waited such a long time before going to La Grenouille. That was dinner in 2009. Loved everything about that experience, and it would certainly have made my memorable meals list if I had had one. We had second dinner there with Bonjwing and a friend of his. During that dinner, I ordered the fabled Dover sole with mustard sauce for the first time and swooned. In 2011, we decided to go for lunch, specifically for both of us to have that Dover sole. Heavenly! I started with a superb pâté and ended with the sublime caramel soufflé. Disabuse yourself of any notion that the service is snooty. Au contraire! From the moment we entered until we said “Au revoir,” the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and attentive. We were there fairly late during lunch service, so the dining rooms were rather empty. But we were never rushed, and so we lingered, enjoying the quiet and the lovely surroundings. It was such a memorable experience, we repeated it a few months later.

Photo set here.

The Peacock Inn, Princeton, NJ

The Peacock Inn

We had been to The Peacock for dinner once many years ago. I have this vague recollection that it was for my birthday. The only thing I remember about the meal is that I ordered rack of lamb, but I can’t recall if it was a good one. Fast forward to 2010. The Peacock is under new ownership. In addition to refurbishing the guest and public rooms, they set out to make the restaurant one of the best around. To that end, they hired the chef de cuisine at Restaurant Nicholas (one of the best in the entire state), Manuel Perez, to be the executive chef. We went for dinner, had the tasting menu, and Chef Perez’s contemporary American cuisine with French leanings totally blew us away. Every dish was meticulously prepared, beautifully presented, and absolutely delicious.

Photo set here.

Lincoln

Lincoln

I don’t love the space at Lincoln. The dark, sloping ceiling makes the room feel rather claustrophobic. Fortunately, the food shines, and the second of the two meals we had there with J and the P.G. was truly stellar. For me, fat white asparagus topped with a duck egg; a superb duck breast with cherries, turnips and spinach; and a chocolate-hazelnut dessert. Michael and J also had the asparagus. The P.G. started with an excellent salumi plate. He and Michael had fish, while J. had pasta. Other desserts were sorbets and ice creams. Not a whisper of a complaint from any of us about anything because everything was perfect. Service, which had been excellent, did fall down slightly at the end. But it was the food and sharing the meal with J and the P.G. that made this meal memorable.

Photo set here.

La Silhouette

La Silhouette

I had heard good things about La Silhouette but put off going there. Then, suddenly, there was a major change. The chef and owners parted company and a new chef was brought in, Matthew Tropiano, who left his position as executive chef at La Grenouille. When we finally made it to La Silhouette for dinner, we were totally knocked out by the cuisine coming out of Chef Tropiano’s kitchen. Foie Gras “A la Plancha” was sublime! I tasted Michael’s Sweetbreads with Butternut Squash Agnolotti. Amazing! We were gifted bowls of Wild Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Oil and Parmigiano. Fantastic! But afraid that we wouldn’t have room for our main courses, we ate just a little and had them pack the rest. I had Duck Breast with Figs, Turnips, Red Rice and Orange-Ginger Coulis, and Michael had Roasted Chicken with Beans, Kale, Tomato and Lardons. Both superb! Portions were so generous that we took home half of each. I ended with a lovely Milk Chocolate Terrine, and Michael had ice creams. I left La Silhouette thinking to myself that I had expected the food to be good, but I hadn’t expected it to be THAT good!

Photo set here.

Um Segredo Wild Game Dinner, Roosevelt Island

Um Segredo Truffle Dinner

After Chef Dave Santos left Hotel Griffou, he started a private supper club. Some call this kind of arrangement “secret dining,” so he named the club Um Segredo, which means secret in Portuguese, which is based on his heritage. The first dinner we attended was the Truffle Dinner. While it was excellent, it was the subsequent Wild Game Dinner that totally blew my gustatory socks off. The dinner was also memorable because of the guests who attended. With the exception of Michael and one of the men’s dates, everyone was a member of the Mouthfulsfood Forum. I had met three of them before but for the others, this was the first time we were meeting in person. It was, to say the least, a very lively group. All had been to previous Um Segredo dinners, and everyone agreed that this one was perfection personified!

Photo set here.

Wong “Duckavore” Dinner

Wong

I adore duck! So, when I read on Chowhound that Wong, an Asian-fusion restaurant that opened a few months ago in the Village, was serving an all-duck dinner, I had to go. It was being served for four people and required 48-hours notice. So, I immediately contacted my Chowhound pal ellenost, who is also a duck fancier. She immediately agreed and brought along her duck-loving sister. From first course to last – an unusual duck ice cream dessert — the meal was a perfect. A duck lover’s dream! And it was made all the more memorable because we shared it with two wonderful friends.

Photo set here.

The rest beneath the fold.

Memorable Dinners at Eleven Madison Park in 2011

Beer Dinner

The Concoction, 2011

I don’t drink beer, and Michael is more of a wine drinker. But that didn’t stop us from going. The evening started with hors d’oeuvres and beers on tap served on the outdoor patio. We then moved indoors for a 6-course dinner paired with wines from the Brooklyn Brewery, each of which was introduced by Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. I made it my business to taste all the beers and was shocked to find that I actually liked two of them. The cuisine was faultless. Sharing our table was our friend Sneakeater, who is always interesting and fun to be with.

Photo set here.

Dinner with Visiting Chef Mauro Colagreco

Chef Daniel Humm, Chef Mauro Colagreco, and M.

We didn’t know anything about this event until I saw it mentioned on Eater a few days before it was scheduled to take place. At that point, it was fully booked. But we got lucky and due to a cancelation were able to get a last-minute reservation. Chef Colagreco’s cuisine was fantastic! It was a pleasure meeting him when Chef Humm brought him around the dining to greet the guests. He accepted our great praise with charming humbleness.

Photo set here.

Lunch with uhockey

Duck

uhockey has become a treasured friend, and it all started because of EMP’s duck. I described that memorable lunch in this post.

Photo set here.

Dinner with The Lee Sisters

Kitchen Visit

Jessica Lee is a very talented professional violinist who also has a passion for fine cuisine. We first got to know each other on Chowhound and had our first in-person meeting when we attended a concert at Lincoln Center in which she was performing. We chatted for a few moments and agreed to get together for dinner as soon as her scheduled would permit. In April, she and her sister Grace joined us for dinner at EMP, and another friendship was sealed.

Photo set here.

Dinner with Bonjwing

Eleven Madison Park

Because our very first in-person meeting took place at EMP, it has become a tradition to have dinner there with Bonjwing each year when he comes to New York to attend the James Beard Awards. Of course, we’ve shared many meals with him in other restaurants. But the ones at EMP are the most special.

Photo set here.

Annivesary No. 43

Celebration Parting Gift

Our annivesary celebrations at EMP are always memorable.

Photo set here.

Michael’s 70th Birthday

The Birthday Boy Enjoying His "Uncle Jack"

A milestone birthday is always a very special event. We celebrated with two memorable meals. First, we had dinner with J. and the P.G. on the Saturday prior to the actual day. Then, on the day of, Michael and I were scheduled to have dinner that evening. However, because of impending bad weather, we switched it to lunch.

Photo sets here and here.

Finally, THE most memorable restaurant meal of 2011: My Birthday Lunch.

Eleven Madison Park:  The Cookbook

For those of you familiar with what transpired at that lunch, this will probably come as no surprise. For any of you who don’t know the details, you can read all about them in this post, and I’m sure it will be easy to see why it was my most memorable meal of 2011.

Photo set here.

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