Dishroom Blunders

August 14th, 2021 · Nonfiction | Food

Tomato Tea - Eleven Madison Park

Chapter 1

I

Cat cafe in Japan? I’m good (not a cat person, sorry).

Run for public office? No, thanks.

Stag night in the red light district? That literally sounds like a living hell.

But there are some things in life that I'd like to experience first-hand, and eating at a top-rated restaurant has always been one of them. I consider myself a foodie and home-chef enthusiast, so I've always wanted to know: what is the food like at the best restaurants in the world?

Eleven Madison Park in New York City is a Michelin 3-star restaurant and was ranked #1 in the world on the prestigious The World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Nestled in the heart of downtown Manhattan, Eleven Madison Park is at the center of modern fine dining.

When the pandemic hit, lockdowns and capacity caps wiped out many fine dining restaurants. Not even Eleven Madison Park was spared. They closed in March 2020 and didn't reopen again until June 2021. During this 15-month break, there were times where the chef and owner, Daniel Humm, thought he would have to file for bankruptcy and that the restaurant would never reopen.

Eleven Madison Park won its accolades and acclaim showing off langoustine, kobe beef, caviar, rare cheeses, and other prized ingredients from around the globe. When the restaurant announced its reopening, Humm also revealed that the menu would be 100% vegan, a radical change for the restaurant and a bold challenge to traditional fine dining.

If you've seen Chef's Table on Netflix, then you might remember the "temple food" episode centered around a Buddhist monk living in South Korea. During the pandemic, Humm hosted two Japanese Buddhist monks who taught him how to make "temple food," which inspired many of the vegan dishes served on the new menu.

When Eleven Madison Park reopened their reservation system early summer 2021, every slot was booked within minutes and the waitlist swelled to 15,000 people. Despite the unlikely odds, last week the universe granted me my wish. By some miracle, I was at my computer when a cancelled reservation became available and I scrambled quick enough to book it before anyone else.

Our meal at Eleven Madison Park meal was outstanding. Some dishes were fresh and subtle, while others were so in-my-face that the intensity of the flavor almost made my face pucker. Our meal was officially 9 courses, but we must have been served at least 20-25 dishes over the course of our 4-hour meal. What impressed me more than the flavor was the thought that went into each dish. Many of them were edible pieces of artwork and were so beautiful, I felt bad eating them.

My favorite dish was the first thing the kitchen served us and probably one of the simplest—a tomato tea with a sprig of flowering thyme nestled in the mug. One of the waiters told me that critics have described this tomato tea as "the flavor of 1,000 tomatoes in a cup." I agree with this assessment. It was so simple, yet delicious.

I inquired about how the tomato tea was made and the waiter was happy to venture into the kitchen to ask the chef. He shared with me a broad overview of the process and told me that a cookbook for the new menu should come out around the end of the year.

A week after our food adventure at Eleven Madison Park, I decided I wanted to recreate the tomato tea dish. Shelby and I went to the farmers' market at Union Square Park to source the ingredients—cherry tomatoes, lemon verbena, and flowering thyme (I had to settle for flowering lemon basil since the herb stall didn't have thyme).

The tomato tea is essentially a consommé which is then steeped with lemon verbena—super simple, but time-consuming to make. I think my recreation turned out nearly identical to the tea served at Eleven Madison Park. Their version definitely had some more subtleties and was slightly more refined, but I’m proud of what I accomplished. The only downside is that it cost me $15 and half a day to make ⅓ a cup of tea.

Here’s the recipe!

Ingredients

  • 1 small carton of ripe cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cups of waiter
  • 2 lemon verbena leaves
  • 2 lemon basil leaves
  • 1 sprig of flowering thyme or basil
  • 2 egg whites
  • Salt to taste

Yield: ½-⅓ cup of tea

Recipe

  1. Cut X’s into the top of each tomato.
  2. Add tomatoes and water to a pot. Heat to boil, then turn down to simmer for 1.5 hours with the lid on.
  3. Fish out all the tomato pieces with a slotted spoon and dispose.
  4. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl, then pour into boiling tomato water while beating with a whisk.
  5. Once the egg is cooked (only 30-60 seconds), let the pot sit. Turn down heat to a soft simmer. Let the liquid simmer untouched for 10 minutes.
  6. Turn off the heat. Line a sieve with a cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Use a spoon to scoop the egg whites from the surface of the pot to the cheesecloth. Continue doing this until most of the “raft” on top is in the sieve. Try to spread the egg whites out in the sieve, as they will now be used as a filter. Slowly scoop or pour the remaining liquid over the egg white filter and let it drain into a bowl. Once all of the liquid has passed through, you can dispose of the egg white raft in the cheesecloth.
  7. The liquid should now be a clear consommé. Clean your pot and add the consommé back to it. Bring it to a brief simmer, then remove from heat and add the lemon verbena and lemon basil leaves. Cover with the lid and let steep for ~3 minutes.
  8. Remove the herbs from the pot. Salt to taste.
  9. Serve in a mug with a decorative sprig of flowering lemon basil.
My recreation of Elven Madison Park's tomato tea.
My recreation of Elven Madison Park's tomato tea.

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