Eleven Madison Park Explores the Plant Kingdom’s Uncanny Valley

At Noma, these sauces are administered so subtly that you don’t notice anything weird going on; you just think you’ve never tasted anything so extraordinary in your life. At Eleven Madison Park, certain dishes are as subtle as a dirty martini. It’s possible that some of the special sauce is so concentrated that an extra drop or two can push things over the top. This would explain why a half-eggplant in which glazed slices of pickled eggplant ride like passengers in a canoe had an intoxicating richness the first time I ate it and a cloying heaviness the next.

A couple of the kitchen’s efforts to get plants to mimic something else succeed. When it happens, all doubts evaporate for a few minutes.

Tonburi, made from Japanese summer-cypress seeds, arrives on chipped ice inside an antique silver caviar bowl that looks as if it belonged to the Romanovs. The seeds, dark and round and shiny, are sometimes said to taste like broccoli. At Eleven Madison Park, they have been seasoned with kelp. A chef might say the kelp adds umami. I’d say it tastes delicious, and I might add that its flavor brings up deep, partly subconscious associations with the sea. It’s a sleight-of-hand trick, but your taste buds accept it in place of the fishy brininess of sturgeon roe.

There is a plant-based version of the restaurant’s wonderful bread, like a savory croissant rolled into a crisp golden swirl. Originally kneaded with cow butter, the laminated dough has been rejiggered with butter made from sunflower seeds, and it’s an unqualified success. So is the nonbutter that arrives with the bread, molded into the shape of a sunflower, bright yellow with a dark eye of tangy fermented sunflower seeds in the center.