Entries in Eleven Madison Park (5)


Eleven Madison Park

Note: This is a review of the 4×4 grid-format menu that Eleven Madison Park was using for a while. The restaurant has since changed to a more conventional tasting menu, which I have not yet tried.


A year ago, chef Daniel Humm and general manager Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Parkdecided to fix what ain’t broke.” They jettisoned their à la carte menu in favor of a laconic square grid of sixteen ingredients. Unless you ask, you’ll have no idea if “Lobster” is a risotto, a bisque, a thermidor, or something else.

“Tasting menus are like monologues,” Guidara told The Times. “This is a dialogue.”

But as one Chowhounder put it (quoted in The Post), “I don’t want no stinkin’ dialogue! When I go to a world-class restaurant, I want the chef to take care of me.”

At Eleven Madison Park, you are, of course, welcome to have as much of a “dialogue”—or as little—as you want. This being a Danny Meyer restaurant, the server will stand there all night and explain every dish, if that’s what you want. But you don’t really want that, do you? You’re probably just going to select one ingredient from each row of the grid, communicate any allergies, and be done with it.

If the poor crybaby Chowhounder cannot be bothered to name four ingredients ($125), he can order the tasting menu ($195) and get whatever the chef chooses to send out. Another crybaby Chowhounder (they do moan a lot there) went so far as to call the new menu “a scam.”

Of course it is not a scam. Not even close. What it is, at least arguably, is a gimmick.

Eleven Madison Park is serving what amounts to a mystery tasting menu, where the appetizer, two entrées, and the dessert, can be chosen from a cryptic list of four items each. Plenty of restaurants offer tasting menus where none of the items are described at all. EMP’s own $195 menu operates that way. Plenty of others offer tasting menus where the ingredients are listed in some detail, but where most or all of the courses offer no choice at all.

This menu is a hybrid, a tasting menu with a few degrees of freedom, but with most of it a surprise unless you are awfully inquisitive. The gimmick is the “dialogue,” which doesn’t really exist—except in the sense it does at any restaurant that offers diners a choice, which is to say, most of them.

At our excellent dinner last Friday evening, we weren’t at all affronted by the 4×4 grid. It isn’t very helpful, either. Wouldn’t it be better to write down the choices the way a conventional restaurant would? The kitchen clearly has a preparation in mind for each of the sixteen ingredients. It doesn’t make them up on the fly. So why not tell us?


The service is practically the best of its kind. On entering, the greeter asked for the name of our reservation. When I said “Shepherd,” he said to my friend, without missing a beat or consulting a list, “Welcome. You must be ____.” To memorize every booking is impressive enough. To know my companion’s name is unheard of. At the table, a handwritten birthday card was waiting for her.

As you’d expect, plates and flatware were set and cleared seamlessly, every request honored instantly, every need anticipated. It is a performance perhaps half-a-dozen restaurants in town can match.

The meal begins with something like four or five flights of amuses. I didn’t note them all, but the tour de force was a “clam bake,” with four delicate canapés and a broth that the server pours into a contraption heated by hot rocks, simulating a beach clam bake in miniature.

From the first row of the menu grid, my friend and I both chose “Rabbit,” which I correctly guessed would be a luscious, creamy terrine, as it was in the position on the grid that I know (from other reviews) is usually represented by a foie gras terrine. Without the advance research I did, no other diner would know this.

Had the meal ended here, I would give Eleven Madison Park the same four stars that Frank Bruni did. Instead, I was reminded of Bruni’s comment at the end of 2008, that: “one in every three dishes didn’t measure up to the others (though nothing — nothing — was wholly undistinguished).” It seemed there were two restaurants here, with a completely different kitchen responsible for everything after the appetizer.

The statement that “nothing — nothing — was wholly undistinguished” could apply to my friend’s Loup de Mer, her Pork, and my Chicken. But I would not call them distinguished either. Somewhat more impressive was Lobster wrapped in fat, rich noodles, a lasagne of the gods. It was the only savory dish that I would care to see again. There was nothing wrong with the others, but there was no wow! in them.

Even less memorable were pastry chef Angela Pinkerton’s desserts, “Berries” and “Apricot, and the petits fours were noticeably less impressive than at the other four-star restaurants. We weren’t served a birthday cake, either—just a lit candle poking out from the dessert we had already paid for. I didn’t actually need another cake at that point, but see my reviews of Asiate and Del Posto for how the pastry departments in comparable restaurants usually honor such an occasion.

Wine pairings are $95 per person, and if you ask the sommelier to “be creative,” he will. I lost count, but I believe there were six or seven pours, ranging from beer to sake to cocktails, and of course wines, all with decent age on them; most were off the beaten path. Where my friend and I ordered different items, the wines were different also. For one course, the sommelier couldn’t decide between a cocktail and wine, so he gave both.

The final pour, as many reviews have noted, is a bottle of digestif that the sommelier leaves on the table for you to take as much as you would like. It is a safe bet that most normal folk will be too full to abuse the privilege. This must be the best wine pairing in the city, aside from Per Se, which charges at least double for similar service.

If my review seems harsh, it is not. I adore Eleven Madison Park. This is my third visit since chef Humm came on board (here, here). The four-course menu at $125 is one of the best dining deals in town, given all the extras that come with it. What I don’t see, however, is the leap to four stars that other publications have claimed.

Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street, Flatiron District)

Cuisine: Hard to classify; extraordinary at its best, but occasionally falls flat
Service: Incomparable; arguably the best in the city
Ambiance: Superb; an elegant, high-ceilinged space in a landmarked building



Review Previews: DBGB, Marea, Eleven Madison Park

Record to date: 8–3

We’ll be away for the next two weeks, and most likely will not be able to post our Review Previews in real time, so we’re posting them now.

Bruni has three reviews remaining. What will they be?

  1. Marea is a definite: there’s no way Bruni would pass up an upscale Italian place that opened on his watch.
  2. Eater.com reported that Bruni has been spoted three times recently at Eleven Madison Park. He wouldn’t be there so often in the twilight of his tenure unless he’s working up a re-review.
  3. The last one’s something of a wild card, but among places that must be reviewed (and a Boulud restaurant clearly fits this description), we are fairly certain that DBGB is the oldest outstanding.

Bruni has already reviewed Eleven Madison Park twice (two stars; 2/23/2005 and three stars; 1/10/2007). A promotion to four is the only conceivable reason to review it again. He has not named a new four-star restaurant since Masa in December 2004. The 4½-year gap is the longest in Times history, a record he set in the middle of last year. We and others believe that he’s itching to crown one more.

Unfortunately, that will leave poor Marea with three stars, as Bruni isn’t going to canonize two restaurants in under a month, when in almost five years he found none at all. We don’t think Marea is a four-star restaurant in any event, but given Bruni’s love-affair with Italian cuisine we thought he just might pull the trigger until we heard he was taking another hard look at Eleven Madison. (If the 11MP review doesn’t come through, then Mike White and Chris Cannon could still have a chance.)

Finally, DBGB: Most reviews we’ve seen (including our own) have been slightly less enthusiastic about this place than Bar Boulud at Lincoln Center, where Bruni awarded two stars. We therefore believe that DBGB will be rated a notch lower, at one star.

In summary, our predictions are: one star for DBGB, three stars for Marea, and four stars for Eleven Madison Park. Obviously, it’s possible that Bruni’s final reviews will include one or two other places, but we’re positive that Marea will be among the three.


Eleven Madison Park

We had an excellent meal at Eleven Madison Park in early August. I didn’t note every dish, and it’s obviously too late to remember them all, so I’ll keep this brief.

This is a controversial restaurant. In May of this year, Danyelle Freeman gave it five stars in the Daily News (the only restaurant so honored during her brief tenure there). And Frank Bruni said that the new restaurant Corton “joins the constantly improving Eleven Madison Park as a restaurant hovering just below the very summit of fine dining in New York.” If Bruni promotes any restaurant to four stars in 2009, as I believe he is itching to do, I have to think EMP is one of the few real candidates.

But Eleven Madison Park has no Michelin stars, probably the most glaring omission from the French guide’s otherwise very sensible advice. Michelin skeptics cite the snub as evidence that the guide should be disregarded. Still, it’s a fact that this restaurant lacks the near-universal acclaim of, say, Le Bernardin or Jean Georges. Even Bruni, in a year-end blog post, noted that he had an uneven meal there in the fall.

Public adoration seems to be undimmed. Eleven Madison is one of the few restaurants that has continued to raise prices, and get away with it. The prix fixe is now $88 for three courses, and the two tasting menus are now $125 and $175, the latter being one of the most expensive of its kind in the city.

You can count us as fans of Eleven Madison Park. After three visits, we have never yet been disappointed. In August, we had the prix fixe. I was especially eager to try the duck for two. It was wonderful, but I do prefer to have it carved tableside, as they did at Le Périgord. When they whisk it away to the kitchen, the plates that come back never quite seem to add up to a whole bird.

As our meal was five months ago, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Canapés (left); Amuse-bouche (center); Burgundy (right)


The duck as presented (left), and served (center), with leg confit on the side (right)

Cheese course

Palate cleanser and petits-fours

Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street, Flatiron District)

Food: ***½
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***½
Overall: ***½


Eleven Madison Park

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Eleven Madison Park.

In 1998, Danny Meyer did the absurd. Within a month’s time, he opened two contrasting luxury restaurants in a neighborhood not then known for fine dining. The location, a landmarked Art Deco building, ought to have been perfect, but it adjoined the dilapidated Madison Park, better known at the time for drug dealers, broken fences, and crumbling asphalt. The park was eventually rebuilt (Meyer himself contributed $60,000), and both restaurants were hits.

emp_logo.jpgApparently, Meyer’s original intention was to open just one restaurant on the ground floor of the old Met Life building, but the wall separating two dining rooms had landmark status, and couldn’t be removed. So in the smaller of the two spaces, he opened the Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla; and in the spectacular former Assembly Hall, he opened Eleven Madison Park.

Though both restaurants were a success, Ruth Reichl in the Times found Tabla more impressive, awarding three stars. To Eleven Madison Park, she awarded only two in a 1999 review, finding chef Kerry Heffernan’s main courses “disappointingly uneven.” Six years later, for no apparent reason, Frank Bruni re-reviewed Eleven Madison Park, again awarding two stars, finding “much of his food…unremarkable” and “some of it…poorly executed.”

My only visit to Eleven Madison Park under Chef Heffernan was on Mother’s Day in 2005. I was impressed with a five-course tasting menu, especially bearing in mind that most restaurants under-perform on major holidays. But most observers didn’t share my three-star assessment. By the end of the year, Chef Heffernan had departed, replaced by wunderkind Daniel Humm. Suddenly, the food community was buzzing that Eleven Madison Park was practically a new restaurant.

The Gourmand Tasting Menu
Frank Bruni took notice, issuing using the first self-re-review of his tenure to elevate Eleven Madison Park to three stars. (He then managed the peculiar feat of insulting the restaurant by absurdly awarding another three stars to the casual Bar Room at The Modern in the same review—in the process dissing the best restaurant in Danny Meyer’s empire, the main dining room at The Modern.)

Last week, my girlfriend and I returned to Eleven Madison Park, our first visit since Chef Humm took over. Nowadays, the restaurant offers a three-course prix fixe at $82, a four-course prix fixe at $96, or a Gourmand tasting menu, which we ordered, at $155. Counting hors d’oeuvres and petits-fours, that tasting menu weighs in at 13 courses, making it one of the city’s more ambitious of its kind.

A full description of 13 courses would extend this post to the length of a minor novel, so an impressionistic fly-by will have to suffice. The full menu is pictured above right (click for a larger image).

Hors d’oeuvres (left); Maine Diver Scallop with caviar (right)

The hors d’oeuvres were mind-blowingly good. From left to right, I believe they were a foie gras sandwich; a sweetbread; hamachi in a cucumber wrap; and sorry, I cannot recall the fourth.

I loved the first savory course, a diver scallop with caviar. My girlfriend doesn’t eat scallops, so they just gave her a version of the dish with the scallop omitted, which we thought was a rather unimaginative substitute.

California Celery, Cappuccino with Celery Root, and Black Truffles (left); Peekytoe Crab Cannelloni (right)

A celery and cappuccino puree with black truffles was topped with a fried quail egg. Peekytoe Crab Cannelloni was satisfactory, though it did not eclipse our memory of the crab salad we had at Daniel a couple of months ago.

Foie gras with Venezuelan Cocoa and Quince (left); Mediterranean Loup de Mer (right)

It’s hard to go wrong with foie gras, but the torchon here was particularly dreamy. The accompanying soft brioche was wonderful—but also, in a way, superfluous. Chef Humm has a delicate touch with fish, and the Loup de Mer was wonderful.

Scottish Langoustine (left); Four Story Hill “Boudin Blanc” (right)

The next couple of courses didn’t register as impressively. A Scottish Langoustine was slightly dull, as was the boudin (a kind of sausage), though I was a bit more fond of it than my girlfriend was.

Three variations of Vermont Farm Suckling Pig
Suckling pig is apparently Chef Humm’s signature dish. Frank Bruni raved about it. When he came out to greet diners late in our meal, he made sure to ask, “How about the pig?”

My girlfriend was transported, though I found it a bit too dry. We overheard diners at the next table, and their views were exactly reversed: it was the lady who thought hers was too dry. I’d love to come back and try the full entrée version of it.

My sense was that this is precisely the kind of dish that suffers from being served in a tasting menu portion. You need more of it, to give the fat room to spread out, to give alternating crisp and gooey textures the chance to shine.

Lynnhaven “Chèvre Frais” (left); Coconut sorbet with pear and parsnips (right)

The next two courses are perhaps best classified as palate-cleansers. Nothing stands out about them, and I present them (above) without comment.

Chocolate cake with Passion Fruit Bourbon Sour (left); Candied lollipops (right)

The main dessert course was a wonderful chocolate cake with a passion fruit bourbon sour for contrast. I only wish I had had enough appetite left to enjoy more of the candied lollipops.

Service throughout the evening was up the the standard you come to expect at a Danny Meyer restaurant. Given his success, I wonder why more restauranteurs don’t emulate him? When I arrived, the host offered immediately to show me to the table—rather than insisting I wait at the bar until my date arrived, as so many restaurants do these days.

The wine list is excellent, with a good selection of half-bottles. I was also pleased to see a decent selection below $60, an price level often not available at restaurants in this class. Our wine selection was unimaginative: a Barolo that I chose for no other reason than I was happy to find it at $89. The staff decanted it, a service few restaurants offer these days. Wine decanters are an Eleven Madison Park specialty, and you see them on display in a wide variety of shapes.

The bread service, too, was excellent, with nice soft butter in a silver serving dish, and several home-made breads to spread it on. The whole meal took around 3½ hour, and I was never conscious of it being either too fast or too slow.

The large space, with its soaring Art Deco ceilings, leave some people cold. We find it coolly elegant and understated, but it won’t be to all tastes. We were happy to find that those high ceilings gave ample room for the sound level to dissipate, but the restaurant wasn’t quite full, so we didn’t have the acid test. We were seated at a table that could normally accomodate four, so we had a bit more space to ourselves than we normally would.

A few of the courses on our Gourmand tasting menu misfired slightly, but I say this only in relation to the high expectations one has at a price level that puts Eleven Madison Park near the top of the heap in this already expensive city. Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I would be delighted to return.

Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue at 24th Street, Flatiron District)

Food: ***½
Service: ***½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***½ 


Eleven Madison Park

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Eleven Madison Park.

I took my mom and my girlfriend to Eleven Madison Park last night. They were doing a good business, but the restaurant wasn’t full at any point during our 3½ hours there.

For Mother’s Day, they were offering the standard three-course prix fixe at $68 or a special five-course tasting menu at $85. We chose the latter. The courses, as best I remember them, were:

  • Amuse bouche of gazpacho and cherry tomato sorbet
  • Salad of Florence fennel, radishes, and essence of cara cara orange
  • Foie gras terrine with rhubarb and raisins
  • Lobster with butter poached carrots, orange and Gewürtztraminer
  • Palate cleanser, which I have forgotten
  • Wagyu beef short rib braised with bone marrow crust and garden peas
  • Choice of cheesecake with sheep’s milk yogurt and roasted pineapple; or, selection of cheeses
  • Petits-fours

This was the first time that I’ve dined out at a high-end restaurant on a holiday, and not been disappointed. The fact that the regular à la carte menu was available was a positive sign. When restaurants channel everyone to just one menu (as they often do on New Year’s Eve, for example), it’s a sure sign that you’re going to get a mass-produced mess that’s no better than a catered wedding.

Here, every course was excellent. The rhubarb-raisin foie gras terrine stood out, especially for the unusual combination of ingredients. The beef short ribs were wonderfully tender. In a tasting menu one always regrets that there are only a few bites. I also especially liked the creativity of the cheesecake.

Paired wines would have been $48 each, but that was more wine than we cared to consume on a Sunday evening, so we ordered a bottle of cabernet franc from Channing Daughters ($71), and weren’t disappointed. The staff decanted the wine for us without our asking, which is something all too few restaurants will do these days.

Service was close to flawless. (The restaurant won the 2004 James Beard award for best service in America.) We were especially impressed with the timing of the courses, which at some restaurants are rushed when your meal is a tasting of multiple small courses. We always had an ample amount of time to relax before the next course arrived.

Dinner for three, including tasting menus, pre-dinner cocktails, wine, and cappucino afterwards, was $371 before tax and tip.

Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue @24th St, Flatiron District)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***