Entries in Kerry Heffernan (4)


iPad Wine Tablets at South Gate

Last week, South Gate restaurant replaced its paper wine lists with iPads. It struck me as a gimmick to get the critics back to a restaurant they largely ignored—out of kindness, I suspect—when it opened two years ago.

This is the fourth electronic wine list I’ve seen. The old Aureole had one. It was so difficult to use that we just gave up, and asked the sommelier for assistance. Adour has a wine list projected onto the counter at the bar, though at the tables it relies on paper. I found the electronic version finicky, and as I’d done at Aureole, gave up and asked for the printed version.

SD26 is the only other New York restaurant that currently dispenses with paper entirely. As I noted after my visit:

I quickly figured out the user interface, but found it frustrating. On a traditional wine list, I can flip through the pages quickly, getting an instant sense of its breadth and depth. A small screen that shows only a few bottles at a time is disorienting. You have no idea what you’re not seeing. It’s probably a lot, given an inventory of 1,000 bottles. Response time isn’t bad, but turning a page is a lot faster.

The iPad wine list at South Gate has much the same problem. The user interface is pretty easy to figure out, but you have to dig through several layers of menus to get to a list of bottles. Along the way, you have several decisions to make:

  • Bottle, glass, cocktail, small format, large format, or beer? [I choose bottle]
  • White, red, sparkling, or dessert? [I choose red]
  • A particular grape, a particular country, or “all red”? [I choose country]
  • Which country (out of 14)? [I choose United States]
  • Which Grape (out of 4)? [I choose Merlot]

After all that, I find that South Gate has only one United States Merlot, and I later discover that there are only five U.S. bottles overall. So this is clearly not the strength of the list, which it has taken me a bit of searching to find out. On a printed list, you’d quickly see at a glance that the largest selection is French.

Response time for any given menu option ranges from one to four seconds, which doesn’t sound bad, but the minutes add up quickly, while you’re still not sure how big the list is, or how much you’re missing. Fortunately for me—but not for the restaurant—the place wasn’t busy, and the server let me hold onto the iPad for about 45 minutes, so I had plenty of time to browse. This wouldn’t work at a busy place, unless they’re prepared to invest in a lot of iPads.

Eventually, someone will develop the killer wine list app that beats paper, but it hasn’t happened yet.


Kerry Heffernan, the original chef at Eleven Madison Park, has been at South Gate since it opened. The Tony Chi-designed room has no charm; it could be a soulless hotel dining room anywhere.

The city’s most expensive non-Japanese restaurant, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, was once in the same building, so you don’t expect it to be cheap. And it isn’t. Practically all of the entrées are north of $30. Even the three-course pre-theater menu feels expensive, at $49.

A more gently priced bar menu was introduced recently (though, as at most places, you can get the full menu at the bar, too). I wasn’t hungry, so I sampled just one item.

Try to imagine Fried Macaroni & Cheese ($12). Does your mental picture agree at all with the photo on the left? I thought not.

A confused runner dropped the dish in front of another patron. He was sure he hadn’t ordered it, and handed it off to me. I thought it must be a mistake, but I couldn’t find a server and didn’t want the dish to get cold.

I had eaten four out of the five little fritters before the server returned, and assured me that this was, indeed, the fried macaroni & cheese. I didn’t taste much macaroni, but the dish wasn’t bad. I’m not sure that five bites are worth $12, but when the roast chicken is $30, I suppose it is not out of line.

A glass of wine and a bar snack were all I had, but I must have spent an hour there, as the server seemed in no hurry to…you know, serve. It’s not much of an improvement over my first visit, when the place was new. Inexplicably, I gave South Gate one star. I am not sure why. Nothing I saw here makes me want to return.

South Gate (154 Central Park South between 6th & 7th Avenues, West Midtown)


South Gate

[Krieger via Eater]

Chef Kerry Heffernan first came to prominance as executive chef of Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park. He left in 2005 to helm another Meyer establishment, Hudson Yards Catering, a behind-the-scenes job that didn’t really suit his temperament.

At South Gate, in the Jumeirah Essex House Hotel on Central Park South, Heffernan is back in a restaurant kitchen, where he belongs. I loved Heffernan’s work at Eleven Madison Park the one time I visited, but both New York Times critics that reviewed it awarded only two stars, which for a Danny Meyer restaurant has to be considered disappointing.

southgate_logo.jpgThe newly refurbished Essex House is practically synonymous with luxury. Not long ago, it was home to Alain Ducasse, probably the fanciest restaurant New York has seen in recent times. With South Gate, the Essex House has gone down-market. The Tony Chi interior dazzles, with its floor-to-ceiling wine wall, gleaming mirrors, and a working fire place. But bare wood tables and floors, and a large space dominated by a wrap-around bar, send a decidedly casual vibe. So does the booming sound system in the adjoining lounge, which made us decidedly uncomfortable.

southgate03.jpgIf Heffernan has brought along some of his old recipes from Eleven Madison Park, he certainly hasn’t brought along his old service team. It was amateur hour on a Saturday evening, when the amuse-bouche and the appetizers arrived simultaneously, but dessert (cheesecake) took twenty minutes. And good luck flagging down a server when you need one.

Heffernan was in the house and greeted most diners (including us), but he couldn’t have been pleased to see the place half-empty. Judging by the many accents we heard, we guessed that most of those in the dining room were hotel guests. To survive, such a large restaurant will need to attract a broader clientele.

The menu is one of low ambition. There are six appetizers ($14–21), four soups & salads ($12–16), five seafood and vegetable entrées ($26–39) and four meat entrées ($29–38). The obligatory foie gras and lobster make appearances—they’re the most expensive appetizer and entrée respectively—but you don’t find any caviar, black truffles, or Kobe beef. There’s no tasting menu.

The wine list is on the expensive side, but there are some decent options that don’t break the bank. I don’t claim any great expertise, but I thought that the 1998 Chateau Camensac Haut-Médoc ($74) was one of the better wines we’ve had in a while. They don’t decant it, as they do at Eleven Madison Park, and the same glasses are used whether you order red or white.

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Amuse-bouche (left); Wild Mushroom Martini (center); Hamachi (right)

The bread service was much better than usual for this class of restaurant: warm bread rolls with individual soft butter servings for each of us. But is it possible to have too much bread? The amuse-bouche was foie gras torchon with orange jelly and lemon zest on a cracker, accompanied by warm gougères.

I was sufficiently intrigued to take a chance on the Wild Mushroom Martini ($16). It was basically a hot mushroom soup with spinach fondue, a poached egg, and a slice of crostini. There was allegedly crisp pancetta in there too, but I couldn’t find it. Give Heffernan credit for serving something no other chef in town has thought of, but the dish was a failure. The various ingredients were clumpy and hard to get at, especially when they came in a teeter-tottering martini glass.

The dish was also, quite frankly, extremely unappetizing to look at. Look at the photo, and write your own disgusting caption. At another table, a French woman took one look at it, and sent it back. It didn’t taste bad at all, but I really didn’t see the point.

My girlfriend’s Hamachi ($18) was a good deal more successful. 

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Gianonne Chicken (left); Short-Cured Salmon Pavé (right)

Chicken ($29) and Salmon ($31) are hotel restaurant clichés, and I’m not sure that Heffernan did much to elevate them beyond their usual fate. The chicken was competent enough, but once again it was not all that appetizing to look at, and it was over-sauced. Did paprika really belong here?

Salmon was alleged to be “short-cured” — that is, cured for exactly one hour, according to the server. Can an hour of curing really make a difference? We certainly didn’t detect any, but the fish was tender enough. 

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Cheesecake (left); Petits-fours (right)

For dessert, we shared an order of cheescake ($10). With cheesecake, pastry chefs sometimes get too cute for their own good, but this one was the real McCoy, albeit dressed up a bit. We enjoyed it, and also the petits-fours.

With appetizers averaging over $15 and entrées over $30, South Gate needs to do better. The only dish on the menu that seemed to take any real chance—the Wild Mushroom Martini—is surely destined for an early retirement. Is this meant to be a dining destination, or an unadventurous hotel restaurant with a hip bar scene? Whichever is the case, at these prices patrons deserve much better service.

South Gate is barely a month old. Given Kerry Heffernan’s track record, I assume that it will improve.

South Gate (160 Central Park South between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)

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


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: ***