Eleven Madison Park: Overdue for an Extra Star

For a year or so, Danny Meyer has been declaring the rise of the quick turn improvised meal and the fall of the long format prix fixe lunch and dinner.  Putting his money where the mouths are, he’s added greater flexibility to nearly all of his restaurants’  dining options.   There’s one exception to this trend of letting people determine length, order and quantity of their meals, namely Eleven Madison Park’s stubbornly rigorous multi-course lunches and many course dinners.  I think the reason is simple: Such are the apparent requirements of the Times 4 Star review, the one accolade that’s eluded Mr. Meyer.

EMP is definitely an ambitious restaurant, Meyer’s most ambitious restaurant, and on some nights this past winter, it seemed like Meyer’s folly.  I have to imagine he took a hit to keep it running at full speed when the crowds thinned.  Fortunately,  Meyer has had a restaurant empire to keep this place going during the rough patches.  And when we come out of this downturn, it should join the City’s elite.

Why bump it to four stars?  Because it’s not the same restaurant it was a few years ago.  Meyer’s restaurants always get better with time.   Name another restaurateur so intent on relentlessly revising and improving his restaurants based on guest feedback.  Name another restaurateur whose restaurants consistently get better after their third or fourth years under a chef.  That’s why  Meyer’s restaurants nearly always merit a rereview.

Fans are everywhere, and so are a few major doubters.  That’s fine.  But if you’ve been to 4-starred Daniel, Le Bernardin or Jean Georges lately, you have to ask what they have that EMP doesn’t.  Yes, their chefs are far more influential–each has at least one national trend to his credit–but they’re also far more leveraged.    While  Goldman is down to leveraging its money 14:1,  Jean Georges seems intent on leveraging his flagship’s name and stars at ever greater ratios.  Just how many kitchens can he visit?  Boulud isn’t far behind.   Even Keller has joined the expansion fray.

Yes, Humm doesn’t have a foie and short rib stuffed burger or salmon cornet with his name on it, but he does have a restaurant executing gorgeous and delicious food  with service to match.  He also has the best wine program in the City.  It’s time for the critics to set the record straight.   Go forth and add the star, Frank.  EMP is ready to join the club.  Present day fans already know how far the restaurant has come.  Potential fans should know as well.

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11 Responses to “Eleven Madison Park: Overdue for an Extra Star”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hear, hear. But since when do we need the Times to tell us where to eat? N.B.: EMP has a less “rigorous” option, the bar menu. That said, it does seem like the bar menu and bar area are subordinate to the main dining room and not a casual substitute for it, unlike Gramercy Tavern’s front room and Jean George’s Nougatine Room.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I agree, but I’d also say drop one star off Daniel. Haven’t had a dish there that wowed me in my last three visits. Of course, it does look great.

  3. Mary M. Says:

    It’s always looked like a 4-star space, and an American one at that, so now it’s nice to see the food finally matching the ambitions of the decor. I was a fan of Heffernan’s food, but I never thought the room was a good match for him. It fits Humm much better.

  4. Yorkville Slurper Says:

    So I hear Bruni’s reviewing Union Square Cafe. Whatever he has to say about USC, it just doesn’t register for me any more as one of the central restaurants in the City, despite the high Zagat’s rating. Compared to its peak years with Michael Romano, now it just doesn’t enter the food dialogue anywhere near as much as Meyer’s other places.

    Then again, I haven’t been there much since Quagliata took the reins. I know he’s redone the menu, and I wonder about the decor and uniforms, which also needed a change. Something about those candystriper shirts just looked pre-Millenial.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    No Bruni on EMP? Good. We’re better off without a lameduck 4 for EMP. It needs that review from a critic in his prime not a book flacker at the exits. In the meantime, we can enjoy the food without the reservation problems.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Hey FaHFS, to riff on your new tagline “The unread blog is not worth writing.” It took me way to long to find you through the usual search engines. Get your name out there on the major food sites so you can stop hiding so far back on the Google searches. Best wishes from a longtime fan.

  7. Bloviating Blogger Says:

    I have to think the restaurants that the blog world knows least well are those at the top of the price scale. How many Masa/Daniel/Jean Georges/EMP regulars are there out there writing up their meals or taking digital pictures? The average income of a four-star restaurant regular is well beyond that of most of us who spend time on the Chow/Serious Eats/Eater circuit. Yes, everyone seems to post their special occasion dinners out from the big names, but those places need folks for whom our special occasion meal is a regular meal and our fancy wine is vin ordinaire. And yes, the name bloggers have gotten some extraordinary access to the big restaurants in the past few years, which may yield some insight, but with no press ethics to worry about when it comes to freebies, they are the easiest press in the world to seduce with comped meals. In short, I think EMP merits the bump. I just think most of us are bloviating a bit in going on about a restaurant we have all likely visited far fewer times than the neighboring Shake Shack or Sripraphai or a dozen other places at which the foodie/food blogging world really does constitute a substantial part of the customer base.

  8. tigerdog Says:

    BB: I don’t count myself as a regular, in part for money reasons–as you suggest–but also because of time constraints. Unless you’re entertaining clients for work, independently wealthy AND childless or old enough to leave kids at home, it’s hard come up with three or four hours on a weeknight to spend in a restaurant of this quality and price with any regularity. Given the choice, I would happily do so every couple of weeks, but that’s just not an option at this stage of life. Fortunately, I can and do make a visit once per season, which is more than enough for now.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    The one thing Bruni doesn’t talk about is the struggle to fill seats, which seems to have been an issue in the last few years. I remember brunch service being set up then cut, presumably for lack of business. I also remember some really empty rooms at lunch time and on M-Th dinners. Maybe private dining covered the costs, but I can’t imagine there’s been much of that since the market meltdown. In any case, I hope the fourth star will add enough out of towners to fill the spots during the lulls.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I see you and Bruni agree on the restaurant as the embodiment of Meyer’s finer dining ambition and on noting Humm’s virtue of focusing on a single restaurant, versus some of the more senior chefs in the City. You’re both on the same page about the improvement arc as well. I guess you could call the suckling pig Humm’s signature dish, but as Bruni indicates, but I’m not sure we can credit him as a trendsetter in the same way as Boulud, JG and the other big boys.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Well, now it’s on to Michelin! Time to start gunning for a triple macaron.

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