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Eleven Madison Park


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I've been a couple of times before and although perfectly ok I found it pretty ho hum; neither as exciting as a top tier restaurant (the Danny Meyer effect) nor as satisfying as a decent bistro. But a

January 2021: Later this month, Humm and Guidara will introduce a brand new style of service inspired partially by the cafeteria at Rikers Island. Guests will wait on line for chefs to fill their tra

January 2017: Later this month, Humm and Guidara will introduce a brand new style of service inspired partially by classic Lower East Side restaurant Katz's. Guests will be given tickets on entering t

And then at dinner tonight, the first amuse, introducing a truly excellent meal, was bleak roe (the Swedish National Fish Egg) over creme fraiche in a wafer shaped like a cone or a trumpet.

 

New York restaurants may suck (relatively), but their impact is enormous.

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A long article in this week's New Yorker traces the changes at the restaurant, and gives some eye-opening explanations for some of the quirks much discussed in this thread.

 

I certainly want to hear nothing more about the Times critic's anonymity after learning that EMP would pack an otherwise largely empty dining room with friends when they knew he was coming in. I don't blame the restaurant, but Bruni was clearly gamed in the run-up to the fourth star.

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Wells previews EMP's latest flight of fancy in a Critic's Notebook piece. Some highlights:

 

"If you're wondering why you have a bag of chips on your table, the potato chip was invented in upstate New York in the 1800s," a server said at the start of the second course, a cup of what tasted like salty and smoky apple juice. Indeed, next to the cup was a shiny foil sack containing crisp peels of apple and celery root.

 

A spellbinding broth of clams and buckwheat was introduced with a spiel that ended this way: "Even today, people on Long Island gather on the beaches for clambakes as they celebrate with family and friends."

 

And a malted chocolate egg cream was given this gloss: "Some say the egg cream was invented in Manhattan, some say Brooklyn, but everybody agrees that it contains no eggs and no cream."

About midway through my lunch, a server clamped a meat grinder to the table. He began talking about New York's steakhouses, famous around the world. By this time, the smoke of seared dry-aged beef was in my nostrils. "One of the most iconic dishes in steakhouses is steak tartare," he went on.

 

Something about that seemed not quite right, factually, but I quickly forgot about it because his next move was to feed a cooked carrot into the meat grinder. This was Eleven Madison Park's tribute to Manhattan's temples of beef: bright orange mush that you might feed a baby.

 

There was more to it than that, of course. Mr. Humm is a wizard with vegetables; I don't think there's another New York chef cooking at his level who can tease as much flavor and beauty from them. So by the time I'd mixed the carrots with the garnishes that stood in for the traditional steak tartare extras, then applied a few drops of mustard oil and carrot emulsion presented in plastic squeeze bottles, I had one of the most surprising, inventive carrot dishes I've tasted in a long while. But my appetite was primed for porterhouse. No carrot should face that kind of competition.

And while I loved the satiny sturgeon inside a bell jar of apple wood smoke, having it introduced as an homage to shops like Barney Greengrass didn't do the rest of that dish any favors. When you are thinking about a fat layer of cream cheese sitting on an everything bagel at the corner of Amsterdam and 86th Street, how good can you feel about eating poppy and sesame seeds lightly dusted over a head of romaine the size of a wine cork? And while everyone has his own ideal of the smoked fish breakfast, mine has never included eating dill pickles and caviar at the same time.
The narrative tone isn't sharp, it isn't quick, it isn't wised up, and it assumes the listener knows nothing: in other words, it's not a New York voice. By the end of the four hours, I felt as if I'd gone to a Seder hosted by Presbyterians.
No doubt the New York menu, in some ways their most daring risk yet, will itself be reinvented. At the moment, its fusion with the old grid menu feels transitional, like a tadpole with legs and a tail.

 

Maybe the voice-over could explain that, too.

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