This week, Pete Wells re-reviewed Eleven Madison Park, maintaining its four star rating, which was bestowed on the restaurant originally by Well’s predecessor Frank Bruni in 2009. And, just like Bruni, Wells focuses on the progression of the concept of the restaurant, and how the thread running through all of its shifts in focus is the joy the restaurant seems incapable of failing to bring to its guests.
As the critic points out toward the beginning of his review, Eleven Madison park has shifted the way they interact with the public nearly wholly since Bruni reviewed it five and a half years ago. Back in the days of Bruni, the three-course menu cost $88; now, “lunch or dinner is $225 for more than a dozen courses. All but two are typically chosen by the kitchen. A few days in advance of a recent reservation, the head maître d’hotel, Justin Roller, sent an email warning, ‘Our tasting menu lasts approximately three and a half hours, so please plan your day accordingly.’”
It turns out Wells prefers this iteration of Eleven Madison Park, as when he visited it back in 2012, he was served what he calls “the most ridiculous meal I’ve ever had… Nearly every course began with a clunky, humorless history lesson about steakhouses, appetizing stores, clambakes, cheesecakes and even Times Square scam artists. The patter overshadowed and undermined the food.” They’ve cut on the theatrics, but the chef and servers still engage in some gratuitous pronouncements, like “when any ingredient is grown in New York State, someone is sure to point it out…[The chef] Mr. Humm doesn’t dig down into the natural and cultivated landscape of his region the way, say, Christopher Kostow, Sean Brock and Dan Barber do. He practices entry-level locavorism.”
The most serious food- and restaurant-lovers among us probably rolled their eyes at this point in the review, and Wells admits that as he was dining, “Objections like this buzzed before my eyes so insistently that at times they blinded me.” However, the critic could not ignore what the dining room had become during his meal: “a roomful of people almost goofy with happiness…and finally even me, the overthinking picker of nits and finder of faults. Under the restaurant’s relentless, skillful campaign to spread joy, I gave in.”
We reached out to the team at Eleven Madison Park for their reaction to Wells’ praise, and Will Guidara, restaurateur and co-owner of Made Nice (the hospitality group that own and operates the restaurant), told us “Any review with the words ‘goofy with happiness’ is one that we can only feel great about. Being a four star restaurant is not something we take lightly, our entire team is humbled and proud."
As Wells winds down his review, he once again alludes to the ever-constant transformation Eleven Madison Park appears to embrace, but asserts that one thing – and perhaps its most import characteristic – will remain unchanged, which is “convincing you that you’ve been lifted to some better world until the man in the top hat outside whistles for your cab.”