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Eleven Madison Park


donbert
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Those who have been several times over the past couple of years:

1. Do you agree that, 18 months ago, Eleven Madison Park was not a four-star restaurant?

2. If so, and if you believe it is one today, what has changed to make it a four-star restaurant?

(I don't think Bruni answers that second question effectively.)

It seems to me the review is full of evidence (assuming you believe it) that the restaurant has taken a big leap forward.

Now, I could understand saying that you simply believe Bruni is capable of making discerning judgments about food on this level. I could also understand saying that you've had multiple contemporaneous visits, and you simply didn't find it as good as he did.

But the review, taken on its terms, makes the case pretty strongly. It's "true to itself," and it is broadly consistent with the levels of rapture Bruni found at the five other restaurants to which he awarded four stars. (The others, of course, weren't promotions, so the context there was different.)

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marauder, I tend to agree with most of what you said. (Aside: I'm not the Kellerphile that many are, but I definitely think that per se is in the highest guard here. And, although my meal at masa was unforgettable, it didn't send me the way some of its peers have; and it was expensive.)

As for desserts, I would disagree. Iuzzini's selling point for me is that he's creative, forward-thinking, and produces delicious desserts. Laiskonis, to a lesser extent, is also that way (but I'm reminded of a tomato and berry dessert I had at le Bernardin that was quite odd yet terrific at once). For me, Laiskonis's desserts rely more on unconventional ingredient couplings instead of comforting familiarity for uniqueness.

Humm doesn't go for the strange and the eye-popping, or even unfamiliar. But I find nothing wrong with that. I think Bruni did a good job of describing Humm's desserts:

"Mr. Humm supervises the sweets in addition to what precedes them, and with most he finds the right middle ground between hyper-imaginative artistry and molten chocolate pandering. Accessorizing the gooey chocolate centerpiece of one dessert with both caramel popcorn and a popcorn-flavored ice cream did that trick nicely. "

In many respects, I *think* what many are really objecting is the fact that Eleven Madison Park is the most approachable one of the four stars, and therefore isn't really a four-star. I find this to be an utterly confounding reason to bar its membership.

Now, I could understand saying that you simply believe Bruni is capable of making discerning judgments about food on this level. I could also understand saying that you've had multiple contemporaneous visits, and you simply didn't find it as good as he did.

oakapple, did you mean "Brun is incapable...?"

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

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Just in terms of the review itself, I think Fat Guy is clearly right that it leaves you wondering what changed to justify the extra star. Bruni asserts several times that the restaurant has improved, but I don't think he ever really satisfactorily explains concretely what the improvement has been.

ETA -- This failure is especially galling since, just around the beginning of this year (if memory serves), Bruni mentioned in a blog post that EMP still didn't quite make it above three stars. Clearly, he's been thinking -- and possibly vacillating -- about its proper star rating for a while. So the question isn't only, what's changed since the last review, but what's changed since January?

ETA -- This has nothing to do with the merits of the four-star rating. I'm only talking about the flaws I see in the review.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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marauder, I tend to agree with most of what you said.  (Aside: I'm not the Kellerphile that many are, but I definitely think that per se is in the highest guard here.  And, although my meal at masa was unforgettable, it didn't send me the way some of its peers have; and it was expensive.)

As for desserts, I would disagree.  Iuzzini's selling point for me is that he's creative, forward-thinking, and produces delicious desserts.  Laiskonis, to a lesser extent, is also that way (but I'm reminded of a tomato and berry dessert I had at le Bernardin that was quite odd yet terrific at once).  For me, Laiskonis's desserts rely more on unconventional ingredient couplings instead of comforting familiarity for uniqueness. 

Humm doesn't go for the strange and the eye-popping, or even unfamiliar.  But I find nothing wrong with that.  I think Bruni did a good job of describing Humm's desserts:

"Mr. Humm supervises the sweets in addition to what precedes them, and with most he finds the right middle ground between hyper-imaginative artistry and molten chocolate pandering. Accessorizing the gooey chocolate centerpiece of one dessert with both caramel popcorn and a popcorn-flavored ice cream did that trick nicely. "

In many respects, I *think* what many are really objecting is the fact that Eleven Madison Park is the most approachable one of the four stars, and therefore isn't really a four-star.  I find this to be an utterly confounding reason to bar its membership.   

Now, I could understand saying that you simply believe Bruni is capable of making discerning judgments about food on this level. I could also understand saying that you've had multiple contemporaneous visits, and you simply didn't find it as good as he did.

oakapple, did you mean "Brun is incapable...?"

Sorry, I realized that marauder hadn't posted on this thread. That's what I get for reading too many email notifications from the hand device.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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In many respects, I *think* what many are really objecting is the fact that Eleven Madison Park is the most approachable one of the four stars, and therefore isn't really a four-star.  I find this to be an utterly confounding reason to bar its membership.   

Although I find myself stuck in the middle here, and am not in the "anti-4-stars-EMP" camp by any means, I personally object to the fact that they serve PLENTY of meals that arguably aren't even 3 stars - specifically the 2 course lunches.

This NEVER happens at Per Se, JG, Le Bernardin. Everything that leaves those kitchens are 4 star quality, they constantly strive for the very very top every single time you visit - even in the salon at Per Se for example. They prove themselves from the second the door opens to the second the door closes.

If you go for the dinner tasting or Gourmand, EMP is - in my estimation - a 4 star restaurant. Any other meal leaves some doubt. Some meals leave little doubt that it's not a 4 star restaurant.

That's what bothers me. They are capable. But they don't hold themselves to it 100% of the time (and potentially, a very small % of the time)

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In many respects, I *think* what many are really objecting is the fact that Eleven Madison Park is the most approachable one of the four stars, and therefore isn't really a four-star.  I find this to be an utterly confounding reason to bar its membership.    

Although I find myself stuck in the middle here, and am not in the "anti-4-stars-EMP" camp by any means, I personally object to the fact that they serve PLENTY of meals that arguably aren't even 3 stars - specifically the 2 course lunches.

This NEVER happens at Per Se, JG, Le Bernardin. Everything that leaves those kitchens are 4 star quality, they constantly strive for the very very top every single time you visit - even in the salon at Per Se for example. They prove themselves from the second the door opens to the second the door closes.

If you go for the dinner tasting or Gourmand, EMP is - in my estimation - a 4 star restaurant. Any other meal leaves some doubt. Some meals leave little doubt that it's not a 4 star restaurant.

That's what bothers me. They are capable. But they don't hold themselves to it 100% of the time (and potentially, a very small % of the time)

If true, that's certainly a fair point to make. I can't legitimately agree or disagree, as I've only been to Eleven Madison Park for dinner. And both times, I had the Gourmand.

However, I don't think that comparisons to per se and Le Bernardin are appropriate here, as the pricing structure is completely in a different league. And therefore, you will naturally get something in a different league (or, one would hope).

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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But then it couldn't be four-star.

I think at the four-star level, to factor in "value" is BULLSHIT.  Four stars should betoken sheer excellence.

Right. I suppose I should withdraw Le Bernardin from my earlier statement.

I'm not talking necessarily about value. I'm talking about the type of experience you're more likely to have with a "menu" with high prices. That is to say, at per se and masa there is only one, multi-hour meal to be had at lunch. So the experience is going to be totally different than an experience at Jean Georges or Le Bernardin or Eleven Madison Park for lunch. Will it necessarily be better just because of that fact? I don't know. But what I'm saying is that I *think* some here would say yes.

Again, I don't know whether Eleven Madison Park's lunch is "sheer excellence." It seems that from many on this board, it's not.

Someone (I think it was sickchangeup) earlier commented that the lunch prix-fixe at Eleven Madison Park is running at a 2-star level, whereas the lunch Gourmand is running at a 3-star level, with the dinner prix-fixe at the same level. A quick review of the current online menu reveals that all of the dishes on the lunch Gourmand are from the dinner prix-fixe menu. So, sickchangeup's evaluation certainly is squared with itself.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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In many respects, I *think* what many are really objecting is the fact that Eleven Madison Park is the most approachable one of the four stars, and therefore isn't really a four-star.  I find this to be an utterly confounding reason to bar its membership.    

Although I find myself stuck in the middle here, and am not in the "anti-4-stars-EMP" camp by any means, I personally object to the fact that they serve PLENTY of meals that arguably aren't even 3 stars - specifically the 2 course lunches.

This NEVER happens at Per Se, JG, Le Bernardin. Everything that leaves those kitchens are 4 star quality, they constantly strive for the very very top every single time you visit - even in the salon at Per Se for example. They prove themselves from the second the door opens to the second the door closes.

If you go for the dinner tasting or Gourmand, EMP is - in my estimation - a 4 star restaurant. Any other meal leaves some doubt. Some meals leave little doubt that it's not a 4 star restaurant.

That's what bothers me. They are capable. But they don't hold themselves to it 100% of the time (and potentially, a very small % of the time)

I completely agree with this. For years I have been in the "I don't understand what everyone is going on and on about with Humm" EMP camp. I have truly wanted to love EMP as much as my friends do, but I simply haven't had a ton of food there that has wowed me. However, the only time I did the Gourmand tasting menu under Humm was about a month into his tenure. It was fine, but certainly not four star quality. Since then, I've had two dinners, and maybe four lunches. The most recent lunch was certainly my best (I believe we sampled about 7 dishes for our table of 3). However, with the exception of the occasional very good dish, nothing has really blown my mind. It seems that perhaps I need to experience the Gourmand menu again in order to figure out what makes this restaurant so very special. OTOH, I have been extraordinarily reluctant to do so, for fear of being disappointed at a significant financial cost. I'm not sure whether EMP is "just not for me" or whether I just haven't spent enough to get the meal that is for me, but I do wish that I could experience what others seem to find here.

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Just in terms of the review itself, I think Fat Guy is clearly right that it leaves you wondering what changed to justify the extra star.

How much clearer does he have to be?
I watched a distinguished restaurant get better, even though it already seemed popular enough to survive just the way it was. Then I watched an improved, excellent restaurant, which I elevated to three stars from two in early 2007, make yet another unnecessary advance. . . .

It just needed a bit more polish in its service and a lot more sparkle in its food. Over the last three and a half years, it has received precisely that, in measures that increased steadily since the arrival of Mr. Humm (and, soon after him, a new general manager, Will Guidara, and a new wine director, John Ragan, who has wisely supplemented familiar treasures from France with less familiar ones from other countries). . . .

. . . . instead of resting on his suckling laurels, he took this wrinkle of his reputation and ran with it, developing a tasting menu with five consecutive courses of suckling pig, including belly cooked sous vide and a roasted rack of tiny, exquisite chops. I sampled this last month, and it was superb. . . .

Mr. Humm’s judicious flirtations with molecular gastronomy have intensified over the years, to exciting effect. One tomato salad comprised liquid spheres — those quivering, explosive orbs made famous by the Spanish wizard Ferran Adrià — of white buffalo mozzarella and red tomato. Another floated a fleecy tomato “cloud” (tomato water whipped with gelatin) over a patchwork of red and yellow cherry tomatoes.

Of course, I have only quoted the paragraphs in which Bruni explicitly mentions things that have improved since his last review. He mentions many others that, to my recollection, weren't on the menu last time I was there (over a year ago).

Bearing in mind that the stars are a continuum, it you believed that EMP was already at the upper end of three stars, it might not have needed much to push it over the edge. I do acknowledge an artificiality to the timing: if he weren't giving up the job next week, would this review have appeared now?

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Re-reviewing EMP can't be near the top of his list.

(To be clear, I have no problem at all with Bruni's giving EMP a third review and augmenting its star rating. My only problem is with what to me is his failure to justify doing so in the text of the review. I think the stuff Oakapple quoted is mainly vague gobbledigook.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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I'm going to throw out a possible explanation here. But before I make the following comment, I note that this is ONLY a possible explanation and not one that I necessarily believe is true nor can prove (clearly):

What if Bruni (felt like he) got it wrong (i.e. giving Eleven Madison Park three stars instead of four) on his second review (which no one disputes as being unwarranted since there was a change in chefs) and felt the need to redress it before his term was up? It's kind of like what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do every year with the Best Actor/Actress categories.

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Bruni said that repeated revisits convinced him that EMP still wasn't exceeding three-star performance in a blog post on December 31, 2008. Clearly, he'd been thinking about it as a possible four-star candidate, but wasn't yet convinced, as of last year.

It seems pretty clear to me that Bruni wanted to appoint another four-star restaurant, but it took him a while to become convinced that EMP qualified.

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Because I'm a glutton for punishment, because a good friend nudged me a with an itemized list), and because I feel the need to point this out for posterity's sake, if nothing else:

From the review:

1. Improved service:

It just needed a bit more polish in its service and a lot more sparkle in its food. Over the last three and a half years, it has received precisely that, in measures that increased steadily since the arrival of Mr. Humm...

2. Ever-improving pork:

But instead of resting on his suckling laurels, he took this wrinkle of his reputation and ran with it, developing a tasting menu with five consecutive courses of suckling pig, including belly cooked sous vide and a roasted rack of tiny, exquisite chops. I sampled this last month, and it was superb.

3. Increasing success with modern cooking:

Mr. Humm’s judicious flirtations with molecular gastronomy have intensified over the years, to exciting effect.
(Spherecized tomato dish description follows.)

Add to that a forward-moving momentum and a host of compliments about the strength of the food, and I think Bruni has more than justified how the restaurant has made the step from a strong three-star operation to a four-star one.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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1. He asserts that the service has improved. He doesn't say HOW it's improved, or what was wrong with it before.

2. He asserts that the food is better. Again, he doesn't say HOW it's better, or what was previously lacking.

3. OK, he DOES say that Humm's use of "molecular" techniques has increased. Of course, that by itself wouldn't justify a promotion. Paul Liebrandt got an additional star by making his cooking simpler and more traditional.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Because I'm a glutton for punishment, because a good friend nudged me a with an

Add to that a forward-moving momentum and a host of compliments about the strength of the food, and I think Bruni has more than justified how the restaurant has made the step from a strong three-star operation to a four-star one.

In my opinion, the weakest of the four star restaurants in the city.

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Because I'm a glutton for punishment, because a good friend nudged me a with an

Add to that a forward-moving momentum and a host of compliments about the strength of the food, and I think Bruni has more than justified how the restaurant has made the step from a strong three-star operation to a four-star one.

In my opinion, the weakest of the four star restaurants in the city.

Based on one visit?

Fair enough. The weakest of the four-starred. (I disagree, there is one other four-star I find far weaker.) But a four-starred nonetheless, no?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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1.  He asserts that the service has improved.  He doesn't say HOW it's improved, or what was wrong with it before.

2.  He asserts that the food is better.  Again,  he doesn't say HOW it's better, or what was previously lacking.

3.  OK, he DOES say that Humm's use of "molecular" techniques has increased.  Of course, that by itself wouldn't justify a promotion.  Paul Liebrandt got an additional star by making his cooking simpler and more traditional.

2. Perhaps not better - just that he's retooled the menu to focus on his strengths (based on feedback).

3. Not just that it's increased, but that it's increased in a good way (i.e. not over-doing it, rather, using the technique to create great dishes, like said spherephized tomato dish, and a "cheesecake" one). Re: Liebrandt - from what I understand, Liebrandt's food was very controversial to begin with. (I know many on this board feel that Bruni crucified Liebrandt at Gilt. I never ate at Gilt. I have eaten at Corton. The circumstances surrounding that meal are well-documented elsewhere. That was a four-star meal, in every respect.)

Given that the man has around 1,200 words to play with (less if it's not a really important review), I can't fault him for wanting to give an "overview" of the restaurant AND talk about the goodness of the food (which, I do think he does to a larger degree than most are willing to allow). Most New York Times readers aren't the analysts that this crowd seems to breed. Like 95% of Bruni's readers just want to know: (a) What's good about the restaurant, (b) What they should order, and © What it's going to cost them for the experience. That Bruni says its good enough is all they care to know.

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Sneakeater, that Bruni seems to have wanted to crown a new four-star. And, I agree that this last-minute publication, in tandem with three reviews over his tenure, is unconventional, if not unprecedented. But Bruni does make it clear - in this review and his previous writings - that Eleven Madison Park has had a hill to climb in earning its four stars (and why shouldn't they?). Given all of his previous hesitations, hedges, and objections, the fact that Bruni now unreservedly awards them four stars seems sufficient without the specific line-item accounting that you and others here seem to want. In effect, this last review is just the third (and final) installment of what has been a larger, three-part story of the making of a four-star during Bruni's tenure.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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That's just arguing from authority. His job as a reviewer is to explain (if not persuade), not just to conclude. The fact that he thinks a restaurant is worth four stars is worth precisely nothing without a cogent explanation of why he thinks so.

It's just sloppy for him to fail to explain his conclusion. Shoddy critical writing.

I'm not disappointed -- this is what I've come to expect from him -- but I'm not going to accept it just cuz it's what he's always done.

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Those who have been several times over the past couple of years:

1. Do you agree that, 18 months ago, Eleven Madison Park was not a four-star restaurant?

2. If so, and if you believe it is one today, what has changed to make it a four-star restaurant?

(I don't think Bruni answers that second question effectively.)

Hi Steve

As you know, I love EMP and usually go, on average, once a month or more. To answer your questions:

1. 18 months ago IMHO it was a high 3 star restaurant, now it is a four star restaurant.

2. The food has become more refined as well as the service. They did not have someone at the revolving door turning it for people and the training of the FOH staff it at a much higher level. Daniel Humm's food has become more focused, more refined...at a higher level. And 18 months ago, they didn't have the small caviar tins they give you as you leave. When you open them, an accordion style hand written menu of your dinner unfolds.

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Sneakeater, it may seem unfair to be so critical of a restaurant after only one visit, but unfortunately my experience at EMP that one evening in October, 2007 was so horrendous that I have never desired to return. When you have 14 unmemorable courses awful, amateurish service and spend over $300 , you too would be surprised that meal occurred at a restaurant that has just been named one of the 6 best in the city.

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Interesting reading, the above. I'm curious in the last 6 months, how many times have the skeptics dined there? I mean, one person protesting after dining there once 18 months ago?

Having been a regular at EMP during Kerry Heffernan's tenure, and frequently (as I say above, minimum once a month, usually twice a month), I have seen the restaurant improve steadily almost each month. If you go today, you would, I believe, be stunned by the difference from 18 months ago. It was a good 3 star then, its worthy of 4 IMHO now.

Interesting iconoclastic points above, but I find it hard to put stock in some of them as people don't seem to have been there regularly. Fat Guy and I discussed EMP about a year ago, and as I recall, Steve, you hadn't been in a while and I urged you to go back. Let's go there together soon and then post on our experience.

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