Culinary greatness, true greatness, is actually not hard to achieve. You just need perfect ingredients, perfect kitchen staff, perfect techniques, perfect serving staff, a mega wine cellar, an elegant setting.
On second thought, I understand why greatness is so rare. If you want to have a magnificent culinary experience, then in New York City there is no better destination than Eleven Madison Park.
Eleven Madison is one of the Danny Meyer restaurants, which include Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, the Shake Shakes, The Modern, Café 2 and Terrace 5 at the Museum of Modern Art, and Hudson Yards. By now, Danny may have opened a new one, and these are all fine restaurants.
But Eleven Madison is different. After years of exquisite cuisine, Eleven Madison just redefined itself with a dramatically radical approach. There is no menu. You are taken immediately to your table and given a very interesting sheet of heavy paper. There are four rows and four columns, and each “cell” contains one word, like crab. For a four course meal, you make four selections. Ideally one from each row, but you can pick as you please.
Pick “crab” and your server will explain that sweet crab is served in roll of thinly sliced avocado adorned with a sauce so exceptional I can’t remember it.
You have an option of a four or five course meal. Go for four, because you are served a variety of amuse bouche delights that you hope will never end.
Brian and I have had the opportunity to eat at some world-acclaimed restaurants around the world. Eleven Madison is the equal of any. Each dish is simply exceptional. There are no disappointments, no letdowns. One dish after another arrives, amazes, induces a smile, and triggers your brain to ask “How?”
The staff is intelligent, helpful without being overbearing, and constantly attentive. The wine book, not a wine list but a serious volume, is rich with flavors at many price points. Once you’ve made your four choices, the perfect pairing is just a brief conversation away. You’ll receive careful advice, not a slew of adjectives. This staff has one goal: to make your meal exceptional. They succeed.
Located in a landmark Deco building, the Eleven Madison space is a restful, quiet, and perfectly conducive to enjoying your meal. You can focus on your food, not distracted by noise or people packed right on your elbow. When they redid the menu, they redid the space, too. The seating was substantially reduced to create a sense of privacy and intimacy. The room is a wonder, an architectural compliment to the wondrous food.
Reservations are a must. You can book four weeks in advance, no soon, no later. If you are in New York, or planning a visit, then Eleven Madison Park should be the centerpiece of your next evening in town.