Eleven Madison Park: (More Than) Ready for Its Close-up!

Eleven Madison Park
May 1, 2009 – Noon

One week ago, the stars finally aligned, and our favorite NYC restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, was awarded four stars by the New York Times’ Frank Bruni.

The rumors started several weeks ago. A tipster informed Eater that Bruni had been spotted at EMP not once, not twice, but three times within a short span of time. Could it be that before he exited his position of August 19th he was going to review EMP for the third time during his 5-year tenure? Inquiring minds – especially mine – wanted to know! So, when we had dinner at EMP not long after that Eater post, I addressed the question of whether the staff had spotted Bruni to Robert Kilstrum, one of the dining room managers. He demurred saying, “I’ve not seen him.” Maybe so, I thought, but there was something in his tone and body language that said otherwise. And I could certainly understand his reluctance to divulge the information even to two of EMP’s most loyal patrons and supporters. Perhaps, he feared a jinx….

Fast forward to last Tuesday afternoon. I received an e-mail from our friend, the ulterior epicure. It said as follows:

FOUR STARS!! I mean, it has to be, right? Why else would he bother re-reviewing it?!?!

The “Four Stars!!” linked to Eater, which had posted that Bruni was, indeed, going to be reviewing EMP in Wednesday’s paper. I agreed that four stars were inevitable. My reasoning: It would be pointless for Bruni to re-review EMP and give it three stars again. No way did it deserve to be demoted. So, the only direction possible was up!

Next thing I know, there’s a message in my in-box from Daniel Humm, et al. It read:

Dear Friend of Eleven Madison Park,

We’re excited to announce that The New York Times will be reviewing Eleven Madison Park in tomorrow’s paper (Wednesday, August 12th). As the review will be published online this evening, we’re gathering at the restaurant (whatever the results!) with EMP’s family and friends and we’d love for you to join us. Please stop by tonight, anytime from 10pm on…

Hope to see you,

Daniel, Will, John and the entire EMP Family

Although M and I had just come back to NJ the night before after having spent two days in NYC, we immediately decided to return. But before we left, we made a reservations for dinner at EMP the next evening, knowing in our hear-of-hearts that the results were going to be favorable and that we would be dining at a four-star restaurant.

We walked into EMP a little after 9. THE NEWS had already been published. It was Chef Humm, himself, who told us. Beaming! As were the rest of the management team: Will Guidara, John Ragan, Sam Lipp, Robert Kihlstom, and Megan Vaughan. Danny Meyer was, of course, in the house, and we congratulated him. We had met him several months before when during one of our lunched, he came to our table to say hello.

Dinner service had not ended, so some of the staff were still attending to their tables. Actually, we had not had dinner, figuring we’d grab something at the bar. However, they’d shut down food service there early in anticipation of the celebration. When we mentioned our situation to one of the managers, the next thing we knew, one of the servers came out of the kitchen with a huge bowl of freshly made gougères. We munched on those as M enjoyed some Champagne, which, in addition to liquor, was flowing freely.

People kept piling in, mostly young men and women, many of whom we suspected were friends of the staff. A few former managers were there, including Arleene, now General Manager at Corton; and Paul, who is working for Daniel Boulud’s organization (recently returned from Vancouver, where he helped open dbBistro there and is now maitre d’ at dbBistro here).

M commented that the place was rockin’ as though it were Yankee Stadium. And that was even before the d.j. set up shop a little after 10 p.m.

We enjoyed EMP when Kerry Heffernan was in the kitchen, going there occasionally for dinner, but more often for weekend brunch. However, when Daniel Humm stepped into the kitchen little more than two-and-a-half years ago, it was for us, literally love at first bite! We became regulars, actively promoting EMP to anyone interested in fine dining. Insisting for the longest time that it deserved four stars, we were incensed at Bruni awarding it only three when he reviewed it after Chef Humm’s arrival, and adding insult to injury by making it a joint review with The Modern’s Bar Room. When Chef Humm urged us to go to per se, insisting that it was on a level all its own, we came back to EMP after our meal there and told him, point blank, that while per se’s cuisine was superb, in our opinion, his was its equal. The man’s a freakin’ culinary genius!

What was especially heartwarming about attending this celebration was so many staff members telling us how instrumental WE were in getting them to this moment. However, despite whatever part we may have played, in the end, it is Chef Humm, his superb kitchen staff, and every member of what we consider to be one of best front of the house teams anywhere, who have done all the heavy lifting. No group of people is nicer and more deserving of these four stars than they are. As we’ve so often told them, they have always been and always will be four-stars plus to us!

We left EMP that evening stoked about what was going to be – as we predicted — our first 4-star (Yes!!) dinner the next evening at what our family and friends jokingly refer to as our “local cafeteria”!

A report about that dinner in an upcoming post.

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3 Responses to “Eleven Madison Park: (More Than) Ready for Its Close-up!”

  1. ulterior epicure Says:

    Thanks for the shout out, wizard! You know that Eleven Madison Park is a special place for me – made even more special by those who have accompanied me there.

  2. thewizardofroz Says:

    u.e., I hope we will again share a table at EMP in the not-too-distant future. Think, October! 🙂

  3. ulterior epicure Says:

    *Nudge* You know, Flickr’s getting an awful lot of love from the Wizard of Roz lately. WordPress is getting lonely. 🙂

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