I loved Eleven Madison when it first opened particularly at lunch. The large glass windows allow light to stream in. Huge flower arrangements that took over the airspace just sparkled. Although the room is stark the light created a glow in the room. Also, the food was really good.
Years went by and I thought the food really went downhill. I was there for a fundraiser and to me, the food was inedible. Vowing never to return until a new chef was in place. A new chef has arrived and last night we went back to try it out.
It was a cold and rainy night. The bar was hopping and created a warm setting. The dining room was a bit sterile. Nothing has changed but perhaps it has been the openings of so many more dramatic restaurants over the years that my opinion has changed. I still like it but not as much as I had in the past. The flower arrangements weren’t working for me last night. The big large vases were beautiful but the additional flowers through out the place didn’t work with the rest of the room.
There were 6 of us. The menu is prix fixe from either the Chef’s tasting menu or your choices of appetizers, main courses and desserts. Everyone has to do the Chef’s menu so we opted for the standard, pick your own. Once we had decided what we wanted we looked everywhere for our waiter but he was no where to be seen. That was the constant problem of the evening. It wasn’t like he was overwhelmed, more like he was slow and ill-equipped to do that job. Danny Meyer is all about service which is why this was surprising. It was if the manager didn’t show up to work yesterday and everyone was just sort of floating through the evening. Even our sommelier, who was knowledgeable and we had some unbelievable wines, wasn’t that attentive. They brought out the wrong wine glasses once. He didn’t come back to see how we liked it, would we like another bottle, how about some dessert wines with dessert, etc. Missed opportunity because this crowd would have kept drinking. The poor service and lack of management can be fixed. I suggest they work on that immediately because regardless of the food, bad service sucks and makes you not want to return. It also makes you not enjoy the food as much.
The good news is that the food is really good. We started with some tastings that were compliments of the chef. 4 little mouth sized bites. One kumamoto oyster with a zesty diced cucumber relish which was different and worked well. Small round of raw tuna served over a thinly sliced piece of fennel that was also delicious. The best one was a tiny napoleon. 3 crispy Parmesan crisps, no bigger than the size of your thumb nail, with a soft lemony goat cheese in between them. I can’t exactly remeber the last one but it was shaped like a cone – serious handiwork. Really really good.
In between this and the appetizers I ate ungodly amounts of bread and butter – something I try not to do – but I was starving. Hate to be redundant on the service but I can’t help myself. My appetizer was excellent. Barley intermixed with a reduced cochon de lait sauce and 2 poached shrimp. Fred had a carpaccio of salmon with thinly sliced cucumbers overlapping the salmon and pieces of lobster and scallops in the center. Beautiful presentation but a bit bland in flavor. The most interesting was the grilled watermelon served with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Really tasty and quite different.
Our next course was another taste from the chef. Stew of seafood with a spicy tomato base served with lots of seafood roe. The roe created a really interesting texture. Clever. Unfortunately the soups came without spoons, so we had to wait for them. Again, bad service.
Dinner finally came. What was interesting about everyone’s plate is that it wasn’t what you expected. Many times you go to a restaurant and order an entree that has 5 different ingredients in it and you wonder what are they going to do. I had the suckling pig. It was excellent. It looked like an oblong brick, not the most appealing to the eye but certainly appealing to taste. Shredded pork that had been braised for god knows how many hours underneath a crust of crunchy crispy pork skins. Fantastic. Usually I would have tasted everyone elses but after the bread and the waiting, I just wasn’t that interested.
We decided on dessert, god knows why. We asked to order our dessert and the waiter finally came back 10 minutes later. We split a chocolate tart that oozed out in the middle and laden with peanuts inside. Served along side was caramelized popcorn – my fave. The chocolate banana souffle with vanilla gelato was also quite good. But at this point, everyone had hit the wall with exhaustion too.
The meal took us over 3 hours. I thought that only happened at Del Posto but at least at Del Posto you know what you are getting yourself into. At Eleven Madison, I expect a normal 2 hour meal at most. Danny Meyer defines service. He is a top restaurateur. He isn’t a chef but he has the ability to make a chef. He has given Daniel Humm an opportunity to make a name for himself. The ability is clearly there but Danny has to figure out how to back him up with top notch service and better management. Otherwise, it will be a loss for him and his patrons.