Well this could be very interesting—if it works. Eleven Madison Park, easily one of the classiest restaurants in town (four stars from the NY Times), is planning on throwing out its much praised restaurant recipe for something a little more showy. And expensive. According to the Times, "not long after Labor Day" the restaurant will start offering only a $195-a-head menu that will take close to four hours to eat. Also, magic!
According to the paper of record, "card tricks, a glass dome full of smoke, a blast of sea mist from a tabletop clambake and a cheese course that emerges from a picnic basket placed on the table" are all in the works for the re-imagining that will take the restaurant closer to its high-end international peers like the late el Bulli, Alinea in Chicago and Noma in Copenhagen.
For Daniel Humm, the executive chef, and Will Guidara, his business partner and the general manager, both of whom are still in their 30s, the gamble represents a once-in-a-generation chance to redefine what going to a four-star restaurant is all about. As Mr. Guidara put it, “How many times in your life do you have an opportunity to leave your own legacy?”
And so they're going to try. The funky grid menu the restaurant introduced two years ago will remain, but it "will now be blended with a tasting menu of about a dozen dishes. The $195 price will be the same as for the restaurant’s current tasting menu, but a $125 option will no longer be available." And it will all be New York, New York:
Scores of elements of the menu and presentation — like the ceramic bowls and the raw oysters; the sea salt and the leather used in the coasters; and the apple brandy that servers will pour toward the end of the meal — will come from New York-area artisans and artists, distillers and farmers.
The cheese course, for instance, is supposed to evoke an old-fashioned outing in Central Park; it will incorporate a handmade picnic basket by Jonathan Kline of Black Ash Baskets; a bottle of Picnic Ale, specially brewed for the restaurant by Ithaca Beer Company; a wedge of cheese whose rind has been basted in the ale by the affinage team at Murray’s Cheese Shop; and a pretzel and mustard infused with the ale. Even the label on the bottle has been created by Milton Glaser, the designer of the “I ♥ NY” logo in the 1970s.
So, will it work? Will New Yorkers be willing to plan on such a long, expensive meal? Bloomberg's Ryan Sutton is cautiously optimistic:
it will be incumbent upon Eleven Madison to convince regulars that spending at least an extra $180, for two, per visit, will be worth it. And if this 56% price hike of sorts results in some guests restricting their visits to once or twice a year instead of three of four times, Eleven Madison will have to work even harder to make sure those “occasional” diners still feel like coddled “regulars,” and that the increasingly expensive experience brings increasingly rarefied pleasures amid increasingly scare reservations.
We guess we'll know if this crazy plan can work in September. It certainly is, as Eric Ripert says, a "big risk." But Daniel Humm is very talented chef...