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‘A cross between Lemon Pledge and a burning joint’: Eleven Madison Park is eviscerated by NY Times

One of New York’s most celebrated restaurants has been roasted by the city’s most high-profile restaurant critic over its new vegan-only offerings.

Eleven Madison Park, in a high-ceiling Art Deco building by the Flatiron, was in 2017 crowned the best restaurant on the planet, according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list.

When the restaurant reopened in June, after being closed during the pandemic, it announced that it was going to off an entirely vegan menu. Milk was only permitted for cappuccinos, and honey for tea.

The price for the 11-course meal at the three Michelin-starred establishment remained $335 – the same price as when there was lobster and foie gras on the menu.

But on Tuesday, the restaurant critic for The New York Times, Pete Wells, delivered his damning verdict, saying some of the dishes had a ‘pumped-up, distorted flavor’, while others had a ‘cloying heaviness’.

The vegetables, Wells said, were ‘doing things no root vegetable should be asked to do’, and he accused head chef and owner Daniel Humm of manipulating the ingredients far beyond necessary.

‘Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them,’ he wrote.

Eleven Madison Park reopened in June, and had a 15,000-person wait list for tables. On Tuesday The New York Times published a damning review of the new vegan menu

When the restaurant reopened – with Angelina Jolie in attendance for the eagerly-awaited opening night – there was a 15,000-person wait list.

Wells said that they would likely be disappointed.

Pete Wells was deeply unimpressed with the hot-ticket Manhattan restaurant

Pete Wells was deeply unimpressed with the hot-ticket Manhattan restaurant

Beets were served in ceramic pots, having been dehydrated, then rehydrated, smoked, cured, and treated over the course of three days. The pot was smashed at the table and then then beet cleaned and served with mustard leaf kimchi and red wine jus.

Well said it ‘tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a burning joint.’

The tomato dish, served alongside a tea with lemon verbena, salad with strawberry and shiso, and a yellow tomato dosa, was described by Wells as having a ‘pumped-up, distorted flavor, like tomatoes run through a wah-wah pedal,’ a device used by musicians to distort the sound of an electric guitar.

Cucumber with melon and smoked daikon – a dish, which takes two cooks all day to chop and prep, due to the short shelf life of the fresh cucumber – was dismissed by Wells as being ‘suffused with an acrid intensity’.

And a roasted eggplant, which used to be flavored with tuna flakes, was said to have a ‘cloying heaviness’. 

Cucumber with melon and smoked daikon - one of the 11 dishes on the tasting menu. Two chefs work full-time for a whole day to prepare the ingredients for this dish

Cucumber with melon and smoked daikon – one of the 11 dishes on the tasting menu. Two chefs work full-time for a whole day to prepare the ingredients for this dish

Eggplant with tomato and cilantro, which Wells said had a 'cloying heaviness'

Eggplant with tomato and cilantro, which Wells said had a ‘cloying heaviness’

Angelina Jolie was among those who attended the re-opening night, back in June

Angelina Jolie was among those who attended the re-opening night, back in June

‘Time and again, delicate flavors are hijacked by some harsh, unseen ingredient,’ Wells writes. 

‘The servers offer few explanations for the doctored flavors, and no warnings, either. 

Eleven Madison Park’s $335 11-course menu 

TOMATO

tea with lemon verbena

salad with strawberry and shiso

yellow tomato dosa

CELTUCE

in variation with rice

TONBURI

with peas and baby lettuce

CUCUMBER

with melon and smoked daikon

SUMMER SQUASH

with lemongrass and marinated tofu

SWEET PEPPER

with Swiss chard

BEET

with horseradish and herbs

EGGPLANT

with tomato and coriander

sides: summer beans with green onion, corn with juniper

STRAWBERRY

marinated with thyme

BLUEBERRY

with elderflower

SESAME

chocolate pretzel 

‘The ingredients look normal until you take a bite and realize you’ve entered the plant kingdom’s uncanny valley.’

Eleven Madison Park won its first Michelin star in 2010.

The following year, it joined the elite group of three-starred restaurants – an accolade it has maintained until the last ranking, in May 2021. 

Eleven Madison Park had not reopened post-COVID in time for the latest rankings, meaning food-watchers must wait until May 2022 to see whether it can hold onto its three coveted stars with a plant-based menu.   

There are only 134 three-starred restaurants in the world; France and Japan have 29 each, and there are 14 in the United States.

New York City currently has five – the same number as London. 

Wells says that the 45-year-old Swiss chef ‘used to get purer, deeper results out of vegetables before the restaurant went vegan.’ 

He added: ‘Maybe he should bring back the celery root steamed in a pig bladder.’

Not all the dishes were demolished.

Wells said that a caviar-style dish of tonburi – seeds from the Japanese Kochia tree – served with lettuce, pea and miso puree, was ‘delicious’.

His highest praise was reserved for something not on the menu – the bread.

‘Originally kneaded with cow butter, the laminated dough has been rejiggered with butter made from sunflower seeds, and it’s an unqualified success,’ he wrote. 

‘So is the nonbutter that arrives with the bread, molded into the shape of a sunflower, bright yellow with a dark eye of tangy fermented sunflower seeds in the center.’

Wells pointed out that, although Humm argued the current restaurant situation was not sustainable for the planet, if everyone followed his lead the small farmers he previously bought his meat from in upstate New York would go out of business.

He also noted that there was meat served for the highest-paying clients, at a private dining room, with that policy set to continue until the end of 2021. 

‘It’s some kind of metaphor for Manhattan, where there’s always a higher level of luxury, a secret room where the rich eat roasted tenderloin while everybody else gets an eggplant canoe,’ he said. 

The restaurant and its chef have not commented. 


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