Talk about a culinary mic drop: Last April, after Eleven Madison Park placed number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it announced it was closing for renovations that summer and decamped for a Hamptons pop-up.
When it reopened in October, the room looked better—refreshed!—but you almost couldn’t pinpoint why. Um, the art changed? The upholstery is a different color? The bar is perhaps bigger…or smaller…well, it’s definitely in an altered place! The revamp slowly reveals itself in the slightest of details (although major renovations can be seen in the kitchen, which hadn’t been touched in nearly 20 years). No matter: It’s good to be back in such fine company. And besides, the decor isn’t what puts Eleven Madison Park among the city’s (make that the world’s) best restaurants. It could be said it isn’t really the food either: It’s the Experience.
It begins as soon as you’ve swung in through the revolving door. There’s no host stand, and yet you are greeted by name, as though facial recognition software ID’d you on your way in. That’s because the EMP team has done its Google work in advance—unearthing details about your birthday, your line of work, perhaps a certain kind of coffee that you can’t stop Instagramming—in order to usher you into a seamless, floating world where everything has been calculated and calibrated, yet the effort is rendered invisible, covered over by extreme hospitality. (Should you have any wishes for your evening, be they dietary or celebratory, be sure to let the restaurant know in advance. It makes a delicious game of rising to the challenge.)
To be the guest of Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm—the young co-owners who learned from the very best, Danny Meyer—is to take on a certain spotlit glow. If only you could come here whenever you were having a crummy day and needed to be treated with a spalike level of attention.
Craving a Manhattan or a glass of champagne? A cart is wheeled over for the pleasure of your customized selection. The grand gestures continue into dinner, a well-orchestrated, eight-to-10-course seasonal symphony that doubles as a tribute to New York, toeing the line between playful and earnest, from the savory black and white cookies that begin the meal to the white chocolate pretzels that close it. (Everyone is served the same menu, with a choice of meat course. Humm’s famous honey-and-lavender–lacquered duck has piggybacked onto the modified menu—and for good reason. It’s always perfect.) The decadence is in the presentation, from a mosaic of chanterelles alongside lobster to an entire smoked sturgeon cheesecake sliced tableside and embellished with caviar.
What puts EMP truly over the top is its determination to sometimes literally go the extra mile to make you remember your evening. It employs a woman known as the “Dreamweaver,” whose job is to manifest whatever desire you may have muttered within earshot of your server. Have a cold? You might be handed a customized get-well-soon kit at the end of the meal. Mention that it’s your first visit to New York and you’ve never seen snow as the first snowflakes fall outside, and you might find yourself given a sled with your name spray-stenciled onto it.
If all of this is too much attention, or money, or time (meals can last more than three hours; weekend lunch is a bit more efficient), come early to grab a seat at the glow-y new bar to order à la carte. If you reserve only a few days ahead, you can enjoy a five-course tasting menu there for $175, versus $315 for the big room. You might not leave with a sled, but it’s impossible for some of the polite magic not to rub off on you.