Eleven Madison Park is currently ranked as the tenth best restaurant in the world.1 Despite this achievement, it remains a work in progress, restlessly changing its format.2 While maintaining the level of its fine cuisine, distinguished by reductions, foams, and creative combinations, it continues to introduce different themes, taking the narrative in new directions. Perhaps believing that it gets in the way, the restaurant has deconstructed the traditional menu in an experiment yielding mixed results.
One purpose of a menu is to show what is available. Eleven Madison Park has gone exclusively to a tasting format, where the diner selects four dishes using a 16-word menu card, previously reviewed here in October 2010. You are asked to pick one item from each line, except for the third line, where you have the option of substituting a lavender and honey-glazed roast duck (for two). Interestingly, the 8- x 8-inch card shown below fails to provide some of the most basic functions of a menu. For one thing, it is hidden under a napkin on the plate. Sociologists tell us that the process of dining out begins when you are handed a menu, not when you are greeted at the door. By ignoring this scientific observation, the restaurant unwittingly imparts its patrons with a slight sense of disorientation at the beginning of the meal.
By contrast, Eleven Madison Park is developing new themes without changing its elegant interior. Nevertheless, they are playing with the boundaries of the experience, taking it beyond the large dining room overlooking the park. Indeed, many of the features of the format we experienced depended on the element of surprise, something that will be difficult to sustain in the Information Age.