This is not to say that New York Times critic Pete Wells goes on a scorched-earth campaign against Daniel Humm, three-star Michelin chef, and his ambitious new homage to New York City’s history. Far from it: on his recent visit to Eleven Madison Park, Wells liked the food, finding it “extraordinarily pleasurable, fine enough to transcend any words that might be applied to them.”
Unfortunately, there were far too many words, because the servers kept telling him about everything about every dish:
YOU know a movie is in trouble when a voice-over narrator has to explain the plot that the combined efforts of screenwriter, director and editor failed to make clear….The meal is narrated almost from the minute you sit down, starting with a printed card tied to a box of savory black-and-white cookies (“the quintessential New York treat”), and scarcely letting up until you leave, when you are handed a pocket-size book of historical background on the food you’ve just eaten.
Plenty of Wells’s annoyances come from the fact that many times throughout the meal, he was primed to expect one thing (an homage to steak tartare) and got something completely different (…mushy carrots?). “I had one of the most surprising, inventive carrot dishes I’ve tasted in a long while,” he admitted of the course. “But my appetite was primed for porterhouse. No carrot should face that kind of competition.”
Mostly, however, the native New Yorker gets peeved that a server is telling him his own city’s history, one that he knows intimately, as if he were in third grade. “The narrative tone isn’t sharp, it isn’t quick, it isn’t wised up, and it assumes the listener knows nothing: in other words, it’s not a New York voice. By the end of the four hours, I felt as if I’d gone to a Seder hosted by Presbyterians.”
Still, the meal is amazing, and Wells wouldn’t want you to think otherwise (it’s not a starred review, after all; just his observations.) It’s just that the voiceovers kept reminding him that Daniel Humm, though passionately paying tribute to his new city, is originally from Switzerland. “I wasn’t always convinced that Mr. Humm had a direct enough connection with the New York classics he is trying to evoke,” he said in an aside.
Eleven Madison Park is manipulating sense memories, but it seems not always sure how to harness them. By summoning them with words, the restaurant repeatedly forces a comparison that may not be flattering to what’s on the plate. Rather than thinking, “Ooh, this reminds me of …” you think, “This is supposed to taste like what?”
More burns can be found in here.
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