My husband and I went to Eleven Madison Park to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. If you’re not familiar with this restaurant, it not only boasts THREE Michelin stars, but it also recently underwent a drastic – and some might say, risky – change to its menu. Eleven Madison Park is now completely plant-based, which means no animal or animal byproducts. Here’s my Eleven Madison Park review.
In order to get a reservation at EMP, you need to have the stealth, strategy and determination of an elite military leader…or a working mom who is used to tracking down the impossible (like the very specific type of sock that doesn’t bother the pinky toe of a 5-year old).
The reservations for each month open up at 9am on the first day of the month prior. Our anniversary was September 16th, which meant at 8:59am on August 1st, I was on the reservation site hitting refresh until 9am. Even though I was on my game, the only available times were 5:45pm or earlier or after 9pm. I chose 5:45pm because honestly, who am I kidding, I eat at that time most of the week anyway.
The other option at the time of making a reservation is whether to sit in the dining room or in the bar area. The bar menu is a lightened up version of the main dining room’s menu and costs $175, whereas the dining room menu is more extensive and expensive at $335. While I’d never been to EMP before, I chose the bar area because I suspected the vibe would be a bit more laid back. I love fancy, but I sometimes say un-fancy things to the waiter like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if your mother can be trusted.” (In my defense, the waiter’s mother doesn’t like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter! The only red flag bigger than this for me is a person who doesn’t like animals.)
Anyway, I was right. The bar was more our scene. More on that later.
EMP is located right next to Madison Square Park at – shocker – 11 Madison Avenue. What’s nice about this is if you’re early for your reservation or if you want to walk a little after dinner, you have the park right there.
Since we no longer live in the city (“Do you think people can tell?” we wondered), my husband and I decided to drive in. Neither of us are huge drinkers, and we live so close to the city that it’s easy and convenient enough to drive.
We like the app Best Parking to book a space in a parking garage, usually at a discounted rate. After calculating the cost of me walking in 4-inch heels against the garage prices and their distance, we chose the garage at 5 East 22nd Street. I love this garage because it’s an Icon Parking garage, and I’ve always had a positive experience at their garages. Plus, they are paperless, fully insured, and take pictures of your car in case of any damage claims.
There are three components to this part of the review. First is service. We had sky-high expectations, and Eleven Madison Park didn’t disappoint. From the greeters to the waitstaff, everyone was incredibly friendly and even better, totally down-to-earth. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a “you’re welcome” vibe, as if you’re so lucky to eat there? EMP was the exact opposite.
The second component is overall restaurant aesthetics. I can only give a review of the downstairs with the main dining area and the bar area. There’s also an upstairs area, which I believe contains the private dining spaces.
The main dining area seemed nice enough, though a bit stark and minimalist for my taste. What’s great about this though is the versatility of dining here on business as well as pleasure. The bar area was darker, a little swankier, and much more my style. There are a couple of open seats for people to come in and grab a drink without a reservation, so the whole area seemed more relaxed and chill.
Finally, there’s the component of the diners, who are essentially a wildcard for restaurants. A stuffy clientele makes for a stuffy atmosphere, whereas a wild crowd makes for a wild experience, and this may or may not suit everyone. The best way I can describe the diners at EMP is “middle” New York. Allow me to clarify.
“Old” New York is everyone in suits and classically dressed to the nines, screaming money (or unlimited expense accounts). “Young” New York is everyone in of-the-moment trendy clothes, skewing Gen Z with some Millennials thrown in, and celebrities are likely.
This was right down the middle. It was a mix of ages, a mix of purpose, and a mix of fashion styles. In other words, this is a restaurant where everyone would feel comfortable.
Finally, we get to the good stuff! Is Eleven Madison Park worth the hype, the painstaking reservation process and the price? In a word, YES. Listen, if you’re reading this, there’s a chance you’re somewhat familiar with my healthy diet, and yes, it consists of mostly plants. That said, I was skeptical. I’ve been to many a plant-based eatery before, and with one exception (Farmacy in London), exactly none of them have ever blown me away with their food. In order to execute at the level of intention that EMP does while delivering flavors, preparation and offerings AND ALL WITHOUT BUTTER shows exactly why they deserve every single Michelin star.
Out of all the dishes on our menu (see photo above), the celtuce, the eggplant and the chocolate pretzel were my favorites. Also, the tonburi and the unlisted bread and butter were excellent. Ranking these dishes, however, is like splitting hairs. Nothing came close to bad, nor did anything approach mediocrity. My husband would’ve eaten ten of the blueberry desserts. He’d probably rate the eggplant as his favorite, and he doesn’t even like eggplant! He’s also obsessed with their granola, which EMP gave to us as a parting gift. I can’t tell you what it tasted like because he ate it all. They gave us two containers of it by the way…
The final verdict: not only do I think Eleven Madison Park is an excellent dining experience, I’m so pleased to support a restaurant that gives back to their local community AND a leadership who’s willing to take a risk in order to better align with their values. When I’ve eaten at fine dining establishments in the past, afterwards I think, “Okay, I’ve crossed that off my list”. With Eleven Madison Park, I’m never crossing it off; I’m always going to want to go back for more.