Food & Drink

Eleven Madison Park Isn’t Ready To Be A World-Class Vegan Restaurant

To get a sense of the fervor behind the newly vegan Eleven Madison Park, consider the length of the waitlist, which chef Daniel Humm revealed in August to be quite long — like 50,000 long. It’s a statistic that, if true, suggests that Humm’s fame and culinary prowess are sufficient to fill every seat at Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center, and Buddakan combined. When reservations for October came online, virtually all tables for two disappeared within minutes, even though diners had to pay the full $335 menu price to secure a table. There are no refunds.

For years, Humm attracted diners from around the globe for his dry-aged duck breast — waterfowl so elegant it was as if the restaurant had hired a professional jeweler to bedazzle the bird’s exterior with peppercorns and lavender — but when the chef reopened Eleven Madison after a 15-month COVID hiatus in June, he removed virtually all animal products from the menu (save milk and honey for tea or coffee). Patrons returning to the historic Art Deco room, a soaring space in the erstwhile Metropolitan Life North Building, will now enjoy a plant-based tasting that includes tiny dosas with pine nut spread, a caviar service made with a type of fake imported vegan roe (only the best), and a simmered, dehydrated, smoked, and grilled beet that cooks wrap in a garland before roasting it in a ceramic vessel.

Tables stand empty before service at the cavernous Eleven Madison Park The dining room at Eleven Madison Park. Evan Sung/Eleven Madison Park

Humm announced the big changeover in an Instagram post to his half-million-plus followers in May, arguing that the current food system is “not sustainable,” and that he wanted to “redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a real connection to the community.” The post depicted Humm kneeling down in soil while wearing a fancy, cream-colored coat, the type of photo that recalled a politician pretending to damn up an overflowing levee in a silk suit. Eleven Madison, which received a $5 million federal Restaurant Revitalization Grant this spring, and which rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in instant revenue when reservations go live every month, also announced that the price of each dinner would fund five meals to hungry New Yorkers through the Rethink food charity business, started by Eleven Madison alum Matt Jozwiak.

The challenge for Humm, in the words of a WSJ. Magazine reporter, was whether the chef could “nudge his customers — and the rest of the world — to find luxury, surprise and delight in a plate of vegetables.” Humm told that reporter that he’d worry that folks wouldn’t come to Eleven Madison anymore. “But then he spends time in the kitchen, he shares some of the new dishes, and he thinks, ‘This could change the world.’”

Well, guess what? This $1,000 dinner for two is not going to change the world. It is not a redefining of luxury, or anything close to it.

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