At Eleven Madison Park, diners relinquish much of the control to the chef. The only thing they get to choose is the main ingredient: choices that include hamachi, foie gras, coconut or lemon.
Its novel minimalist menu - sans descriptions which can sometimes amount to soaring narratives full of food euphemisms - and expert execution by Swiss chef Daniel Humm helped secure the New York establishment the coveted title of Outstanding Restaurant at the James Beard Foundation Awards Monday night.
The restaurant is no stranger to the prestigious status maker, having won awards for Outstanding Wine Service in 2008 and Outstanding Service Award in 2004. Humm was named the Best Chef for New York City last year, and the restaurant ranked No. 24 on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards last month.
The win follows on the heels of a revamp that reduced the number of seats, pared down ostentatious décor and elevated the cuisine to a more ambitious menu compared to its former incarnation under predecessor chef Kerry Heffernan, who took a more traditional approach.
Instead, Humm decided to carve a new path for the restaurant, choosing to follow the current trajectory of using kitchen alchemy to create dishes.
The new menu amounts to nothing more than a grid of main ingredients guests can choose from, and encourages extensive dialogue with their server: how is the langoustine prepared? What is the black truffle paired with?
In addition to scrapping seats, the remodel included the construction of a nook in the kitchen where diners can sip on champagne, nibble on amuse-bouches and watch the chefs in action.
A three-course lunch is $56 (€39) while a dinner tasting menu is $195 (136).
Eleven Madison Park is owned by restaurateur Danny Meyer, who also owns the Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, and The Shake Shack, a "roadside" burger stand that has expanded into the Middle East since opening its first restaurant in Madison Square Garden in 2004. The group recently opened two Shake Shack locations in Dubai and one in Kuwait.
They beat Blue Hill, also in New York, San Francisco's Boulevard, Highlands Bar and Grill in Alabama and Vetri in Philadelphia for the title of Outstanding Restaurant.