One of NYC's Top Restaurants Went Vegan, and the NYT Review Is … Rough

Eleven Madison Park reopened its main dining room June 10 with a menu that's entirely plant-based

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Eleven Madison Park is considered one of the finest restaurants in both New York City and the world -- and earlier this year, it went all-but completely vegan.

They probably didn't expect the New York Times to compare one of their signature new dishes to a cross between kitchen chemicals and burning drugs.

Times restaurant critic Pete Wells weighed in on the four-star restaurant's new menu Tuesday with a review that could only be described as withering.

Of a beet dish, compared to another restaurant whose version he preferred, Wells wrote "The one at Eleven Madison Park tastes like Lemon Pledge and smells like a burning joint."

Wells had kind words for the tonburi, a seed dish, and he called the bread an "unqualified success."

But he also said that in some dishes, vegetables were forced to do so much work impersonating meat that "you almost feel sorry for them."

The restaurant, at 24th Street and Madison Avenue, reopened in June with what the website described as "an eight to ten course menu in the main dining room consisting of entirely plant-based dishes." (The restaurant is not 100% vegan, as it allows milk and honey for tea, and as the Times noted, private dining room guests can still get beef.)

The change made waves in the world of fine dining, given the restaurant's prominence. Eleven Madison Park holds three Michelin stars, four stars from the New York Times, seven James Beard awards and a 2017 honor as the best restaurant in the world. (It retains the NYT four-star rating, despite Wells' tough new assessment, as the paper has stopped giving stars during the pandemic.)

"If Eleven Madison Park is truly at the forefront of dining and culinary innovation, to me it’s crystal clear that this is the only place to go next," chef-owner Daniel Humm told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year of the change.

Humm also told NPR the restaurant's down time last year got him thinking about sustainability, and drew him to ultimately make the shift to plant-based food.

"The way we have sourced our food, the way we're consuming our food, the way we eat meat, it is not sustainable," Humm said.

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