In an unforgiving review, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells exposed Manhattan’s supposedly strictly vegan restaurant: Eleven Madison Park (EMP). Despite EMP’s “strictly vegan,” claim, customers can order a beef dish if they elect to book an exorbitantly-priced private dining room. This raises the question: why would EMP claim to be vegan? Why not just make the aforementioned beef dish available to all of their customers?
Wells is not the only restaurant critic to slaughter EMP; in early September, Eater Critic Ryan Sutton expressed his disdain for the restaurant, by commenting on the unsatisfactory food, unreasonable prices, below average service and lack of anything truly groundbreaking. Because of the supposed decision to go completely vegan, EMP removed caviar, lobster and foie gras from the menu. Wells claims that this decision lessens the value of EMP’s food significantly.
Numerous critics have pointed out the irony of this “secret beef room,” by reflecting on the accidental analogy for Manhattan that it is. Even though all EMP customers spend copious amounts of money to dine there ($335 per person, minimum), only the individuals willing (and able) to spend more money get the beef option. The customers willing to spend an extra amount of money are those that get to see the truth behind the restaurant.
The actual process of getting into the “secret beef room” is a bit more complicated than simply being willing to spend more money, however. Hopeful customers must fill out a specific form and receive personal approval for access.
Wells touches on the perfect irony of this; he wrestles with the fact that Manhattan always has a better, flashier, exclusive option for those willing to pay. Considering Manhattan isn’t an economical place to begin with, this makes the analogy even worse. In a similar (if not exact) fashion, EMP offers exclusivity that absolutely ruins the integrity of their restaurant.
Eleven Madison Park is incredibly decorated, with regulars like Gigi Hadid, Zayn Malik and Victoria Beckham. The restaurant has been featured in Sex and the City and earned the top spot on the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list in 2017. Clearly, they weren’t struggling for business.
The restaurant hasn’t always been vegan either; the “strict” plant-based menu was fully implemented in May when chef Daniel Humm decided to remove meat and seafood from the menu. In his defense for doing so, Humm claimed he wanted EMP to have a more sustainable menu. Coronavirus took a detrimental toll on EMP, which resulted in high-flying rumors about the restaurant possibly closing. When Eleven Madison Park reopened, it claimed to be vegan-only. This raises the question: did EMP decided to go “fully” vegan because Humm wanted a more sustainable menu? Or did EMP decided to go “fully” vegan because of the economic damages of the Coronavirus?
Also, why did EMP choose to convert to a vegan menu if they were going to secretly serve beef? Why not keep it on the menu, along with items like lobster and caviar?
Customers and non-customers alike can consider these questions alongside Wells’ Manhattan analogy. What was the point?