Last weekend, I was lucky enough to celebrate an insignificant birthday at what many deem New York City’s best restaurant: Eleven Madison Park.
Yes, Daniel Humm’s food was outstanding—who knew the simple plantain could be elevated to gastronomic heights by the presence of black-eyed peas—but inventive, pristine cooking alone is not the reason I will return.
When we first sat down I was immediately struck by an envelope perched on the table, my name scrawled upon it; inside was a wish for a happy birthday. Next came the standard issue white bakery box, a loop of comfortingly familiar red and white string around it, containing two elegant black and white cookies. But, as our articulate server pointed out, they were of the savory variety, with truffle and Parmesan. Course after course later, the same kind of box made its way to the table again, yet this time the cookies inside were sweet, miniature upscale versions of the classic half-and-half treat.
From the orange-infused egg cream prepared tableside to returning the slightly askew table—the result of a mid-meal restroom break—back to its rightful place even though the guest would return in mere minutes, throughout dinner the attention to detail never wavered.
I go to countless places where waitstaff are so heavy handed with their politeness I find it overbearing and downright fake. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I often sit at a restaurant parched, searching across the room to meet the eye of my waitress for a water refill.
I started thinking about how I’ve stayed in stunning hotels and eaten in adventurously designed dining rooms, but the memories don’t always stay with me because I don’t feel well cared for, or the check arrives on a dusty tray, breaking the spell of an otherwise heady meal.
It is important to remember that true luxury is now connoted by service and a realization that even the little things are of the utmost significance. Eleven Madison Park, with its soaring ceilings, is one of the most gorgeous restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of dining at; the food is some of the best I’ve savored. But what made it transcendent is that it felt like a bespoke experience just for me. To me, that's inspiring hospitality.