It's an awfully nice thing to do

By Kat Kinsman
February 07, 2018
Photo Courtesy Eleven Madison Park

When you drop a thousand bucks at dinner, it's great to know that breakfast the next morning is taken care of. Eleven Madison Park, which today was named as the top restaurant on the planet by the World's 50 Best organization, espouses a brand of hospitality that's so intense, it's practically weaponized—but in a nice way. "Nice" is in fact the nucleus of EMP's philosophy. Chef-owner Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara's umbrella group is called "Make It Nice." A large sign on the wall of their kitchen reiterates the sentiment should any staffer's focus wane, or it momentarily escapes the attention of any guests strolling through. (A course in the kitchen is often part of the EMP experience. It's a very nice kitchen.)

Guidara and Humm helmed Eleven Madison Park as a team for several years before buying the restaurant from owner Danny Meyer. The duo deeply absorbed many tenets of Meyer's legendary brand of "yes"-centric, anticipatory service, and apparently consulted a psychic along the way (or at least deep-Googling) to create a deeply customized and prescient service experience for their guests. This could land anywhere from a fork suddenly materializing before you've even realized you've dropped yours or an unanticipated anniversary message written on your dessert to a cheese pizza from your favorite joint suddenly showing up or a customized menu to accommodate your post-chemotherapy palate. (My favorite cocktail, a French 75,was presented to me upon arrival at lunch which admittedly doesn't take a whole lotta sleuthing, but was really—say it with me—nice.)

A fairly solid prediction that Guidara and Humm have made part of their practice: After a lavish, lengthy, 8-10 course prix-fixe lunch or dinner with wine ($295 per diner, service included, tax and beverages not, hence the $1k calculation for two), you're definitely set for food for the day. But you're gonna wake up hungry and possibly hung over. So a warm, charming, beautifully tailored human hands you Eleven Madison Park granola in an Eleven Madison Park jar that you will cradle to your bosom on the ride home, and you will use to store all manner of items long after the granola is gone, so you may experience a short, Pavlovian pang of the joy you felt during your meal.

It is very nice granola, inspired by Humm's Zurich childhood. There are various recipes for Eleven Madison Park granola on the internet that do not necessitate the consumption of a four-digit meal beforehand, and surely they are delightful. But it's the gesture that makes the whole enterprise such a delight. 

EMP isn't even the only American restaurant on the often-controversial World's 50 Best list to offer a parting gift for the next day's breakfast. A lovely human at the newly-minted 11th best restaurant in the world, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, handed me a cloth sack as I was leaving my 10th anniversary dinner last fall. (Five hours, four figures—you wait for a special occasion.) In it was a generously-sized and impossibly soft half-loaf of dark, chocolate-and-cherry-chunked bread that I ripped off in handfuls at breakfast a couple of days later. (It took me that long to be hungry again.) No butter, no spreads of any sort—just pure gluttonous bliss as I ate it and remembered the meal of 36 hours earlier. Like Proust and his madeleines, but on a wicked short timetable.

And that's the point, I suppose—to leave a lasting impression after the meal is over, the check paid, the stomach emptied. It's a thoughtful thing to do, and acts as a little balm to soothe any morning regrets over money spent or elbows bent. A sweet act in the form of breakfast goes a long way. It's delicious. It's filling. It feels really, really nice.