It seems as if the closer we get to the end of Frank Bruni's reign at the Times, the more we hear from him, as if the guy's milking every last moment up on his soapbox. (Not that we'd deny him the privilege.) On the Diner's Journal blog, he elaborates on his decision to promote Eleven Madison Park, which he calls "one of the happiest, nicest privileges of being the Times’s restaurant critic." He also gives unusually candid insight into his rankings:
Why four stars? What does it take to get there, and what do four stars mean?
During my years I’ve doled out that highest measure of stars to Per Se, Masa, Le Bernardin (which already had them), Jean Georges (ditto), Daniel (ditto) and now Eleven Madison Park. All, I realize, are restaurants that hew to a fairly conventional fine-dining idiom—to an atmospheric gloss and a level of pampering long associated with the greatest ambitions, the highest standards...
But at the end of the day, a four-star rating—just like a three- or two- or one-star rating—has never been scientific for me. It has always been something of a gut feeling (filtered, at some point, through a more cerebral inventory), the answer to such questions as how often a meal made me swoon, how privileged it made me feel, how eager I was, during and after it, to tell people about the dishes I’d had and the pleasure I’d experienced. Did the word “extraordinary,” which is how The Times defines four stars, fit in with that pleasure?
Clearly, from his account of this "restaurant that kept improving—that insisted on improving," Eleven Madison Park did.
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