I love food. Let’s just get that out there. One of my favorite things about traveling is experiencing the food of whatever place I’m in at the moment. I love street food, cute cafes, as well as Michelin star restaurants. In this piece, I will be comparing three restaurants. The first is New York’s finest Madison Eleven Park, the second is Sichuan’s Yu’s Family Kitchen, and finally, Bangkok’s awe-inspiring Gaggan.
New York City – If ever there was a city to explore through food, this is it. Ever pushing the limit, New York City is a city to try the famous, the authentic, and the outlandish of the food world. This past winter, I had the pleasure of returning to New York and had the opportunity to dine at the world’s number one restaurant Madison Eleven Park. Madison Eleven Park is the very idea of sophisticated dining. Consisting of eleven courses, the night felt like a fairy tale. The caviar was served on perfectly toasted and buttered English muffins with a quail egg. The richness was overwhelming in the best way possible. The duck, Madison Eleven’s star dish, was the best duck I have ever tasted. perfectly cooked in a crust of herbs. I didn’t want that course to end. Dessert was delightful with a warm cranberry donut and mulled wine ice cream; the two paired perfectly together. Although I can do nothing but rave about the dishes, and I believe the dinner and time to be deservedly well spent, when contrasted with the other two restaurants, Madison Eleven Park provided nothing overly special. They do food incredibly well, but when put against other restaurants of a similar caliber, I did find Madison to be lacking. I do not think I will be returning to Madison Eleven Park soon, despite plans to be in New York again this winter. The experience was wonderful, but once was enough for me. You may be wondering how I can say the food of a restaurant was delicious and even amazing and somehow still not highly recommend said restaurant. For one, the cost has to be taken into consideration as a young person with a regular job. Yu’s Family kitchen can go for $110-150 per person, Gaggan is just shy of $200 and Madison Eleven Park was $300 with tip. Quality ingredients and excellent cooking aren’t unique to any of these three restaurants, but where I saw a difference was in the vision, creativity, and a use of culture through food.
Chengdu – China is a country that has a massively rich culinary tradition, and Chengdu’s Sichuan cuisine is some of the best in China. The spice and flavor can pack quite punch, but one chef has elevated it to another level. Yu Bo runs his restaurant out of his mansion
apartment and is an experience in and of itself to get to. Once you arrive, you are seated in the dining hall right next to the kitchen where Yu himself prepares each course. When I went with two friends, we were the only people there for lunch which made for an even more interesting experience. The first of the seventeen-course meal was nine small starters. The menu changes daily since the chef cooks based on availability and seasonal ingredients. When I attended in the summer, matsutake mushrooms from Japan were in season, so quite a few dishes featured these black truffle-esk mushrooms.
Bangkok – Bangkok is fast becoming one of my favorite cities. Never short of anything to do or delicious food to try, to me Bangkok is Asia’s New York City. And the food is certainly a melting pot of cuisine and flavor. Gaggan, ranked as Asia’s number one restaurant and the world’s seventh best, is my favorite restaurant in the world. Gaggan provides an experience through progressive Indian cuisine unlike any other you will ever have. Chef Gaggan Anand takes the mastery of food and combines it with
an artistic brilliance. Gaggan is in a beautiful white colonial style built restaurant, and there are two ways to experience food here. There is the traditional concept where you have your own table and waiter, or there is the lab which is what I recommend. The lab is upstairs at a U shaped table around the kitchen itself that seats less than 16. As each of the twenty-five courses comes out, it is presented from the chef himself (if he is in) with his explanation of his process, vision, and aim of the dish. The menu presented was only explained by emojis. Chef Gaggan has a creative eccentricity that will delight you for the entire evening. Sometimes he tells stories, sometimes he plays
Seal while you eat, sometimes he educates you, and sometimes he invites you to party after the meal, but the meal is unlike any other. I do not believe any restaurant can match Gaggan in terms of the experience. However, putting the show of the restaurant aside, the food itself is as stunning and wild as the genius behind it.
I have trouble comparing Gaggan and Yu’s family kitchen to each other because both are so entirely different. And even describing their chefs becomes difficult because of the different masteries they present through their food. I would call Chef Gaggan Anand an artist or a mad-scientist, but that feels as though it detracts from his qualities purely as a chef. And Chef Bo Yu offers a more quiet mastery, that that is not to say it is inferior to Gaggan, but simply that the food is conceived and presented in an entirely different way. One thing that the two chefs can be compared is their dedication to present food within their culture and beyond.
It’s is hard to compare all three restaurants since all three are vastly different; however, one thing I am certain of is that Madison Eleven Park is overrated while Yu’s
Family Kitchen and Gaggan are the future of culinary mastery. Madison to me felt slightly stale after the refreshing and unique experiences offered to me by Asia’s top restaurants. Gaggan and Yu offer so much more artistry and drive concerning their dishes. You can taste that no concept has been untried in order to achieve these dishes until they were perfected. Whereas Madison Eleven Park, although the chef demonstrates a completely obvious skill, seems to ride more on its sophistication than anything else. I mentioned the duck was amazing at Madison Eleven Park, but with Madison’s one or two truly exceptional dishes, Gaggan and Yu’s Family Kitchen presented fourfold at least. Madison Eleven Park takes exceptional ingredients and presents them in traditionally lavish dishes, but Gaggan and Yu’s family Kitchen take the ordinary and fuse it into something entirely new. This is the difference. Madison Eleven Park is a great restaurant, the quality and service are the best to be had, but there is something lacking, and that is the passion that is so clearly evident from your experiences having left Gaggan and Yu’s Family Kitchen.