If the prix fixe is a chef’s CliffsNotes, the tasting menu is their magnum opus—lengthier and denser, painstakingly edited, with many an all-nighter spent carving out both structure and statement. Sure, they can be self-indulgent, glacially slow, sometimes damn-near masochistic in their nonstop cortege of plates. But boy, what a way to eat when the chef’s got something to say—and Bryce Shuman has plenty.
In March, the Eleven Madison Park vet discarded the à la carte offerings at Betony, the ambitious two-year-old midtowner that garnered him a Michelin star, and recharged the fine-dining room with a four-course prix fixe ($95) and a 10-course chef’s tasting menu ($195; optional wine pairing $95). But despite the luxe reworking—matched with a pleasant though militantly stiff waitstaff and those fussy trappings left over from the space’s days as the oligarchic Brasserie Pushkin—Shuman thankfully hasn’t lost his sense of fun.
That mirth is felt from the get-go, kicking off with a play-with-your-food plate of English-pea puree spackled with sesame and olive oil and served with a single rainbow kale leaf that the waistcoated server instructs to use as a utensil. Later, it’s palpable in a crispy carrot roll—twee enough for a hamster—snowed with crumbles of the fermented root veg, and a nest of julienned kohlrabi, broccoli stem and watermelon radish strips, sauced with honey-mustard dressing and scattered with chive tips. Altogether, you’ve got the world’s most elegant coleslaw.
Shuman isn’t immune to redundancy, however. Rice crackers pop up a touch too often, a carbonized crisp hooding a briny pat of caviar, caramelized onions and a crème fraîche dollop in one course and a tapioca wafer acting as a crunchy counterpoint to sweet hamachi and virile green-onion pesto in another.
And there are instances when the pomp and circumstance get in the way of the chef’s good nature: The flamboyant pageantry of the cheese course is enough to give you a case of the church giggles—a waiter earnestly slices open a bread roll nestled in a wreath of hay to reveal a molten core of velvety Wisconsin cow’s-milk cheese. It would be more entertaining to let diners gamely crack it open themselves rather than keep all the fun sequestered on a tray. Luckily, Shuman’s clear glee is almost enough to make up for it.
By Christina Izzo