Daniel, NYC

May 4, 2008

Daniel has two stars in the Michelin Guide. There are only three restaurants in New York rated above it with three stars. It is one of five restaurants receiving the top rating from the New York Times, although they have not reviewed it for seven years. It shares the top food rating with six others in Zagats. So one expects it to be quite special. We had been there nine years ago, shortly after it opened, and were put off then by the pretensions of the staff who seemed to assume that we had never eaten food this superior before. The cuisine was good, but very French and we get the real thing in France. That was the start of the era of celebrity chefs; Daniel Boulud, starting with his Daniel at its old location, now the Café Boulud, was one of them. Many of his rivals were opening offshoots in Las Vegas then. My comment nine years ago was that Daniel had opened his Las Vegas restaurant in New York. The overdone décor and hoopla would fit right in at Caesar’s Palace.

But on April 30, 2008, we were looking for a good restaurant after a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and decided to try Daniel again. Unfortunately, the selection on the Upper East Side is not great.

We were seated at a spacious table on the raised outer perimeter where we could look out at the other diners. Our waiter asked if we would like a “cocktail.” We asked if there was a house aperitif, which created some confusion, and we were offered a “Cosmo.” So we settled on two glasses of the house champagne, a Pommery.

The menu is $105 for three courses, with a wide choice, both from the big printed menu and from the insert with dishes of the day. There is also a tasting menu at $175 with six courses. There are two choices for each of the six courses, which is quite unusual. Optional wine pairings are available for $95.

A two-level tray of canapés arrived even before we had the menu. They were very nice, but very small. We decided to order from the regular menu and we ordered a bottle of 2002 Robert Sinsky Vandal Vineyard (Carneros) Pinot Noir from the enormous wine list. There was no amuse-gueule, but the first courses arrived promptly.


Linda started with the
Mosaic of Foie Gras and Black Angus Beef Cheek
Satur Farms Beets, Wagyu Carpaccio, Peppercress.
The mosaic was quite good. The beets of different colors gave a nice visual and textural contrast. The rolled beef had a taste-numbing spiciness so Linda avoided it after the first bite. My sample taste confirmed hers.


My starter were
Fennel-Basil Ravioli with Littleneck Clam Emulsion
Shrimp, Cuttlefish, Broccoli Rabe, Chorizo.
This was very good. There were more ravioli, shrimp and chorizo than is evident in the photo. The nice contrasting crispness of the fried cuttlefish is also not shown well. The fennel was not overpowering. While this dish wasn’t wine friendly, it did not kill the palate as some fennel dishes do. The combination indicated that Daniel is no longer a “French” restaurant. While there is mostly an Italian inspiration in this dish, it reminded me of the similar one I had enjoyed five days before at Asiate where the littleneck juices were blended with coconut milk.


Linda’s main course was one of the day’s specials:
Le Plat Classique
Veal Loin “à la Viennoise”
With crispy sweetbreads
Jumbo Green Asparagus
Caramelized Pearl Onions
The sweetbreads were very nicely done, and the dish was good, but it lacked interest. The veal turned out to be an ordinary Wiener Schnitzel, which wasn’t what one would have expected here even if it is a literal translation.  


My main course was
Pennsylvania Squab:
Leg and Foie Gras Pastilla with Young Radishes
Broiled Breast with Vadouvan, Avocado Chutney.
This was also quite good, but what a culinary mix: pastilla is Moroccan, vadouvan is a French name for an Indian onion/curry mix; avocado chutney is an Anglo/Indian name for Mexican Guacamole. Nonetheless, it was all focussed on the pigeon and was not too complicated.


Linda’s dessert was the
Hazelnut Mousse with Gianduja Biscuit
Milk Chocolate, Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
She liked it.


My dessert was the
Crunchy Succès with Coconut Madras Curry
Poached Pineapple, Passion Fruit Chiboust, Lychee Sorbet.
Well, here we are back into Franco-Asian fusion. I liked it.  

We were offered another pretty and delicious rich chocolate dessert.


A basket of warm, fresh, delicious madeleines was brought along with a little tray of mignardises.

Well, except for the madeleines, everything we had was less than half-French in its inspiration. This is quite an evolution in the nine years since we had last been here. My meal was excellent; Linda’s somewhat less so.

Daniel will close soon for a complete renovation of its decor. I think it is scheduled to reopen around its tenth anniversary next December. I hope that Daniel changes the ambience of the restaurant substantially. He is said to be proud of his hospitality, which I am sure is true personally, but his staff interprets that as being somewhat condescending to the clientele. He finally did open his restaurant in Las Vegas three years ago and doesn’t need the glitz in New York. Daniel has a lot of tables for a top quality restaurant and the menu has a big selection. Paring down both could make it possible to rise to a higher level.

It is unknown if there will be noticeable changes to the menu. We shall see. 


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