Daniel, NYC 2

August 25, 2009

Daniel has been on all the lists of the top ten restaurants in New York since its opening in 1993. We had been last year and found it somewhat pompous and not up to its reputation.  Daniel closed last fall for much needed renovations of the décor and the menu. The reviews have been very good since then so Linda and I decided to try it on August 20, 2009.
We were warmly welcomed and seated overlooking the central area. The changes were very refreshing. Everyone with whom we came in contact was friendly and helpful with just the right amount of respect and appreciation for each individual diner. The décor is now modern without being stark. The clientèle was quite well dressed and soft spoken.
We ordered glasses of “Cuvée Daniel” champagne and looked at the menus. The basic offering is three courses, with about eight choices in each, for $105, plus $60 for wine pairings. We chose the six-course Tasting Menu, with two choices in each course, for $175, plus $95 for the wine pairings. 
A basket with a wide variety of breads was passed and the amuse-gueule arrived. It was said to be based on peas; that meant a slice of a sugar snap pea in two of them. There was a dab of peanut butter and a piece of fish on the left and of lobster on the right. In the middle was a very nice pea purée.


Linda’s first course was
Fresh Almond, Purslane Salad

The small block of foie gras terrine was rich and luscious. There were five good variations of cherry which went well with bites of it.

Mine was
Young Vegetables, Purple Mustard, Colza Vinaigrette

I think that the flavors were good, but I could not really enjoy them as the small disk was too cold, as first courses in tasting menus frequently are. The concept of a “porchetta” is a generous slice.

The wine with both of these was
Riesling “Oestricher Doosberg Spätlese, B. Ress, Rhiengau 1995
This late harvest Riesling was rich, smooth and excellent. It went well with both dishes.

. . . . . . .

 We both chose the same second course, passing up the shrimp with melons.
Shaved Radish, Tapioca Pearls, Dill Oil

The chilled cucumber soup was poured around the ceviche; it is under the wafer which added needed crispness and kept the greens out of the broth. Tapioca pearls are nice in themselves, but the whole dish was much too complicated for ceviche, which demands simplicity, like sashimi. My memory of the dish is basically cucumber.

Sancerre, Chavignol, Domaine Bailly Reverdy  Loire 2008
Sancerre is a naturally acidic wine, perfect for oysters or a plain piece of rich fresh fish, but the cucumber accentuated the tartness and made the wine unpleasant. A rounder, fruitier white wine was needed.

. . . . . . .

 Linda’s third course was
Chanterelles, Tomme de la Chataigneraie, Lomo, Black Garlic

The combination of fresh spinach tortelloni, chanterelles, cheese from chestnut-fed goats in the Auvergne, pork tenderloin and Asian fermented garlic was imaginative. Linda thought it was excellent.

Mine was
Rosemary-Vegetable Relish, Zucchini Flower Tempura, Lettuce Purée

This was an enormously complicated preparation all jumbled up in a pretty abalone shell. It was pleasant enough to eat, but there were no distinct flavors to appreciate.

Domaine Terrebrune, Bandol Blanc, Provence 2006
There is a saying in Bandol that people talk about the red wines, drink the rosés and are not aware of the whites. But they can be very pleasant like this blend of clairette and ugni blanc.

. . . . . . .

 Linda’s fourth course was
Leek Royale, Pommes Lyonnaise

Linda thought that the syrah really highlighted the just-right sea bass. These pommes Lyonnaise were very thin potato slices in a stack. The leek royale was like a tiny soufflée.

Mine was
Tarbais Beans, Iranian Raisins, Arugula, Chorizo Jus

Tarbais beans have become the upscale standard for cassoulet. Their buttery flavor was nice here as they absorbed the chorizo flavored sauce. The tuna was good, but seemed to have no relationship to the beans.

Domaine Drouhin, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2006
This is a very nice, characteristic pinot noir; its low tannins helped it to go well with the food. I think we were being given a lesson on red wine with fish in this course.

 . . . . . . .

 Linda’s Fifth course was
Red Wine Braised Short Rib with Sweet Corn Ragoût, Seared Rib Eye with Piquillo Coulis, Bresaola

Linda found the short rib combination to be excellent and the plainer rib-eye very good; (she had asked for the piquillo to be left out and it was.)

Mine was
Swiss Chard Barbajuan, Minted Zucchini, Feta Cheese

The lamb chop, garlic, zucchini combination was classic and good. The crisply fried raviolo and the feta cheese were out of place.

Château Talbot, Saint-Julien 2003.
Talbot is one of the largest Bordeaux vineyards. The 25% Merlot blended with its Cabernet Sauvignon makes it a supple, easily approachable wine. Enjoyable.

 . . . . . . .

Linda’s dessert was
Raspberry Financier Biscuit, Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream

Linda did not want the two dessert choices on the Tasting Menu as they were chocolate or coconut so she asked for this one from the à la carte menu.  She thought that the three peach preparations on top of the biscuit were scrumptious.

Mine was
Lime-Rum Gelée, Piña Colada Sorbet

As opposed to Linda, I enjoy tropical fruit concoctions and enjoyed this.

Château Doisy Daëne, Sauternes 2005
This was rich and luscious with just the right amount of sweetness.

 . . . . . . .

A basket of excellent warm fresh Madeleines arrived. This has been a signature of the house.

There were also little mignardises.

Just before the dessert Daniel Boulud, the founder and patron of Daniel, came by. We had a nice short chat. I mentioned that I thought the cuisine was more complicated than before. His reply was that one must move on.

You can see in our comments above that I usually thought that my dishes were overly complicated, with more ingredients than were necessary or desireable.  That was not true of Linda’s choices. But I do not think that either of us had a dish that was really memorable or that convinced us that we were at the very top level. None of them were failures either, although the abalone came close. Using this meal as a measure I would not put Daniel in the same top NY category as Per Se, Eleven Madison Park or Le Bernardin.

The wine selections were varied in quality. They were well matched with the cuisine except for the Sancerre; the wine portions were always generous and the wine service excellent. In fact, all aspects of the service continued a high level throughout the meal. The pace was just right.

To see our blogpost on Daniel from May 2008 click here.


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