After reading the monster Bouley Bakery - "Worst Meal of my Life" thread, I approached my dinner at Danube last night with trepidation (and a bit of curiosity).
The night began on a rather odd note - when I called 411 to get the address for Danube, I was told that it was 120 W. Broadway. When I opened the door at the restaurant at that address, I found myself in a jam-packed, postage stamp sized waiting room amid a sea of angry people demanding to know when they would be seated. Suddenly I realized that this was in fact Bouley Bakery. It was the most undignified dining scene that I have seen in quite some time.
I was told by the harried maitre d' that Danube was around the corner on Hudson Street. As I left Bouley Bakery, there were two other couples standing outside, dazed and confused, trying to figure out why Danube was not where it was supposed to be.
Now to Danube - the place is absolutely gorgeous. You walk into an ornate, refined and serene sitting room. It was the polar opposite of Bouley Bakery - the room was quite, everyone was seated comfortably and seemed happy and relaxed.
When we first entered the restaurant, I surveyed the dining room, and noticed one really, really horrible table that was set off from the rest of the room, right next to the serving station (this table was even farther removed from the dining room than the serving station). It was in directly in the line of traffic of both customers and servers. I think the table was an afterthought (or maybe some kind of perverse joke). I don't think that anybody would not find the table objectionable. Although the rest of the dining room was full, this table was empty when we walked in. I asked my wife if perhaps I should let it be known ahead of time that we did not want this table - just to be safe. She said it probably wasn't necessary.
So we order a few drinks and wait in the stunning bar/sitting room. It was really wonderful - for the first 30 minutes! Our reservation was for 9:30. By 10, I started getting a bit restless, but was still enjoying myself and the taking in the beautiful surroundings. I saw the maitre d' and the hostess confer, and look at me and my wife (by far the youngest people in the house). It looked as if they were hatching some kind of diabolical plan. They came over and told us our table was ready, and somehow I just knew which table they were talking about. Sure enough, they brought us to the suckers table. We very politely told them that we would wait for the next available table (We decided that they probably try to offer the table four or five times a night and likely nobody ever accepts the offer).
The more we thought about it, the more aggravated we became. We went back to the sitting room where we remained for another 30 minutes! We had enough and decided that we would call it a night and grab some martinis and steak frites at Odeon. As we were preparing to leave, they came over, apologized profusely and talked us into staying (I know, we should have left. But we had been looking forward to this meal for quite some time and had invested a good part of our evening already. But it was a close call, believe me).
We proceeded to have a pretty good, but nowhere near great meal. The service was uneven, the portions incredibly small. The food, while interesting, was not the type you crave more than once every few years. Some of the flavor combinations were just plain weird, and some of the "authentic Austrian" touches were just stupid, like the fresh pretzels that were part of the bread selection (in a blind taste test, I challenge any of you to tell the difference between NYC street vendor pretzels and the ones served at Danube).
Irregardless of the food, we were so pissed at having to wait one hour (and trying to get lured into sitting at the suckers table), that the meal was kind of ruined from the outset.
Well after all that, they comped us two glasses of champagne and one dessert - oh, joy! I guess Chrismas came a little early for us this year.
Suffice it to say, I will not be back (well, maybe for a drink). And I'm glad I accidentally walked into Bouley Bakery, because I sure as hell won't be dining there anytime soon either.
Your post will probably spawn a tributary to the mighty Mississippi *worst meal of my life* thread. I have never been to Danube and have no plans of ever going. On another recent thread there was talk of whether or not being a great artist necessarily means being a less than great human being and I certainly nominate David Bouley for the less than great human being award. Whether or not he is a great artist is another matter. But, along those lines, does magnificently
prepared and skillfully flavored food require a minimum quantity on the plate to be appreciated to its fullest? And if the portions are so small that they are unsatisfying does that make the dish less of a masterpiece? I think sometimes this is true, although not in every case. I'm rambling here...what I'm trying to say is that the nature of BB and Danube as orchestrated by Monsieur Bouley takes away from any genius in the kitchen. Unlike a painter who can have the attitude of art for art's sake, there is no such thing as food for food's sake. The diner is part of the endeavor and the diner at M. Bouley's establishments is not acknowledged as such.
re: Stefany B.
I was the person rambling about not admiring many of my favorite novelists as human beings. Yeah, I think that it's hard for us sometimes to separate the elements of what makes us like a particular restaurant.
We happened to have a terrific waiter tonight at Palm West. He didn't do anything spectacular. But he managed to straddle the fine line between gregariousness and sensitivity perfectly. Did it make my steak better? No. But it sure colors the memory of my meal.
I've never met Danny Meyer or David Bouley. I have had a few great meals at Gramercy Tavern and Bouley, a couple of good ones at Union Square. But the next time I want to go out with someone to a fancy place and my dining companion(s) cares about service and ambience, whose establishments am I most likely to patronize? Meyer's, of course.
And talk about irrational. I can't help it: I really admire Meyer for closing all of his restaurants for a few days during the Y2K madness. It's the kind of grace note that makes for loyal employees, and therefore happy employees, and therefore happy customers.
re: Dave Feldman
Well, I had lunch at Danube today and have to say it was excellent.
As previously mentioned, the room is stunning. We were seated immediately at 1:30, the time of our reservation.
I chose the tasting menu. The portions were not large, but I can't say that I left hungry. The "gifts" consisted of raw bass on a beet puree, tomato mousse on heirloom tomato puree and a grilled anchovy threaded through a potato chip. Delicious. My appetizer was ravioli in a very light broth. Not outrageous but still delicious. I had cod on parsnip puree with an incredibly complex sauce that included chives, parlsey, other herbs. Great. This was followed by an intermezzo of sorbet with ligon berries. Dessert was a walnut torte with ice cream. Others in my party had the "waltz" of desserts which included beer sorbet which is lot more interesting and delicious than it sounds. We stayed for three hours and were treated courteously and the service was very good. We asked at the end of the meal if we could visit the kitchen - the group I was with were all friends from cooking classes and our "professor" - and this request was immediately granted. All the staff in the kitchen were incredibly nice and very willing to answer any questions we had.
Maybe you'll try again?
I think our disparate experiences highlight the difference between having lunch or dinner at a "major" restaurant. Often, lunch is less hectic and rushed. The staff is not overextended and the kitchen is working at a reasonable pace. But if a restaurant can only get half of the equation right (the lunch half), I think they should still be taken to task.
BTW - Good friends had a similar "wonderful" lunch experience at Danube, so I would guess that it might be the norm.