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First time at Daniel - a few questions

a
adam Mar 12, 2009 02:35 PM

Saturday night I'm heading to Daniel for the first time. The missus and I are very excited, and I just wanted to ask a couple questions of those more familiar with the restaurant than I am. Any thoughts are much appreciated.

First, regarding food - looking at the posted menu online, there are a few dishes in each course that I'm really having trouble between. So any insights into what people's favorites are, if I'm way off the mark, things to avoid, etc, would be helpful.

For appetizers, the frog leg dish, the almond crusted foie, the abalone, the squab and foie gras pate, maybe the lobster?
For entrees, the cod, atlantic bar, duck, lamb, venison, or beef? Part of me thinks the beef is a bit obvious and maybe a bit tired, but it also sounds excellent.
So any guidance that anyone can give is great. (Any desserts that people really love, also.)

Second, regarding wine - I'm thinking we'll probably mostly order half bottles. I'm assuming they have a decent selection of half bottles, and will be very helpful in selecting wines, but if you're reading this thinking "oh, Daniel, they have that great white Burgundy (or whatever wine it is), I can't imagine going there and not ordering that," please let me know.

Third, dress - I wasn't planning on wearing a tie, but probably will if most people there are in ties. I'm already a bit nervous, just because I figure we'll stick out a bit in our late-20s, as opposed to a generally older UES crowd.

Anyways - again - thanks for any advice!

  1. s
    shlomoaren Mar 13, 2009 09:12 AM

    Not to burden you but am considering Daniel when visiting in the next month. Will you please follow-up (don't need any kind of extensive review) with your thoughts after Saturday's meal? We'll be a similarly aged group (it sounds like) of 4. Thanks in advance!!

    6 Replies
    1. re: shlomoaren
      h
      hopegoode Mar 13, 2009 11:17 AM

      Just celebrated my birthday there last night. Everyone was congenial, the decor is elegant, and the waitstaff was excellent. I would recommend staying with the fish preparations over the beef duo- that was our only disappointment. If you don't like your food salted, I suggest you request it that way.

      The desserts were all sensational- in addition, there are petit fours and warm madeleines served as well.The wine sommelier made a very good recommendation in our price range so do consult.

      Most men wore ties- but I saw many men without. All age groups were there. Enjoy the experience; we certainly did!

      1. re: shlomoaren
        e
        ExerciseMoreToEatMore Mar 15, 2009 06:51 PM

        We just celebrated our 40th anniversary there last night, and must say it was a truly wonderful experience. Got the tasting menu with the wine pairings, and it was really great. The food and service are as fine as you will find in NYC, or for that matter, the country.

        I did not wear a tie, and we were treated every bit as graciously as everyone else there, if not more so. Having dined at Le Bernardin last year for our anniversary, I would not attempt to compare the two directly, but I found the decor and atmosphere at Daniel to be more romantic, especially with the complete redecoration they did just recently. Cannot recommend Daniel highly enough - it is an experience that anyone with an interest in truly, truly fine dining should go through.

        We had originally intended to do a little bar/nightlife afterward, but anything we could have done would have paled in comparison. We took the remaining madeleines back to the hotel and had them the next morning, giving them just a brief warmup in the microwave, and having a touch of champagne with them. They were still terrific. Do go there, you won't be disappointed.

        1. re: ExerciseMoreToEatMore
          a
          adam Mar 16, 2009 07:33 AM

          I wish I could say that I was not disappointed in my meal at Daniel, and although it was a generally positive experience, my wife and I did not have the four-star experience we were hoping for.

          I certainly don't want to come off as overly self-conscious, or overly critical, or anything like that. And I'll start by saying that the food was great, the space is gorgeous, and if the staff had been a bit more courteous and a bit more coordinated, I'd have absolutely nothing to complain about. Unfortunately that's not the case.

          I guess I'll just go through the evening in order. We arrive at 8:30 for our 8:30 reservation, and wait about 30 minutes for our table to be ready. No big deal, I don't mind having a drink by the bar, easing into the evening. I do mind, a little bit, waiting 30 minutes to get stuck in what seems to be the worst table in the house. Now, mind you, I don't think there's any very bad tables, but still, this was maybe the worst - on the side of the room, stuck in the corner. It was actually quite nice to overlook the main dining area and take in the whole space, but also cramped and awkward regarding service, which I'll get to later. I decided not to say anything, mostly because my wife didn't mind too much, it didn't look like there were many two-tops in the main dining area anyway, and unless I'm right next to a waiter station or restroom or doorway, table location doesn't bug me too much.

          As the night goes on, though, it becomes clear for a few reasons that I should have said something. Now a bit of it is out of the restaurant's control - the table of 6 very loud people sitting right in front of us. The gentleman dining solo at the table next to us thought they "embarrassed" themselves - his word, not mine, but pretty accurate. Everything else, though, was in the restaurant's control.

          Part of the problem of being in the corner, with a mirrored wall right behind you, is (1) you notice servers walking towards you and behind you much more due to the cramped space, and (2) if someone (in this case, my wife) is looking at the other person sitting in front of the mirror, she sees every move the servers behind you make. For that matter, since I'm facing my wife and the servers are behind her, I see every move they make as well, making the service much less seamless. Particularly when they bring out our entrees while we're still in the middle of our appetizers, stop about 3 feet from our table, and abruptly turn around and return to the kitchen. Or when they come out every 5 minutes or so to see the progress we're making on our entrees, but don't clear them for 20 minutes or so despite clean plates (we ended up finishing off the garnish just to demonstrate that we were, really, done). It somehow left the impression of both over- and under-attentiveness.

          Ditto a lack of coordination -- two different people asking us if we wanted more coffee at the end of the meal, but then no one bringing it for a while. Clearing our dessert plates unnecessarily, but then waiting for a long time to check in if we wanted anything else, the check, etc.

          Also, probably the most frustrating thing was regarding the cheese course. My wife and I love cheese. And know our cheeses fairly well. So, when we were told that the cheese cart couldn't fit down the aisle where we were seated, and we couldn't go see the cheese car , and we couldn't get a list of the cheeses, but "tell me what you like and I'll bring you some cheese," it was very disappointing. I mean, could you imagine that with wine? And we ended up with some good, but not the most exciting, cheeses, and almost certainly not what we would have picked had we been able to actually select our cheeses ourselves.

          I realize that this probably comes off as a long, bitter screed, and I don't want it to be. The fact is that we had excellent food, good wine, and a nice evening. But if I were picking a special occasion restaurant, I'd run back to 11 Madison Park way before I picked Daniel.

          As for the food - we started with the frog leg souffle in watercress veloute, as well as the pate of squab and foie gras. The veloute was delicious - rich, fresh-tasting, delicate but not too precious. The pate was one of the best I've had; well composed, beautiful to look at, nicely textured, and certainly at least as good as any of the pates at bar boulud. Obviously slightly more composed on the plate, but also a level of precision in execution.

          Then, for entrees, we had a suckling pig special and the lamb chop dish. The suckling pig was ok, but may have suffered a bit from the cooling period between when they first brought out our entrees and when we were actually ready for them - the skin had gone from crispy to a little bit tough. Also, aside from the crispy skin, what I love about suckling pig is the tenderness of the meat. So I was a bit surprised (I should have asked about the preparation, I guess) that the meat was essentially a sausage - very well seasoned, perfectly balanced, sausage, mind you - as opposed to what I was expecting. The lamb, on the other hand, was the standout of the meal. Perfectly cooked chop, tender loin, and a cannelloni of braised shoulder meat that really stole the show.

          Onto dessert, the cheeses and a basil-citrus cake that was nice but pretty forgettable.

          The wines were very nice; the sommelier helped us find a couple of half bottles (one chablis, one pinot noir) that paired well with the food, particularly the chablis.

          So, in all, I'm happy I went, I had a very nice time, but wish the experience had been more positive - more of a 10 than a 7 or so.

          1. re: adam
            s
            shlomoaren Mar 16, 2009 08:19 AM

            Thanks for the lengthy review. "Exercise"- thank you as well. From both, I think we'll have a good idea of what to ask for and what to be leery of/avoid.

            1. re: adam
              r
              RGR Mar 16, 2009 11:02 AM

              Hey, Adam,

              Thanks for reporting back. First, let me say that in no way does your review come off as a sour rant. You are just "telling it like it was."

              I'm so sorry to hear about the problems you encountered. To be totally frank, it is not uncommon for there to be service issues at Daniel. During our last dinner there in the fall of '07, we encountered some serious services glitches, and the only reason we would consider going back at some point is that we've been there a few times before when service was faultless. So, it's not as though they aren't capable of that level of performance. In our case, some of the problems were due to their wanting to turn the table very quickly. But regardless, there is no excuse for serious service lapses at a 4-star restaurant, which is what Daniel is.

              Re: the cheese service, I think it is totally unacceptable for any restaurant, but especially a very upscale one like Daniel, to situate a table in such a way that the cart cannot be brought so the diner cannot make his or her selections. If that had happened to us, we would have immediately voiced our displeasure -- without being rude, of course -- to the manager on duty. In our case, the problem with the cheese service occurred because they hadn't anticipated our wanting to have it in addition to dessert. Since it upset their timing for turning the table, they tried to rush us through it. And this was only one of the instances of them trying to rush us to finish.

              Daniel does serve superb cuisine so, at least your food was, for the most part, to your liking. However, I thoroughly agree with you about Eleven Madison Park. Special occasion or not, EMP's service is *dependably* cordial and polished, the cuisine is stellar, and the space is gorgeous! Oh, and the cheese cart can easily be brought to *every* table. :-)

              1. re: adam
                ulterior epicure Mar 16, 2009 07:18 PM

                Oh dear. Not good.

                At a restaurant of the caliber that Daniel claims to be, the cheese cart incident should never happen. That's utterly unacceptable.

                Every restaurant has prime and less-prime real estate. It is a reality that all diners have to put up with. While a restaurant can't be faulted for milking their Boardwalks and Park Places for all they're worth, a good restaurant is one that does everything in its power to minimize the undesirability of the lesser-situated tables.

                You clearly got stuck at Baltic Ave. (the table I got was Mediterranean Ave. by comparison - barely beyond the threshold, I was serenaded by lovely bar traffic soundtrack and I had an accounting of each person who walked in and out of the dining room).

                If there is no avenue by which the cheese cart can be wheeled to a table, then it should not the diner's position to sacrifice or compromise their cheese-selecting abilities. It is Daniel that needs to rethink the way the cheeses are presented.

                And it doesn't take a genius to come come up with a solution - "fly" it in. At El Raco Can Fabes, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Spain, two servers carried a straw tray of cheeses to my table whilst a third presented them (See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulteriorepicure/79353551/).

                At Michel Rostang (a two-star Michelin restaurant), where I recently had a very fine meal in December, they set up stands next to our table and carried the trays of cheeses in and set them on the stands for presentation and selection. (See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulteriorepicure/3132300708/in/set-72157611501902533/

                )

                And at l'Arpege - a three-star Michelin in Paris, three strapping men were enlisted to carry a titanic plank of driftwood holding a wheel of aged Comte bigger than I am to our table side for carving. (See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulteriorepicure/3136726264/

                )

                In the U.S., I've experienced the same at Gramercy Tavern (See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulterior...), where space is quite limited.

                You get the point...

                At any restaurant of Daniel's caliber, either everyone gets a crack at the cheese cart, or no one gets a crack at the cheese cart. "Halfses" is not a word or concept that the restaurant should comprehend or an experience a diner should be subject to. If they're charging full price, they should be giving full service.

                No one I know of has complained too terribly about the food. But poor or ill-shaped service is a recurring theme amongst Daniel-goers. I am included in that group, and I'm sorry to learn that you've become one too.

          2. Spiritchaser Mar 13, 2009 06:04 AM

            Just wanted to offer a couple quick answers/suggestions.

            Been to Daniel at all times, weekdays, weekends, early evening, late evening and have always seen some people with ties and some without, I've seen suits, and I've seen dress pants and sports jacket. I always wear a tie but that's just me, you should go with what you feel comfortable with.

            I promise you you will not stick out.

            For wine, I would STRONGLY encourage you to ask to have wines by the glass paired with your courses. We've done bottles that we select, we've done bottles they select, we've done by the glass that we've selected, and we've done by the glass where they select and the by the glass where they select has always been the most fun/educational/tasty. Don't be shy about engaging the Sommelier, let them know what you like, e.g. minerally whites, big reds, etc. and ask questions when you taste.

            If you have the time show up a little early and have a drink in the bar and ease into the evening. ENJOY!

            1. r
              RGR Mar 12, 2009 02:57 PM

              First off, forget being nervous. Late 20's, early 50's -- the dollar holds the same value.

              Perhaps we've been lucky, but I've never encountered any snootiness. And I have found that if you engage the staff and show enthusiasm, you will find they are very congenial.

              Don't be afraid to ask questions about the menu items that interest you and for advice from the sommelier as to which wines will go best with what you decide to order. I don't drink, so my husband usually does wine pairings -- an excellent way to go, especially if you are doing a tasting dinner.

              I think when we were there last, most of the gentlemen were wearing ties, so I would say that's the safest route if you are concerned about fitting in.

              Since we haven't been to Daniel recently, I can't offer you any specific advice about the current menu other than to say that if you like foie gras, they do a spectacular job with it, whether it's a terrine or pôelé.

              Relax, have a great time, and Bon Appetit!

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