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Jun 19, 2010 10:04 AM

Daniel Review

As always, a full review with pics on the blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

Four of us went to Daniel two weeks ago for a celebratory dinner. It was a terrific meal, but before getting to the food, I want to discuss a couple of things.

When I asked our server which menu option would lead to "maximum culinary delight", I was surprised that he recommended the 6 course tasting menu of set dishes rather than the 8 course chef's tasting which would have been based more on the whim of the chef. We went with his recommendation, and while the food was terrific and I certainly respect the technique and the execution, there was no wow factor.

I feel that this is true of a few restaurants in NYC that are considered among the elite. When I went to Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, they welcomed the thought of the meal as an event. However, I've also been to Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, and now Daniel, and I don't get that feeling at all from these places. Rather, it feels like their aim is to be sort of a "canteen to the rich". If the money doesn't matter or you just want to eat while discussing some business, those are the places to go. This leads to service that I feel is less grand, less friendly and perhaps even a little snooty (Le Bernardin). This is definitely an NYC thing, but that is not me, and when I pay this amount of money for a meal, I want an experience.

I would put Daniel ahead of Jean Georges and Le Bernardin as a place that I'm more likely to revisit, and while the service was far from perfect, it was still very good.

TRIO OF WATERCRESS: smoked sablefish, mousseline with tomato confit, and poached shrimp salad. Nice start of flavors. My favorite was the mousseline with tomato confit. I thought that went best with the watercress flavor.

MOSAIC OF LOLA DUCK, PORCINI AND RED WINE GELEE with shallot confit and rapeseed vinaigrette. A pretty plate of duck preparations that worked well as a starter course.

Due to a misunderstanding, one of my friends ordered a piece of sauteed duck foie gras that he did not want. Bonus for me. I loved the stuff. However, I would have preferred it if there was more stuff accompanying it.

MEYER LEMON ROYALE WITH SEA URCHIN and North Star caviar, Barron Point oyster, finger lime, tapioca vinaigrette. I was completely confused by this dish. I had no idea which went with what, and what kind of tastes and textures were intended to be brought out by this dish. I'm still not sure what the star of this dish was. The lemon? The sea urchin flavor was not very strong.

ARTICHOKE RAVIOLINI IN SAFFRON SAUCE with littleneck clams, squid, cuttlefish, and anise hyssop salad. This was my favorite dish of the night. Great flavors, great textures, and everything in balance.

GRILLED YELLOWFIN TUNA WITH VADOUVAN and Hawaiian hearts of palm, fennel confit, basil salad. This was my fault. I tried to go lighter with this dish but probably would have enjoyed the black bass option instead. The Vadouvan spices (think curry) were really nice, and the accompanying hearts of palm and salad went well with that flavor, but yellowfin tuna just doesn't do it for me.

One of my friends supplemented the dover sole special for his meat course and graciously shared a piece with me. This was fantastic. The fish was cooked perfectly and the green sauce and fiddlehead fern went terrifically with it. My favorite single item of the night.

DUO OF BEEF: Black Angus short ribs with quinoa, spring onion confit in red wine, alongside Wagyu tenderloin with chanterelles, green asparagus, and tellicherry pepper jus. This tasted fine, but red wine braised short rib is not particularly special. I was disappointed with the vegetables accompanying this dish, and I consider the vegetables to be a huge component of a composed beef dish.

WARM GUANAJA CHOCOLATE COULANT with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet. The liquid caramel inside was a terrific touch because it kept the dessert from being an overload of chocolate.

Assorted petit fours, chocolates, and madeleines. We loved the fresh madeleines and asked for seconds which we devoured.

Everything being said, it was a terrific meal. We had a great time eating, drinking, and chatting. We got there shortly after 8:30pm and closed the place up well after midnight. However, I don't know that I would go out of my way to make a reservation and spend that kind of money. Perhaps the 8 course chef's menu would have been more enlightening, but if that were the case I don't know why the server didn't recommend it.

Per Se
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

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  1. Ah...but you had already predetermined the answer. Now you're second guessing the server. Why bother asking him then? But, it is a curious question. It's all hindsight but that's something I might have asked him discreetly off to the side, just for my own edification.

    Nonetheless, thank you for the comprehensive review.

    With respect to the "snooty" thing, I also don't understand why New Yorkers do it. Not all to be sure. But it exists on both the customer side and the staff side. Do the staff do it because of an excess of pride, a desire to maintain the exclusivity of the place (to weed out those that are not of a desirable customer profile), or are they being defensive because they've been treated poorly by snooty customers? Maybe this is a good topic for the General board.

    3 Replies
    1. re: nooyawka

      I asked because I wanted to know what the difference was between the 6 and 8 course menus, since the 6 course had listed courses and the 8 course menu didn't. Given that our server then explained that the 8 course menu was more based on the chef's whim I was surprised that this would not equate to "maximum culinary delight".

      1. re: fooder

        The chef's whim may or may not be to your liking. It could be the server was playing it safe and recommended the 6 course based on average feedback. (His tip may or may not be dependent on your liking his recommendation.) The 6 course is also likely designed by the executive chef to be a "primer" and therefore, calculated to appeal to most. Or, the server may have been following instructions from higher ups to steer you to the 6 course if ever asked such a question. So many possibilities...

        I recently went to Nobu with a date. The server always makes it a point to ask if it is your first time. It was her's, not mine. We ordered the omakase, and they brought out the standard one. Had we both been repeaters, the chef may well have altered it.

        105 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10013

        1. re: fooder

          My experience was a few years ago, but I wouldn't lose too much sleep over the mystery of what you weren't fed in the 8-course menu. I went with a couple of friends, went that route and ended up getting the 6-course menu with a couple of additions.

          For extra irritation, we didn't learn that they usually send diners off with a plate of madeleines until a week later when that was the cover photo of their four-star Times review.

      2. Great reporting, fooder! I'm wondering, did any of the staff at any point take exception with your taking of pictures throughout the meal? When I tried to make a reservation at Daniel, I was told that there was a no picture policy (and thus took my special occasion dinner somewhere else)

        1 Reply
        1. re: ramenbound

          They let me take pictures as long as I didn't have the flash on.

          I was most interested in Daniel because it had seen a resurrection of sorts I guess in the press. I knew that the chowhound reviews of it were mixed at best, but in the last year it won the James Beard award and made a huge jump in the San Pellegrino rankings. My guess is that as is the case with awards of any kind, politics are involved.

        2. Does anyone have any recs from the current menu? We are heading there this week for a celebratory dinner, and any information on hits or misses would be appreciated! We are likely either doing the 3 course prix fixe or the 6 course tasting. Thanks.