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Jul 23, 2013 01:54 PM

Daniel gets demoted - NYT

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  1. I love Daniel. Since I dine out almost every day and every night, Daniel is one of my very few favorite fine dining restaurants, because it changes menu frequently enough to go back at least once a month.

    23 Replies
    1. re: kosmose7

      Of course, if you go there once a month you probably get the "good" service (and food, although Wells didn't mention it) rather than the "bad" service (and food) bestowed on people they don't "know".

      1. re: Sneakeater

        Oh, I was referring to only the food (or frequently changing menu, to be exact), not the service... Since I also go to some other fine dining places often for business dinners or personal dining experiences, I get treated fairly well too, but I am being served almost the same, unchanging menu at those places. Ha ha.

      2. re: kosmose7

        First, let me say, kosmose7, you are my hero. I use google translate to read your blog every now and then and it's so full of good stuff because you do indeed eat out impressively almost every day.

        As for the times review. It seems to me his main points against the restaurant were the complexity of the dishes and the different treatment he received as opposed to his friend.

        Regarding the difference in treatment, I hate this topic. This used to be brought up every now and again on CH when discussing EMP, about how some people got extras (and kitchen tour) that others didn't. If you want everything served the same way to everyone, go to McDonalds. Enjoy your meal for what is advertised instead of being jealous about other people's extras. And if you still like the restaurant, become a regular and you will get the extras too. To make this kind of complaint just feels so petty.

        As far as the food is concerned, I started out a skeptic of Daniel's too. My first visit: was similar to the NYT review. Excellent, but not enough to be considered at the top tier. Since then, I've had two meals that made me appreciate why Daniel should be in the top tier. The most recent one being:
        It is because I've learned to appreciate the complexity of a full plate of food served at Daniel. More often than not, everything on the plate works together, as opposed to say, early dishes at Corton (I don't know if it's much better now) where items on the plate felt superfluous. But to me, it is more important that there is someone still doing this level of food with this much on the plate. In my view, too many diners and chefs these days are infatuated with the 20 bite tasting menu, eschewing entrees and focusing on fleeting tastes. Daniel's ability to put out real entrees and complex appetizers should be praised, not admonished.

        1. re: fooder

          The problem isn't that VIPs are treated "better" at Daniel. VIPs should expect to get "better" treatment everywhere.

          The problem is that non-VIPs are treated BADLY. There is NO EXCUSE for that.

          Give "better" treatment to your friends, sure.

          Give BAD treatment to anyone, forget it!

          1. re: Sneakeater

            We ate at Daniel a few years ago. First and only time. We are NOT VIPs, but we are also no strangers to good restaurants with good service (EMP, Per Se, TFL, etc.). Had a great time with great service. The waiter took an interest in us personally, our other trip plans for NYC, etc. and then walked us out of the restaurant personally at the end of the meal. He also graciously answered any food-related questions that we had during our meal.

            1. re: Sneakeater

              This is how I interpret it too, Sneak, and one reason why I really have no desire to eat at Daniel, despite enjoying multiple meals at EMP and Per Se. I've read too many reviews lamenting poor service.

              1. re: Sneakeater

                If people do get treated BADLY at Daniel, then yes that is certainly unforgivable. In the actual NYT review though, it said that his friend felt taken care of anyway. As far as "what kind of service they should expect", keep in mind that Daniel does 200-250 covers a night. I wouldn't go in expecting the same kind of service as a place doing half or fewer covers with about the same number of staff.

                That being said, I rarely have been treated badly when I go out. Part of that is that I refuse to be a victim. I do a lot of research before going somewhere and I am not shy about letting staff and managers know when there is even the slightest bit off with their service.

                Sometimes it's as little as letting the host/server know that you're celebrating an occasion or show interest in the food to "wake the service up". For me it's not as important that service be completely anticipatory, but rather that they can take cues from what I'm saying or body language and react properly.

                There's always the other approach to gain VIP status. A friend of mine once dined with his wife at Le Cirque back in the day (30 yrs or so, give or take?). They sat him at a crappy table in the front. He started with a couple-hundred dollar bottle of Krug, and they immediately came to him and said, "I'm sorry sir, we seem to have seated you at the wrong table" and they were promptly reseated.

                1. re: fooder

                  The Le Cirque story is an example of horrible service, not good service. I think this is exactly what Sneakeater is talking about, and speaks to why fine dining is so often a rotten experience (in the spirit of full disclosure, I also had a great treatment/horrible treatment situation at Le Cirque, much as Ruth Reichl did).

                  1. re: Dave Feldman

                    Masa was downgraded due to service issues as well.

                    1. re: MrGrumpy

                      I think it's safe to say that I'm not a fan of DB's cooking. I can only remember one dish (a soup) out of the three meals I've had there, but I can't say we were treated shabbily, although I don't think I'll be going on long walks in the park with any of the waitstaff.

                      1. re: MrGrumpy

                        One of the most annoying things about Wells' tenure as critic (among many) is the inconsistency and contradictory nature of his review vs his stars. He made specific mention here: about adding “primarily” to food after he took over. And yet Masa and Daniel were demoted for what I believe to be cost and service/ambiance issues.

                        To me, the focus of the critic's reaction "primarily" to food was put in there so he could justify giving more stars to downtown and Brooklyn locations while venting about prices at the high end places. (The title of the Daniel piece is "Serving the Stuff of Privilege") It has been mentioned before that both he and Sifton may just not be fans of fine dining, and whatever other flaws Bruni may have as a critic, I always felt that he really did appreciate fine dining.

                        Regarding food, I just don't see how this isn't a 4 star review. Besides nitpicking, he hasn't articulated to me what was so bad that it wasn't comparable to other 4 star restaurants (and comparable to 3 star ones).

                      2. re: Dave Feldman

                        To be clear, I think this extreme double standard is very rare. I think that most fine dining restaurants treat ALL patrons like gold. Certainly, Per Se, Le Bernardin, and EMP do.

                        1. re: Sneakeater

                          Per Se has ups and downs in terms of service for me. Sometimes very mechanical, sometimes very personalized. Sometimes a bit rushing, sometimes very slow... Depending on which server is in charge of my table.

                          Especially when chef Keller is present (and perhaps that means with a high probability there is a big event going on in the private dining room), service is in general very slow with average 30 minutes intervals between the dishes served.

                        2. re: Dave Feldman

                          I didn't say it was good service, just that a way to become a VIP is to make yourself noticed. In this day and age, many diners gain such status just by having a really nice camera at the table.

                          I know what Sneakeater is talking about, but again, it depends on what you set your baseline at and what is considered BAD service at that level. At least I know Daniel can do it if they want to, whereas I find Le Bernardin to have so many more errors in their service, even in cases when I go with someone known to the house.

                          1. re: fooder

                            Just an anecdote, I was at EMP with my big camera and I didn't get any special or preferential treatment. When the lollipops were served, my lollipop was already sliding down the stick and the waiter saw what was happening and I could see the cogs in his brain turning, thinking whether he should replace it or not. Instead, he placed the tray on the table and the lollipop descended to the bottom of the stick.

                            Not exactly four star service but this is the first time I have ever mentioned what happened and I said nothing to the waiter, because frankly it didn't bother me. I don't expect perfection or to be treated like a VIP. I don't want to be "that" patron that complains about things. I'm happy to be in a nice restaurant.

                            What I cannot accept however, is someone who is rude, mean or demeaning whether the final bill is $10 or $1000. Which is what I encountered at Daniel. No one wants to be stressed or angry while they eat.

                            1. re: Pookipichu

                              Wait, what's the "big camera" got to do with service?

                              Anyway, I've been to Daniel once, loved the food and the service was very good.

                              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                When restaurants see a big camera, they assume you're a blogger and sometimes give you preferential treatment accordingly.

                                1. re: Sneakeater

                                  Well that is most unfortunate that someone needs to bring a camera to a restaurant to get equal/exceptional treatment. Maybe that's part of the problem. Everyone and their brother has a blog and now it means something.

                                  1. re: Sneakeater

                                    I'm glad the waiter at EMP didn't feed into it.

                      3. re: fooder

                        Thanks fooder!
                        I am also glad that you enjoy and appreciate Daniel like I do. :)

                      4. re: kosmose7

                        I'm with you kosmose7. I go about once a month, though i don't know if that's really enough to make me a "regular," and I consistently have a 4 star meal. I've never received anything but impeccable service, and I've been going for years. The thing I love about Daniel is their willingness to use a broad and assertive flavor palate, while serving very refined dishes. This is a boldness I find lacking at some of the other 4 stars (looking at you, Le Bernardin). I've also sent many friends over the years, who certainly are not "regulars," and have always raved about their meals.
                        I think fooder's correct about this issue of differential treatment: yes, there may be some special attention for frequent fliers, which I would say is normal behavior, but in watching my fellow diners over the years, I really haven't noticed a big difference in service quality. Of course, they may fall down some days, but that occasionally happens anywhere. Daniel often seems to be accused of a kind of "snootiness" which I used to see as a child at La Grenouille, but haven't really seen in NY dining for a long time.

                        1. re: strangemd

                          Thanks for your comment, strangemd!
                          I am a Korean who went to school in New York some 30 years ago before I came back to work here recently. And yes, I remember Lutece and La Grenouille were really pretentious back then. As a student, I was saving up my allowances to dine there alone once in a blue moon, ha ha. But Daniel isn't like that. Courteous and gentle, but at the same time friendly and intimate service.

                      5. I just posted this comment on the article - writing a trip report for here and will post soon

                        "This "unknown, first-timer, anniversary splurger,tourist had an outstanding meal and overall experience last month at Daniel. The Tasting Menu was delicious, but what elevated the entire experience was the service. A deft balance of careful, formal service with surprising casualness and conversation. The waiter noted our comment in passing that we liked sweetbreads, so our main course came with a "side" of sweetbreads (they were delicious, and complimentary). The Room Captain took us on a tour of the kitchen/the Sommelier made a great wine suggestion, at a good price.

                        I think its disingenuous to fault them for the service you received as a recognized critic from the NYTimes, especially when you note that your friend was happy."

                        1. Not surprised. My first and last time there as an "unknown" I was seated in what was probably the worst table in the house--the two top on the second level right next to the kitchen exit. That table shouldn't even be there in the first place.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: PorkyBelly

                            I don't want to insult Elizabeth, but I wonder how many of the people who are satisfied with the "non-VIP" service at Daniel eat at very expensive restaurants frequently enough to know what kind of service they should expect.

                            You see the nice dining room, you see that the staff isn't actively hostile to you, so maybe (if you don't have a lot of experience with this kind of dining) you don't quite realize that they're rushing you (comparable to the super-high-end norm), that they're being insufficiently attentive (same), that they're trying to upsell you on wine, etc.

                            I have a feeling that this is what Daniel counts on, and why they think they can (and do) get away with the level of second-class service they bestow.

                            1. re: Sneakeater

                              Not insulted - frequent diner at very expensive restaurants (to borrow your phrase) - just happened to never have been to Daniel and Le Bernardin, where we ate the next day.

                              So - compared to my many other experiences - the service was excellent, and very genuine.

                            2. re: PorkyBelly

                              That's where I was seated! The waiter was so rude to us too, absolutely obnoxious and I have never been back since. I think I've ranted about my experience enough times on CH. Inexcusable to pay $$$ to be demeaned and insulted with leers and sneers.

                              1. re: PorkyBelly

                                I was seated at that table last year, and it was awful: like a non-stop parade of service staff.

                                Food was very good and very pretty, but not very interesting. I had the fish wrapped in potato if I recall correctly. This was a splurge meal, and I was slighted that I got a crappy table.

                                At the end of the day, I will not return. The price was exorbitant, and there are too many great restaurants to bother going back to a place that shoves you in a walled-off corner by the kitchen.

                                BTW: I am not a novice eater. I graduated CIA in 2005 (Culinary AOS), worked FOH in fine dining restaurants afterwards, and have eaten enough 3-star Michelin meals to know what is great.

                              2. We dined there once (we are out-of-staters who visit NYC once a year mainly for the dining). On the same visit we also hit Jean George and EMP. We had two tasting menus and a lot of wine at Daniel so it was expensive and we were treated well.

                                My impression is that they have so many items on the menu and so many tables that it's very difficult for them to maintain Michelin 3* (or NYT 4*) quality across all the dishes. I thought 4-5 of my dishes were superb but 3-4 simply weren't Michelin 3* quality, and we've visited 3* restaurants 19 times the past 3 1/2 years so I'm comfortable with that assessment.

                                I would have ranked our meal below the two Jean George tasting menus we ate the next night, and behind EMP for sure, and I'm not surprised that they dropped a notch with the Times. I'm kind of surprised they have kept the third Michelin star.

                                Chef Boulud was a very genial host, personalizing a copy of the menu for us for a local chef who looks up to him and chatting with several tables in the mosh pit (we were in the balcony). I'm glad I ate there, but I felt it was not quite on the level of the other places we've dined at in NYC like Per Se, Le Bernardin, Jean George or EMP.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: willyum

                                  That's exactly the problem.

                                  Restaurant Daniel is too big to be a NYT four-star/Michelin three-star restaurant. At that size, you just can't do it. At least not across the board.

                                2. My one dinner at Daniel last year was mostly great. No complaints about the service, I thought it was top 2 or 3 in New York. The food - a few great things (the signature beef duo, dessert) and a few less than great things, but nothing bad. I left with a good impression. But after so many contrary stories keep piling up - including a couple from trusted and credible friends - it has to be more than a fluke.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: deprofundis

                                    When someone does not have the budget to eat at a fancy restaurant more than a few times a year, or only once a year, do you really think they should play Russian roulette by choosing a restaurant that may treat them in a way that makes them feel unwelcome or a lesser customer? That's why I no longer recommend Daniel even after having eaten at the original location and having had good experiences. My first time dining in their new (present) location, my service was equal parts incompetent and rude. While this was a decade ago, apparently things have not changed.

                                    Daniel is the only high end restaurants that could not fulfill my simple request of water without ice (seriously, my glass was replaced multiple times, each time with a new glass of water with ice, and yes I speak English well enough to communicate "water with no ice, please. No ice in my water, please. May I get a glass without ice please")

                                    At Morimoto it took two tries but on the third try, I received water without ice.