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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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715216 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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/891059
        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: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co... 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.

                                  2. My ex worked as a pastry cook at daniel a few years back. There are computer records years old tracking every customer and their history, preferences, birthday, etc. there are cameras in the dining room that show the tables to the kitchen so they can time the courses to the pace of the diners.
                                    If you regularly visit and spend significant money at bergdorf goodman the sales people remember you and treat you better- but it doesn't mean the designer clothing is less fabulous.
                                    Daniel serves a niche market within nyc, but it also sounds like his experience was personalized and without a valid reason for the demotion. (It's not like there was a fly in his soup!)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                                      That's been mentioned before, re:cameras etc., there was an article about it in the NYTimes. That doesn't mean they actually do pay attention to or watch every customer that eats there.

                                      I think you're missing the point, no one is begrudging regulars getting special treatment, it's about non-regulars, non-famous, non-wealthy getting poor treatment.

                                    2. One of the things that I think is extremely huge about this whole affair that doesn't seem to get much mention is the NYT's re-review policy.

                                      If there were indeed big problems in Daniel's service and this article drew attention to it, great. But even if Daniel fixes all these problems, the flagship of the Boulud empire will still carry only 3 NYT stars for what will probably be at least 4 years, which is very significant.

                                      At least when Wells had issues with the new EMP menu and presentation, he wrote it in a side piece so that EMP could work on it without having their star status affected.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: fooder

                                        Fooder, it's been 15 or so years since my awful experience at Daniel. The maître d' was made aware of the situation, never asked us to come back or ask what could be done to make things right, never called us, etc.

                                        Contrast that with Union Square Cafe, a hostess was very rude, the manager was informed, facts were confirmed and action was taken immediately, apologies and kindness was shown, manager personally called me on the phone. I have been going back to USC ever since, recommending them ever since, sending them parties of people because I have confidence they will be treated well or that wrongs will be made right. Not the same with Daniel.

                                        Look at it this way. Daniel has an empire, a powerful one, I'm sure it was no easy decision to demote their flagship and I'm sure there will be repercussions for the reviewer, but I applaud him for calling out what apparently is not a "one off" occurrence of poor treatment. It happens to enough people that this is not the result of an "off night". At Le Bernadin, I don't have to be a regular or famous person or look wealthy to get good service. The service was formal and cold, but still "good" in the sense that it was efficient and attentive, the waiter didn't look down on us, sneer or make snide remarks. That kind of experience sticks with you. Over 15 years and I still refuse to step foot in Daniel.

                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                          As mentioned above, I have not personally received bad service there, so it's hard for me to comment regarding your experience. That being said, the industry has changed a lot since 15 years ago, and the Danny Meyer way of doing things has infiltrated much more into the dining scene.

                                          As for my own personal experience, the service was very snooty the first time I went to Le Bernardin alone, which was over 5 years ago. I've since been back many times, and while the service has warmed a little, it's still not particularly great, has a lack of attention to detail, and has been nowhere near as good as the service I've had during any of my visits to Daniel.

                                          1. re: fooder

                                            I'm curious why you've gone back to Le Bernadin many times even though the service is nowhere near as good as the service you've received at Daniel? If I have bad service, I tend to avoid a restaurant.

                                            I do believe, and sincerely hope as well, that the service I received at Daniel was an extreme case. I do not wish Daniel Boulud ill, he has been gracious, down-to-earth and I was fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of dining with him in a group (he's really nice). All of that being said, I had awful, awful service on a day that was meant to celebrate a very meaningful and special occasion.

                                            1. re: Pookipichu

                                              I've gone back to Le B more because my more generous friends like the relative ease of getting a reservation and that the meal is rather straightforward. They don't always like to dawdle with extras or madeleines or marshmallows.

                                              Like I mention upthread, I don't really encounter bad service a lot. The service at Le B is such that I would observe some errors that I don't think would occur at other top places, but nothing that would leave me in a huff.

                                              It is unfortunate that your service issue happened and even more unfortunate that it happened on a special occasion. I learned that lesson about special occasions a long time ago, and as a rule never celebrate at any restaurant that I haven't been before. I also value consistency over wow when choosing places for special occasions, and lean towards places where I am more of a regular and more likely to get that special treatment. (everyone has at least one place like that right? if you don't, you're dining out wrong imo)

                                              1. re: fooder

                                                The thing is I had dined several times at Daniel prior to their move. I've been in their kitchen, I've met Andrew Carmellini and Daniel Boulud, the restaurant wasn't an unknown quantity. I assumed that service and food would be just as lovely in their new location. I'm glad you have had great service at Daniel, like I said, Daniel Boulud is really very nice and deserves success. However, one bad waiter, can ruin a meal and there's no compelling reason for me to ever go back when there are so many wonderful and delicious restaurants high and low to eat at. (e.g. Tortilleria Nixtamal *nom nom nom*)

                                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                                  Oh wow that's just a shame then.

                                                  Yes, one bad waiter or one untrained manager can ruin a night very easily. It's one of the reasons why I don't really try out/review a new restaurant until it's been around at least 9 months. Which is another thing that drives me nuts about these NYC reviews these days. Restaurants have about a month, maybe, until they get reviewed by the major media outlets here.

                                          2. re: Pookipichu

                                            And to think, Danny Meyer... the king of hospitality, is now making his big buck slinging burgers to people who wait in long lines for them (including me... though I generally hit UWS Shake Shack at off hours)

                                        2. Having enjoyed all the other DB restaurants, I've been meaning to try Daniel and actually booked a reservation after this review.

                                          I'm betting that the service for this first timer will be great now that the restaurant is trying to salvage its image.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. One thing interested me in this review: where is he getting his heart of palm? It would go against their standards if they were using canned although most people have never had The Real Thing which is as different from canned as a fresh artichoke is from the tinned variety.

                                            As far as the service issue, it is a tempest in a shot glass.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: hazelhurst

                                              So no one knows about the heart of palm? How odd.

                                            2. I ate at Daniel by myself a few years back. First time, and a non-regular at that!
                                              To my surprise, Daniel Boulud was actually in the premise that night!. He walked pass my table, greeted and chatted with me. The second time he walked pass, I was waiting for my dessert and he actually sat down and chatted with me some more!! We talked about Alain Ducasse in Paris, talked about how great the Black Bass dish used to taste since he used reduction from 3 bottles of Barolo for the sauce and how tasty Bresse chicken is compared to current 'tasteless chicken'!!
                                              A fine gentleman, a great and flawless meal and a memorable dining experience!
                                              Pity about the demotion! If Chef Boulud really cares about his flagship, I'm sure he'll do something about it to regain that lost star!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                                The only thing he can do, IMO, is reduce its size by half.

                                                I don't think it's possible to give NYT four-star/Michelin three-star food and service to an entire dining room that size.

                                                I think what we're seeing is an inevitable consequence of the expansion of the dining room in the no-longer-new place.

                                                If Chef Boulud really cares about running his flagship as a first-class restaurant, he must move his flagship into smaller quarters and make the current Restaurant Daniel into something less ambitious.

                                              2. Daniel was my favorite restaurant for over a decade after first eating there (at its previous location) in 1996. However, it was then a special occasion restaurant for me, and I usually went only two or three times a year--far from a first-timer, but not enough to be a regular. My husband and I experienced inconsistent to indifferent service a number of times, but I persisted in loving it for the food (even through the ego swallowing experiences of seing Mr. Boulud make the rounds of the lounge and dining room more than once but never so much as make eye contact with us). Finally, my husband drew a line and refused to return after a particularly insulting incident with one of the sommeliers (others having been lovely to us on many occasions).

                                                I'm not saying I'd never go back, as the nostalgia is strong with me, but I am not at all surprised that they finally got called on this. We were not regulars, but we witnessed inferior service occur over many meals over many years. There have been a number of threads about this in the past. To me, this review is great news--even the economic downturn didn't make them shape up. Losing (and needing to regain) their fourth star is the only thing I can think of that might turn this problem around.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: planetjess

                                                  I think you may agree with me, and I can't emphasize this enough to those diners who don't seem to understand this... it's not that I demand special treatment at Daniel or expect to even feel special, it's that I don't want to be treated RUDELY.

                                                  Many patrons will put up with indifferent service, but a line is and should be drawn at rude service.