Sunday, April 18, 2010

Daniel: A Dining Experience Comes Full Circle

From the doormats outside to the plates on each table, a dotted circle adorns just about everything at Daniel Boulud's eponymous restaurant, Daniel. Adam Tihany (who also assisted Thomas Keller with Per Se) oversaw Daniel's redesign and introduced the circular motif to the restaurant. The circle seems an appropriate symbol for both Boulud's rise to stardom as well as the meal MW and I enjoyed there last weekend. Although born in France, there are few chefs who personify Manhattan's fine dining scene more than Daniel Boulud; with last year's opening of DBGB marking his fifth restaurant in New York. Boulud's current status as a super chef should come as no surprise to New Yorkers as he has gone from cooking at one of the city's best restaurants (Le Cirque) to now owning one of the city's best; a statement reaffirmed last year when Daniel (already a 4 star recipient from the New York Times) received three Michelin stars. But it wasn't the awards that drew me to Daniel, rather it was his infectious passion for food that I admired after watching three seasons of his television series, After Hours with Daniel.

Upon our arrival we were greeted and had our coats taken. On the way to our table we passed by the lounge area that was adjacent to the lighted bar. As MW and I were led into the main dining room I was struck by the design. High ceilings combined with a series of arches and columns surrounding the main dining area, creating a breathtaking sight. Bright whites and the finest silver lay on each table yet modern art hung on the walls; the atmosphere seemed both sophisticated and edgy at the same time. While many of the other tables seemed to be ordering cocktails, MW and I opted for two glasses of wine to accompany our meal: starting with a Zilliken, Riesling Kabinett "Saarburger Rausch," Saar, Germany 2001 and ending with a Bosquet des Papes, "Cuvée Grenache," Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône 2000. Executive Chef Jean Francois Bruel offers a three-course prix fixe menu or various tasting menus (six or eight-courses). We chose the six-course tasting menu and supplemented a cheese course. For each course there were two different options, effectively doubling the amount of courses we were able to try.


Our amuse bouche consisted of a tasting of broccoli, presented in a rectangular tray holding three separate containers. There was a Broccoli Florette with Smoked Trout, a Broccoli Mousse with Duck Prosciutto and Piquillo Pepper Oil and a Broccoli Stem with Feta Cheese and a Piquillo Pepper Reduction. Of the three our favorite was the broccoli mouse. While the mousse had a thicker-than-expected consistency it remained light and had an intense broccoli flavor.

As one server cleared our plates another appeared with a basket containing eight different types of bread, all of which baked in-house. We chose between: two types of Foccocia (Parmesan-Garlic and Olive-Rosemary), two types of Sourdough (Regular and Rustic), a French Baguette, a Butter Roll, Six-Grain and a Walnut-Raisin (with both regular and golden raisins). Tempted to eat the entire basket, MW and I tried to exercise restraint but inevitably sampled six of the eight varieties.

The first course of the evening was a duo of foie gras. Though torn about the ethical considerations of the production of foie gras, I love the flavor and never keep me from ordering it. MW was served a Duck Foie Gras Terrine with a Date and Marcona Almond Napoleon, Baby Turnips and Spinach.

I received a Mosaic of Capon, Foie Gras and Celery Root with Pickled Daikon, Mâche Salad and Pear Confit. While I enjoyed the aesthetics of both preparations, I was underwhelmed by their flavor. MW's terrine when paired with the date and almond napoleon was good but found my dish lacking enough of the foie gras that I expected.

Next was a duo of cold seafood preparations. MW had a Meyer Lemon Royale with Sea Urchin, North Star Caviar, Barron Point Oyster and a Finger Lime Tapioca Vinaigrette.

I ate a Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad with Celery, Walnut Oil and Granny Smith Sauce. The execution of these dishes were far superior to our first course. The briny flavors from MW's oyster, sea urchin and caviar melded harmoniously with the royale with the tapioca vinaigrette providing a nice textural contrast and a touch of acidity. The sweetness of my crab was enhanced by its pairing with granny smith apple; a paper-thin wrapper of apple enveloped the crab and was visually stunning.

Next, MW was served a Hazelnut Crusted Maine Sea Scallop with a Morel Fricassée, Swiss Chard, Miner's Lettuce and a Green Peppercorn Sauce.

I had an Artichoke Raviolini in Saffron Sauce with Littleneck Clams, Squid, Cuttlefish and an Anise Hyssop Salad. I hesitate to use the word "umami" but the combination of the sweet scallop and the earthy morels was the most appropriate adjective. The ravolini were well cooked and were a great match with the sweetness of the seafood and artichoke.

For the fish portion of the meal MW enjoyed a Slow Baked Artic Char with Sweet Maine Shrimp, Cipollini Onion Marmalade, Glazed Salsify and a Dijon Mustard Chicken Jus.

I was given the Black Sea Bass with Syrah Sauce, Leek Potato "Parmentier," and Roasted and Tempura Celery. In our opinion these were the best two dishes of the entire meal; each fish was perfectly cooked, rivaling the quality at a fellow three-star Michelin restaurant, Le Bernardin. The slow baked artic char was incredibly moist and I was impressed at how well the strong mustard jus paired with the delicate fish. The syrah sauce that was poured tableside on the black sea bass was a bold sauce next to the "meatier" of the two fishes but enhanced, instead of overpowering its flavor.

The final savory course featured lamb and wagyu beef. MW was served the Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Loin with Braised Radicchio Tardivo, Fennel Confit, Crispy Polenta and Sicilian Olives.

I had the Duo of Wagyu Beef: a Red Wine Braised Short Rib with Porcini Marmalade and a Seared Tenderloin with Chestnut-Potato Gnocchi and Swiss Chard. Although MW isn't crazy about lamb, even she thought it was tender and lacked the gaminess that she finds off-putting. The short rib was pure decadence. A cube of beefy nirvana that just fell apart, the short rib overshadowed the tenderloin, which lacked any flavor characteristic that would make you aware that you were eating wagyu beef versus any other.

We decided to supplement a cheese course before our dessert course in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Napa where we'll be having a private cheese tasting with John Raymond, owner of Raymond Cheesemongers. Our waiter choose five different cheeses progressing from a mild triple cream cow's cheese to a pungent Roquefort. Though the names escape me I do remember we had three cow's milk cheese (a Triple Cream Brie, Comté, and another that tasted like grass) and two sheep's milk cheese (Roquefort and a Valence). Overall, the cheeses provided a nice cross-section of Daniel's excellent selection and proved a worthwhile supplement.

For our dessert course MW was given a Coconut Lemongrass Soup with a Mango-Thai Basil Gelée with Poached Pineapple and a Coconut Rum Sorbet.

I had a Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant with a Liquid Caramel center, Fleur de Del and Milk Sorbet. Before our meal I had read that pastry chef Dominique Ansel's creation were anything but disappointing. I normally find the dessert course the weakest in a tasting menu but was very impressed with our offerings. We enjoyed the Southeast Asian flavor profiles in MW's dessert and thought the addition of the thai basil was refreshing and a nice alternative to the ubiquitous mint. The liquid caramel sauce hidden in the center of the coulant was seasoned with fleur de sel and was an excellent pairing of sweet and savory for a dessert.

Satisfied after a great meal we would have been happy had our evening ended there. Instead we were given a tray of six different Petits Fours.

Before we finished the petits fours our server came straight from the kitchen with a folded napkin containing a batch of Daniel's signature, Madeleine Cookies. These cookies still hot from the oven were light and slightly sweet; and would be a perfect compliment to a cup of coffee or tea.

Finally, our meal ended after we were presented with a tray of four assorted chocolates (all made in-house). For the sake of this blog we sampled one of each: Dark Chocolate, Sesame, Grand Marnier and Hazelnut. The chocolates rivaled any truffles I've had; yet another example of Boulud's willingness to pull out all the stops for the satisfaction of his customers and a sure sign of a three-starred Michelin restaurant.

Bill paid for, we were asked if we would like to take a peek into the kitchen. Though not as large as the kitchen at Per Se it was extremely organized and efficient, like a well-oiled machine. But the highlight of the entire meal wasn't any of the lavish dishes or the luxurious details that make you feel as though you are royalty (like a stool for MW's purse); instead it was the chance to meet Daniel Boulud himself. Rather than movie stars or television personalities, my deities are athletes, musicians and chefs. So you can imagine my excitement when Daniel stopped by our table and chatted with us for a minute or so; it was my equivalent of a teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber. As we left the restaurant we were given a copy of the tasting menu and as we retrieved our coats we had gone from admiring foodies to meeting the chef himself; an experience with Daniel come full circle.

60 East 65st Street
New York, NY 10065
(212) 288-0033

To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Daniel on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. a fine dish in a fine restaurant.. another a good resto added on my list. Thanks