Monday, April 20, 2015

Dinner at Daniel - Hallelujah

I had a really special meal recently and I couldn’t help thinking of that “Daniel, roll the boat ashore, hallelujah” song. Well, the boat part had nothing to do with anything, but the dinner was worth quite a few hallelujahs. 

We went to the palatial Daniel in New York, Daniel Boulud’s fabulous sanctuary of culinary excellence. I knew it would be good, but I had no idea how good. We entered a gilded doorway into a luxurious, softly lit, elegant space. As we descended the stairs into a large lobby-like area, no fewer than 5 people greeted us at every step.

We continued towards the dining room. Stationed in the middle of the landing was a gleaming, hugely impressive duck press. The host who accompanied us on that part of the journey (all 25 feet of it) was delighted that I stopped to admire it. He said it wasn’t just for show, they actually use it. I can only imagine the poor kid whose job it is to polish it to perfection after every use.

We entered the main part of the dining room after going down an additional few gentle steps and were guided (thoughtfully) to our table. (This staff would be awesome leading a safari or something that would really test their obvious navigational skills.)
We were meeting four other folks for dinner. The guest of honor (celebrating a huge company anniversary) and her husband were already there. The Maitre D’ was extremely patient as we (well, mostly I!) discussed seating arrangements. We finally got settled and got down to ordering cocktails. Oh wait, not before another suited gentleman (there were gentleladies as well) arrived with a STOOL for my handbag. No, it wasn’t tufted, but still. That was actually delightful, because I had just bought it the week before in London. THAT trip I will tell you about another time, but here’s a sneak peak.

My new bag...(not leather)  :-)


Parliament from The London Eye:

Back to Daniel, I asked about a blood orange martini (which was not on the menu). Our waiter was charming as he explained that one was actually in development, but not ready yet. I guess perfection takes time. I had what was probably one of the best cosmos I’ve ever had. Supercold, not too sweet, but not too boozy either. Perfectly balanced. Bien sur.  

Our menus were presented. H(usband) and I (but really I) decided to order 3 dishes each from the four course prix fixe menu (the 4th course was dessert) and split everything down the middle. That way we could taste SIX dishes instead of 3. While we were considering our choices, a most delightful thing happened. I looked over at the table next to us and discovered that my cousins B and W were at Daniel that very same night! They came over and we had a lovely mini-reunion before we got down to the business of the menu.

I had camera issues, so these pictures in no way do justice to the beauty of what was presented to us. Also I took no notes, which was a big mistake. I’ve captioned what I remember, but our menu was a bit different than the website menu. Every dish featured a protein surrounded by the most delicious little bites of complementary garnishes.

Amuse Bouche
Foie Gras Mosaic Appetizer

This was exciting! From across the room (hence the even more terrible picture) we saw Daniel himself! I was practically jumping out of my seat to say hi. I told every restaurant employee that came near us that it would be amazing if he could come over. He lingered at this one table forEVER and then vanished... Cousin W told me (she was sitting closer) that he was chatting with two Italian chefs and so, of course, I understood that they probably had a lot to talk about. 

I think what impressed me the most was that both the food AND the service were exceptional. One might think that in such a stunning place with such impeccable service, you might not notice if the dishes were a little lacking, but Daniel (the restaurant) is certainly not resting on its laurels. I was amazed at how modern everything was. The menu was fresh and interesting and innovative. And the service was perfect, but not stuffy or off-putting. It was both professional and warm. They seriously seemed happy to see us and that's a welcome feeling no matter how many zeroes are at the end of a bill.

There's so much pushback against celebrity chefs who open loads of restaurants and appear frequently on food television. I imagine a lot of chefs initially increase their exposure to give publicity to long struggled-for restaurants...and then other opportunities present themselves. I don't know if people think Daniel Boulud has too many irons in the fire, but I prefer to look at these situations individually. If I like Alex Guarnaschelli on Chopped, for example, I don't think of it as diluting her abilities as executive chef at Butter. I think of it as her bringing her experience to bear when judging someone cooking with geoduck and candied apples.

I'm not sure how we could have had a better experience at Daniel. Perfection is a hard standard to achieve, but, with the exception not having the blood orange martini, nothing went wrong. The food was marvelous and I felt cosseted all night long in a total cocoon of comfort and contentment.
Now this is weird. A few days ago, I turned on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. (He's another chef who has certainly spread his wings.) From the listings, I thought I would be watching him travel to Jerusalem. But it was actually Tony traveling to Lyon, the home of classic French cuisine and, more particularly, the home of Daniel Boulud! Bourdain was looking into Daniel Boulud’s roots and early cooking life. It brought even more information to light on just why everything was so good at Daniel. Bourdain observed that many top tier chefs of France started out on family farms, which gave them a real appreciation and respect for their basic ingredients.

AND we learned that many of these French chefs from Paul Bocuse's generation were under the tutelage of the extremely tough and unrelenting chef, Eugénie Brazier. YES, a woman!!! She was the first chef to gain SIX Michelin stars at the same time for two restaurants.

But I digress. Looking into Chef Boulud’s background helped me understand just a bit more where his culinary artistry comes from. And if he wants to express that with a few more restaurants, that’s okay with me.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

This is on my list of must-try restaurants. I remember trying to eat here for my birthday. I tried to book it 5 days in advance through the website. I think I heard it laugh at me. I don't know how it tasted, but it all looked fabulous. Well, I have 5 years until my next landmark birthday, so if I make the rez now, maybe I'll get a table.

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
It really was amazing. And next time I'll take bite by bite notes on every last mouthful!

About reservations, I feel that way about The French Laundry. I've kind of given up...