Archive for the Daniel (NYC) Category

Daniel

Posted in Daniel (NYC) on December 12, 2008 by jaydel818

Daniel
60 East 65th Street
New York, New York 10065
212.288.0033
http://danielnyc.com/daniel/

5 Second Summary:

Price Range- Three-course price fixe dinner $105, with wine pairings $60 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Elegant (jackets required)
Cuisine- Contemporary French/American
Hits- Incredible service, focus on hospitality
Misses- Little worth mentioning

My father is the type of man who asks for things like orthopedic shoes for his birthday, so when his 60th rolled around, my brother, sister, and I knew we were on our own in terms of finding a way to make it special for him.  Enter Food TV.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité
The only thing my father loves more than shoes that facilitate post-hip-replacement perambulation is food.  Good food.  From his well-worn couch spot, where many happy hours are spent watching food programming, he has often extolled the virtues of all-star chef Daniel Boulud, who became one of the world’s preeminent restauranteurs despite humble beginnings on his family’s Lyons farmhouse.
“He remembers  going to fancy restaurants with his family and having people look down their noses,” my father -the egalitarian- recounts proudly, as if Boulud’s successes were his own.  “He didn’t want anyone to feel that way in his restaurants.”
So it was a no-brainer.
Holding off on the orthopedic shoes until Christmas, we made reservations for Dad’s 60th at Daniel’s eponymous flagship restaurant.
Hospitalité… and Warm Spirits on a Cold Night
“There are something like 130 seats… and 130 staff members!” Dad boasted, incredulous.  “The same number of people working as eating! Can you imagine?”
From the moment this dinner was conceptualized, the Daniel staff exuded accommodating hospitality: from menu-planning for our large party to dealing with a variety of eclectic food allergies and dietary restrictions, nothing was a problem.
On the evening of Dad’s dinner, I was the first to arrive.  Deciding to duck into the powder room to fix my lipstick while waiting for the rest of our party, I floundered for a moment in the foyer unsure where to go.
“Right through those doors,” a suited employee read my mind.  “There’s a single restroom, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Um.  It was.  And if this was any indicator of how the rest of the night would go, I was already pleased with the choice.
My next stop was a beautifully back-lit bar, where I ordered a “Spherification: Strawberry and Pearls.”  This molecular gastronomy cocktail is an elaborate process of combining wild strawberry and Cointreau at various temperatures and with various silver apparatus to produce “Cointreau caviar.”  The caviar pearls are placed in a white bowl with an accompanying spoon.  On the side is a pink “margarita” made from wild strawberry, tequila, and Cointreau.  The traditional drink and its unusual accompaniment are served on a flawless white tray… all for approximately the same price as parking your car in a New York City garage.
Spherification: Strawberry and Pearls Cocktail
When my family came in, we took turns ordering and sipping each other’s delectable cocktails.  My sister had a champagne mojito, while her boyfriend ordered “The Revolutionary,” a smooth-swallowing bourbon with edges rounded by white creme de menthe, white creme de cacao, and absinthe.  My boyfriend Rich, of Peruvian descent, ordered “Cara Cara Pisco,” which combined pisco (a normally horrid tasting Peruvian moonshine) with lemon thyme syrup and cara cara orange juice and topped with sweet egg white meringue.  Pisco normally contorts my face into ugly shapes, but this cocktail didn’t have the sharp, bitter taste I expected.

Dad drinking Pisco sour.
We were thoroughly enjoying the delicate olive “breadsticks” shaped into arcing figure eights when a host led us from the lounge to our table.  We were instructed to leave our cocktails at the bar, as they would be carried over to our table for us.  Each lady’s chair was held as she sat, and the gentlemen followed suit.  Not only were they promptly delivered, but each was placed precisely in front of the correct person, followed by menus that had been personalized with the occasion and date on the verso page.  Each dish was described in painstaking detail, and our every question was patiently answered.
Elegant bar food
Dad leaned over and giggled.  “When we first walked in here, I felt like the Clampetts, but they really make you feel like you belong.”
Dad was right.  While we weren’t exactly Green Acres material, we weren’t quite the John Jacob Astors either.  Like most of you reading, my family rests somewhere in between, but we were made to feel like this restaurant was made for us… and we belonged here.
C’est Magnifique!
Our first taste of Daniel arrived in the form of a canape trio served in matching ramekins suspended in elevated wire.  A small militia of impeccably suited waiters placed each amuse bouche tray in front of each of the ladies at the exact same moment, followed by a similar process for the men.  The first bite was shrimp with tiny broccoli florets and pine nuts, the second a balsamic broccoli mousse, and the third- tender smoked cod with broccoli slivers.
Our appetizer course followed with the same grandeur.  My tender ravioli was filled with creamy kabocha squash (nary a lump to be found!) and balanced with sage, brussel sprout, earthy black trumpet mushrooms, and pork belly.  My boyfriend’s blood orange Nantucket Bay scallop ceviche was served with Winter Point oysters and radishes.  My brother’s girlfriend, a vegetarian, ordered a special gnocchi dish, which we all agreed were the lightest, softest little dumpling pillows we’d ever seen executed.
The plates were cleared and placed with precision, and after our entrees had been presented and explained, we shared fits of laughter at the stern head waiter’s visible irritation when a less experienced colleague placed one of the plates at the incorrect right angle.  As he announced each item on the plate in clockwise order, he paused, perceptibly horrified (but still poised), to shift the plate 90 degrees.  We spent the better part of a half hour comically and collectively imagining the various forms of water torture this poor waiter would later undergo for so “flagrant” a transgression.
My duo of dry-aged black Angus beef was composed of (in clockwise order, of course) a medium-rare seared rib eye; fragrant, nutty black trumpet mushrooms; fork-tender red wine braised short ribs on  a thin bed of creamed sunchoke; and a creamy potato croquette in a light hazelnut crust.  The rib eye was prepared au jus and perfectly seasoned to bring out the meat’s natural flavors.  Each piece of the dish balanced nicely with the plate as a whole.
Duo of dry-aged black Angus
Rich’s pan-roasted halibut was tender with a pine-nut grape chutney and plated with alternating celery cubes topped with celery mousse.  Alternately, my brother ordered a lovely sea bass topped with Syrrah sauce and plated with leeks royale and pommes lyonnaise.
Pan-roasted halibut

Voila!

Each gently full and praising the meal, dessert put us over the top.  Never one to resist the lures of hazelnut, one of my favorite flavors, I had the hazelnut mousse that filled an upright Gianduja milk chocolate shell (think of a vertical cannoli) with salted caramel ice cream.  The dish’s success was intricate and, I think, largely due to the salt.  The theme of the dish was clear creaminess, and the salt cut the potential over-sweetness of the caramel in order to downplay it and -as such- accentuate the creaminess that texturally accompanied the mousse.  It was simply too much to finish.

Other after-dinner stars included Mom’s star-anise roasted pears with a cakey gingerbread biscuit and candied pecan ice cream.  My sister’s boyfriend’s dacquoise had rich layers of Tainori chocolate and lemon curd with the whimsical and texturally innovative addition of crisped rice topping.  It was served with dark chocolate ice cream, and the ice creams often stole the show.
Without undue fanfare (think TGI Friday’s drill-sergeant style birthday song), the head waiter presented my father with a special birthday plate.  Scrawled in elegant hand on the plate in chocolate were the words “Happy Birthday Louis,” and a cube of candied ginger held a single candle.  The dish was an apple rosemary tart topped with a paper-thin apple wafer, ginger ice cream, and soft, moist pinches of goat cheese.

Dad’s birthday dessert plate
Just when we thought another bite impossible, the waiters brought baskets of light, fluffy madeleines wrapped in linen napkins and silver trays of delicate petit fours.

Baskets of madeleines and trays of petit fours

Extrémité
When all was said and done, the dinner cost roughly a mortgage payment, but it was worth every penny.  The surprising part? Although the food was incredible, it was really the service and ambience that made the meal.  The key was unobtrusiveness.  Yes, the old-style French service included attention to every detail, but we never felt the waiters’ presence. They glided around our table and intuitively knew that plates needed to be cleared, crumbs removed, water glasses refilled, warm, crusty olive bread proffered.
Yet, somehow, they did so with the invisible magic of Shakespearean fairies, the sneaky stuff of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, because things appeared and disappeared without us really being aware of how it happened.  Keep in mind, ours is a family with a long tradition of entertaining ourselves between public dining courses with crayon drawing-contests on paper place mats.  We’re a family that holds records for “undoing” in mere minutes food that had taken hours to prepare.  The service timed each course so that our entire meal lasted nearly four hours, so that the conversation flowed without pause, so that each person left the table just pleasantly full, so that my father had a spectacular birthday.
“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Dad glowed.  Much better than orthopedic shoes.
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