Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dinner at Daniel (food)

In celebration of our inter-club bridge win, our team went to Daniel for a nice meal. Since this was more about enjoying a nice meal with my teammates, I was not too focused on taking pictures and writing down notes about the food. Flash was not allowed.

Before I get to the food, I want to discuss my experience and my feelings about the restaurant and other comparable places. When I asked our server which menu option would lead to "maximum culinary delight", I was surprised that he recommended the 6 course tasting menu of set dishes rather than the 8 course chef's tasting which would have been based more on the whim of the chef. We went with his recommendation, and while the food was terrific and I certainly respect the technique and the execution, there was no wow factor.

I feel that this is true of a few restaurants in NYC that are considered among the elite. When I went to Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, they welcomed the thought of the meal as an event. However, I've also been to Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, and now Daniel, and I don't get that feeling at all from these places. Rather, it feels like their aim is to be sort of a "canteen to the rich". If the money doesn't matter or you just want to eat while discussing some business, those are the places to go. This leads to service that I feel is less grand, less friendly and perhaps even a little snooty (Le Bernardin).

This is definitely an NYC thing. Places like Le Cirque and the Four Seasons restaurant also served as canteens to the rich and the place for power lunches and dinners. However, that is not me, and when I pay this amount of money for a meal, I want an experience.

That's not to say the food at Daniel wasn't terrific. I put it ahead of Jean Georges and Le Bernardin as a place that I'm more likely to revisit. I respect the techniques and the execution. The service was far from perfect, but still very good. Also, one of my problems with the meal was probably my own fault. With options for every course of the meal, I always chose the item that sounded the most interesting or tasty, which unfortunately led to a meal filled with all of the heavier, heartier choices. This was at least better than Jean Georges where I felt there were no hearty, filling options on its tasting menu.

Let's get to the food, since everyone prefers looking at pictures.

TRIO OF WATERCRESS: smoked sablefish, mousseline with tomato confit, and poached shrimp salad. Nice start of flavors. My favorite was the mousseline with tomato confit. I thought that went best with the watercress flavor.

BREAD BASKET: My favorites were the garlic parmesan roll, the sourdough slice (they had sourdough rolls as well), and the baguette.

MOSAIC OF LOLA DUCK, PORCINI AND RED WINE GELEE with shallot confit and rapeseed vinaigrette. A pretty plate of duck preparations that worked well as a starter course.

Due to a misunderstanding, one of my teammates ordered a piece of sauteed duck foie gras that he did not want. Bonus for me. I loved the stuff. However, I would have preferred it if there was more stuff accompanying it.

MEYER LEMON ROYALE WITH SEA URCHIN and North Star caviar, Barron Point oyster, finger lime, tapioca vinaigrette. I was completely confused by this dish. I had no idea which went with what, and what kind of tastes and textures were intended to be brought out by this dish. I'm still not sure what the star of this dish was. The lemon? The sea urchin flavor was not very strong.

ARTICHOKE RAVIOLINI IN SAFFRON SAUCE with littleneck clams, squid, cuttlefish, and anise hyssop salad. This was my favorite dish of the night. Great flavors, great textures, and everything in balance.

GRILLED YELLOWFIN TUNA WITH VADOUVAN and Hawaiian hearts of palm, fennel confit, basil salad. This was my fault. I tried to go lighter with this dish but probably would have enjoyed the black bass option instead. The Vadouvan spices (think curry) were really nice, and the accompanying hearts of palm and salad went well with that flavor, but yellowfin tuna just doesn't do it for me.

One of my teammates supplemented the dover sole special for his meat course and graciously shared a piece with me. This was fantastic. The fish was cooked perfectly and the green sauce and fiddlehead fern went terrifically with it. My favorite single item of the night.

DUO OF BEEF: Black Angus short ribs with quinoa, spring onion confit in red wine, alongside Wagyu tenderloin with chanterelles, green asparagus, and tellicherry pepper jus. This tasted fine, but red wine braised short rib is not particularly special. I was disappointed with the vegetables accompanying this dish, since I've mentioned before that I consider the vegetables to be a huge component of a composed beef dish.

WARM GUANAJA CHOCOLATE COULANT with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet. The liquid caramel inside was a terrific touch because it kept the dessert from being an overload of chocolate.

Assorted petit fours. I had the macaron, but don't even remember what anything was.

Assorted chocolates and madeleines. We loved the fresh madeleines and asked for seconds which we devoured.

Everything being said, it was a terrific meal. We had a great time eating, drinking, and chatting. We got there shortly after 8:30pm and closed the place up well after midnight. However, I don't know that I would go out of my way to make a reservation and spend that kind of money. Perhaps the 8 course chef's menu would have been more enlightening, but if that were the case I don't know why the server didn't recommend it.


TheDegustationAsian said...

Enjoyed the post. I agree with your experience at Daniel, while the food was good, I didn't find it mind-blowing, something I expect with restaurants with 3-Michelin stars.

In addition, I wholeheartedly agree with your perception of their staff. I too, had a very subpar experience at Le Bernardin and felt it was ultra stuffy, while I thoroughly enjoyed my meals at Eleven Madison Park and Per Se.

The Pretender said...

In talking with Will, the GM of Eleven Madison Park, he also feels that Eleven Madison Park and Per Se are more similar, while Jean Georges, Daniel, and Le Bernardin are a different group.

Michelin has been horrible outside of Europe. Its US and Hong Kong guides are not to be trusted in my opinion.