Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Wonderful, Exquisite Dinner at Daniel (food)

In celebration of our second consecutive regular season triumph in the ICBL (we won by only half a board and were second in the playoff), our friend and teammate DC took the team out to Daniel just as he had last year. It was a truly wonderful experience all around that improved significantly on our dinner last year, and was perfect for our celebratory mood.

Accomodative service and FOH:

We are not the easiest of diners to deal with. It all started when I called two weeks after making the initial reservation to give them some notes on dietary restrictions. It turns out that someone had cancelled our reservation! But they still had record of it and reinstated the reservation without a problem. Then on the night of the dinner, one of our teammates came down with a stomach thing and couldn't make it. The receptionist was quite gracious when I called three hours before the meal to inform them that we would only be 3 instead of 4. They were also gracious when I came back the next day for a hard copy of our menu.

Our server/captain Yannick was friendly and engaging, yet professional and didn't hover. He deftly guided us through the menu options that would work with the dietary restrictions of my friends, and encouraged us to take a tour of the kitchen.


A beautiful room that conveyed warmth but was definitely busy. Lovely chandeliers provided enough light to see and take photos, but certainly not so bright that one would consider it unromantic.


From my visit last year, it was clear that the execution was top-notch, but there was a certain wow factor that was missing. I discovered the wow factor by ordering from the prix fixe and specials menu. While the tasting menu at Daniel does offer two choices for each course, I find that both of the choices are often too "safe" for my taste. Daniel is one of the few top end restaurants that have daily specials, and adding one or two courses from the specials to the prix fixe is a wonderful way to go. Both my teammates ended up with a starter, two mains, and dessert, while I went with three appetizers, a main, and dessert.

As we were celebrating, we started with this amazing champagne. While I'm usually not a champagne guy, this was just delicious.

Our amuse for the evening was a trio of beet. On the right was cured fluke with beet, potato gaufrette, and chive. In the middle was a beet puree with cardamom. On the left was cured beet with octopus. My favorite was the beet puree with a strong cardamom flavor.

Bread service included raisin walnut, garlic focaccia, mini baguette, sourdough, butter and sea salt roll, and 3 seed. While I did not try all of them, my favorite was the garlic focaccia, with whole cloves of garlic still in the bread.

CHILLED CAULIFLOWER VELOUTE with kataifi crusted blue prawns, romanesco, and cilantro cream. While I did not order this, I had some of the blue prawns and they were flavorful and sweet. The prawns were cooked to a perfect, just barely done texture that went beautifully with the crispy kataifi crust.

TAI SNAPPER CEVICHE with cucumber vinaigrette, tapioca pearls, shaved radishes, sea urchin, and northern lights caviar.

CRISPY SCOTTISH LANGOUSTINES with old Chatham yogurt, minted cucumber, lime gremolata. While the langoustine pieces were full of umami and covered in crispy greaseless fried dough, the star of the show for me was the combination of yogurt, cucumber, and gremolata. Everything went well together and complemented the langoustine flavor. If I could change one thing with this dish, it would be to have less of the crispy phyllo, making it easier to fit everything in one bite, including the langoustine, minted cucumber strands, and sauce.

WATERCRESS VELOUTE with Louisiana crayfish, chicken liver royale, crispy cockscomb, and mousseron mushrooms. Definitely not a dish that one would classify as "safe". A wonderful bounty of treasures awaiting a bath of watercress veloute.

The watercress veloute was assertive with a slight creamy finish. Every spoonful was delightfully highlighted by the sweetness, richness, and earthiness of the ingredients dotted along the plate. Every bite featured a wonderful contrast in textures.

SAUTEED DUCK FOIE GRAS with brown Turkish figs, confit fennel, young mesclun. My final appetizer featured a beautifully cooked piece of foie gras. Devoid of excess grease on the plate, yet as rich and bursting with fatty goodness in the mouth as one would expect. The sweetness of the figs worked well with the foie gras, but I would have preferred more textural components to the dish.

GRILLED ALASKAN KING SALMON with chanterelle, wilted spinach, spring garlic, green peppercorn sauce. One of the other advantages to the prix fixe versus a tasting menu is the sizeable portions.

YELLOWFIN TUNA "A LA PLANCHA". My friend wanted to have the yellowtail, but it was determined that he could not have the accompaniments due to his dietary restrictions. So they brought the beautifully cooked tuna and drizzled some vintage olive oil over it.

Sweet pepper ragout with marinated anchovies, chickpea panisse, mustard salad, iberico ham. A wonderful mix of sweet and savory, with umami galore. I could easily see how this would go well with the tuna.

ROASTED BLACK SEA BASS with syrah sauce, stuffed leeks, potato confit, and caramelized cipollini. For their second main course, both friends chose this signature dish that always seems to be on the menu at Daniel.

Here's the wow factor. My main course, carefully baked in clay, arrived atop burning fennel sticks that released a wonderful aroma.

Our server carefully removing the meat from the clay shell and plating my dish.

DUO OF FOUR STORY HILL FARM SQUAB. BREAST baked in clay with English pea fricassee. STUFFED LEGS with glazed spring onion, radish, minted jus. Just perfect. Tender, perfectly cooked breast, concentrated in flavor. With its own juices still flowing in each bite in addition to the jus. The stuffed legs were little bites bursting with flavor and the fried shell provided a welcome crunchy texture to the plate. I often judge composed meat dishes based on the accompanying vegetables, and these were also wonderful. The English peas, spring onion, and radish brought the freshness of Spring while retaining an earthiness that brought the dish together as a whole.

While I've had squab many many times in my life, most of the time it's been with Chinese preparations. Unfortunately, many Chinese preparations tend to overcook certain meats. So it was especially wonderful for me to enjoy squab breast cooked to this perfect color and tenderness.

CARAMELIZED HAZELNUT SABLE with dulce de leche cream, caraibe chocolate mousse, horchata ice cream. I like hazelnut so I found this satisfying, but I thought the horchata ice cream could have been stronger in flavor. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of textures on the plate.

SPICE POACHED CHERRIES with pistachio feuilletine and mascarpone-brandied cherry ice cream.

BLACKBERRY AND FROMAGE BLANC VACHERIN with Swiss meringue and creme Chantilly.

While I was perusing the dessert menu, I was intrigued by an acacia-honey ice cream. I asked if I could have a taste, and they were gracious enough to bring a scoop for each of us. It was absolute delicious, with creamy notes finished off by a very clean-tasting honey flavor. Sometimes honey ice cream can be cloying, but this was not the case here. As we admired the honey ice cream, it was explained to us that the honey comes from a beekeeper in Pennsylvania who keeps eight hives.

MIGNARDISES An assortment that was glanced over as we focused on the...

FRESHLY BAKED MADELEINES. So good we asked for seconds. Warm, soft, and comforting, highlighted by a touch of lemon flavor.

ASSORTED CHOCOLATES We had some of these, but were still focused on the madeleines. I don't think these are made in-house.

After this wonderful meal, we made our way to the kitchen for a quick tour. It wasn't bustling, but things were still going on. Chef Boulud had been greeting some guests in the dining room earlier in the evening, but had left by the time we finished our meal. Nevertheless, executive chef Jean Francois Bruel was a gracious host, explaining and showing to us the dried fennel stalks that they used to create the wonderful smoke that accompanied my squab dish.

An assortment of spice jars behind the main doors of the kitchen.

A monitor observing the dining room through video cameras. I'd read about this and supposedly this helps them anticipate and pace the timing of the courses.

A little Buddha statue in between two duck presses. Pressed duck is available with advanced notice. Even more interesting is the window above the duck presses. It's the window of their "skybox", a private dining room for four overlooking the kitchen and right next to Boulud's personal office.

Overall, it was an exquisite meal in every aspect, and I finally found the wow factor I was looking for. I want to try dining in the skybox sometime in the future. Maybe if we win three in a row? Many thanks to DC for making the night possible, and many thanks to my teammates for playing hard throughout the season.

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