Culinaring Through NYC: Day 7: When the Dress is Prettier than the Person
By reputation, Daniel is Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant, which holds three Michelin Stars (one of five in NYC) and four NYT stars (one of seven). A French prodigy born near Lyon, Boulud’s experience in the kitchen is vast and accomplished to say the least. (picture courtesy of NY Eatery)
One of Martha Stewart’s favorite restaurants is Daniel, and that fact alone should unleash a flood of ideas on what kind of place this is. As Martha would have it, Daniel is a place where servers wait to pull out your chair after you’ve gone to the bathroom, where every woman’s purse gets its own stool and where butter dishes are replaced so quickly and quietly you’d think a ninja was responsible for it. For every seat, there’s a server, and plates are put down in perfect synchronization. Thus Daniel is a broadway show with the most beautiful of sets and costume design. What, though, of the show’s plot and characters?
The lighting in Daniel is dim, and so pictures are on the lame side (picture of the amuse, which was polite and sunchoke-themed, did not turn out).
hot foie gras, apples
I’ve gladly embraced the lesson — one that NYC has taught me — that I have so much to learn about food. At many of NYC’s best, I have had little idea of what ingredients were at play or what techniques were used. I’ve had to rely on my senses, my palette alone. As with this first appetizer, foie gras and apples were not the only ingredients but it’s all I could see. By now you should be aware of my foie gras fetish and so it shouldn’t surprise you that this was high-quality foie gras I’d eat any day. That said, the other ingredients on the plate had little relevance in elevating this dish to new heights, like a beautiful girl who doesn’t know how to dress.
florida frog legs and Jerusalem artichoke soup
This was my first time with frog legs and to say that it tasted like chicken would be an insult to every toad on the planet. The meat was softer and lighter than chicken and in every way possible so much better. The soup, however, was astoundingly boring. Of course this was a nice soup that tasted fine, but I wasn’t paying $105 for a fine soup. I wanted fireworks and tears and bursts of laughter, and this soup put me to sleep. The one redeeming factor this soup had was the silky, creamy aftertaste that stayed until the entree course.
elysian fields lamb loin, confit cipollini onions, sweet garlic coulis, crispy shoulder craqeulins, parmesan-scallion dressing
There’s that smile I was looking for. This was lamb at its finest hour, the meat as tender as Wagyu. Somehow the parmesan-scallion dressing did not complement the lamb but became a part of it. The onions and craqeulins, however, were superfluous sides that did little more than look pretty.
grilled yellowfin tuna, red-wine peppered shallots, parsnip, roasted salsify, marchand de vin butter.
The menu describes a multi-faceted dish, but in actuality the tuna was a one-star experience, which was the perfectly grilled tuna. My memory of the dish is vague, but that’s because the seasonings were near non-existant. But presentation wise, it was a pretty dish. Martha would be happy.
duo of vermont quail, bacon-wrapped breast, glazed celery leg confit, potato gnocchi, truffle sauce
A baffling presentation that was more complex than the dish itself. Like the soup the quail was a nice dish, but where was the pop? The sparkle? Nowhere to be seen.
roasted black sea bass, syrah sauce, stuffed leeks, potato confit, caramelized cipollini (comment on this post if you know other names for sea bass)
At a restaurant like Daniel, top-of-the-line ingredients are assumed to be the norm and this sea bass was no different. The fish was so fresh I’d believe it if the server had told me the dish was killed-to-order. But also at a restaurant like Daniel, I want more than that and that’s where the syrah sauce went that extra step. First there was the strong yet equally subtle butter before ending on a flash of red wine. A perfect sauce for the perfect fish.
warm guanaja chocolate coulant, liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet
Like me, it’s possible you don’t understand half of what this dish is, but the menu writing is a veil for a glorified chocolate souffle. The cake itself was beautiful but there was nothing here I couldn’t replicate at home, save the gold leaf on top.
honey crisp apple confit, cinnamon sable, sparkling apple cider sorbet – a dense, apple delight
orange and huckleberry vacherin, naval orange compote, meringue creme chantilly – It’s a spaceship! This would be a perfect, summer dish because of the strong tart flavor from the raspberry. After a heavy meal, fruit is often the best way to end.
caramelized hazelnut sable, dulche de leche cream, caraibe chocolate mousse, horchata ice cream – again, I have no idea what this description means but I can tell you this is one, dense dessert that’s difficult to finish. It’s a lot of thick hazelnut mousse.
coconut sphere with vanilla infused pineapple, basil seeds, cherimoya sorbet – my favorite dessert of the night. Between the texture contrasts to the light coconut meringue to the sweet pineapple, the dessert was multi-dimensional.
petit fours: chocolate truffles (basil, cinnamon, raspberry, lemon)
more gifts from the kitchen
So here’s the deal. Daniel was a good time of a restaurant. It was great in fact but mostly because the dining room was gorgeous and the service was sharp, attentive and perfectly-timed. The food, though, was disappointing. With the exception of the desserts which demonstrated vast amounts of effort and creativity, the rest was under-seasoned, over-priced and short on spark.
The food was fussier than it was tasty and begs the question if all ingredients must be molded into obtuse shapes. If Daniel is going to serve food as pretty as an exhibit at the MOMA, there must be substance backing the look, and tonight the stars just didn’t match up.
Upper East Side
60 E 65th St
New York, NY 10065