Note: Danube closed on August 2, 2008. It re-opened in October as Secession, a French brasserie with Italian and Austrian influences. The pseudo-Klimt décor remained in place, but with a more casual vibe. Secession closed in May 2009 after receiving scathing reviews. The space is supposed to re-open as a Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke.
I visited Danube for the second time last night. (An account of my first visit is here.) It remains a wonderful restaurant for a special occasion. The Klimt-inspired décor is a gem, although it occurred to me that curtains in the main dining room would be an improvement. It almost spoils the atmosphere to look out the windows and see gloomy Hudson Street outside.
Although Danube is a beautiful room—arguably one of the city’s nicest (it shares the top Zagat rating of 28 for décor)—it is not a large space. As at many New York restaurants, you could easily reach out and touch your neighbors at adjoining tables. Luckily, the room is not loud. I don’t know if it’s because diners are speaking in hushed tones, or because the heavy carpeting and tapestries absorb the sound.
There are three à la carte menus at Danube: Austrian, Modern Eclectic, and the Chef’s Market Choice. Each has two or three appetizers and anywhere between two and five main courses. You are not required to order your entire meal from the same menu. Appetizers are $9-19, but most are under $15. Mains are $26-35.
I should note that Danube has what they describe as a “tasting menu” at $85 ($155 with paired wines), but it is actually a four-course prix fixe (appetizer, fish, meat, dessert), with two or three options for each course. Anyhow, that’s not what we had on this occasion.
It is remarkable that you can have a very respectable meal at this fine restaurant for $35 total (before tax, tip, and beverages), if you order at the bottom end of the appetizers and entrées. Finding an inexpensive wine at Danube is more of a challenge, as nearly all of the selections on the long list are over $60. We found a very respectable burgundy right at $60. I thought the staff left me to struggle over the decision for rather a long time. At a restaurant of this calibre, a sommelier should come over without being asked.
The wonderful amuse bouche was a small cube of smoked salmon, with creme fraiche, cucumber salad, and mustard seed. This was a variation on the same amuse that I was served the last time. The server who deposited it at our table had an extremely thick accent, and we had to ask for the description twice.
The bread service was disappointing. Several choices of rolls were offered, but both that I tried were unimpressive. At Outback Steakhouse, you get a wonderful loaf of warm, freshly-baked pumpernickle bread. Why is it that so many high-end restaurants are content to serve perfunctory dinner rolls that were baked hours ago?
The food was a happier experience. I ordered from the Modern Eclectic menu. The restaurant is rather long-winded in its descriptions. Per the website, the appetizer was described as “Freshly Harpooned Sashimi Quality Bluefin and Hamachi Tuna, Key Lime Pickled Onion, Pumpkin Seed Oil and Sesame Mustard Dressing” ($14). This was a wonderful dish, rich and flavorful.
When the appetizer is this good, sometimes the entrée is an anti-climax, but not here. I ordered “Chestnut Honey Glazed Long Island Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms, Corn Purée and Seared Foie Gras” ($31). The duck was luscious, tender, and enveloped in fat, while the foie gras was pure heaven.
For the record, my friend ordered two of the Austrian specialties, an Austrian ravioli ($11) and the Wiener Schnitzel ($30). She was pleased with both.
The tasting menu shows an “Elderflower Gelée with Lemon Verbena Sorbet” as a pre-dessert, and I believe this is what we were served. This was a palate-cleanser, which prepared us for the “Original Viennese Apple Strudel, Crème Anglaise and Tahitian Vanilla Ice cream” ($10). I thought this was just okay; nothing wrong with it, but rather forgettable.
Service was generally smooth and polished. Early on, I felt that we were being slightly rushed through our meal. We started with cocktails. It seemed like only a few moments had gone by, and we were placing our order, receiving the amuse, and inspecting the wine—with our cocktail glasses still half full. Yet, it was over two hours before when we left, so things slowed down considerably later on. As we departed, the staff handed us a blue Bouley bag containing a wonderful lemon coffeecake, which we enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.
While no one would call Danube inexpensive, overall it is very fairly priced for what you are getting. The New York Times ratings have been bastardized in recent years, and three stars isn’t quite what it used to be. Danube has truly earned every one of its three stars.
When Michelin’s New York City guide came out in November, eight restaurants received one of the two highest ratings. Seven of those restaurants either have now, or have had very recently, four stars from the New York Times. Danube was the eighth. What this basically means is that Danube is, in at least one reasonable opinion, the best restaurant in the city that has never had four stars from the Times. There are a handful of other plausible candidates, but I’ve certainly no argument with Danube’s extra Michelin star. It is one of the city’s best fine dining experiences.
Danube (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)