My girlfriend and I had dinner at Daniel last Saturday night, the first visit for both of us. Daniel (pronounced “dahn-YELL”) is one of three French restaurants carrying the top honor of four stars from The New York Times. It is also the only remaining four-star restaurant not yet reviewed by Frank Bruni, the current critic.
The only clue to what Bruni might think of Daniel came in a December 2004 Diner’s Journal piece about one of chef Daniel Boulud’s other restaurants, Cafe Boulud:
I dropped by Cafe Boulud the other night. I went because I had recently visited the chef Daniel Boulud’s other two Manhattan restaurants but not this one, which happens to be many of my acquaintances’ hands-down favorite of the three. I can see why. It doesn’t have the starched self-consciousness of Daniel or the cheeky swagger of DB Bistro Moderne.
The reference to “starched self-consciousness” is entirely typical of Bruni, and suggests he doesn’t find Daniel as exciting as his predecessors did. Given his many other comments about similar restaurants, it also suggests that he simply doesn’t enjoy this style of dining.
We found nothing starchy about Daniel, except for whatever the laundry put in the table cloths. We found it polished, professional, and nearly perfect. It is perhaps the most “old school” of the three four-star French restaurants, which may explain Bruni’s hostility to it, and may also explain why Daniel received just two Michelin stars, while Le Bernardin and Jean Georges received three.
I’ve got the time only for a whirlwind tour of our meal at Daniel. We started with a tray of petits-fours (above, right). We continued with the six-course tasting menu ($155) with wine pairings ($75).
There were two choices for each course. We agreed on the first: Foie Gras Terrine (above, left), which was excellent, although not as special as the Foie Gras Brulé we so much enjoyed at Jean Georges. But foie gras can’t really be screwed up. We order the foie gras whenever a tasting menu offers it (which they usually do), and we’re seldom disappointed.
For me, next up was the Yuzu Marinated Snapper (above, right), which I found far too bland—the only dud of the evening. My girlfriend chose the Crab Salad, of which I had a taste. This was delightful, and put the marinated snapper to shame.
At the risk of being boring, I’ve nothing to say about Wild Mushroom Ravioli (above, left), except again that it was excellent. So was Dover Sole, which we attacked so quickly that I forgot to photograph it.
Last among the savory courses was the Due of Dry-Aged Beef (above,right). The “duo” is ribeye and short rib. It’s evidently one of Chef Boulud’s signature items, as it’s always on the menu. I always say that even a four-star restaurant can’t do steak like a good classic steakhouse, but this was one of the better “fine dining” renditions of steak that I’ve had.
We diverged again for the desserts; mine is the one on the left, hers the one on the right. We were feeling plenty festive by this point, and I’m afraid the desserts didn’t make much of an impression. You can see the photos and imagine them for yourself.
A wonderful tray of sweets and a bowl of warm sugar puffs (both pictured at right) concluded our meal on a high note.
I have not noted the wines, but this was one of the better pairings we’ve had, both as to the quality and the progression from one pour to the next.
Throughout the evening, we were thoroughly impressed with the service. It was never pompous or obsequious, simply correct in every possible way.
Daniel has a larger dining room than the other four-star restaurants, and there is a very large serving brigade. But they move through the room quietly and efficiently, never noticeable except when they should be.
The room won’t be to all tastes. We found it a bit over-the-hill, although we were impressed with the custom-designed bone china.
Except in Frank Bruni’s mind, there is nothing wrong—or at least, there shouldn’t be—with doing classic things well. We won’t visit Daniel every week, or even every year. When we are in the mood for that special kind of elegance, it’s wonderful to know that it’s there.
Daniel (60 E. 65th Street west of Park Avenue, Upper East Side)