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Rolling the Dice: Daniel

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews one of the few remaining grandes dames of French cuisine, Daniel. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 500-1
One Star: 499-1
Two Stars: 498-1
Three Stars: 4-1
Four Stars: 2-1 √√

The Skinny: Daniel currently carries four New York Times stars, courtesy of Mr. William Grimes. It is the last remaining four-star restaurant that Bruni has never reviewed. He has, however, written obliquely about the restaurant on several occasions, and it has never been positive.

Here he is in December 2004:

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.

And then in August 2007:

Under Mr. Carmellini Café Boulud had thrived: for many diners, it was the most consistently enjoyable of the restaurants owned by Daniel Boulud, more relaxed than Daniel, less scattershot than DB Bistro Moderne.

And here he was in October 2007, commenting on the Michelin Guide’s two-star rating for Daniel in relation to the three stars given to Jean Georges:

Putting the restaurant Jean Georges ahead of Daniel — giving it three stars to Daniel’s two — is a more defensible judgment call, consistent with the appetites and appraisals of many of the city’s most discerning diners.

In all of these comments, Bruni’s enthusiasm falls well short of the rapture one expects at a four-star restaurant. Unless Bruni has been wowed lately to a degree he wasn’t before, I cannot see how Daniel can remain a four-star restaurant. Bruni’s well known abhorrence of classic French luxury dining is another factor not in Daniel’s favor.

We’ve long believed that Daniel’s days in the four-star club were numbered, as soon as Bruni could find a replacement. There are currently just five such restaurants, and that total has remained remarkably stable over the years. When Bruni demoted Alain Ducasse and Bouley from four stars to three, other restaurants replaced them.

What would be Daniel’s replacement? I had once thought that either Eleven Madison Park or Del Posto could be the lucky winner, but in a blog post on New Year’s Eve, Bruni strongly suggested that neither one was ready. Among Bruni’s known favorites, that leaves only Momofuku Ko as a potential promotion candidate—a review that would put Bruni on the map like no other. Among traditional restaurants, the newly relocated Bouley is the best candidate, though we don’t see it happening.

We don’t discount entirely the possibility of four stars tomorrow: Boulud could have upped his game since Bruni’s earlier visits, or maybe the Brunz just feels itchy because he hasn’t given four stars to anybody in almost two years. But given Bruni’s long-standing disdain, both for Daniel itself and the style of dining it stands for, we just don’t see it.

The Bet: We believe that Frank Bruni will award three stars to Daniel.

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