Doing Daniel

October 15, 2004 | By | COMMENTS

This website has served me well regarding the sway I hold over my parents in determining where it is we are going to eat. Pre-website, our conversations went something like this:

Mom: Where should we go to dinner?

Me: Let’s go to an elegant four-star restaurant!

Dad: Let’s go eat steak.

Mom: Steak it is.

Me: Fools! Unsophisticated oafs! I curse your jejune palates!

Now they go like this:

Mom: Were would you like to go when we come to town?

Me: Daniel.

Dad: Is it for your website?

Me: Yes. Thousands of readers are depending on me to eat well when you’re paying.

Mom: Ok, let’s go.

Dad: Fools! Let’s eat steak.

Tonight we scratched off the next in my list of 4-star New York restaurants I desire to eat at. Thus far we’ve sashayed our way through Per Se and shimmied our way through Jean-Georges. Here was Daniel and we were ready to cha-cha.

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(“That picture won’t come out,” said dad regarding the above picture.

“Yes it will,” I replied.

“You’ll see, the flash will bounce off the metal. It won’t come out.”

Ha! I guess he was…. right.)

We went through the revolving door and found ourselves in a stately pleasure dome. Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea. Or something like that. Anyway, there were flowers and gilded fixtures and lush fabrics and polished waiters, hosts and busboys regarding us with measured warmth. We gave our name to the hostess and she asked us kindly to wait at the bar for them to prepare our table.

At the bar, we watched incredibly distinguished-looking people come in and out. Honestly, I’ve never seen people look more distinguished. All the men were like Ben Kingsley characters (minus Ghandi) and the women Blythe Danners by way of Norma Desmond. The sparkling jewelry, the coiffed hair, the hankerchiefs in the suit pockets–we were in awe. Or at least I was. Mom and dad looked at their watches. What was taking so long?

Finally (about 15 minutes in) we were shown our table. Walking into that dining room is breath-taking. Gorgeous flower displays and the simultaneous vastness and intimacy of the room quickly overwhelm the senses. I felt like I was walking into a palace or the dining room from “Titanic” (minus Ghandi). Check out this picture of mom, dad and I at the table and notice the flowers behind us. Gorgeous, no?

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The wine you see before us was quite difficult to order. Difficult in the sense that the wine list came in two giant books that my dad displays for you now:

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The waiter steered us well though. I told mom to ask him to point out a reasonably priced white wine (since we all agreed on white wine). The waiter didn’t flinch or condescend. He chose a Pinot Grigio for us that was truly magnificent. If I were more wine-conscious I’d tell you the name of it. Instead I’ll make one up: Chateau Parerre Fantoinette with a twist of lemon.

Now for the food. In bold: The Food Truly wonderful.

In fact, I wondered if Daniel himself anticipated my arrival. This soup would suggest as much:

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Butternut squash soup with homemade marshmallows and sides of pumpkin seeds, some kind of croutons(?) and huckleberry puree. You know me and my sweet tooth. I was in heaven: sweet and savory and mature. (A little hot, though—I burnt my gullet.) (You burnt your gullet?) (Yes, I just said that. I burnt my gullet.)

The entree was the glorious waiter-recommended Venison.

“You’re eating Bambi,” said dad.

“No,” I corrected him. “I’m eating Bambi’s mom.”

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Truthfully, I chose this because of the sides: sweet potatoes and pears. A sweet red sauce with foie gras in it capped things off. An outstandingly accomplished dish. In fact, it occurred to me on my way to the bathroom what four-star dining is all about.

“Here’s what four-star dining is all about,” I said to myself while passing the maitre’d, “it’s about taking an ingredient (like Venison) and saying to everyone in the world, ‘What is the best possible way to prepare this Venison? What is the absolute most you can do with it?” The Rachel Rays come along and say, “Well we can stick it in a toaster and spritz it with butter and sprinkle it with cheese.” The Martha Stewarts uncuff themselves and say, “Well we can slice it with shaving razors and roll the product into rose-shapes which we attach to homemade bread sticks that we tie into a bouquet and present in a Lalique Vase.”

Daniel Boulud comes along and with a magic wand points and explodes the Venison into uber-Venison; a Venison no one could have fathomed but that everyone stands in awe of. I can’t conceive of this meat prepared in a better way. This is perfection. This is four-star dining.

(End rant.)

Dessert was a simple understated riff on a pineapple theme:

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Whatever that frothy stuff is in the cup it’s miraculous. Like eating a cloud.

And of course these free fresh out of the oven madelines (<--corrected from "macaroons"--thanks Kim):

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Conclusion

So the food was, without a doubt, phenomenal. However, I’m going to give Jean-Georges a slight edge over Daniel. Here’s the reason: Daniel and Jean-Georges both serve equally brilliant food. At Jean-Georges, however, the room is smaller and more intimate. The waiters are attentive and unrushed. Here the waiters seemed overwhelmed. Daniel is a much bigger restaurant and it seemed there was much more to do. There was bustle behind the scenes. (We were near the kitchen entry-way.) Trays flew in and out. Our waiter often looked preoccupied.

But really, that previous paragraph is ridiculous. Daniel is wonderful. If you have the opportunity to eat there, do so. I insist.

Categories: Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews, Upper East Side

  • A Big Fan of the AG

    AG, you are looking more handsome with each passing review! And I should NOT have read this review before lunch – it has totally deflated anticipation of my fine dining experience at Jean’s Place.

  • Kim

    Sounds heavenly, and you made me wish I was there for the ‘rental banter.

    Those macaroons, by the way, are little sponge cakes called Madeleines. Nothing at all like macaroons, either the Jewish or French kind.

  • Hungry

    Do you think it’s a little unfair because you didn’t do a tasting menu at Daniel? Didn’t you at JG?

    I’m not mad just curious

  • bryan

    But what did everyone else have?!

  • Kamini

    Your website cracks me up so much. I sent a link of the ‘how to throw an elegant party’ to my friends. It’s such a good piece.

    Keep us laughing!

    Kamini