Graduation Feasting, Part One: Daniel You’re a Star

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The graduation feasting began Saturday night when mom and dad swept me away to Daniel, a place we’d visited once before but which I longed to return to. “I long to return to Daniel,” I informed mom and dad when they were making reservations. They even offered to take me to Alain Ducasse–that palace of glitz and glamour–but I had no desire to take a gamble on a restaurant many describe as “stuffy” “cold” and “not worth it.” I wanted to go to Daniel where it’s “warm” “welcoming” and “festooned with flowers.” So Daniel it was. Here’s what transpired.

I rode the 6 train up (a big mistake, since I live near the F train and I could’ve ridden the F train up to near where the restaurant is–I just didn’t realize it) and walked a tiny ways to Daniel. When I arrived, I found mom and dad drinking cocktails in the cocktail room. Here they are modeling the house drink, a raspberry mojito:

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I ordered one too and enjoyed the various textural and flavor elements: bits of raspberry and pulverized mint rode up the straw along with some alcohol (rum? what’s in a mojito?) creating a pleasant flavor environment in the mouth. Dad didn’t love it though. His face had an “eh” expression.

At the table we were presented with a tower of amuse bouches. Study this for a moment:

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On the top level you have puff pastry with goat cheese, on the middle level it’s ground chickpeas (hummus!) in a spoon and on the bottom you have sardines. “I’m not eating sardines,” said dad. “Just eat it,” I urged and I think he did. His response goes undocumented.

Now mom is always eager to order wine before ordering food. This should not be blamed on her, the wine list was presented to her before the menu. But I am of the belief (and this belief was formed after dining with various food personalities) that it’s best to order the food and then seek advice on which wine to order, especially when you’re ordering by the bottle.

So mom kindly (and unexpectedly) heeded my advice: she told the waiter she wanted to wait to order wine until after we’d ordered our food. We studied the menus and made our choices: I chose lamb, as did dad and mom chose fish. What wine would go with all three?

We consulted the sommelier. “May I suggest a pinot noir?” he said. “It’s strong enough for the lamb but it won’t overpower the fish.” Mom dragged her finger across the page from the wine to make sure it didn’t cost $80000. When she saw it was reasonably priced, she gave the nod. And guess what?

The next day we were watching “Jersey Boys” (a fun show) and I kept thinking back to dinner at Daniel and this particular flavor kept returning to my mouth. What was this flavor? Why was it returning? What was I harkening back to?

Friends, let me tell you: it was the wine! This wine was amazing. It was spicy, peppery yet fruity with a distinct hit of cherry. It went so well with the lamb and other food (which you’ll see in a moment) it practically made the meal. So let this be a lesson: food first, then wine. Unless you’re savvy enough to match your food to the wine you order first. Thank you.

Now behold this beautiful appetizer of marinated tuna:

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Have you ever seen a dish so vivid, so bright, so artful? This is why I love Daniel. The extreme care and precision is there (everything is prepared perfectly) but there’s also a sense of fun. Isn’t this dish fun? Plus the flavors explode in your mouth.

For my entree, I had lamb with a meyer lemon crust. A meyer lemon crust!

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Look at that plate. You want to attack it from every angle, from every corner—oooh look fava beans, and sauce, and what’s that? Guacamole? And a radish? Yum!

For dessert, I chose a rhubarb sundae because how often do you have a rhubarb sundae? And it wasn’t a strawberry rhubarb sundae, it was just rhubarb:

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I was happy with this because it wasn’t overpowering. The rhubarb was tangy and bright but not overly sweet (or “cloying” as a food critic might say). And I was glad it wasn’t overpowering because of all that came after:

Blurry madelines:

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And petit fors:

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I think that final picture captures this restaurant the best. How in the world does a restaurant–especially one as large as Daniel (the room is quite big, almost like a ballroom)–find the time not only to prepare all its dishes perfectly, but also to craft these perfect specimens of sweetness? I mean seriously, each one would take me hours to create if I did it in my kitchen. They do it for every single table and surely they make them fresh every single day. That’s not cookery, that’s witchcraft. Daniel should move his restaurant to Salem so we can call him “Goody Boulud” and force him to feed us every meal before we string him up. Instead, though, we’ll leave him where he is and stand grateful that Daniel exists, a New York landmark–the perfect restaurant.

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