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

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:


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:


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:


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!


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:


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:


And petit fors:


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.

21 thoughts on “Graduation Feasting, Part One: Daniel You’re a Star”

  1. Congratulations on your graduation, and scoring a feast at Daniel. I’m jealous.

    Your meal looked great…looking foward to part two!

  2. CONGRATULATIONS on your graduation!!! Looks like you had a fantastic dinner. Pinot Noir is one of my favorites, as are mojitos: definitely made with rum. I will have to try to make rasberry mojitos soon, those look like a wonderful summer drink.

    My Favorite Mojitos

    Lime wedges


    Superfine Sugar

    White Rum

    Club Soda

    Muddle together a little super fine sugar (to taste, some prefer sweeter), two lime wedges, and a few mint sprigs in a highball glass.

    Fill the glass with crushed ice. (This is an important step as the ice will block the mint from getting in your teeth!)

    Add rum (again to taste, I like mine STRONG!), then fill the glass with club soda.

    Garnish with an extra mint sprig and an extra squeeze of lime.


  3. I’m sure that they have some kind of Petites Fours elves that work all night… they just leave the ingredients out when they go home, and when they come back in the next morning, they’re made and perfect and scrumptious… I’m seriously considering saving some money up to go to Daniel while I’m in NYC this summer.

  4. Pinot Noir is such a wonderful wine- it is the most versatile, because it goes wonderfully with red meat as well as strongly-flavored fish. Mmmm…

  5. Mmmm, looks amazing! After reading “Letters to a Young Chef” I think I can’t die before going to Daniel someday. Your post only confirms that.

    What kind of Pinot — do you remember the label? I’m so curious!

  6. Congratulations — what wonderful choices you make, over and over! I haven’t been to Daniel for quite a while, but I still remember it as one of the loveliest meals I’ve ever had. And well…lamb and pinot noir and rhubarb and exquisite petits fours…mmmm

  7. I have given you a hard time about Mario Batali in the past but lets keep it in the past. Congratulations on graduating! I hope as a starving writer you keep the, blog, no, food experiences coming. And WTF is that on the appetizer plate a square piece of tuna as big as my face? Like the previous poster, i’m puzzled.

  8. Congratulations, Profe- I mean, No-Longer-Amateur Gourmet!

    The food looks beautiful, and the colors are amazing. A great reward for a fantastic job.

  9. So, Adam, when are you coming out my way to Vegas to try Daniel’s place at the Wynn? Even cranky old Anthony Bourdain admitted it was super-spiffy.

    (And the Wynn buffet – mmm! I think of you whenever I think of its station devoted to eighty-jillion kinds of risotto.)

    Plus, the hamsters and I would be happy to show you that the best fountains at the Bellagio are on the inside!

  10. Congrats AG!

    Em, that marinated tuna pic looks like something a child built with a bucket of plasticine and fish. Which isn’t to say it’s not bright and fun and probably delicious but…are those raisins on the fish corners???

  11. I used to not like Pinot Noir at all… those French ones I happened to try all tasted like muddy wood.

    But the ones from Chile are really nice and SO much better value. Try Cono Sur (quite cheap, around £5-£6 in the UK) or Alto Palena Reserva, still decent value but even nicer (they also have a really good Sauvignon Blanc I think)

  12. Ah AG, you have discovered pinot noir – good on ya! Congrats on graduating – here’s to many happy (and tasty) adventures in the near future…. Cheers!

  13. ah, the 6 train… my train during my brief stint as a new yorker…

    anyway – congrats on graduating. from writing school straight to a book offer – very impressive!

    oh, and the food looks good, too!

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