Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Daniel blows our minds

For Hannukah two years ago, my parents were kind enough to give me a substantial gift card to the Daniel Boulud restaurant group. I've been trying to find an opportunity to redeem it since then, and finally--finally!-- I secured a reservation at DB's flagship restaurant, Daniel. It's a fancy place, so AV and I got all dolled up in suits and other finery last Saturday night and made our way to East 65h Street.

As we were seated, we discussed how strikingly pretty the dining room was. We were located at a two-top on the periphery of the room, up against a balcony that overlooked the sunken dining room. All around the room, groups of people were enjoying the incredible food, and the room hummed rather noisily with conversation. It was a vibrant and beautiful scene.

But enough about the room-- let's get to the food. Or the drinks, at least. The Daniel wine list landed with a thud on the table, but we bypassed the 1.5-inch-thick tome for the shorter document listing the cocktails, beers, and wines by the glass. AV chose a Belgian Duvel, and I selected a glass of Domaine Bailly Reverdy Sancerre. The wine's incredible aroma of grass and fruits reminded me of why I like Sauvignon Blanc so much, and I vowed to resume drinking it with frequency.

The beer's glass was pre-chilled

My delightful Sancerre, in beautiful glassware

Our meal then began in earnest with their tiny little appetizer bites. AV's included a tiny piece of cuttlefish, which was smoky and not too fishy; a dollop of carrot mousse, with an intriguing hint of unusual spice; and a bit of snapper ceviche, which was salty and had a reasonable texture (this according to someone who doesn't eat raw fish).

Beautifully composed

My choices were a melange of carrot pieces in basil oil; a dish of the same carrot mousse; and a single piece of (pickled?) turnip. All was light and delicate, with the carrot mousse being particularly enjoyable.

Note the creative presentation, on a wood plank that balanced right on the plate

Following our appetite-whetters, we embarked on the bread course, which we were both looking forward to. A dish of exceptionally creamy butter was delivered, and a gregarious bread man approached wielding six-- count em, six-- enticing bread selections. AV chose the garlic cheese focaccia, which he termed "a donut of deliciousness." One stolen bite made me believe AV's declaration that this may be the best bread he's ever had.


That's not to say I was unsatisfied with my choice-- quite the contrary. I had selected the olive and rosemary focaccia, with big chunks of black olives buried inside. It was pretty much perfect, with the rosemary taste definitely noticeable among the assertive olives.

I managed to keep my bread consumption to half a roll in anticipation of the food to come... go me!

In a flourish of synchronized serving, our appetizer course arrived. AV had chosen the homemade spinach tortelloni, which came with all sorts of interesting accompaniments, including the newfangledly faddish black garlic. While he noted that the bits of dried pork were slightly overwhelmingly salty, AV said that you could taste the freshness of the spinach in the tortelloni, and overall all the different parts of the dish worked very well together.


My choice was the demurely-titled "fall mesclun salad with mustard dressing." It was an ample pile of incredibly fresh baby lettuce, studded with all kinds of surprises-- a sliced beet here, a lilliputian mushroom there-- and topped with a flurry of something crispy (fried porcini, perhaps?). I marveled at the dish's creativity while gobbling the delicious produce down.

All sorts of goodies hidden inside

We paused for breath as our appetizer plates were whisked away. Bear with me, readers; we're not nearly done. Some thoughtful sips of wine primed me for the entree course, which was on its way. Behold, AV's selection: the duo of dry aged black angus beef, with a red-wine reduction drizzled on the plate tableside. There was so much going on with this dish that it's almost overhwelming-- a small rib-eye, a small shortrib; a pile of trumpet mushrooms; a cube of parsnip and potato gratin smothered in gorgonzola cream; all divided by a Mason-Dixon line of strong crushed pepper dust. AV pronounced the cuts of beef outstanding; he usually takes his beef medium, but he would have eaten this rare. He also enjoyed the mushrooms, usually not his favorite food either. Well played, Daniel, well played.

Insane composed tableau

My choice, the tasting of broccoli, actually came from the appetizer side of the menu. This dish was anchored by four dollops of crazy rich broccoli cream, topped with pieces of fried and steamed broccoli and each crowned with a flag-shaped sliver of roasted red pepper. These sentries were surrounded by an army of lemon-pine nut gremolata, tiny cubes of ricotta salata, little disks of cucumber, and harissa coulis. I've never had broccoli this rich or savory before; let's just say that by the time I laid down my fork in exhaustion just over halfway in, my mind was blown.


Having already consumed more food than I usually do in a week's worth of dinners, why not press on to the dessert course? Well, dessert "course" was what we were prepared for; what we received was a full dessert meal. Let's start with the desserts we ordered. AV went with the warm Guanaja chocolate coulant, which is a fancy name for a molten chocolate cake. It came with an oozing caramel center and a quenelle of milk sorbet, as well as the requisite topper of gold leaf (obvi). AV termed it warm, delicious, and outrageously rich, which is incidentally just how I like my men. Hey-o!

Like a little chocolate popover

The ooze

My chosen dessert was the chocolate and peanut butter ganache. It was a compact book of thin chocolate encasing layers of chocolate and peanut butter ganache, all studded with little bits of crunchy praline fueilletine. There was some peanut butter mousse on top and about an ounce of indeterminate powder, perhaps milk-flavored. The scoop of caramel ice cream was out of this world. It's almost superfluous to say that overall this dish was a delight, but it was. Rich, chocolately, creamy, satisfying. Yup.

So, that was dessert, right? Seems reasonable. Uh, no. For some reason, we were gifted yet another dessert on the house-- this one a pumpkin cream with brown sugar biscuit. The pumpkin and brown sugar was spicy and comforting, and there was an interesting log of what seemed to be ginger cream in the center of the plate. Oh, and if that weren't enough, there was also a scoop of pomegranate sorbet. Of course.

The pumpkin platonic ideal

But of course not even that would constitute an appropriate ending to a meal at Daniel. Alongside our three desserts dropped a plate of six mignardises, and of course, despite being full to bursting, I had to try each one. Clockwise from the bottom left, the flavors I recall: a passionfruit tart; vanilla pastry cream on a biscuit; some sort of pistachio mousse; a lemon macaron; some sort of citrus log; and finally a weird bite covered with the dessert version of caviar that I didn't quite enjoy.

Dessert bite collection

Oh, but we were not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. A waiter approached with a parcel of warm, just-baked madeleines. We groaned, not necessarily in pleasure, as we each popped one in our mouth. They were insanely buttery. I'm sure they were also really good, but at that point I was so full I just wanted a flat surface to lie on and perhaps a sleeping pill, not really another dessert.

Total overkill

When two more empty plates appeared in front of us and a waiter approached with five kinds of chocolates to finish our meal, I flashed AV a look that was something along the lines of "please help me." I managed to kindly decline the chocolates, thank god, but AV took one for the team and tried the dark chocolate offering. He said it was the perfect mix of fudgy brownie and regular chocolate; if we had known they were coming, we definitely would have saved more room to try one of each.

The singular chocolate on a plate

And finally, the meal was finished. We were utterly, completely spent, and it took a superhuman effort to pay the bill and roll ourselves to the sidewalk to catch a cab. There is no question that Daniel is a five Offset Spatula restaurant: while the service is less effusive and hospitable than that at Eleven Madison Park, from the beautiful bathrooms to the mind-blowingly creative plating, a dinner at Daniel is truly an experience. And, let's face it, any place that offers five dessert courses as part of a regular meal is a restaurant after my own heart.

60 E. 65th Street, between Madison and Park

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