Birthday Dinner 2011: Daniel

29 Aug

Mike and I have an awesome tradition where every year on our birthdays, the other brings the birthday child to one of the best restaurants in the city.  It’s always a surprise, and we don’t know where we are going until we get there.

On my birthday last week, I was thrilled when I stepped out of the taxi to see that we were at Daniel.  Daniel has been on the top of my list for a long time.  It has been a NYC staple of excellence for years and I have enjoyed dining at Daniel Boulud’s other restaurants, including Cafe Boulud and Bar Boulud. I’ve also had great meals at DB Bistro and can’t wait to try DBGB and the new Boulud Sud.  Daniel has 3 Michelin Stars, making it my second 3 Michelin Star Birthday in a row, with Le Bernardin last year.

Daniel offers a 3 course menu, where you can choose a la carte for $108 or do a full 6 course tasting menu for $195.  It’s definitely a special occasion meal! We went for the 6 course menu, which allowed us to choose 1 of 2 from each of 6 sections.  Since there were 2 of us… we just said to bring us one of everything.  (I always wanted to say that).  We didn’t go for the wine pairing (which was anotehr $105) because I had work the following day and didn’t want to have to weave out of there the way I did Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  We did a themed order of wine and got a bottle of Russian River Chardonnay followed by a Russian River Pinot Noir (big fan of those Russian River wines).

(They also have a 3 course meal with wine pairings as a theater prix fixe for $105 from 5:30-6pm Monday-Thursday.  Not a bad deal with wine!)

Here is a gallery of the menu, since it changes seasonally:

The restaurant is impressively beautiful.  It FEELS like a special occasion place.  We were sat in a corner booth that was a bit private behind screens.  It was nice to be tucked away, however, I like to people watch and this actually made it a bit detached.  Our little round booth was insanely comfortable, however, and if I ever have the opportunity to design a corner sitting area, I will think of the perfect leaning pillow that was in our booth.

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We started with an amuse bouche, and I cannot recall much about it besides the fact that mine didn’t have peppers.

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I recall something about smoked salmon and melon.  I recall enjoying it.  I recall thinking it was all fresh and summary. That’s about it…

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There was a noticeable delay in service as we waited for our first course.  This happened a few times between courses, creating very strange pacing.  This was the only dark spot on an otherwise fantastic service.  Ok… well not entirely spotless… read on…

Our first course started with duck terrine with sauternes.  It was perfectly divided between the richness and sweet when combined with the apricot.  Delicious and full of flavor.

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For this same course, we received a pressed squab terrine with turnips, bok choy, and chamomile gelee.  This was a great balance, again, with  great richness, balance, and flavor.

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Our next course started with Snapper Ceviche with celery vinaigrette. I believe this one was supposed to be served with a pepper oil, but they kindly left that off.  This was delicious, fresh, and I even enjoyed it (I am a certified celery hater).

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With this course, we were served peekytoe crab in an heirloom tomato gelee with avocado, thai basil, lilliput capers, and olive bread tuile.  The crab was sensational.  Enhanced by the multitude of fresh (though mostly unidentifiable) pretty things on the plate.

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Course three was a Maine sea scallop rosette with lovage.  It was supposed to come with Hawaiian hearts of palm, avocado-tomato coulis, and pickled fresno peppers.  This was probably the best dish on the menu, EXCEPT, one bite in I know I was in trouble.  There were even tiny red flakes that were visible (I call it the “trouble color” because very few things except peppers are that burnt red color).  We asked the waitress and she INSISTED there were no peppers.  She went to the kitchen and came back to tell us that they were red celery.  Hmmm… I would hate to disparage a restaurant like Daniel… but my mouth was instantly swollen and itchy. And just on the side where I took the bite. It took me a good 4 ounces of milk to even take down the itching.   Hmmmm.

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Paired with this course was artichoke and squid ink ravioli.  This came with littleneck clams, ruby red shrimp, razor clams, sea beans, saffron cream and opal basil.  If that sounds like a lot of ingredients, it was. And they all blended beautifully.  It was as visually stunning as it was delicious.

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Our next course was Atlantic flaked cod with tarbais beans, wild lamb squarequarters, chorizo, purslane, and marcona almonds emulsion.  I couldd not have this one, so I will default to Mike for a review: “From what I remember, it was good, but oddly… starchy? pasty? But it was decent.”

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My dish was grilled Alaskan King Salmon with black musto oil.  I guess the sides listed wouldn’t work, so I was served some peas, zucchini spears, and broccoflower.  I am not a salmon fan. In fact, I thought for years that I hated fish, but turns out I just hated salmon.  This, however, was very tasty.  And those were some of the best peas I have ever had.

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Our last savory courses were listed as a “Duoof Beef” and a “Tasting of Veal.”   Neither dish came out the way it was intended, I assume due to the allergy.   The beef was supposed to be black angus short ribs with cauliflower mouselline, seared wagyu tenderloin, chanterelles, crispy potatoes, and poached bone marrow.  Reading back over that description, we definitely got shafted.  We only got the seared tenderloin.  The short ribs,  chanterelles, crispy potatoes, and poached bone marrow were all missing!  But at the time, we didn’t notice.  The tenderloin was perfection.

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The veal also wound up not being as described.  The 3 selections was supposed to be roasted tenderloin with eggplant puree, braised cheeks with glazed zucchini, and crispy sweetbreads with caper coponata.  It came out with 2 pieces of tenderloin and a crispy sweetbread, no sauces/toppings.  I was a bit bummed because I was looking forward to those cheeks, but this was still excellent.

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Daniel does a really lovely job of celebrating birthdays, with a lovely complimentary cake and candle (and thankfully no singing).  It was tasteful and delicious.

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Our desserts then came out from the menu, with a warm guanaja chocolate coulant with liquid caramel, fleur de sel, and milk sorbet.  This was insanely rich (without being overdone) and had AMAZING flavor.

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They even went the extra mile with the pretty gold flake on top.  This was perfection in chocolate.  I didn’t think the world could get any more divine than this cake… and then…

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…I tasted this. Lemongrass poached pineapple with coconut meringue, lime-rum gelee, and pina colada sorbet.  I never would have ordered this after reading it on the menu.  While I love coconut, I’m always worried it would taste like sunscreen.  Pina coladas are good, but they can taste really cheap as a flavor.  Meringue is one of my favorite things in the world, but it’s usually not done well.  But this… this was everything that is right with the world.  This was heaven.  This was vacation in my mouth.  This was probably one of the best desserts I have ever had in my life.  And you know I love desserts!

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Along with these desserts, we received a basket of fresh, still warm madelleines.  Mike had never tasted a madelleine before.  I have, but not anything like this.  These were fluffy and light and nearly melted in my mouth.  Sensational.

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Just when I was debating if I would manage to roll myself home, a number of dainty bite sized desserts came out.  Beautifully prepared.  I was getting ready to loudly profess my love to the pastry chef at this point.  Or perhaps write them a love letter to tuck into a check.

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And then came a tray of delicate mini chocolates.  And this is where I cracked our servers shell.  I asked her to please pause for just a moment to take a picture.  Normally I would never have asked, but it was my birthday and we were drinking… so I went for it.  She put on the face and smiled, but you could tell that she was not happy to be doing it.  Hence… my shot was blurry and I didn’t retake.  (I can’t say I blame her.)

And it was a delicious exclamation mark on the meal.

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Overall, our meal here was stunning and delicious.  It had some highlights (the scallops, even though there were peppers… the tenderloin… the DESSERTS!) and some so-so things.  I can’t say there was any one savory meal that was mind-blowing, but it was a fantastic meal.  The pacing was off, the peppers things were still questionable, but service was obviously a refined art form in this restaurant.  It’s funny to be in a point in our dining history where while this was an amazing meal, and it still ranked at about #7 on the overall list.  But it was still #6. And it will remain hard to beat.

And I really hope they serve just desserts.  Because I want to go back for just that.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

7 Responses to “Birthday Dinner 2011: Daniel”

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