NYC: Daniel (Feb. 2013)
Author: Victor, Monte, and Tad
Exec Chef: Daniel Boulud
Date: February 18, 2013
-I’ve been wanting to come back for a while now, and Monday was a good chance to! The meal was great and better than the other meals I’ve had here before.
-The service was great except for one small issue. I asked for menus after the meal, and the server said he’d give us menus, but both of us forgot after the meal :(. Still, shouldn’t he write that down or something so that he can remember after the meal?
Monte: I had been here 2 years before and was far from impressed. However, this meal was outstanding all around – even the presentation, something I normally don’t care about, brought out a wow from me.
Tad: Daniel Boulud – the Donald Trump of the restaurant world. Although, when you are this skilled, you deserve to flaunt it. Our waiter was excellent, although a menu at the end would have been nice to remember all the dishes we had. The meal was unapologetically French, and I say that with sincere fondness and satisfaction. Excellent plating, immaculate technique. As you will read, there were a few missteps with flavor, but all in all, an excellent and memorable meal.
We started off with a non-alcoholic cocktail, the “Oishi Club” cocktail. The ingredients were shiso leaves, yuzu juice, elderflower nectar, and white cranberry juice.
Victor: The cocktail reminded me a little of sprite… with shiso. It was very refreshing and not too sweet.
Tad: Usually, I am not one for soft drinks, but this one was quite tasty. I really thought you could bottle it for mass consumption. But then, I think about your Average Joe, sitting at home on his Italian leather couch, about to cut into a slice of wagyu…and I think, “does he really want this soda?” Probably not. This is why I invested in a winery rather than a soda bottling plant.
Monte: I really enjoy the lemony sweet minty flavors of shiso in cocktails and this one didn’t disappoint.
Right: Hamachi with beet coulis and shiso.
Middle: Beet purée with cardamom and Granny Smith apple.
Left: Golden beet salad with smoked salmon and red wine.
Monte: The hamachi and beet salad were a great start to the meal. I really like beets and the sweetness of the coulis paired well with the fresh yellowtail. The puree was really sweet and had a pretty pure beet flavor profile, but the grannysmith apple was a refreshing tart contrast. The goldenbeet salad with salmon felt more disjointed and I don’t think the two elements complemented each other well. And I’ve definitely had better smoked salmon.
Tad: I thought the hamachi was the strongest of the batch. The beet puree was also exciting, not just because of the extremely strong complementary flavors, but also because of the gorgeous color. There was a sliver of green along the edge that we didn’t quite capture with the photograph. I agree with Monte that the smoked salmon was only okay. The beet itself was delicious, but the salmon didn’t really add anything. One might ask why we are spending so much time critiquing the amuse, but I think it’s important: the amuse is the chef’s welcome to you, the diner. It is your first impression, and sets you up with either a positive or negative expectation of the meal to come.
Pheasant terrine with black truffle and foie gras.
Served with whole wheat sourdough bread.
Monte: Yuuuuum I love terrines. I’ve been to Paris once, and my fondest memories is just going to the butcher and just buying a large handful of terrine and spreading it over cheap crackers. This dish definitely took that happy memory and presented it on a plate, only with even better flavors. I believe the terrine had some pears in it as well, or some kind of sweet acidic fruit, that added a great kick to the otherwise super rich and dense terrine.
Tad: Haha, I’ve also been to Paris (more than once), but that didn’t make me enjoy this terrine any more. Okay, in all honesty, I could recognize the craft and the skill involved in making the terrine and cutting it into the oh so perfect blocks threaded with black truffle. But to me, given the luxury ingredients used, the payoff wasn’t that great. It could have been a head cheese terrine and I would not have noticed too big a difference. Well, maybe except for the concentrated truffle flavor. The standout for me were the vegetables in this dish. The artichoke heart had a tangy, briny flavor that accentuated the richness of the black truffle sauce. And the palm heart was sitting on some sort of puree that was just magnificent.
Tad: Well, am I? And if so, what’s wrong with being snobby (though I prefer ” more selective”)? Here we are eating at the finest dining establishments in the world. Fine things get great reputations for a reason, and as a person with only limited time on this earth, I don’t want to waste that time on things that may not be as good. Call it out of touch, but why do I need to be in touch with strangers from other walks of life? I live my charmed life, and they can live theirs.
Monte: But I think there’s a difference between being a snob and demanding perfection. The latter suggests that you have the ability to make fine distinctions in food and know what is good. But you can demand great food in a very factual way, for example, by saying “this egg is overcooked.” That’s not snobby. I think what’s snobby is being condescending about food and not having an open mind. If you only eat Laduree macarons and refuse to try a shabby macaron shack down the corner, that’s snobby because you’d be having a preconceived notion of what’s better and not give anything else a chance. I think it’d also be snobby to say that an ordinary dish, like a perfectly well-made carne asada taco from a truck, is below you because they’re not using kobe beef. Good food should be recognized as such, no hoity toity (I recognize I’ve been heaping praise upon Daniel in the preceding paragraphs) necessary. Actually as I write this, I kind of want a carne asada taco…but moving on…
Lobster, ceviche-style, cured with lemons.
Served with brioche, caviar, uni, and fennel sauce.
Monte: The fennel sauce was kick-ass. I actually even forgot about the uni and lobster, two very luxurious ingredients, because of the strangely (and paradoxically) subtle-but-intoxicating earthy oniony licorice sauce that lingered underneath the seafood. I’m not a big fan of fennel usually, but this sauce was just captivating. For a few seconds, I felt like I was standing in a pool of fresh springwater underneath some great waterfall with moss nearby – just really refreshed but connected to nature. It was a weird feeling – I think the others would probably say I’m crazy. But the sauce was good, dammit.
Tad: Too salty. Next.
Tad: Okay, fine, well, the dish as a whole had interesting elements, and there was a lot going on. It was just too salty with both the caviar and the fennel sauce. I think it would be better either without the caviar (gasp) OR, my choice, add more uni. The sweetness of the uni would have helped. If the caviar is the Rolls Royce, the uni would be the chauffeur; no one should drive his own Rolls.
Octopus braised with red wine.
Served with arrowhead chips, fennel salad, and crispy sesame.
Monte: Not the most tender octopus I’ve had, but the overall dish rocked nonetheless. It was hard for me to eat it and not think about the tender Jungsik octopus, but it was easy to forgive the slight toughness of the Daniel octopus since the rest of the dish was so good. The red wine in the sauce must’ve been excellent to drink, because the spicy, earthy, and sweet notes of the sauce were intensely rich and delicious.
Tad: Excellent excellent dish. Everything worked well together to make a very sophisticated dish. The use of aromatics and various textures showed a flair for the creative married to a mastery of culinary precision. Monte insisted that the octopus at Jungsik is better, at least in texture. I may have to try it at some point.
Madai (Snapper) with natural jus.
Served with crispy potato, kale soufflé, and 12-year–aged balsamic vinaigrette.
Victor: They prepared this tableside, and the fish was BEAUTIFUL. (It does make me sad to think about how much meat they wasted, though…)
Madai (Snapper) with natural jus.
Served with crispy potato, kale soufflé, and 12-year–aged balsamic vinaigrette.
Monte: Aged balsamic vinegar was dripped alongside the fish, which I’m normally a big fan of, but I think the only two elements of the dish that garnered my attention were the fish and the kale. The fish was extremely moist and tender, and the kale was a great green to pair alongside the fish. The potato was also good – like a great hash brown. It was fun to eat by itself, but really the fish was the star of the show.
Tad: As Monte said, this dish stole the show for the evening. Other diners looked over as our waiters expertly prepared the fish. I could go on and on about the flaky, flavorful fish, how easily it broke under the slightest pressure from my fork. Or I could bore you with the subtle sweet richness of the sauce, yapping on about how the mild, smokey balsamic added just the right amount of acid. But I won’t (although I already did). I will just say that at the end of this course, my plate was entirely empty. I was scraping the plate with my fork, in exactly the manner that my mother would have punished me for had I done so at home. I didn’t care that it made me look like I don’t get enough to eat. It was that good.
“Trio of Milk-Fed Veal”
Right to left:
-Roasted tenderloin with king oyster
-Cheek blanquette with parsnip purée
-Crispy sweetbreads with green peppercorn jus
Monte: Wowzers the cheeks and tenderloin were awesome. The sweetbreads were forgettable, but the other two elements just melted in the mouth, dissolving into a pool of rich flavors. The parsnip puree underneath was superbly sweet, and the jus was just really meaty and intense.
Tad: I also enjoyed the cheek immensely, but thought the tenderloin was just solid. I mean, it is better than veal tenderloin you would get in your generic steakhouse, but compared to its peer restaurants, the tenderloin was just solid. Again, the sauce was delicious, and I actually enjoyed the crisp mushrooms with the sauce. There were sweetbreads? I must have forgotten. Heh.
“Roasted Millbrook Farm Venison Loin”
With cocoa bean shavings, parsley root, celery confit, sunchoke, shimeji mushrooms, and sauce grand-veneur.
Monte: The cocoa bean had this deep chocolate aroma that confused my brain at first since this wasn’t dessert, but it ended up working wonderfully with the venison. The venison was just slightly gamey to add that extra flavor, and was as tender as any filet mignon.
Tad: Excellent choice putting the cocoa on top of the venison, the saucing the dish with the other components. The chocolate flavor was definitely needed to balance out the gaminess of the venison, but had it been in the sauce, would have overwhelmed the garnish. Speaking of which, I’ve realized that the standouts for me during this meal have been the sauces (no surprise, we ARE at Daniel) and the garnishes (huge surprise, I hate vegetables). Actually, funny story: I was so bad at eating vegetables growing up that my mother had to bribe me with a Porsche. The deal was I had to eat all my vegetables until I got old enough to drive the car (this was when I was nine). Anyway, I kept up my end of the bargain, but when I turned sixteen, I found out my father had been driving it the entire time. I threw a HUGE tantrum…haha, I was so spoiled back then.
Left to right:
-Cloud 9 (cow)
– (forgot) [something very hay-y]
Monte: I normally don’t like cheese courses, but this tasting was pretty awesome. We got to try a great variety of cheese and the cheese with the dark gray rind in particular had this great hay-like and nutty taste to it.
Tad: Époisses de Bourgogne – able to bring Napoleon and Brillat-Savarin to their illustrious knees. When younger, I used to be obsessed with Napoleon and studied all the details of his life. In an effort to be more like him, I tried Époisses cheese on a night out with my parents. And I hated it. Too stinky and too soft, I thought. But now I see how foolish I was. This is, indeed, “le roi des fromages.” The others were pretty good as well.
We got two individual desserts and a third one to share.
Exotic cream, coconut pearl, and piña colada sorbet.
“Peanut Butter Feuilletine”
Carabe mousse, caramelized peanut, turron ice cream, and edible gold.
“Milk Chocolate Dacquoise”
Jivara Parfait, toffee tuile, edible gold, and salted caramel ice cream.
Monte: Ooh shiny, pretty gold in our desserts. It added no taste or flavor, but wonderful presentation and texture elements. Trollolol? We each got our own desserts and I actually wasn’t a fan of mine – there was a lime coulis that was too sour and kind of ruined the dish.
Tad: The coffee chocolate I got were excellent. And I personally like gold in my dessert. It makes the presentation sparkle just a little more. Although, I would like to take this opportunity to quote one of our friends who refers to gold in food as “reverse alchemy.” To paraphrase: “In ancient times, alchemists try to turn crap into gold. When you put gold in food, you are literally doing the exact opposite.”
-Pâte de fruit (forgot what flavor)
We also got madeleines!
Our server also gave us a selection of four types of small chocolates to choose from, with flavors like passion fruit or hazelnut and praline.
Monte: Desserts and sweets were good but not amazing like the main courses. But I was already primed to be in a happy state of mind from the fantastic mains so I didn’t mind so much! It was a good meal, no doubt.
Tad: A lot of sweet stuff, but completely unnecessary after our desserts. You had me at the fish course, Daniel.