New York, New York
There is something to be said about showing up at a high end New York City restaurant on the eve of having just be given word it received its third Michelin star. There is a definite aura in the air that makes one want to celebrate, too.
I wanted to think the night we were there for something as important as our 30th year together, the planets were aligned. We would have a wonderful meal and the gift of the stars from the Michelin gods was just a nice coincidence.
Daniel might actually be the prettiest restaurant space in New York City I’ve seen to date. The room is open and spacious with beautiful columns, interesting art work and tables spaced far enough apart so that if your date is someone you don’t normally dine with, no one will know. (There seemed to be quite a few tables so occupied hence the comment.)
Tuesday night, New York City. We had a prime time 8:00 p.m. reservation. Being the jaded NYC person that I am that could potentially mean: Daniel is not that good or Daniel is overpriced and trendy. BOTH. It happened to be very crowded the night we were there. There were lots of big tables of six covers or more meaning lots of courses and lots of wine was being poured. There seemed to be more than enough staff though to handle it. Problem #1 – even though the space is quite comfortable, the wait staff seemed to be struggling walking between the tables, carrying beverages, food and trays to carve stuff on. On closer inspection it appeared that no one working there seemed to be having a good time. No one seemed relaxed. WHAT WAS UP WITH THAT?
We ordered drinks and moved on to the menu. I was torn between ordering the tasting menu (at a whopping $175 a person) and the regular three-course prix fixe at $105. I’m glad I went with the latter choice.
Truth be told I had never eaten at any of Chef Boulud’s restaurants. Looking at the menus of a few of his other places, plates seemed pricey and the reviews uneven. It just so happened for our 30th I wanted to try something new. Who knew it would be on the eve of their being awarded a third star?
Cocktails came out very quickly and in fairness we did take a long time deciding what to eat only because the menu was top heavy in dishes that on paper at least looked appealing. I had researched the wine list and decided on two bottles and was already favoring one dish on the menu, primarily because I could usually only get it when in California: the abalone.
There was definitely a “party” atmosphere at the restaurant that night. Maybe it was the third star? Maybe it was because the large groups were regulars and they really didn’t care what they were eating? They were there to socialize with each other, drink some wine, eat whatever was handed to them and be done with it. Problem #2 – we knew we were going to be dropping some serious cash and after nearly 20 minutes were still waiting for bread, water and at least an amuse bouche or two.
Eventually all of the aforementioned items did appear. We were offered at least six different types of bread (one of us got a mini baguette and focaccia, the other sour dough and baguette). The amuse bouche was a smidgen of smoked salmon coupled with a bite of lobster with a parsnip puree. The salmon was good as were the parsnips but the lobster was pretty tasteless.
And then we waited. And waited. Around us there were lots of flashing cameras. We wondered if people were photographing themselves or the food? I mean really, did they think they’d be able to replicate the plating of the dish at home? Perhaps they were photographing the plates because it had taken them so long to make it from kitchen to table?
Lynn sprung for the “market special” foie gras with apples and peaches that evening. I tasted some of it and it was good, not the best foie gras we had ever had but not the worst. The abalone that I had been looking forward to however turned out to be disappointing. Supposedly “butter poached,” it came to the table overcooked and resembled a bad version of oysters Rockefeller. Although plated with “crispy rice and greens” the greens were brown, the abalone chewy and the sauce was strange. In short, a dish not even remotely worthy of any star.
I was still awed by the ambience, the wine list, my company. Unfortunately, we waited at least another 45 minutes for our second course. Normally when the wait staff sees such a delay on the floor, freebies are offered to starve off hunger – a small soup, another amuse bouche, some fish or cheese or something. Nada. Maybe upper East Side rents don’t give you as much freedom in the restaurant business to give out freebies? Maybe you need to be a friend of a friend to warrant attention and small noshes while the kitchen is still “thinking” about cooking your meal?
The main courses finally did appear and I have to admit were decent. Being adventurous eaters, we had ordered the wild Scottish hare and grouse. We were also forewarned each of these dishes might contain shotgun pellets. (We didn’t find any.)
My wild Scottish hare was served with sunchokes, chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. Lynn had the foie gras stuffed grouse with celery, beets and some sort of walnuty calvados flavored reduction sauce.
We ate quickly and then were handed dessert menus. While I thought the entrees were fairly decent-sized portions, desserts were very small. Usually this is where the restaurant makes up for small entrees by plying you with homemade chocolates, marshmallows or jellies in addition to dessert. Not at Daniel. Our desserts of choice that night were a honey apple crisp served with “smoked” vanilla ice cream and a blueberry vacherin with a fromage blanc sorbet that was tooth-achingly cold.
Bottom line: I loved the space; the appetizers and the desserts were weak, the entrees decent. The wine list is extremely high end. Service was top notch and gracious but something was lacking. Considering Chef Boulud even made an appearance on the floor (albeit not gracing our table with his presence), I thought the meal could have been better especially since he was “in the house.” Walking out that night, I almost felt as if someone was whispering to me. “You probably won’t be back so why do I have to try my best to make you like me or the restaurant?” Because that’s what three star restaurants do.