It’s 10.28pm and I just returned from a truly memorable dining experience at Daniel. My fellow foodie friend, Erin (a.k.a Ketel 2), and I sat down to our table at 6.15pm. Yes, we sat for four hours – but dining at Daniel revolves around so much more than just food. It’s about service, experimentation, conversation, gluttony, luxury…just about everything I love in life! Truly indescribable, and on a entirely different level than most restaurants I’ve tried.
The setting is absolutely stunning: ornate, yet subtly so. Gorgeous, bright red fresh flowers adorn the space, surrounded by smooth oak vaults of aged wine, and long glossy columns supporting the adorned vault ceilings. Round tables evenly disperse the dining room, each with exceptional views spanning the entire restaurant – not one bad seat in the house. In fact, the host positioned Erin and me in a somewhat remote corner of the restaurant, but we could still view the mastery of the servers collectively tending to each table.
Before even attempting to decide on my main course, I was forced to choose a cocktail. With a long list of intriguing and never-before seen ($20+) cocktails, I decided to follow the advice of our (one of five) servers and have a famous white cosmopolitan made with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor, Lime Juice, and White Cranberry Juice. The long stem glass came holding a tennis-ball shaped ice cube enclosing a vibrant purple flower. The cocktail itself went down a little too easily, and reminded me of a subtler, more natural version of a starburst fruit candy. I loved it.
The waiter was amazingly accommodating, and upon inquiring about the wine, he brought out three tastings of three whites. We played a guessing game, and he asked me to pick my favorite without revealing the names of each. Considering the seemingly stuffy surroundings, I appreciated his light heartedness. His warm humor, along with the friendliness of the other waiters, proved to me that Daniel is a step above the rest of the fine dining establishments in New York – though the food and service is refined to a T, the staff and surroundings are warm, comforting, and playful. “Daniel is very much about experimentation, and trying something new..if you don’t like it, send it back, or throw it in my fave” one of our waiters joked.
As you can see already, there are many steps to the dining experience at Daniel. After ordering our drinks, we were given a beautiful amuse bouche a la lemon grass. Three tiny tastings of unexplainable lemon grass dishes gave Erin and I an idea of the remarkable journey to foodie land we were about to take.
And as if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bread-melier came out with a basket of 7 selections of bread – french baguette, sourdough baguette, rustic sourdough slices, butter rolls, olive rolls, parmesan garlic rolls, and seven seaded loaf. Between Erin and me, we were able to try almost every type of bread. The bread, along with cold french butter, made my entire experience at Daniel worth my while.
After bread service, and about 45 minutes through the meal, we were ready to order. The servers were receptive to our requests for suggestions, and their decisiveness was refreshing. Per their recommendations, I ordered the Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad,
split an extra course of the Artichoke Raviolini in Saffron sauce with clams, squid, and cuttlefish
, and decided on the Black Sea Bass with Syrah Sauce
for my main. The crab salad was served in rolls of thinly sliced apple, and a lightly sweet granny smith apple dressing. The gorgeously plated dish was light and refreshing, with bursts of different flavors and textures.
The raviolini was a seafood lovers heaven – tiny green ravioli with generous portions of mussels and squid lay amidst a velvety saffron seafood broth, with stunning organic flavors.
I even snuck a taste of Erin’s foie gras…velvet in my mouth!
Picking one fish dish among the four listed was definitely a feat, but I was very happy I decided on the bass. The mysterious syrah sauce tasted more like a salty, rich caramel sauce, and while it sounds uncomplimentary, it accompanied the simple, delicate white fish just perfectly. The crispy potato parmentiers adorning the plate were also delicious.
Erin’s Duo of Wagyu beef was also delicious – the short ribs were like butter and the filet was perfectly cooked.
The dessert course could have been a meal (or two) in itself. Of course I skipped the entire 5-item long “Fruit” section and went straight to the “Chocolate” section. Erin ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache with caramel ice cream, while I had my “go-to” dessert: warm chocolate cake (aka Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant) with milk sorbet. Both were exceptional, and as expected, beautifully plated. The chocolate cake came out as a mini bundt, and upon being punctured, oozed out with hot chocolate liquid – just as a molten chocolate cake should!
Erin’s dessert was my favorite – with a thin, crunchy, somewhat salty peanut butter layer and a mound of dense chocolate mousse, it tasted similar to what I would imagine a sophisticated candy bar to taste like.
In addition to these two desserts, the staff brought out a dessert on the house for my birthday (thanks to Erin!): the Coconut Lemongrass Soup with poached Pineapple and Coconut Rum sorbet
. Not necessarily my dessert of choice, but I could still appreciate it for its beauty, creativity, and summery flavors.
And then…as our buttons bursted, we were given a dish of petit fours. And then, warm Madeleines. And then…a chocolate truffle course. Of course I had to taste a little bit of everything, but at that point I was so full it was hard for me to truly appreciate the flavors of each.
Once I thought the night couldn’t improve any more, Erin 2 decided to ask about the private dining space, called the sky room. The sky room sits adjacent to Daniel Boulud’s office, and directly above Daniel’s kitchen. The room has glass windows, so the special party of four reserving the space can watch every move of the kitchen staff as they glide through an 8 course meal. Fortunately, Erin’s interest led to one of the servers encouraging us to take a look, so upon finishing our meal and signing the bill, we were escorted a la VIP to the kitchen. While the private space, with a big window overlooking the kitchen, was awesome, it was the kitchen itself and the art and dance occurring inside of it that truly amazed me. The focus and determination in the eyes of each chef was breathtaking – to see a team of people, so driven and so dedicated to their work and the flavors and beauty of the plate after plate was truly inspiring. I could have stayed and watched for hours. The fact that each chef was a good looking french man may have played a part as well
Dining out for me, regardless of where I go, is an experience in and of itself. It’s like going to see a show, or going to see a baseball game, or taking a hike with your family. It’s an experience that allows you to interact, engage company, activate your senses, bond with your loved ones, bond with new friends, and release whatever tension you have built up inside. But dining at Daniel…not only is that an experience, but it is truly an EXPERIENCE. An Experience with its own definition; an Experience in its own right. And you must experience this Experience to know what I mean…and believe me, it’s worth it.