Friday, July 25, 2014


I want to capitulate with that, but this would leave too much up to the uninitiated's imagination.  Daniel Boulud's flagship institution needs neither more accolades nor additional recommendations: procuring a table is already a daunting feat of extraordinary preplanning.  But to those who have never visited, and now that I am lucky enough to have done so, I have never been so inspired to write a review.

From the sidewalk, the illuminated overhang beckons like a glowing marquee on the mostly residential side street on the upper east side.  You are welcomed into a serene lobby, with dark wood. plush carpet and pearly ivory finishes.  I had a chance to wait for my tablemate at the more casual bar, where a devastatingly handsome bartender set down an icy goblet of water without a word, and presented a wine/cocktail list with a dashing smile.  The wine list is expansive, and expensive, but this should come as no shock: Daniel is fine dining at its very finest.  Soon, we were complete and ushered to our table in the
serene, elegantly low-lit dining room, our table just beneath an enormous bouquet of pale orchids.  Beverage menus were provided immediately, but the dinner menus took a moment more to arrive, perhaps allowing for a chance to take in the beauty of the room- and before being completely mesmerized by the food.  Once our orders were taken, the courses began to arrive almost without hesitation.  This was made possible by an array of complimentary amuses, the first of

 which was a meticulous trio including a progression from a lilliputian study in broccoli romesco and asparagus, a
creamy lightly-curried vegetable puree and a tiny raw cube of mild, exquisitely fresh sashimi-style fish.  The first revelation, however, came in the form of a cloud-light puff of carrot mousse,  pooled in a verdant herbal oil with a smear of a nutty, grainy mustard.  I would easily have taken a bigger portion of this as an appetizer without regret.... except for that when my appetizer did arrive, it was just as wonderful.

A Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes began with an ample cup of cool, brothy soup, reminiscent in flavor of a gently sweet spaghetti sauce.  It was playfully crowned with a thick head of coral foam, and studded with a fine dice of crunchy cucumber which sank to the bottom, given the broth textural diversity at both poles.  It sat next to three compressed bricks of different varietals, topped with tiny cubes of sweet, nutty Coomersdale cheese and a smattering of pungent herbs.   Compressing intensified the already intense peak-season fruit, creating a toothsome yet juicy texture.  An aspic of octopus terrine finished the ensemble, tender bits of tentacle suspended in luxuriously savory gelatin to daub in a rivulet of zesty chorizo oil, which also availed itself winningly to a dunk in the soup.   Marinated Sea Scallops are sliced thinly atop a bright puree of sorrel spiked with
sancho pepper.  The scallops, raw,  were meltingly creamy, their ivory translucence emphasized by verdant drop of emerald chive oil and the vegetal sorrel.  Crispy wisps of smoked potato rose in defiance of gravity, anchored in luxurious piles of Northern Light caviar, as decadent a dish as its ethereal lightness would allow.

Of course, we are just beginning.  Daniel offers either a tasting menu (usually seven courses with a wine pairing option) or a prix-fixe (which is currently $125 for three courses).  As we were having a late dinner to begin with, the tasting menu would've edged into the early morning hours, so with our prix-fixe, we were onto our second course... although with all the amuses it felt as if we had practically already dined.  But the courses to arrive were so exquisite as to reopen any appetite with vigorous aplomb.  Savory Stuffed Dover Sole lay on a bed of pea puree so pea-y as to challenge one's original concept as to what a pea even tastes like.
These were the pea-iest of peas, raked into a zen rectangle reminiscent of the sand in a Japanese rock garden.  Spilled over the puree was a savory gastrique studded with additional English peas, brilliantly green in contrast to the delicate, snowy white sole.  A savory parmesan crisp flecked with shavings of Iberico ham slanted over the dish, riddled with a garden of pea blossoms and edible flowers, unmistakably sourced from The Chef's Garden, the finest purveyor of specialty produce.   As a Pacific Northwesterner, I thought I preferred Alaskan halibut, but this Grilled Maine Halibut rivaled any that from Ketchikan, lean and meaty, and charred with smoky marks from grill.   The two parallel planks of fish sandwiched dense coils of braised romaine, salty and vegetal, alternated with deeply caramelized onions, so intensified that I first mistook them for beets in the dim lighting of the dining room.  This, in fact, is my one and only qualm with all of Daniel: the lighting is sophisticated and elegant, almost reassuring in it's soothing quality.  But in terms of photographing food (I fault this wholly for the grainy injustice my little powerhouse of a point-and-shoot did to this gorgeous food), and
 just seeing what you are eating, the light is unfortunately murky.  And food like this!!  Food like THIS deserves spotlights, marquee lighting, search lights... moonbeams.  The halibut was so good in its lusty chicken jus spiced with vadouvan, and from this picture you could hardly intuit its marvel.   The dining room was not so long ago renovated, but the one thing I think still remains imperfect is the lighting (Boulud might hit up Colicchio and ask how he rigged his up at Craft).  Obviously, there is nothing here to hide.

Least of all the desserts, which will fight amongst themselves for the honor of most beautiful, and battle with themselves whether they are more beautiful.... or more delicious.  The Peche Tahitienne featured a demi-orb of luscious poached fruit underneath a cloak of smooth vanilla custard, a physical feat I'm not quite sure how was accomplished. Never the mind, though, as as spoon slid through it like a hot knife in butter, spooning with it an icy daub of pine honey wheatgrass granite.  The brilliant green shards glittered against the creamy smoothness of peaches' couverture, melting a bright earthiness into the sweet richness of the fruit.   Fraises des Bois et Coquelicots was a showcase of the most extraordinary strawberries, tiny in size but herculean in flavor.  They balanced with a small quenelle

 of sorbet upon buttery rounds of sugar cookie,  alongside another that held an unctuous mousse of ricotta, thick and sweet, whipped just this short of butter it was so dense and creamy.  A dainty sprinkle of poppy seeds accounted for the coquelicots contribution as far as I could discern: the dish might more aptly be called Fraises des Bois and Crack Ricotta Mousse.  But lest I digress from the elegance and sophistication of the dessert, a third dessert presented itself compliments of the house: a celebratory grand-geste from the kitchen as our server had overheard us mention an anniversary we had reached, and although we weren't technically celebrating it, that kind of prescient generosity is only found in restaurants of this caliber.  Now, since we didn't order it I can't be certain, but I believe it was the Fleur
de Cafe.  I recall orange and coffee inflected flavors in creamy-dense fudgey bites, but my recollection dulls as the hour had grown late- and one can take but so much gastronomic stimuli.  But a dinner at Daniel does not terminate just because the kitchen should technically be closed, one's appetite has long past reached over-saturation, and only the clingiest of clingers-on still lingered in their comfortably plush seats.  A trio of sweet friandises accompanied the final drops of a thickly smooth and pleasantly bitter decaf espresso (as if my food coma alone would not ease me swiftly to sleep), a tiny barquette of cassis atop a nutty shortbread, a shockingly sweet-tart jam-filled kumquat gelee and ... oh  well.  There was something else.  And then there were minuscule chocolates... scented with mint, orange, coffee, pistachio.  I think.  It all became a blur, despite the brilliance and purity of the flavors we enjoyed.  Daniel is worth every star it has merited from Michelin (three), the New York Times (three) and Zagat (they don't do stars, but it would translate to 3.5), and mine- whereas I don't do stars, either, but I'll give Daniel as many stars as he's put in my eyes.

60 East 65th StreetNew York, NY 10065
(212) 288-0033

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