If I were to write a properly complete post about our sumptuous, over the top, fantasy-fulfilling six-course tasting menu dinner at Daniel it would a) be too damn long, and b) not reveal much about this lauded New York fancy pants French restaurant.
Here are some highlights instead.
I had my first $22 cocktail.* It wasn't that great. The bartender needed to spend some time on the beach in Rio sampling $1.5o drinks before charging this much for a passion fruit caipirinha that was light on the fruit and too sour.
My handbag got its own seat. At Daniel, they don't want those cherished Birkins or this season's Dior Gauchos to touch the floor, so purses are placed on a patterned velvet upholstered stool. I thought my trusty Kate Spade brown leather shoulder bag was the cheapest accessory in the Chanel-studded room; that was until my sister handed me the blue plastic pencil case my mom gave her to re-purpose as a clutch. Even though it could've been Prada's experiment with synthetics for all they knew, it didn't get its own stool, so we shared. And H's man purse had to rest on the floor. Talk about discrimination.
Peekytoe crab, again? At Daniel it came with avocado "carotte fondante", lime gelée, and cilantro mousseline. I know folks now yawn at the mere mention of molecular gastronomy, but this stuff would wake most people up. I felt like I was truly eating carrot-flavored air. Pretty cool.
While H was more adventurous and got the frog legs with foie gras stuffed morels, fava beans and spring garlic -- if you're gonna try them, where better else to do it? -- Ali and I sheepishly selected the tomme de l'Abbaye de Tamié tortellini. Definitely the wussier of that course's options (she was getting the fish tasting menu anyway), but I had no regrets. A remarkable cheese-stuffed pasta with Serrano ham, broccoli rabe, and chanterelles in the hands of the most skilled chefs was far, far from prosaic. Both dishes were heavy on the zingy savory emulsions.
Somewhere between these courses the man himself came out of the kitchen to work the room. Yet we didn't get the Wolfgang moment I expected, when the famous chef graciously makes the rounds and introduces himself to almost everyone, making his customers feel cool and VIPish for a few seconds. Instead Mr. Bouloud was strategically dispatched to select tables, following the discreet instructions of a man who I assume is the captain. It was just like the scene in The Devil Wears Prada, in which Andie saves the day at the gala by knowing who's who for Miranda, and Emily is both humiliated and relieved.
Even though we were seated in the main pit area at what seemed like a good table, we got snubbed. Daniel talked to a couple heavy-set guys with comb-overs, old blazers and their elderly female dining companion at the table next to us. They spoke French and English, so maybe they were French paper industry titans or something obscure that nonetheless makes them important, even if they don't look it. I guess the West Coast can be more egalitarian, after all.
More fish, with larger portions than I expected... Typical of this meal.
On to the heavy shit. The stewed peppers overwhelmed lovely slices of Colorado lamb; nothing was ruined, it just made me hyper-aware of my hyper-awareness of all peppers. (Green bell pepper is the one vegetable I flat out dislike.) As would be expected, Daniel gets on the best quality of meat, and when cooked rare it showcased the subtle fat marbles and smooth flesh. That being said, lamb didn't outshine the braised short ribs and seared rib eye that comprised the duo of dry aged beef (pictured). Dark, heavy, manly. I kept stealing little bits of the tempura "allumette" potatoes. I wish we could've ordered an entire side order of them, kitchen and appetites permitting.
I love banana-featured sweets, but they're usually mushy or funky -- often on purpose, like a good banana cream pie. Daniel did away with all of that, which I'm sure comes as a surprise to no one. The carmelized banana showed off some crazy fruit alchemy and architectural plating skills. A pool of caramel sauce filled the artful negative space between the crisp fruit with chantilly and the three perfect oval scoops of vanilla ice cream. Ingredients were manipulated into smooth, horizontal sculptural effects for the chocolate-praline crémeux and dark chocolate ice cream.
But the best part of dessert had almost nothing to do with the pastry. We ate almost all of the hot-from-the-oven mini madelines, except for the one H set aside to save for his coffee. It then got swept away by an overzealous busser. A polite mention of the incident resulted in yet another full batch of fresh cookies delivered to our table, even though we only needed one or two more. How sad to let the uneaten cookies go to waste, so I asked to take them home. Instead of a to-go package, however, I was given a claim check number. I politely thanked the waiter, yet was confused.
In an effort to preserve my dignity, it turned out the cookies were waiting for me at coat check.
Lesson learned: the staff at Daniel cares about protecting their customers' images as non-doggy bag people as much as they do the bottoms of handbags.
60 E. 65th Street
New York, NY 10021
* Correction: The wines by the glass were in the mid-$20 range. Cocktails were mid- to high teens.