With all the restaurants I’ve been to in NYC, I still haven’t been to a number of three Michelin starred restaurants like Per Se and Daniel. As much as I spare no expense when it comes to my culinary journey in the city, I have been less successful in finding friends or acquaintances who are willing to go as far as I do. Which isn’t surprising considering how expensive dining out in NYC is in general. In the meantime, the restaurant world was thrown into chaos when Daniel, that bastion of fine dining from acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud which had maintained the highest four-star rating in NY Times for years, was suddenly demoted to three stars in 2013, followed by its demotion from three Michelin stars to two stars last year. Per Se was also dealt a severe blow in a rather scathing review from NY Times which demoted it from four stars to two stars as well. Does this mean the old-school fine dining as we know it is dead in New York City? You can certainly make a case; given the punishing rent and cost of operations, new restaurants have eschewed extravagance and opted instead for pragmatism in their approach. You don’t often see new fine dining establishments that provide exquisite dining experience, not just for food but for the overall atmosphere, décor (hint: chandeliers) and services as well. While my mom was in town, I decided to see for myself at Daniel if the era of fine dining in the city is over. After my meal, I beg to differ on all the skeptics on fine dining in general and Daniel in particular. I’ve had quite a memorable dining experience.
If there is any suggestion of decline in quality of food at Daniel for whatever reasons (people often cite the ever-growing Boulud empire that probably distracts chef Boulud’s attention to his flagship restaurant), I just couldn’t see it in the four-course menu (at $142 per person) that I shared with my mom (i.e. we got 8 dishes total to sample). The Long Island fluke with sea urchin, Granny Smith apple, seaweed crisp and white sturgeon caviar was expertly prepared with light touch that would do well in any fine-dining establishment, as was Maine lobster salad with mango and chayote-lime panna cotta that displayed complexity of flavor without overpowering my palate. The second course turned out to be the best in my meal. I seriously could eat the slow baked black striped bass with farm yogurt, wasabi and avocado-cucumber emulsion every day if possible. The bass was lightly cooked for impeccable texture, and the combination with avocado-cucumber emulsion that had soothing effect was simply marvelous. I haven’t had a ton of escargots in the city before, but Daniel’s “petit gris” snails with creamy barley and basil salad was another phenomenal dish that displayed a ton of richness but the ingredients all came together so harmoniously that I really didn’t feel tired.
Liberty farm duck roasted breast with dandelion flower marmalade and gooseberries was delightfully tender, and the salt crusted lamb chop (which the server pulls out of baked crust) with bean fricassee also displayed great textural effect even though I wish the seasoning were slightly even across the meat and overall toned down just a bit. The desserts were just as remarkable. Nougat parfait “Provencal” melons with lime biscuit and herbed yogurt sorbet had the absolutely refreshing quality that would neutralize any heavy meal (not that the savory course at Daniel was heavy), and lemon-bee pollen sorbet with honeycomb meringue, mango and papaya displayed memorable combination of ingredients that created very elegant flavor without being overly sweet.
Getting a reservation at Daniel is not as daunting as it used to be, but still I highly recommend booking in advance. The dining space was by no means empty during our meal, and my mom and I recognized a lot of celebrities out there dining with their friends and family. For gentlemen, jackets are required so bear that in mind. I absolutely love the classy vibe of the dining space that is simply perfect for impressing your family, date, out-of-town friends, etc. if the budget is not an issue. The service of professionally dressed staffs was nearly flawless, and I enjoyed an Old Fashioned cocktail and a couple of wines by the glass. Overall, my meal at Daniel made me wonder whether all these talks about the restaurant not being what it used to be is simply overblown or whether the restaurant responded big time after all these skeptics voicing their opinion. Either way, I really couldn’t find a ton of fault with my meal, and would gladly come back here for another special occasion.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
Address: 60 East 65th Street, New York, NY 10065
Telephone: (212) 288-0033