With my goal of 6 Michelin stars in the month of October for my birthday, it was clear something big needed to happen, and soon. Then, the realization dawned on me, very slowly, that I’d yet to eat high end French food. In fact… I don’t even eat much French food at all. The pieces came together: I would add 3 Michelin stars to the pile by visiting one of the few restaurants on that list – most of them being French (one exception).
Le Bernardin was brought up, but reservations are incredibly difficult to procure. Per Se’s philosophy offended me, though I’d enjoyed Bouchon when I was out there in 2007. Jean-Georges didn’t excite me. In the end, Daniel was much more accomodating to my schedule, so I eagerly awaited the appointed night.
***You may think I’m spoiled for having the opportunity to experience this. I am. I am eternally grateful to my dearest friend, BBE, who not only offered to accompany me, but then insisted on paying for this extremely expensive meal. Thank you, BBE!!!
Daniel. The whisper of his name, a ghostly breeze across one’s lips, and one shivers. The anticipation, the excitement were both palpable as we entered the restaurant. I was wearing a black dress, tall heels, and a pink shawl on this chilly evening, while BBE wore a suit and tie. I nervously glanced around, wondering if I would be out of place, out of my element. I felt a bit like a little girl on her first day of school: do I belong here? This is the world in which I want to exist; will Cinderella’s shoe fit?
After we checked in, the hostess told us it would be a few minutes. I checked the time. “But we’re exactly on time,” I whispered to BBE. He looked at me, a tight smile across his face, and telepathically patted my hand, “It will be OK.” When we’d waited over five minutes, I began shifting in my seat near the hostess stand. I didn’t belong here. They knew. It showed somewhere; was it my shoes? Were they not fancy enough? It couldn’t be my handbag – one of my most expensive purchases – so was it my dress? Were we not dressed appropriately?
The panic fluttered underneath the surface of my face. I was ready to bolt – or attempt to, considering my four inch heels, and that they’d checked my coat already – oh no! Was it because my coat was from Banana Republic? Did that give the game away? – and hide in shame that I’d been turned away from a restaurant in a world where I so truly felt I should be – when the hostess came over, all smiles, and informed us our table was ready, wouldn’t we please follow her?
I relaxed marginally after we were seated dead center of the dining room. Again, a whispered comment, “I hate sitting in the middle – I feel on display for everyone to gawk at!” which was quickly bitten off as I took my time looking at the tables along the perimeter of the restaurant. On a slightly raised platform, the tables around the restaurant were filled with a younger crowd – more my demographic – and then I realized that we were on display for everyone, and why wouldn’t we be? I was looking my finest, and BBE cleans up nicely in a well-cut suit, albeit with a dorky tie. The restaurant had seated us where everyone could see that you didn’t need to be old to know how to carry yourself, and you didn’t need to be young to be gorgeous.
Despite that, I griped for a second that there was a table directly next to us that was empty. “It’s for the ambassador and his wife,” BBE told me. Not moments later, an older couple was seated there, and I laughingly referred to them as the Ambassador and his wife.
I started to relax further, feeling fabulous at thirty, until it dawned on me that a stool had not been brought for my handbag. A frown began to form on my makeup-free face (yes, makeup-free at thirty! indeed!); all of my friends who’d dined here previously, and all of the reviews I’d browsed to help decide what to order, everything had said that one of the most intriguing things about Daniel was the small foot stool they provide for your handbag, that one of the biggest ways that they make you feel special is definitely the foot stool for your handbag. (A note here that I am not crazy: my good friend StB often dines at high end establishments and reports back on special service; I’ve occasionally gone to the same restaurant and received no such special service.)
I leaned over to BBE to whisper this, but stopped myself when a foot stool was magically placed between us. “For your purse, madam,” a smiling server said to me in a hushed tone. I thanked him and he vanished.
A brief discussion of the menu led us to the conclusion that the six course tasting menu would be the menu of the night, with me choosing one option, leaving BBE to order the other so that we could taste our way through twelve dishes. As soon as we’d informed our server of this, along with our wine choice, the above was placed in front of us; a seasonal amuse bouche to showcase the sweet potato.
The first bite, a mackerel cube with a bit of sweet potato and red pepper, while pleasant enough, did not bring me any obvious taste of sweet potato.
A sweet potato puree/soup of sorts with a long strip of bacon sat in the middle of the very unique tray. Unfortunately, my camera refused to focus, so I gave up and only have this blurry shot… of what turned out to be far and away the best dish of the three. Creamy, lightly sweet, and though I’m not inclined to enjoy sweet potatoes the way many people do, this is something I could see requesting and wanting all the time. Perfect.
Barbecued eel with a swipe of sweet potato was good – densely meaty, but again, the sweet potato was greatly overshadowed in this dish.
The bread man appeared, and as I mentioned from Convivio, I would certainly not object to having one such man live in my home, offering me bread whenever my bread plate emptied! Here at Daniel, there were something like eight different types of bread – certainly a nearly overwhelming amount – but I stuck to the classics, a mini baguette and a garlic foccacia. BBE opted for an olive roll that he enjoyed (I didn’t try any) and garlic foccacia as well. I was intent on trying the baguette; I have an undying love for a properly done baguette, which I find is not easy to come by in NYC (though certainly, there are places that do them right). I was not disappointed here, nor with the garlic foccacia, which was soft and yielded to my bite. Oops. I glanced around; I forgot my table manners for a second, so perhaps I really don’t belong in this world. I resumed the correct way of eating bread in a fancy restaurant, which is to rip off hunks of the bread, butter the piece you ripped off, then daintily eat it. It took a lot of self control to refrain from stuffing the buttered hunks into my mouth.
Shortly after that, the parade of food started. BBE’s duck terrine, which looked lovely and I almost felt jealous. Almost. I tried a teensy bit and found it well-executed, but I concentrated far more on eating my own first course.
The Lola duck mosaic.
The mosaic up close: cubes of duck, cubes of juniper gelee… melted together in my mouth to create a lovely harmony. This was served with two perfectly toasted slices of baguette upon which I scooped some of the mosaic, then munched on happily. Yum. Off to a good start.
Almost immediately after our plates were cleared from this course, the next arrived.
The trio of Spanish mackerel for BBE, as I’m not a fan of mackerel… I did not try any of this, though BBE certainly told me how wonderful it was as I ignored him.
My peekytoe crab salad was brought to the table, then the red pepper vinaigrette poured atop it. Those are hearts of palm, hollowed, then filled, absolutely stuffed with peekytoe crab, which was wonderfully sweet and enhanced greatly by the lovely vinaigrette that exuded the essence of red pepper, the crunch of the heart of palm wrapped around the sweet crab… I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things, this dish was that good. I cut into each tube gently, savoring each piece as it entered my mouth – though I did manage to share a (small) piece with BBE before devouring it in entirety. I sat back, smiling happily as my plate was cleared.
The meal was off to a running start.
Raviolini for BBE; since I don’t prefer ravioli. When it arrived, I was surprised to see so much shellfish in it; BBE isn’t the biggest fan of shellfishes or seafood outside of fish, so I immediately started to feel guilty that I’d made him order something that he wouldn’t like. Well, as it turned out, he ate it all with nary a complaint, saying that it was very good. Again, though the idea had been for me to try a bit of everything, with me cleaning my own plate at each course, it was unlikely that I would be able to eat even one bite more than what was put in front of me, so I did not manage to sample this.
I’m actually also not in love with scallops, but the choices were what they were, so I picked the one more obviously not to BBE’s taste, so I thought. In any case, the scallop, perfectly cooked, yielded to light pressure and was soft, topped with a creamy foam that played nicely to the sweet scallop. I enjoyed this dish, along with the crunchy pine nuts scattered around, though I couldn’t say I’d want to eat this more.
After our plates were cleared, I remarked to BBE that the courses had been moving pretty swiftly, with hardly any time between them. “That’s good. I’ll get full if we stop for too long between courses… I like this pace.” As soon as I’d said that, I realized that we’d been waiting a few minutes for the next course, which grew to five minutes or more. It was not a long pause, but it was definitely a noticeable switch, as we moved from appetizer courses to main courses.
A glance over at the Ambassador and his wife here, as I noted a server handing Mrs. Ambassador something. A neatly folded black shawl; it was slightly chilly in the room, though she was sleeveless on this evening and perhaps felt the chill more pointedly than I. I wondered briefly if it were her shawl that she’d asked to be retrieved from coat check, but soon enough, our next course was arriving and I forgot all about this.
The pumpkin seed encrusted and speck-wrapped monkfish for BBE, along with grilled endive and a doppelbock beer jus (I should ask Beer Boor about dopplebock beer jus, huh?), which he surely enjoyed as he told me several times that the monkfish was ‘wrapped in bacon or ham – yum!’
Slow baked Dover sole, pommes St. Florentin… well, the potatoes were amazing (the right side “stick/tube”). Creamy, with a crisp exterior, it was almost as though they’d piped a tube of extra creamy mashed potatoes, then magically browned the outside enough to give it a ‘crust’ – with a brulee torch, perhaps, or a few minutes very close to the heat source in a broiler. Sooo good. The fish was also very good, moist, dense, and complemented perfectly by the crisp onion on top, though I wished there were more of those.
The lamb loin, BBE’s meat course, again pleased him greatly. This time, he actually tried to give me some, though I declined forcibly as I was nearing capacity. I should probably ask him for some notes on his courses, so the readers know how it was, hmm.
My duo of beef – wagyu tenderloin and black angus short ribs.
Extremely tender – so tender I could almost use the side of my fork to cut through it – this was cooked to my exact specification of medium rare; however, the flavor was not pronounced much beyond ‘beef’. The jus on the bottom helped zazz it up, and I couldn’t complain since the meat was excellent. And that little cube to the left was some sort of potato that exceeded all expectations of what a potato could ever be. Yum.
As for the short ribs, hot damn. I almost blew my own cover of not fitting in by raising the plate to my face to lick it. I tentatively took my fork and ran it along the cloud underneath the short rib chunk, raising it to my lips. A moment in my mouth, and I was convinced there was meat within that little bed, but further perusal showed nothing but lentils, pureed salsify, jus. The lentils were so meaty in taste, but completely not meat in texture… I was sincerely confused. Forking into the short ribs – which did not require a knife – put me further into ecstasy, leaving me to wonder how much better this meal could possibly get. I finished the portion, topped with crispy bits, and wished desperately I could ask for more, or that I could even have stomach space for more. T’was not to be, but the taste of those lentils will haunt me.
A momentary break while our table was cleared and reset for dessert, before a server, smiling and silent, brought out
this (the candle was lit). A complimentary dessert because it was my birthday. Another thoughtful touch by BBE – he’d let them know it was my birthday, and they acted accordingly. Thank you!!! Unfortunately, due to the season, it was an apple-focused dessert, which has rarely been my preference (I don’t like hot/cooked fruits in general), so I poked at it and didn’t much eat this one.
Poached Bosc pear along with a gingerbread biscuit and ginger ice cream; completely not to my tastes, as I also am not fond of ginger. BBE said it was actually quite good, though, and said the ginger was not very strong but rather just right.
My warm guanaja chocolate coulant with liquid caramel, fleur de sel and milk sorbet; if you say caramel, you have my attention, and if you add ‘salt’ to that, you have my heart.
The outside of this was actually a ring/crust through which I had to break.
Once I did, the center oozed affectionately for me, revealing the answer to my prayers; the crust around it was salted heavily, and the center caramelly love, delicious. This dessert was absoultely excellent, a great ending to a wonderful, wonderful meal. My eyes stayed closed in ecstasy as I consumed this.
But as we sat there, a tray of petits fours was brought out. I clutched my stomach in mock horror but eyed the macaron, then snuck it off the tray and ate it. I didn’t try to touch much else, as I was just that full…
Until this was proffered! fresh from the oven, still warm, absolutely perfect madelines. I don’t believe I’ve ever had these; would it be too trite to claim I whispered to BBE, “I now understand Proust completely”? Because I didn’t… but I do, I do understand. Lightly scented with lemon, each small bite was just amazing, underscoring a completely perfect meal. I ate these delicately at first, but soon reverted to my real self, and stuffed them in my mouth with abandon, ignoring BBE’s pokes and chiding admonitions to behave properly. Gollum came to mind; “my precioussssss” I hissed at BBE when he tried to take one for his own consumption. A blink of an eye, and they’d all disappeared. Oops. Sorry.
Note to self: must find madelines, properly done. Failing that, must find someone to learn how to make really good madelines, so that I may have fresh from the oven ones whenever I’d like…
Our plates cleared away, I leaned back in my chair, completely sated, completely ready to return to the real world. A quizzical look passed between BBE and I as one more plate – this one completely empty – was placed in front of me. “More?” I mouthed, and he shrugged at me.
A server returned momentarily to solve the riddle: he bore a tray of chocolates. “Something sweet before we part,” he told me.
I tried one of each save the coconut, to which I’m allergic. Praline, hazelnut, and caramel.
BBE chose the coconut and praline.
Sublime; not necessarily the chocolate itself, but the notion, the thought, the effort put into the entire meal, then to end with something sweet… because parting is such sweet sorrow, is it not? A glance over at the Ambassador’s table revealed that he and his wife had long gone, though the black shawl from earlier remained. Daniel really does think of everything, including the simplest shawl for when a lady has caught a chill in the dining room.
The bill was paid, and I regretfully rose from our table. A moment of sorrow as I knew this was never to be again: this meal, this night, I would never experience it again. Not so much that I will not return, but rather, the first time, the newness, the uncertainty, the overall anticipatory excitement, and the complete awe at every turn; it would surely wane by the next time I visited a restaurant worthy of its 3 Michelin stars. I walked slowly out of the dining room, a bit wobbly, both from my stilettos – an uncommon accessory for me and from the bottle of wine we’d split, but most of all, from the headiness, the giddiness of having just dined at Daniel. I will never forget this night as long as I live. I will never forget a single moment, because I’ve written it down here for posterity. I took one last, lingering look into the now near empty dining room, and bid Daniel adieu. For now.
BBE handed over my coat check ticket as I went downstairs to powder my nose. As I ascended the stairs on my return, I overheard the hostess telling him what a pleasure it was to have us, and that we should return soon. Indeed, I thought, as BBE helped me with my coat, and we turned towards the street. I slipped out of the revolving doors, ready to return to reality in the now downright cold night, and turned towards the subway.
“Wait,” BBE said, stepping towards the street. He lifted a hand and hailed a cab.
Reality could wait a few more minutes.
Sincerest thanks again to BBE for making this night happen; I am eternally grateful to have such a wonderful friend in my life.
Yvo says: I cannot in good conscience say that everyone must go here before they die. The kind of money spent that night was exorbitant and ridiculous. Did I enjoy every last morsel of food? Greatly. Would BBE say it was worth every last penny? Indeed. However, I feel comfortable saying that I could have died happy never knowing the pleasure of Daniel, and anyone certainly could as well. It’s definitely an experience of a lifetime, though I don’t envy people who go there regularly (because what else is there if this becomes your go-to? Are you even able to enjoy the everyday when this is your everyday?). Daniel was excellent, above and beyond perfection, really, but part of a world to which I am not entirely privy. I’m much happier being me – a one, maybe two Michelin star kind of girl… who sometimes pretends she’s part of a three Michelin star world.
Okay, let’s try to sum up a bit more briefly (brevity is not my strong suit): the food, the service, everything was excellent and well worth the price, but don’t kill yourself trying to save up to afford this place. If you can go and it interests you, by all means, do so. If you can’t – for whatever reason that may be – there is no reason whatsover to feel bad.