Monday, January 28, 2008

I love Daniel (Boulud)

Oh my lord. Daniel and I went to Daniel on Saturday night. Leading up to the big night, I was that we’d built the place up so much in our heads that we would be sorely disappointed. There was also a little pre-dinner stress because I had a clothing emergency. You know, the kind where nothing looks good, you want to wear a skirt, but it’s so cold out and you don’t want to be uncomfortable walking to and from the subway. So we were a couple of minutes late for our reservation, which makes Daniel very tense.

As soon as we entered the restaurant though, our stress, tension, and nerves melted away. We were seated side-by-side at a table for two, overlooking the restaurant (I learned as a child from Babysitters' Club that eating side-by-side is far more romantic than across the table). Our waiter was funny (but not overly so) and attentive (but not overly so). He asked us if this was our first time at Daniel. Yes. He asked where we were from. The City. Well, then, why is this your first time here, he wondered. Because we’re po, buddy. But instead we just smiled.

We looked over the tome that was the wine list, chose one of the cheapest (but never THE cheapest) bottles on the menu – a Sancerre. I seemed to have recalled that was a wine my mom drinks occasionally, so I figured I’d like it too. And I did. An added bonus – unlike at Bouley (where we also ordered one of the cheapest bottles on the menu) the wine opened with a cork not a screw cap. Victory.

Daniel had the vegetarian tasting menu for kosher reasons, and I ever the lover of traif, went for the seasonal tasting menu. Here’s the deliciousness that ensued:

Complimentary amuse: sweet potato puree, cauliflower puree, goat cheese something or other, and a kind of mushroom gelee.

The verdict: we both loved the purees, Daniel loved the goat cheese; the gelee was just so-so

1st Course: Daniel had a mache salad with a gingery dressing; I had the duck foie gras terrine with quince chutney sauternes gelee, frisee, hazelnuts

The verdict: Daniel, never much of a salad eater, gobbled the salad right up. Now I know that it’s inhumane, and I promise not to eat it again for a very long time, but I’d never had foie gras, and both of the first course choices had it in it, so I decided to really go for it and order it straight up. It was literally one of the best things I have ever tasted in my life. Creamy, rich, salty, fatty, smooth. I spread it on toast with a bit of the quince chutney. I almost cried. I contemplated sticking some in my purse or on my bread plate, so that Daniel could try some after his dessert and still be following the laws of kashrut. We’re going to be in France in a few months, and now that I’ve had it, I don’t know how I’m going to keep to my promise to be a one time only foie gras taster.

2nd Course: Daniel had a creamy lentil soup with a side of lentils; I had the Buddha’s Hand Lemon Marinated Tai Snapper, black radishes, mizuna, sesame tuile (please note our kind waiter gave me a copy of the seasonal tasting menu at the end of the night, and I’m just going off memory for Daniel’s)

The verdict: I make a pretty mean red lentil soup based on the one recently featured in the NYT. I really love this soup. The creamy lentil number at Daniel put mine in the toilet and flushed it away. This was the yummiest soup I’ve ever gotten to take a tiny spoonful of. Daniel (the man not the restaurant) was in heaven. Daniel (the man not the restaurant) also enjoyed my snapper, one of the few dishes on my tasting that he could taste. So did I. It was a kind of snapper tartare situation – moist, flavorful, really cool and refreshing after the richness of the foie gras. And I have to note that both the foie gras and the snapper were served with pretty large portions. I was surprised…

Oh the bread: Daniel had two garlic rolls and a piece of multi-grain. I had some bites of a walnut raisin and the olive bread.

The verdict: Although the garlic rolls were very yummy, I would say the bread at Daniel was in no way as good as the bread at Bouley. It’s the one department that Bouley came out with a considerable lead…

3rd Course: Daniel: a beautiful beet and rutabaga extravaganza; Me: roasted sea scallops with savoy cabbage embeuree, sautéed chanterelles, young turnips, navette oil

The verdict: Daniel was so proud of his beet and rutabaga extravaganza and rightly so; the beets were served three ways and were incredibly flavorful and moist and really fantastic; the rutabega was layered with parsnips and had additional very thin layers of cheese in between; really exceptional. My sea scallops was really just one scallop, but it was buttery and chewy in just the right way. I love eating this way with small plates because you really savor each bite – each one is kind of a priceless jewel. Even though you know something else great is coming along, you want to really have your way with what is in front of you in that moment. Which brings me to the cabbage embeuree. Who knew you could do such things with cabbage? It might have been one of my favorite parts of the meal. Although that one little chanterelle on the plate was probably the best mushroom I’ve ever tasted.

4th Course: Daniel had a big old (comparatively) plate of gnocchi with a parmesan foam and carrots and Brussels sprouts; I had a slow baked black grouper with truffle veloute, potato mosseline, celery, and tender leeks

The verdict: It was so exciting to see Daniel get so excited about vegetables. He couldn’t get over how sweet the carrots were or how delicate the Brussels sprouts. He was also a fan of the gnocchi, although he kept saying that I would find it too creamy. Probably true. The snapper for me was probably my least favorite course, which isn’t to say it was bad. It was just much more subtle than some of the other dishes. I did like, however, when the waiter poured the truffle veloute over the fish at the table. I just adore those kinds of presentations.

5th Course: (I know, can you believe we’re still eating?) Daniel: fennel ravioli with broccoli rabe; Me: Duo of Dry Aged Beef: Red wine braised short ribs with beets, horseradish; seared rib eye w/ parsnip-rutabaga gratin, bordelaise

The verdict: honestly I don’t remember anything about Daniel’s ravioli. He seemed very happy with it. I don’t remember because I was so focused on my freaking short ribs. Oh my lord. This is what beef should be. So sweet. A little smokey, that red wine braising was miraculous. Plus I had Daniel’s delicious parsnip-rutebaga thing from before. Plus I had a glorious, medium rare piece of seared rib eye, perfectly cooked – tender and juicy and salty and wonderful. Plus they poured the most fragrant, rich bordelaise on top of it. AT THE TABLE. And I am ashamed to say, it was this course where satiety began to kick in. Ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t finish the rib eye. I’m so sorry I let you down.

6th Course: Dessert. Daniel, with my permission because of my intense hatred of bananas, had the caramelized banana with peanut butter dacquoise and malted milk ice cream. I had the bittersweet chocolate-praline cremeux and amer cocoa biscuit with caraibe ice cream.

The verdict: Daniel really seemed to love his. I wouldn’t know. I had a tentative bananaphobe’s bite of the malted milk ice cream, and it was tasty. For me this was another area where Bouley outperformed Daniel (the restaurant, never the man). I would not have chosen the chocolate-praline situation if I’d had more choices like you do at Bouley. The caraibe ice cream was really very good, and the dessert looked very beautiful with a hardened slide of chocolate going over the cremeux. I would have been disappointed had there not been the :

Bonus dessert: plate of petits-fours including a passion fruit gelee, a marshmallow and a chocolate filled meringue. And then the best part of bag of freshly baked madeleines.

The verdict: I love petits-fours. I love madeleines. Especially these soft, eggy, fresh, warm ones. Especially these soft, eggy, fresh, warm ones dipped in my caraibe ice cream.

The aftermath: We left at around 1:20 AM, thinking we’d walk to the subway. After realizing how difficult it was in our bloated states to stand up, we took a cab, all the way back to Brooklyn, but not before snagging a handful of the high quality paper towels from the restrooms that say “Daniel” on them. So that Daniel (the man not the restaurant) can remember his time at Daniel (the restaurant not the man).

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