I went to Daniel last night with my wife and two other couples. We are working our way through the super-high-end restaurants in the city and naturally had to knock off Daniel.
My wife and I arrived quite early and had some cocktails. They were delicious (an apple/champagne cocktail and a pomegranite martini). The restaurant is justly known for the decor - the place is gorgeous. We were immediately given some olive bread sticks (yum!) and a bowl of fresh nuts (yum yum!). These were refilled whenever we got halfway through them.
We were sat right away and wanted to do the tasting menu, but had a few questions. One person in our party is allergic to flour; could they modify the tasting menu for her? (Of course they could.) The two first course options both included fois gras, which we don't prefer. Could we sub it out? (Of course we could.) Not everyone wanted the wine pairings - can 3 of the 6 of us do the wine pairings? (Of course we could.)
The tasting menu had two choices for each course, and all of the options were tried at our table. The funniest part of ordering was when the wheat-allergic person also mentioned that she was breast-feeding and the server said "If you are breast-feeding, we recommend....".
So off we went on our journey. The amuse consisted of 3 different items, presented on 2 tiered towers, with each amuse on a different level. The first amuse was a piece of salmon with a pickled vegetable. I thought the salmon was overwhelmed, but the rest of the table loved it. The last one was a goat cheese mixture in a parmesan basket, which was terrific!
THE FIRST COURSE
*Chilled Sweet Pea Soup "à la Française" with Crispy Bacon and Rosemary Cream
This was a big hit. Extremely fresh, with the cream and croutons added at the table. Very pea-y, and what's wrong with that?
*Vodka and Beet-Cured Hamachi with Mâche Nantaise
Walnut Pistou, Horseradish Cream and Chive Oil
This was my first course, and I loved it. The Hamachi was astoundingly fresh and clean, with all of the delicate accents playing their parts perfectly.
The few people who had the fois gras were blown away by their dishes.
THE SECOND COURSE
*Duo of Peeky Toe Crab: "En Salade" with Persian Cucumber and Mint in a Spring Roll with Jicama, Mango Coulis and Toasted Peanuts
The spring roll was excellent, with the rice wrapping very fresh and tasty. But it paled next to the crab salad, which was absolutely transendant. I wanted to go to the kitchen and hunt down a huge bowl of it. Fantastic.
*Marinated Yellowfin Tuna with Anchovy Dressing
Quail Egg, Haricots Verts and Fried Pantelleria Capers
Another winner, with a beautiful square piece of tuna, with each accent placed gorgeously atop. My wife, who doesn't even like tuna, was blown away.
THE THIRD COURSE
*Fricassée of Dover Sole with Hazelnuts Green Asparagus and Oregon Morel Jus
This was a terrific dish. While the fish lacked the flavor I was expecting (and was a little on the dry side), the Morel Jus made up for it. It was intensely flavorful, with the right level of salt and herbs.
*Slow-Baked Halibut "Grenobloise" with Cauliflower
Romanesco and Aged Balsamic-Bordelaise Sauce
The winner of the night. It's tough to describe the perfect flavor that burst forth from this fish. It was the one dish of the evening that elicited "Oh my lord..." with every bite. Astounding.
THE FOURTH COURSE
*Colorado Rack of Lamb with Meyer Lemon Crust
Satur Farm's Glazed Radishes and Avocado-Mint Chutney
The lamb was fantastic, perfectly prepared and crusted perfectly. Very enjoyable.
*Duo of Dry Aged Beef: Braised Short Ribs "Marengo"
with Pea-Sheep's Milk Ricotta Mille-Feuille / Seared Rib Eye with Cipollini Onion Soubise
This dish was very uneven within our table. For me, the Rib Eye was a little dry and lacking flavor, while the Short Rib was absolutely astounding. Perfectly tender with an incredible bordelaise sauce that was delivered at the table. Another person found the Short Rib OK, but the Rib Eye incredible. My wife's Short Rib was extremely fatty, whereas mine was lean. Everyone liked this dish in different ways, but the variations within the table were surprising (and not particularly welcome).
It should be noted here that the wheat-allergic person received the complete beef plate, which included a pasta starch on the plate. Once it was pointed out, they fixed it right away, of course, but the error was quite a surprise.
THE FIFTH COURSE
*Warm Grapefruit Tatin with Chilled Pomegranate-Green Tea Soup and Fromage Blanc Sorbet
This dish was gorgeous to look at, but I never asked how it was, so I can't comment.
*Chocolate Caramel Millefeuille with Vanilla Confiture de Lait and "Fleur de Sel" Caramel Ice Cream
This was a very delicious dessert, with an intense caramel ice cream and smooth velvety vanilla cream.
THE WINE PAIRINGS
The wine pairings were not particularly memorable, which was disappointing to those of us who love our wine. The first red had a slightly vinegarry after-taste. The wine wasn't spoiled, it was just not as high-quality a wine as we were expecting. The second red was similarly acidic, but once the beef came, it relaxed quite a bit. The first white was lovely - very crisp and fruity, as you would expect. The second white was forgettable (so much so that I can't remember it now, to describe it).
Three of us ordered tea with our dessert - two darjeeling's and an earl grey. All of the tea was *very* over-steeped and therefore extremely bitter. So bitter, in fact, that we sent it back. The server suggested that since it was the second flush, it could be stronger than we might have expected. My wife, who is a huge tea fan, explained that she understood the strength of second flushes, but this tea was simply over-steeped. They took the tea away right away and offered us a replacement, which we declined. They returned and put side plates down for each of us, making us think that they were going to bring something else regardless, but the plates remained empty until we left, which was odd.
Notwithstanding the few errors already noted, the service was as impeccable as you would expect at a place like Daniel - from the bar area to the dining room. While I found the experience to be very formal, I didn't find it to be at all stuffy, which is always nice.
It's interesting to note that within each course, there seemed to be one dish that was extraordinary and a second that was merely terrific. That's an odd distinction to make at most restaurants, but at Daniel you wouldn't expect there to be such a noticable difference between the dishes. While every single dish was prepared perfectly (save the tea!), what was more noteworthy were the relatively few dishes that made us cry with delight at every single forkfull. I had a similar experience at Bouley, where I found the overall experience incredible, but the food perfect but unmemorable. (I'm hoping this makes some amount of sense to you.)
We are certainly glad to have gone there, and there was no sense of let-down at all about the meal. But there was also no sense of "Holy Lord In Heaven That Was Astounding". Total bill was about $450 per couple, $525 for those with wine pairings.