I went to Daniel last night with my mother and a friend, both of whom are enjoying their first visits to NY. This was to be our one special dinner together, and I really had high hopes, justifiably so given its reputation, praise on this board and the price, of course. I haven't been this disappointed in a fine dining experience in a long time.
We walked in and our coats were taken. The space is very impressive and the hosts friendly and efficient. The waiter then came by to ask if we wanted a beverage, and we ordered ice water, which fortunately was not met with the average, "flat or still", or "oh, tap water." pleasant still. i do find it a bit unsettling to be asked if you want a cocktail the very moment you sit down, especially without said menu, etc. but this i know is somewhat common and i am willing to overlook.
We were offered the wine list, two volumes literally inside a case. I inquired about the by the glass selections and was handed a smaller menu, albeit with some excellent picks like the '02 Turley Juvenile Zin.
Then came the food menus. I was a little surprised no explanation was offered as to the ordering options, other than to explain the supplmentary offerings of the day. On the website, it says there are three, four, five and eight course choics. there was no four course one last night. We debated between doing the five course, which required full table participation, or the three, and then whether or not we wanted a wine pairing, etc. We are very into food, our reason for being there in the first place, so it was important that we make the right decision for the table.
Maybe it was our table's location in the restaurant, a banquette along the back perimeter next to the curtained off private table, but the waiters seemed to hover from the get go, often staring. Never a good sign. It was as if they were trying to rush us. Then came the amuse selections, all very nice, goat cheese crostinis, salmon, eggplant caviar. Again though, they asked us at one point if we were done with it, when clearly we were not as none of us had even sampled the eggplant yet. But when we needed them later in the evening, to work out a problem, to order a second glass of wine, to get the check, extra plates, they were noticably absent.
We decided on the three course meal, each ordering different items so that we could share. my mother opted for the lobster salad, which served very rare, which i like, but i found it a bit chewy. my friends and i cooked a 4 course lobster dinner a year ago, and i know it doesn't have to be that chewy. We also had the special foie gras, which was seared a bit too much, a nice dish but just slightly overcooked. My dish was the crayfish, the best of the bunch and of the night. Fish, broth and accompanients were all lovely.
For this course, we ordered a guerwertiner (sp?) and a sauvignon blanc. The waiter had suggested the $28 glass of sauternes for the foie gras pairing and it really took awhile for him to "get" that i didnt' want to spend that much money. it's not something one should have to point out. there's usually a dance you do where it's understood. not so here.
When he did pour the wine, he poured all of it in the glass, not bothering to offer me a taste. I was shocked. Even my non-oenophile mother knew that was a major faux paus. When my freind returend from the restroom, i had to warn her to ask him to let her taste hers. He looked shocked when she did.
Main courses were utterly disappointing. Our big mistake was splitting them up before tasting them. Had we done so, we would have sent all of them back. The duo of beef, a steak and short rib, was ok. The short rib was fall apart tender, but the beef was not a prime cut, not even close. It was cooked to our specification, well done, just kidding, medium rare, but had zero flavor. The chicken was bone dry. I took one bit and had to chase it with risotto. I left the rest uneaten. The rabbit encased in bacon was also dry, and tasted only of the bacon. The leg was actually quite nice--the only redeeming thing.
Our reds for that course were great. The Turley and a Willamette pinot. And this time it was not our waiter but a woman we hadn't yet seen who poured them. She was accessible and nice. And let us taste first.
We decided after the entrees we'd had enough, no real desire for our third course. I politely explained this to the waiter, citing the bone dry chicken, the flavorless cut of rib eye (usually the most flavorful cut!), etc. We said we would like to forgo dessert and have that reflected in our bill. He offered to bring another entree, we said 0/3 no thank you. He said he would talk to the chef and see what he could do. Ten minutes pass.
A manager comes over and we have to retell the whole story. Again, he says he needs to consult the chef. Fifteen minutes pass. Three complimentary desserts arrive and he agreed to take $15 off of each prix fixe. It was fair but didn't really change the fact we eended up spending $400 between the three of us on a meal we mostly didn't like, for less than stellar service.