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Daniel (19/20)
60 E. 65th St. (Madison & Park Aves.)
New York, NY 10021
Phone: 212-288-0033
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Daniel Boulud

The Irresistible Ascent
of Daniel

by André Gayot

For decades, we have known and been proclaiming that Daniel Boulud is an excellent chef. After a recent visit, reviving the compilation of our many experiences, we have no doubt that he is more than that. Not only has he been consistent over the years, but the quality of his food has constantly progressed—even though it was already so high in the beginning. Life in Daniel's kitchen is not a succession of peaks and valleys, as is often the case with culinary (or other) geniuses. Savoir-faire and quiet talent flow into a majestic river running—but not too fast—between domesticated banks. Daniel, who indeed hails from the Rhône, is the Tennessee* of American gastronomy. His authority works smoothly from its spring to the estuary.

If by accident you show up very early and are admitted to attend the rehearsal of the staff conducted nightly by Daniel, you can only be impressed by the quest for perfection exuded by the performance. Perfection in cooking or in anything else is a human dream, but in our opinion an evening here can be the next best thing to it.

Daniel takes no chances. Every detail has been meticulously prepared, past mistakes scrutinized and eliminated one after another, and the staff has been readied to anticipate the clients' needs and reactions.

Daniel

As an illustration: duck foie gras—of variable quality—having become a trivial ingredient and a lieu commun of many amuse-bouches, Daniel doesn't do less than rediscover "The Real McCoy" made with goose liver and not duck. With the first mouthful, the tone is set. Goose foie-gras is a fuller, richer product, and that's what Daniel is all about. This impressive introduction indicates what we can expect next: a velvety oyster velouté, a tuna tartar with caviar capable of stunning the most demanding Japanese connoisseur, or a grand Peeky Toe crab underscored with a celery root salad in a Granny Smith gelée.

Whether fish or meat, the main courses are equally appealing to carnivores and to marine addicts. The paupiette of black sea bass is a variation of a standard created and continuously improved upon by Daniel into many glistening versions. Thus, it is a tad vain to describe at length a dish that will soon transform into a new and probably better variation. Even if you are not crazy about meat, it is difficult to resist the tenderness and the savor of the trio of Jamison Lamb composed of a saddle stuffed with wild mushrooms, a shoulder accompanied by fragrant fennel, a roasted chop supported by broccoli rabe, root vegetables and pistachios.

Bacon Wrapped Monkfish

Each piece of meat is treated as part of a symphony where all of the many aromas come together to compose the grand finale, a bewildering tour de force. "Le “plat classique" is an interpretation of a traditional French recipe, such as the braised veal cheeks enriched with citrus polenta, sautéed porcinis and a rosemary jus.

When it comes to the cheese tray, don't pass on the rare and magnificent Saint Nectaire, produced in the mountains of Auvergne not too far away from Daniel's hometown of Lyon.

Many of pastry chef Eric Bertoïa's desserts are based on fruits to keep them light. The Empire Apple frangipane, the orange saffron poached pear, the caramelized pineapple and the pink grapefruit trifle are all irresistible—to say nothing of the sinful chocolate-based millefeuille.

Expert sommelier Jean Luc Le Dû and his assistant Philippe Marchal roam vineyards and cellars to add to their solid list new finds, such as a Viognier Esprit de Beaucastel 2001 from Tablas Creek vineyard, a Pinot Noir 2002 from Ken Wright cellars and a Chardonnay 1999 by Talbot of Sleepy Hollow. A well-done Côteaux du Layon “Rayelles” 1996, Chateau Pierre-Bise is an interesting (and much cheaper) alternative to Sauternes.

The polished service makes the evening fly and glide on a cloud of beatitude. Simply unforgettable.

You will pay $88 for a three-course dinner, in the bill of fare of which were selected the above reviewed dishes.

* In case you have forgotten: The Tennessee Valley Authority was the highlight of President Roosevelt's "New Deal" to fight the recession. The Tennessee River was tamed ("domesticated") thanks to the construction of dams.

(Updated: 09/15/10 NW)


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