Gourmands are spoilt for choice in a city like New York, but if there’s an A-list of restaurants that privileged diners and in-the-know foodies make a beeline for when in the city, then Daniel – the flagship, eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant by Daniel Boloud – is easily one of the top few on that list. (Just as an example, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was dining there the same night as me).
Tucked away on a quiet side street of the Upper East Side, the contemporary French restaurant is housed in what was formerly the Mayfair hotel. The unprepossessing entrance belies the grand yet understated interiors, designed by the famed Adam Tihany – who has retained the neoclassical sophistication of the historic venue, while making it contemporary. The stylish design is enhanced by the striking art on display – many pieces personally selected by Daniel himself, and specially commissioned for the restaurant – and some available for sale as well.
The faultless service, fittingly formal yet never on the wrong side of obsequious, conveys a sense of warmth that instantly makes anyone feel at home (in the interest of full disclosure though, they were aware that I was a food critic). And all of this comes together to create the perfect canvas for the Lyonnaise chef’s culinary art to play out.
The menu, which changes seasonally, stays true to its French roots, while incorporating touches of modernist cuisine with creative techniques, and the occasional appearance of playful whimsy – take the butter plate, for instance, which looks like a smiley face with sea salt and black pepper for eyes!
Choosing from the menu might be difficult, with everything sounding so tempting, so it is a good idea to leave it in the able hands of the team and indulge in a (surprisingly affordable) degustation that may include the likes of: Key lime marinated Long Island fluke; Sea urchin, fennel confit, sea buckthorn coulis; Anise hyssop salad, and White Sturgeon caviar; Maine lobster salad with champagne mango, Chayote lime panna cotta, Aleppo pepper, purslane, and anise seed tuile; Green peppered high plain bison, chanterelles, split pea croquettes, bone marrow mousseline, torpedo shallot and Bordelaise sauce.
As is appropriate for a French restaurant, the dessert selection is equally evocative, with intricate concoctions such as Honeycomb meringue, lemon-bee pollen sorbet, mango, papaya, and lemon Chantilly, on offer.
I could wax eloquent about each dish individually, but suffice to say each course outshone its predecessor, with dexterously executed complexity of technique, married with unmistakable passion, and high quality ingredients. You can tell the quality from the purity of flavour that sings from each of the many components in a dish, with an assured delicacy of touch ensuring it does so. The superlative taste is matched only by the artfulness of presentation, with effective use of negative space and perfectly proportioned garnishes.
The kitchen clearly runs like a well-oiled machine under the watchful eye of executive chef Jean-François Bruel, who is ensuring Daniel Boloud’s dream of ‘giving guests a dining experience that awakens all the senses’, comes true with each service.
Paired with sommelier selections from the beverage list – which contains over 2,000 vintages, some extremely rare, earning it Wine Spectator magazine’s Grand Award since 2002 – a meal here isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience, one that you’re likely to remember for a long time.
While it’s perfect for celebrating special occasions, you don’t need one to come here – a meal here is the occasion. It’s easy to see why certain restaurants earn and retain their Michelin stars and World’s 50 Best Restaurants ratings year after year (Daniel has been going strong for 20 years). It’s not just by serving great food, which is of course paramount, but also by ensuring that a smoothly orchestrated symphony is played out for the diner, encompassing all aspects of the dining experience.
And it also serves to remind us, dare I say it, just how far from Michelin star-rated dining, many restaurants in this region are – but they will get there soon, surely?
Words by Sudeshna Ghosh.
Photos by: B.Milne