With so many options for fantastic and amazing restaurants in New York, it's sometimes hard to decide on which one to visit. We found ourselves with only a few days left on our amazing Manhattan holiday and wanted to go out with style. We had already been to two of the best restaurants in New York, and coincidentally the world, in Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernadin, so how could you top that? There are six three Michelin Starred restaurants in Manhattan, so that left four for us to choose from.
The Michelin guide has two ratings, one is the well known 'star' rating, but there is also the lesser known 'comfort' level. The highest rating for comfort is five ribbons and is considered 'Luxury in the traditional style' and there are only two restaurants with both the 3 star and 5 ribbons. So that left our choice between Thomas Keller's 'Per Se' and Daniel Boulin's 'Daniel'. While we really wanted to check out Per Se, at the end of a month long holiday to one of the most expensive cities in the world, and at $290 per person for food only, sanity prevailed.
Not that Daniel is inexpensive, but Daniel offers both Degustation and a la carte, which provided a much more sensible option for us. The tasting menu kicks in at $220 per person and there is a three course prix fixe a la carte option at $116. Even better, because we were booked in for an early start, there was an option of a three course prix fixe, with matching wines, for only $130 which is amazing value.
Daniel is a very refined and sophisticated restaurant where there is a strict dress code, jackets only, and a strict 'no photo's' policy. I decided not to take my big 'bad boy' camera but we did take our little point and shoot, hoping to get some quick photos in. When we arrived and saw how 'posh' Daniel is, I quickly gave up on bringing out our point and shoot and had to satisfy myself with my iPhone for photos, which didn't work out so good, so unfortunately the photos of the wonderful food don't do justice to the dishes.
We knew that we were in for a special treat when we arrived at Daniel, which is in a very unassuming (but still posh) building on the Upper East Side, the only indication that it's a restaurant is some unobtrusive singing out the front and a revolving door that had the glass frosted, so you couldn't see inside from outside. When we arrived we were warmly greeted and informed that the dining room was not yet open and asked if we would care for some drinks at the bar while we waited. SC used this as an opportunity to have a lovely cosmopolitan, which had an amazing frozen peach at the bottom of the glass.
After a short wait we were moved into the dining room and were greeted by subdued lighting and very a very large circular table with a comfortable curved bench seat. Our immaculately dressed and incredibly friendly waiter explained the menu and options. As tempting as the tasting menu looked, we went for the prix fixe, with SC taking up the matching wines offer.
We started off the night with a trio of amuse bouche, which consisted of three different little fish bites that were fresh and extremely tasty. The first was an ever so slightly cooked piece of tuna, which still tasted of the sea and was my favourite. There was a prawn bite that was also quite tasty, but SC's favourite was the crab in a light mayonnaise, which was light and wonderful and a great way to lead off for the entrees.
SC wanted something very light so chose the Ekerton Hill farm heirloom tomatoes, chilled soup with avocado, salad with basil pistou and 'En Gelle' with lobster and quail egg. There was a lot going on with this dish and the presentation was superb but just a little bit disconnected on the plate, like there were three dishes in one as opposed to a complete dish. This was the only minor issue with a dish that has superbly balanced flavours that were rich and fresh. The was total harmony with flavours that were inventive and very well put together.
I took the opportunity to sample the butter poached jade tiger abalone with sea buckthorn, a sake beurre blanc, glazed escarole and a short grain croquette. Most times I have had or seen abalone, it's been chopped very fine and mixed through a sauce but the abalone here was cut very thick and placed back in the shell. The texture of the abalone was a little firmer than I expected and had a wonderful creamy feel in the mouth and when combined with the beurre blanc was simply stunning. There was a little contrast with the sea buckthorn, which has a slightly bitter taste, but was nice. I didn't get or like the short grain croquette and think the plate would have been better without it, but didn't detract from my love of this dish.
While the entrees were lovely they didn't rock my socks from a presentation viewpoint, but we were wowed by the first of the main courses. The rabbit saddle stuffed with tomato confit, perond scented sweet pepper ragout, anise hyssop, leg stuffed pattypan with nicoise olive looked amazing. There was a lot going on and the plate ran the risk of being crowded, but it worked. The rabbit was cooked to perfection and the subtle meat was soft and juicy and blended well with the other flavours on the plate that also could have been overpowering, but were not. This dish was very close to perfection and unlike a degustation dish, it quite substantial.
If SC's rabbit was close to perfection then my duck took that final little step to utter perfection. The roasted Liberty farm duck breast, bing cherry chutney with galangi, glazed daikon, pipponi mushroom, pistachio and a port jus was stunning. There were three perfectly cut pieces of duck breast that were incredibly well cooked and surprisingly large. This continued a trend of very large and fulfilling main courses which differed so much from the smaller sizes usually associated with ultra fine dining. The flavour combinations were both classic and creative at the same time and the balance of the flavours was spot on perfection. I loved this dish!
There were some lovely looking options for dessert, too many to really make a sound choice without feeling as if you had missed out by not selecting one of the other amazing desserts. There were two dessert menus, a chocolate menu and a fruit menu and after much anguish, SC opted for the biscuit on the chocolate side. I say biscuit loosely, as what was delivered was akin to rich chocolate slices. The chocolate hazelnut biscuit, manjari-banana ganache with vanilla lime sorbet looked very pretty on the plate and tasted wonderful. The contrasting chocolate flavours worked very well together and the sorbet helped cut through the richness.
I also chose from the chocolate side of the dessert menu and opted for the warm guanaja chocolate coulant, liquid caramel and milk sorbet. This dessert looked amazing and had wonderful flavours, but was not without fault. The chocolate coulant (often called molten cake) was ever so slightly over cooked and as a consequence did not really ooze when I cracked it open. Sure the center was gooey, but it didn't ooze all over the place as it should have. That aside, it was delicious when mixed with the light and creamy milk sorbet and the sticky caramel. There was a lovely touch of gold leaf adorning the top of the dessert, which was so light on the tongue, it was almost not there.
Unfortunately the small and grainy iPhone photos don't do the meal justice and I am left wondering why a restaurant would prohibit photos being taken when pretty much everyone in the world is doing so right now (even people who aren't food bloggers!)
We were both really happy with our choice of Daniel and especially the a la carte option. We had eaten heaps of degustation and tasting menus on our New York trip and to have such a high quality meal that was also really substantial was just what we needed at the end of the holiday. What we also loved was the amazing service provided, just a cut above, and very relaxed feel of the restaurant. It was really busy but we could have been the only (very important) guests in the restaurant the way we were treated.
As we waited for our bill to arrive the last surprise of the night was placed in front of us, some little chocolate treats, that also included a macaron. There were six lovely little finishing bites that SC and I took turns eating, with my first choice being the perfectly put together macaron. It was a great way to finish off what was another very memorable meal in New York. If I was asked which of our three Michelin Starred meals was best, I would be hard pressed to split them, but without doubt our visit to Daniel will go down as one of our best meals in New York. Ahh, I miss being in New York!