I called our first visit to Daniel back in 2011 “as close to perfect a meal as Kamran and I have had in NYC”. It was our first time at a restaurant with three Michelin stars and our first time eating one of these over-the-top, wine-paired, France-fueled tasting menus.
Since then, we’ve been to all but one of the three-Michelin-starred places (if anyone wants to put in a good word for Masa, I’m listening) and have basically had so much good food that we’ve started to question whether or not it’s been a mistake to ruin ourselves for mediocre food, so we decided it was time to go back to Daniel and see if our first time still holds up.
This is the six-course tasting for $195 (with an added cheese course for $50), paired with wine for $105:
Mostly salmony but with just a hint of that bitter rye flavor.
Creamy/crunchy/chewy textures, with chive oil at the bottom to add to and contrast with the flavor of the onion jam on top.
The most perfect, most singular bite of shrimp, with citrus flavor and the crunch of the confit parsnip chip below.
Pretty gamey-tasting with a ham-like texture that made this like enjoying a charcuterie plate, sour gelee, and a very fresh, almost vegetal-flavored pistachio oil swipe.
Sweet and creamy, with crisp brioche toast points. This was the gentler counterpart to the funky squab thanks to its sweet onions and crisp pears, which I love the texture of in any dish but especially in very homogenous ones.
This was one of my favourite dishes on both visits. Not only is crab just simply delicious, but Daniel knows just the fresh elements to pair with it to make it really sing, for lack of a better metaphor. Subtle and sweet with a vinegary celery sauce to make it bright. I don’t think anything was better for me all night than that first forkful of crab, celery leaves, and crisp apple.
These tender hunks of fish were served cold and had much stronger flavors than their crab counterpart thanks to a meaty mussel sauce and brunoise of bold chorizo. A combination of fresh and wilted leaves gave it differing textures.
My first frog! Except for the lollipop, which seemed more familiar due to its breading, I thought this had its own slightly aquatic flavor and didn’t just “taste like chicken”. The texture of the smaller bits reminded me a lot of sweetbreads with the way it was chewy and segmented. I loved the deep stew-like flavors of the this and the texture of the crispy kale.
Have I mentioned that Daniel really knows what they’re doing with shrimp? The sweet shellfish flavor was so strong in this despite the relatively bold flavors of fennel and olive. It was so buttery and familiar, less exciting than the frog legs but more comforting. I think I’m finally getting used to the taste of olives, too, because when I tasted them in this dish, it was more “that’s what an olive tastes like” than “eww, what is that weird gross flavor?” Grownup!
Our first time at Daniel, we were impressed by the way the kitchen made tuna taste like steak and sole taste like chicken, and this was another instance of their uncanny ability to bring the sea to land. It was just so much like eating a piece of steak, and the fava bean/chickpea cake was such the perfect starch to accompany it with its crispy exterior and dense middle. I loved the buttery Brussels sprout, the fresh garbanzos, and just the slightest heat from the sauce.
Not really a kale flan but more like a crumbly kale cookie, with fresh bitter kale leaves on top. Deliiiiicious little cylinder of creamy potatoes with a crunchy shell. Sticky, dark sauce. The only misstep for me was the lack of crispy skin on the fish; the other elements on the plate were simply much more interesting than the sea bass.
What’s more luxurious than a plate full of different kinds of baby cow? The tenderloin was tender, but the blanquette must have started cooking before that little veal was even born to have made it so buttery soft. The sweetbreads were very familiar inside, but the coating was this thick, flour-heavy batter I haven’t tasted before. Even the herbs themselves were salty and delicious; a lot of care was clearly put into this dish.
I loved that this dish and the veal were just pure hunks of meat, unadulterated but for some sauce. The sticky sweet tender shortrib was such the perfect juxtaposition to the hard-seared wagyu. The chestnuts provided just enough texture contrast to the purées but were still softened and sweet.
The frommelier (apparently this is a totally real word used to describe the fromage version of the wine sommelier) brought her cheese cart around to our table and named each selection. We knew we wanted the super-stinky Époisses de Bourgogne but otherwise left ourselves in her hands and received a plate with six different kinds ranging from firm to soft and sweet to stinky and goaty to sheepy to cowy. Slices of bread, apricots, cherries, and the sweetest red wine gelee accompanied them, and when we couldn’t begin to finish the plate, everything was wrapped up for us to take home.
I secretly think meringue is too simple and bland when anything else is available, but this dessert really worked for me. The layers of whipped cream and cold meringue were so creamy and sweet, and then the fruits on the side packed a sour punch. I loved the guava gel specifically as someone who’s into tart flavors enough to go around sucking on lemons.
served with Château Pajzos 5 Puttonyos Aszú, Tokaji 2003
This was the same chocolate cake I had back in 2011. The crunchy exterior gave way to a gooey molten center that oozed out onto the plate. Simple. But perfect.
served with Domaine de Rancy Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon 1996
Last time, we were celebrating my boyfriend finishing law school. This time, we weren’t celebrating anything special, but the kitchen still sent us this extra dessert. We saw a lot of extra desserts going around that night, many with little notes written in chocolate on the plates. It’s little touches like this that make Daniel feel special. The fact that I especially loved this because of the super-sour lime gel didn’t hurt, either.
The Michelin Guide calls Daniel “luxury in the traditional style”, and I really think that’s the best description. It’s purely elegant here, not in the modern and simple Per Se way but in the over-the-top and grand Bouley way. The dining room is completely windowless, creating this very protected and intimate feel, and the sunken center means that diners on the perimeter have a view of what everyone else is doing. I’m sure it doesn’t compare to dining in the skybox overlooking the kitchen, but I felt pretty regal at my spot along the wall on a plush banquette lit only by a candle and being served by friendly-yet-professional Frenchies. Pretty close to perfect indeed.
My boyfriend and I have long had Bouley on our radar, but when we wanted to try a David Bouley restaurant, we went for his newer, Japanese kaiseki one, Brushstroke, and had a 4.5-donut experience. We’ve been trying to cover some new ground lately, though, and thought maybe it was time to pay respect to his eponymous restaurant that was so huge in the 80s and recently saw a facelift in the late 00s.
We booked dinner simply because we saw a reservation available on OpenTable, but as we looked into visiting, we wondered if we hadn’t made a very costly mistake. Dinner at Bouley is $175 for six courses, $280 with wine. Lunch is five courses for $55. So the darkness and that one extra course cost you $120. We thought about trying to switch to lunch. We thought about canceling our reservation completely after reading some of the unflattering reviews floating around the Internet. But we ultimately decided to go for the full dinner tasting menu and judge for ourselves, expectations appropriately set.
Bouley (pronounced “boo-LAY”, just in case you’re like me and assume every name has an American pronunciation) is opulent. It’s like a country home where everything has been coated in gold leaf. Heavy drapes, tall candles, fresh flowers everywhere. Wood, iron, vaulted ceilings. Bathrooms the size of most NYC apartments and laden with enough tapestry to dress every diner for life. Private dining rooms where every inch seems to be covered in red velvet. Even the picture frames are upholstered in purple velvet. And the foyer is lined from floor to ceiling with shelves of apples so that the room smells like an orchard.
Very beety, with plenty of blue cheese flavor and nutty sweetness.
Japanese flatbread, truffle, potato and cheese sauce. Yes.
On top of and inside this cold aspic (savory gelatin) was uni made extra sweet by broiling. The complex ocean flavor of this dish was balanced by the cream and caviar underneath.
If you knew me just a few years ago, the idea of my ordering an all-mushroom course would be hilarious to you. I remember being at Cafeteria in Chelsea one night on one of my first dates with my boyfriend and piling millimeter-long chips of mushroom from my risotto on one side of my bowl and hoping he wouldn’t notice. But ever since I had the wild mushroom salad with jalapeno puree at Momofuku Ko forced on me and found it one of the most unforgettable dishes of my life, I’ll give any mushroom a try.
These were sweet, a little spicy with something like cinnamon or nutmeg, and so umami with that Parmesan foam and black truffle. There were so many textures on the plate, including an entirely different one from the grilled tuna.
The bread man with his cage full of fresh loaves came to our table and offered us slices of anything we wanted. The flavors were varied and interesting: saffron, sourdough, black currant, French onion. I loved how different and personal the service was.
Our server described this as a chawanmushi, but all of the chawanmushis I’ve had have been thick, broth-less custards. This was more like a creamy crab soup with a broth flavored like yuzu and cardamom. They sure didn’t skimp on the crab, though.
Sweet, with perfectly-cooked langoustine and scallops. The sauce was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it could have been more spicy and salty for my taste, but it really let the natural flavors of the scallops and langoustine shine through.
Flaky fish, smoky almond milk, and so much sweet ginger.
Tender, buttery lobster with a crunchy black truffle julienne. I enjoyed the texture contrast between the slice of turnip on top and the puree underneath.
We’ve had a lot of Kobe, a lot of Wagyu, and a lot of Kobe and Wagyu that were probably not actually Kobe and Wagyu, so we wanted to try this “true Kobe”. Just to be sure. We were both entirely underwhelmed. The point of eating a really good piece of beef for me is to cut through it and notice how tender it is, but with the way this was sliced so thin, any cut would have been tender. Although I liked the crunchy texture with the beef, the watery frisée completely diluted the taste of the Kobe. Having just had the much-better calotte de boeuf at Per Se last month, this was an unfortunate let-down, and one that came with a hefty price tag.
Delicious crispy skin aside, the star of this was the date “paper” spread on the bottom of the dish. When heated, it became like a sauce, and it formed such an interesting new flavor when eaten with the lima beans. I loved the black pepper chunks in the polenta and the buttery fingerling potatoes served on the side.
Light and fluffy on top, a little icy on the bottom, and milky throughout. When the server put this down, my boyfriend and I immediately went to work imagining how it was made, and when the woman next to us tried to ask her date the same thing, he said, “Let’s wait for our neighbors to figure it out.” Food nerds!
This very sweet and lychee-ful sorbet made the accompanying fruits VERY tart. This was a complex dish that I secretly wanted to simplify by just eating a big, ol’ scoop of that delicious sorbet.
Mmm, grain-flavored gelato. I wasn’t a huge fan of it on its own, but the creamy soup and strawberries (which were such a treat out of season) were so pleasant with it, and my boyfriend actually liked that it was like eating a field.
Not a souffle in the molten cake sort of way but more like a meringue. “Pineapple egg foam”, we called it. So many things were good about this, from the warm pineapple chunks throughout to the sugar granules on the bottom to the unexpected pistachio core. The “10 exotic flavor sorbet” was really just two flavors for us: pineapple and yuzu. But it was very intense and delicious.
This was the souffle I was expecting, with a liquid center and a little crunch to the exterior. I liked the semi-sweet mousse and the crumbled cookie crisp, but the coffee ice cream really made the dish.
Truthfully, the food at Bouley was only okay. It looks like it should have three Michelin stars, but it only has one, and the reviews about it wavering from delicious to just decent were spot-on. Date paper duck? Delicious. Kobe that should be pretty hard to not make amazing? Just decent. For the price, which is well above a lot of the better tasting menus in the city, I would either expect plenty of off-menu courses (think Eleven Madison Park, where you could almost make a meal of all of the amuses they bring you) or at the very least, much more complete courses; two langoustines and three bay scallops does not a complete dish make. This was the same complaint I had about the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin, though, so perhaps the protein with very little else is just the mark of a really French-y restaurant.
And yet, we left Bouley talking about what a great time it was. Despite not loving all of the food, we loved the experience of eating here. The decor is completely different than in any other fine dining room we’ve seen in NYC–not modern and simple but full and almost flamboyant. When I asked the sommelier, who was excellent, if I could take photos of the bottles, he said, “You SHOULD!” The guy on the bread cart joked with us every time he wheeled by, while the more serious servers would slide the food down in front of us, rattle off the ingredients in their French accents, and turn on a dime to go back and stand in their corners. It didn’t feel stuffy here, just professional and special. Maybe I’m not dying to go back for the food, but the overall dinner was something I’ll talk about.
From the Vault:
This is a meal from April of 2011, with pictures taken on my old point and shoot camera and everything. I recently revisited Jean-Georges, however, and wanted to post my first meal there before I review my second one.
I went to acclaimed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s less-expensive restaurants The Mark and Nougatine. There were definite highlights to each–the beets, the souffle, the strawberry foie gras brulee–but overall, my socks were not knocked off.
Everyone told me, “You can’t judge Jean-Georges on those! Go to the real restaurant! It’s a different experience!” They all said, “The lunch at Jean-Georges is the best value in the city!” So I went to Jean-Georges. I had the lunch. I’m still not sure how this restaurant has three Michelin stars.
Still the best part about dining at any of the Jean-Georges restaurants, I think. I just love that they have to be stirred and that they’re so intensely flavored and that they make you realize how overly-sweet and underly-natural traditional bottled sodas are. My boyfriend wasn’t as impressed with his spring herb soda as with the other flavors we’ve had, mostly because there weren’t any actual herbs in it, but my ginger is still one of the best drinks in town.
I think this dish sums up the Jean-Georges experience. The shrimp was impeccably seasoned and cooked, and the cucumber “pasta” was a neat little trick that resulted in this bright, fresh, light plate of food. If I was someone concerned about lightness and brightness, I might describe this dish as “guilt-free” and talk about how it’s a “healthy swap” for a legitimate pasta. But I want all of my dishes to involve so much butter I could sculpt a cow out of them. I want to feel like I should feel guilty about what I’m eating (but then not actually feel guilty, because I’m a grownup). I want to be knocked out by flavor. This kind of food is nice, but it’s not gut-bustingly, tear-producingly delicious.
One of the best things about the Jean-Georges experience is the marshmallow cart, which arrives bearing a jar of homemade marshmallows that the marshmallow-caterer deftly snips apart with her shears. You get one. You will want ten.
Lunch at Jean-Georges is quite a deal at two plates for $38 with each additional plate at $19. If you want to say you’ve been to a restaurant with three Michelin stars but don’t want to drop $118 on the prix-fixe menu or $198 on the tasting menu, this is the meal for you. Despite the price, it has all the trappings of the three-star experience: the refined plating, the sleek decor with neutral colors and tons of natural light, the flawless service. For me, though, the food doesn’t measure up to that of the other restaurants with three Michelin stars. It’s like there’s one flavor missing from every dish, one thing that other chefs are including that Chef Vongerichten isn’t. (Butter.)
And yet my boyfriend and I feel ourselves being drawn to it every now and then. After this meal, we returned for the full tasting at dinner. And even when that wasn’t quite good enough, either, we still mention going back again every time we see an open reservation. We’re still trying to find that third Michelin star. We’re still trying to give credit to the chef who’s said to have influenced the way New Yorkers eat more than any other. We still love those homemade sodas.
Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.
My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.
A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.
Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.
The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.
The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.
With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.
Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.
My love of Per Se is much documented and includes an overusage of superlatives like most and best. Accordingly, my Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend this year was a lunch reservation that included all of the caviar and foie gras and general over-the-top-ness you want and expect from this restaurant that somehow ends up coaxing an entire paycheck out of you by the time you leave.
Our server tried to tell us that there’s no set wine pairing, which was either a change from our other visits or a very strange falsehood. The only time we’ve had to give any input on the wine was when we had the extended menu, which required extra glasses if we wanted one with each dish. This time, we had to tell her how much we wanted to spend ($200-$250 each), and the sommelier chose a selection of glasses and half-bottles for us. I want to feel like my sommelier has thought long and hard about the pairings (even though, you know, the menu changes daily), so this spur-of-the-moment tell-us-how-much-you-want-to-spend stuff didn’t work for me. That said, the wine was excellent, and the sommelier took great care of us.
One perfect bite of pastry stuffed so full of smooth cheese that immediately disperses and coats your mouth. And of course I love that giant handle-less spoon they’re served on.
I also liked these new mounts for the salmon cones, which weighed approximately fifty pounds each. The cone was better than ever, with so much citrus flavor in the salmon and so much red onion in the creme fraiche base.
The signature Per Se dish, where the main flavor is butter and the main texture is buttery and the main desire is for a piece of bread to sop it up with.
This supplement to the tasting menu is one we’d never think of skipping. Past iterations of the foie gras have included strawberries and creme fraiche, pistachio and turnips, and celery and leeks, but this banana version was the most surprisingly delicious. The hazelnut-banana cake base made it like eating candy; I couldn’t quite pick out the hazelnut and banana flavors when I ate them along with the creamy foie gras, but they instead all formed this amazing new flavor all its own. The nutty balls of banana were a textural pleasure, the tart of the yogurt cut through the richness of everything else, and the mizuna was just a nice little peppery juxtaposition to all of that sweetness.
A roll to spread the foie gras on, replaced at regular intervals to ensure sustained warmth for every bite.
A tasting of salts from around the world to top the foie gras. Amidst all of the pink Himalayan and the black volcanic salts, my favourite was the less-exotic fleur de sel because of the evident crunch it provided.
See those well-cooked carrots flanking the halibut? They’re red pepper piperade! And they were the best part of this dish that was my overall favourite of the day. I love red pepper for one, and the playfulness of the presentation delighted me. Sauce ravigote is meant to “reinvigorate” a boring protein, but this version of ravigote was itself reinvigorated with the addition of the sour, acidic squid ink and the most wonderful minced orange. The La Ratte potatoes (little guys from Denmark) seemed as if they had been soaked in olive oil for two days, and the halibut was firm, flaky, and succulent.
My boyfriend said the smoked foie gras sauce tasted like a Slim Jim and made the lobster taste like pastrami. (donuts4dinner.com can be counted on for the most high-brow descriptions, eh?) The crumbly texture of the chestnut was a standout, as was the bitter, tender, acidic radicchio. I always associate lobster mitts with Per Se and wasn’t let down by this surprisingly complex dish.
I don’t believe I’ve ever called a rabbit “creamy”, but this one was. The dish was a combination of salty bacon, a rich sticky sauce, the crunch of almond, sweet carrot, the unique texture of the sausage next to the loin, and that tender baby bunny. The perfect lead-in to an even richer beef dish.
The view out of the windows of the Time Warner Center, onto Central Park. Note the “beautiful” white NYC winter sky.
Another sticky sauce made this round of calotte rich and lip-smacking. It looked way too red on the inside at first glance but was of course tender and perfectly cooked in the end, especially thanks to the crisp sear on the exterior. The short rib cube on the opposite side of the plate was a fell-off-the-bone wonder that might have been slowly cooked for two days straight. The raw radish was beautiful but not my favourite accompaniment, but my boyfriend said it reminded him of the fresh vegetables and herbs you eat alongside Persian kebab. The hen-of-the-woods, which is my favourite mushroom, was mostly flavored like deep-fried batter, but no one’s complaining about that.
Past cheese courses at Per Se have been so memorable, but this one was merely fine. (Which is to say much better than the cheese course almost anywhere else but not at the level I expect from Per Se.) There was very little punch to this cheese; the flavor that really came through was that of the pear slivers, which I mistook for olives at first. Imagine the delight of putting what you think is a salty, mushy olive in your mouth and instead finding that it’s a sweet, firm pear. Bliss! The stack cake was fruity, moist, and understated, but like the cheese, it was too understated for me.
So sour! I thought I loved the slimy strips of young coconut mixed in, but now I’m wondering if they were actually rambutan, which I didn’t even realize I was eating. Every time I visit, I need my Per Se waiter to say, “YOU SHOULD BE IMPRESSED BY THIS,” so I know to look out for an ingredient I haven’t had before. Hmph.
I always consider Per Se desserts pretty sparse, so this big ball of cheesy ice cream had me drooling like a wide-eyed kid. I loved all of the freshness of this but was surprised to find that what seemed like a boring, old apple cake was actually the most delicious part.
For a lover of chocolate and fruit combinations and a lover of plates that have so much going on I don’t know where to put my fork first, this was dreamy. I found pave niçoise on a menu from 1933 where fresh beluga caviar was $1.75 and filet mignon was $1.45, so it’s kind of exciting to see that Per Se is recycling these old techniques in a completely modern way. Working my way through the “paved” dollops of orange was so much fun, and I loved the crunchy chocolate circle encasing orange foam and orange segments, but the best part was the simple but oh-so-sour orange sorbet.
Looked like Golden Grahams cereal but was actually shortbread with an orangey flavor.
Per Se famously brings around a wooden box with individual spaces for approximately 30 chocolates in the most exotic flavor combinations at the end of the meal, and my boyfriend and I famously only take two or three each both because we’ve been eating for three hours at that point and because we care about keeping up appearances. This time, we did the same, but I asked the chocolate guy how many people ask for the entire box, and he said A FEW TIMES A DAY. He added that the only couple he’s actually seen finish it was the pastry sous chef and his girlfriend, so that means a few people a day are taking that whole foot-long box of chocolates and wasting it. It’s only fitting for a meal this lavish.
Coffee semifreddo, thicker and richer than any ice cream.
Doughnuts, so full of air the kitchen has to roll them in sugar just to make them heavy enough to not float away.
I forgot to take a picture of the mountain of mignardises this time, so here’s a picture of the usual three-tiered behemoth from our last visit. There was fudge, French macarons, and truffles, and of course we didn’t have the stomach-room to even begin on them, and of course they only sent us home with one of each thing when I asked to have them wrapped up. I’m going to get that whole box of chocolates next time, eat two of them, and then casually melt all of the leftovers with my hands and hot breath so no one else gets to enjoy them. Because I can.
To take home. To remind you of how a month of anticipating that reservation and the food that comes with it is over. Tastes amazing with a side of your tears.
It’s almost boring to talk about how good Per Se is at this point. The place is perfection. It’s the best super-fine fine dining restaurant in NYC. If you’re not eating here, you’re wasting your time elsewhere. Although once you do eat here, you’ll be ruined for everything else. Take heed.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)