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 friend Kim online-introduced me to her hometown-friend-with-a-blog Katie Qué (pronounced kay) a few months ago, telling me that she’s a much more interesting blogger than I am and that I’d love her posts about “Game of Thrones” and her many and varied photos of her much-personalitied cat. Within days, we had created a House Katie sigil and motto. (Sorry if that means nothing to you. Wait, no, I’m NOT sorry. Watch “Game of Thrones”. And also “Girls”. Mostly “Girls”, actually.)
Katie Qué came to visit her friend Patrick last weekend and was kind enough to invite me to be a part of her wallet-emptying/belly-filling/Alice-in-Wonderland-obsessing odyssey. My portion of the adventure included brunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, the beloved Upper East Side café with a Saturday morning waitlist far too long for me to ever bother with it. But Kim luckily lives mere blocks away and put our name in early so the rest of us could arrive an hour and a half later with none of those this-better-be-worth-it feelings that a long wait usually leaves me with.
To put it bluntly, I don’t give a crap about tea and didn’t really even plan to order any, but then I decided on a dish that came ready-made with a pot, so the four of us ended up sharing pots of Alice’s Tea, a blend of Indian black vanilla tea blended with Japanese green tea and rose petals, and of Darjeeling Earl Grey, a Darjeeling flavored with bergamot.
I was really, really surprised by how much I liked the tea. Especially the Darjeeling, which was just bursting with that deep, dark, depths-of-winter orange, both in smell and in flavor. The mismatched cups and saucers, the sugars and milk, the little spoons–I loved the shabby formality of it.
Katie Qué looks so petite behind her giant cup, and Patrick appears as if he’s plotting a bergamot-fueled bank heist. In the 1950s.
Kim just looks pretty.
I ordered The Nibble, a two-tiered stand with a sandwich of my choice on top; a scone, a pot of clotted cream and preserves, and an assortment of cookies filled the bottom plate. My sandwich was the Black Forest ham and gruyere, and I was probably about as excited by the look of it as you are. It’s kind of a piddly thing next to the mile-high Katz’s pastramis of the world, right? But I soon forgot how flat and unadorned it appeared when I bit through the golden-raisin-studded bread to the whole grain mustard and then to the sweet and salty ham and cheese. It was more complex than I expected and also more filling.
I couldn’t have been happier with my pumpkin scone, which was glazed crunchy on the outside but stayed warm and soft on the inside so as to melt the sweet, thick clotted cream. I wasn’t sure the berry preserves would go well with pumpkin, but together, they were this perfect end-of-summer/start-of-fall, warm/cool combination. If the wait wasn’t so unmanageable, I can see myself coming to Alice’s every weekend for their $10 two-scones-and-a-pot-of-tea deal just to have this again.
Everyone else ordered the vegetarian egg white omelet to punish themselves or something, but this dish ultimately got the last laugh by including these roasted pears that the three of them couldn’t stop raving about. I think Katie Qué may have been inspired to write an entire cookbook centered on roasted pears that afternoon.
My cookies, on the other hand, inspired me to remember to stick to the scones in the future. There was a chocolate chip, a sugar cookie with sprinkles, a cranberry, and a white chocolate-macadamia. As someone who only likes fresh, soft cookies so heavy with butter they can barely maintain their cookie form, these seemed old and stale to me. Between the four of us, we only ate half of each.
A good time was had by all, and I can certainly see myself coming back to Alice’s to have a chance to eat that preserve-laden scone and drink that orangey tea again. It’s a charming little café for people in the neighborhood. I have no idea why this is a destination for out-of-towners, though, in the same way I don’t understand why Serendipity 3 is. The Alice in Wonderland theme is minimal, unless you consider adding the word “Alice” to “eggs Florentine” a real nod to Lewis Carroll. The service is plenty nice, but we were taken aback when our server brought us our last pot of tea and told us we’d reached our time limit for taking up a table at the same time. I guess they know I don’t know where else to get clotted cream.
I had my first taste of the famous/infamous Sprinkles cupcake last year in their homeland of California when my boyfriend’s sister brought an anniversary cupcake cake to his parents’ party. My cupcake was yellow cake with chocolate frosting and a pink block letter of questionable edibility that seemed to be made of sugar but refused to melt in my mouth.
Hardcore New Yorkers will stand loyally behind their Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, but I prefer the much more elaborate/gluttonous cupcakes from Crumbs Bake Shop and really only go to Magnolia for the banana pudding, so I was completely open to trying Sprinkles. And it was fine. Not life-changing. Not make-me-move-to-California-immediately-ing. But fine.
Well, my friend Kim got a coupon to try four free Sprinkles cupcakes at the first NYC location in the Upper East Side, because she is the princess of New York City, and she invited me to try them with her, knowing that I’d insist on buying a couple more. The employees are very nice, and the store is veeeeery cute, with the trademark Sprinkles dots decorating the outside, bright colors everywhere, and enough low tables with corresponding ottomans that we didn’t feel any pressure to move for the couple of hours we sat there.
The cupcakes were still fine.
My only complaint about Crumbs is that I feel like they spend so much time working on the filling and toppings that they forget to care about the cake; it usually tastes a couple of days old. My complaint about Magnolia is that it’s too simple; I can and have made their cupcakes at home myself. Sprinkles hits a nice balance between quality cake and quality toppings. The cake was fresh and moist, and the frostings and accoutrements were all creative. In the end, though, I missed the way Crumbs fills the cake with a dollop of frosting, and I missed the sheer size of the Crumbs cupcake. Sprinkles is good for people who want to splurge without bursting their bellies, and that ain’t me.
There’s one reason I might choose Sprinkles over Crumbs in the future, though. The drinking chocolate:
It’s bittersweet Belgian chocolate with a vanilla bean marshmallow, so rich and dense you feel like you’re wearing a mouthguard of hot chocolate when you’re finished with it. The marshmallow was so thick that it lasted almost to the end of the cup, making each sip creamy and flavorful.
Flex Mussels gets pretty good reviews. It has four stars on Google, four stars on Yelp, four stars on Menupages. So when my boyfriend insisted that I eat a steaming pot of mollusk in exchange for getting to try some of Executive Pastry Chef Zac Young‘s famed creations, I thought I was probably safe.
We showed up at 7:55 for our 8 p.m. reservation and were asked to wait. Not a big deal. A couple came in after us and were seated immediately. Fine. Then another. And another. Even though we were standing right beside her, my boyfriend thought maybe he needed to mention to the hostess that we were still waiting to be seated. She said we were next. And then seated some more couples. I had read reviews that mentioned the aloofness/disorganization of the service, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I also kind of felt like saying, “Um, you DO know that the Upper East Side is the middle of nowhere to me, right? I could be at any one of the Momofukus right now.”
Finally, after fifteen minutes, we were given a table, and the guy who seated us said, “I’m so sorry that happened.” And I asked, “What DID happen?” And he said there had been a problem in the kitchen and gave us a beer and a glass of wine to make up for it. I appreciated the gesture and will try not to automatically deduct two donuts from my rating from the start because of it.
I basically think salad is a waste of space, but I’ve been known to eat my words when I come across a truly delicious one. For some reason, I’m more likely to like a wedge salad than any other kind (especially the ones at Docks Oyster Bar and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que); maybe because they’re usually heaped with all sorts of nasty, fatty goodies? This one was clearly no different with its loads of crunchy bacon to contrast the freshness of the grapes and radish. I found that the sharp blue cheese dressing just really overpowered everything else on the plate, though.
My boyfriend got the 23rd mussel iteration on the menu, which changes daily. He had wanted multiple types of seameat in his pot, so that night’s special seemed like the perfect choice for him. Firstly, there were exactly two clams mixed in with his mussels. Secondly, his lobster was one giant chunk that was nearly impossible to eat with the spoon provided. He said it “wasn’t much of a to-do, flavor-wise”. And this was from the person who really loves and craves seafood.
From the description of this, I maybe-foolishly pictured it being thick and creamy. New England Clam Chowder was one of the first seafoody dishes I had when my boyfriend was trying to get me acclimated to fish after eating a diet of only land-based foods during my twenty-five years in Ohio, and there was nothing not-delicious about it. I guess my broth was a little thicker than his, but at the end of the day, it was still broth.
The mussels were actually better than I expected. I didn’t like how chewy they were right out of the shell, but when I extracted them all using my tiny fork and left them to soak in the steaming broth a while longer, they fell apart in my mouth. I liked the firmer texture of the lobster and the familiar comforts of the bacon slivers and corn kernels, and as far as taste goes, I think I got the right combination for me.
It’s just that . . . mussels are weird! Some of them had sand in their bulging, black digestive systems still, which was unpleasant enough to begin with, but that got me thinking about the fact that I was eating the digestive system, and I developed this mind block that just wouldn’t let me enjoy my heaping portion of bivalves.
My boyfriend said, “Just slurp ‘em down. Don’t look at them too much.” But that’s kind of a problem for me. Half of the fun of eating is the looking! So while I usually say, “I thought this [any other kind of seafood] was going to be icky, but it was actually awesome!”, I won’t be saying that about mussels.
The reviews on these are either “way overrated” or “OMGbestfriesever!” They were fine, but they weren’t $6 fine, especially when Pommes Frites is serving better and more fries for $4.50 with interesting sauces to boot. The only reason I’m glad we ordered them is that it gave me something else to fill up on when the mussel flavor got monotonous.
Finally, dessert time! The warm, sugar-dusted donuts lived up to their hype. So soft they deflated under the slightest touch, their pure bleached carbiness was only intensified by the vanilla crème anglaise served on the side. The gooey, flavored sauces nestled inside each one were too delicious to exist in such small quantities.
We thought we’d saved the best for last. Before starting in on the donuts, we’d each scooped a little of the ribbon of caramel onto our forks and nearly died from the shock of how good it was. But . . . the whoopie pie was not delicious.
I almost feel bad saying it, because how could it not be good? I’m a total glutton. I make fun of frou-frou desserts that favor fruit over chocolate. But this was just overindulgence for the sake of it. It wasn’t thoughtful. It was complex but not sensical. It was just deep-fried cake with some mismatched accoutrements.
The cake was nice and warm, but that was part of the problem. See, where I’m from, this is a whoopie pie. My mom was known for her whoopie cake. Every year in Ohio, at the neighboring town’s pumpkin festival, I gorge on whoopie pies. I’m something of an expert when it comes to whoopie.
Whoopie pies are two pieces of cookie-shaped cake with a big schmear of icing between them. And since this was just one giant hunk of deep-friedness, the filling in the middle had melted into the cake. Oh, and by the way–the stuff in the middle? It was just cream cheese. Not cream cheese icing. So it was unpleasantly not-sweet.
On the other hand, the non-whoopie-pie portion of the dish was absolutely decadent in a good way. The caramel mousse was rich and thick and salty and nicely contrasted the less-sugary ice cream. The white chocolate piece was iridescent, which we hoped was thanks to the pastry chef’s famed “disco dust”. I would order the caramel and ice cream on their own again but couldn’t even begin to finish the whoopie pie the first time.
Flex Mussels was just disappointment after disappointment for me. I liked our actual server quite a bit, but between the wait for a table when we had reservations, the too-pungent blue cheese, the un-chowdery chowder, the two clams, and the throwaway ball of cake, it ranks with some of the least-impressive dining experiences I’ve had for $100. I’ll give one star for the mussels that were tender and not undigested-food-filled, one star for the donuts and amazing caramel, and a half star for the idea of the whoopie pie.
As a lover of intense flavor experiences and creamy desserts, meringue cookies are about the least interesting treat in the entire world for me. They look nice and all, but their taste is always too weak, and biting into them is like biting into a hunk of diabetes-inducing chalk.
But after being served a mango macaron at The Wright for my birthday, I keep finding myself unexpectedly craving those little French cookies. They have the tiniest layer of crunch on their outsides, easily broken just by holding them, but then their centers are somehow super-moist, almost like raw cookie dough. And their flavors are always wildly dense, like heavily-concentrated versions of things found in nature.
So naturally I Googled “best macarons NYC”, because I am a master searcher who doesn’t type out entire questions like, “Where do I find the best macarons in NYC?” like everyone who finds my blog via Google. (I still love you, though.) The first viable result came from some snob from Serious Eats who wrote:
After Paris, the city whose macarons I’m most familiar with is New York City. Unfortunately, after eating NYC’s macarons I think I’d rather wait until my next vacation to Paris than eat another one here. I don’t mean to imply that they’re all horrible—obviously someone likes them or else these shops wouldn’t keep churning them out—but I’ve found most of them to be disappointing.
I kind of want to punch the woman in the crotch. Calling a macaron disappointing is like calling a flavor of ice cream disappointing. Or pizza. Or corndogs. Yes, some corndogs are better than others. And when you’ve had a corndog dipped in pumpkin sauce, I can see how other corndogs wouldn’t live up to it. But you’re still getting to eat an effing corndog, so shut it.
Sorry. I’m just jealous that I’ve never eaten a macaron in Paris.
The writer recommended La Maison du Chocolat for the best of the apparently-unsatisfactory NYC macarons, and incredibly, my boyfriend works right above one. I begged and pleaded and called him things like “darling” and “cuppycake”, but he doesn’t think women should be sitting around eating bonbons on a Tuesday night, so I was left to my own devices.
Luckily, a co-worker informed me that Financier, home of the famed Bûche de Noël, carries them. So I stopped after work and bought a package of 8, all in different flavors.
YOU GUYS. Maybe it’s good that I’ve never been to Paris to compare these to the real things, but glurgglurgglurgglurg. They were so good.
93 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10004 (map)
1211 6th Ave
New York, 10036 (map)
983 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10022 (map)
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)