Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tongue and Chic

60 East 65th St.
NY, NY 10065
Tel 212.288.0033


Thirty-one may not be a landmark birthday for most, but for me, it’s going down as the most special, over-the-top, delicious kickoff to a new year I’ve ever had. Fork took me to the four-star Daniel, which consistently competes with Jean Georges for honors as New York's best restaurant. Over the course of three and a half hours, we were coddled, fed, indulged and served by a legion of French waiters.

We began with a birthday toast in the bar, sipping the restaurant's own Cuvee Daniel. Now, you don't go to a place like Daniel and not go for the full experience. So we opted for the six-course seasonal tasting menu. Since there were two menus we had both, a full 12 courses. “Excellent," the waiter said, taking our order. "So you are in our hands." We opted not to go with wine pairings, instead having the sommelier select for us a delicious, dry, yet full-bodied Mersault, great with fish, and yet hearty enough to "stand up to the meat."

We were seated side-by-side in a banquette in the corner of the room, looking out on the spectacle that is Daniel's main dining room, a palazzo with archways and palms, dramatic curtains and glowing red lampshades on the tables that stretched into the mirrored distance. It was lively, but hushed. "Can you believe this room!" I gushed.

"It's OK, I guess," Fork said.

The first courses arrived in short order: Duck Foie Gras Terrine with Bing Cherries, Fresh Almonds & Celery Heart Salad and a Pate of Quail and Foie Gras “aux Raisins” with Verjus Pickled Basil Seeds, Walnut Pistou & Watercress. Fork said he wanted to send his back. "Tell the kitchen I had liverwurst for lunch," he said. "Very good, sir," said the waiter. "More wine," he chided...

The second course consisted of Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad with Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Bibb Lettuce & Lemon-Lovage Vinaigrette and “Four Winds” Louisiana Gulf Shrimp with Shaved Crudites, Cocktail Sauce Granite & Basil Oil. It was divine, a perfect combination of textures and flavors. Fork spit his into his napkin. He said there was a hair in it.

The meal really ramped up with the the third course: Sweet Corn Tortellini with Maine Lobster, Piquillo Pepper, Espelette Oil & “Sauce Americaine” and Caramelized Sea Scallops with Summer Truffle, Crispy Potatoes, Satur Farms Beans & Arugula Puree. These dishes really showed off the chefs' chops. The Tortellini were creamy and delicate and the flavor of the fresh local corn was remarkable. The slice of truffle on the scallop was the largest serving of truffle we'd ever been served. Fork was disappointed. "What the hell is American Sauce?"

The fourth course was stunning: Pancetta Wrapped Yellowfin Tuna with Heirloom Tomatoes, Creamy Polenta & Balsamic Bordelaise and Pan Seared Swordfish “en Matelote” with Red Wine Braised Trumpet Royale & Crispy Pork Belly. The combination of the fish and pork flavors were magnificent. The swordfish was the best I've ever had. Fork offered his praise, something about "the power of bacon..."

The fifth course was the meat course: Duo of Dry Aged Beef: Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Young Carrot Fricasee, Taggiasche Olives, Seared Rib Eye with Allumette Potato and a Trio of Colorado Lamb: Roasted Chop with Garbanzo-Fava Beans Croquettes; Fig Leaf Shoulder Papillotte; Tenderloin with Fennel Confit. The waiter took great care to unwrap the fig-leaf papillote tableside, revealing a little spice-flecked quenelle-like mound of lamb. "They should have wrapped it in a diaper," Fork said, "because it looks like crap."

After nearly three hours, it was time for me to excuse myself. Fork pulled me aside. "It would be funny if you goose-stepped to the bathroom," he whispered. "Yes, I said, that would be funny, but I declined. While I was away, Fork engaged the captain. "Why do you guys like Jerry Lewis so much?" he asked. "He's not funny in America."

At last, dessert: Vanilla Poached Peach with Almond Biscuit, Fresh Peach-Saffron Gelee & Melon Sorbet; Bittersweet Chocolate-Praline Cremeux, Amer Cocoa Biscuit & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream. Decadent. The waitstaff, aware that it was my birthday also brought a bowl of fresh, sugared berries with a strawberry milkshake in a tiny glass and a candle stuck into a gumdrop. “Happy Birthday” was written in chocolate. Fork said it was "a little too Chucky Cheese" for his taste, and was disappointed the waiters didn't sing. He kept trying to call them over but they seemed to avoid eye contact.

As we sat enjoying the room, the buzz from a truly four-star meal and a plate of the most adorable petit-fours, the man himself, Daniel Boulud arrived at our table and personally wished Spoon a happy birthday. It was a lovely gesture. He then sat and signed books for the drunken fools sitting at a table that was housed within a tent to our left.

All night Fork and I had been amused by the tipsy woman who would emerge from the tent and head for the restroom, seemingly after every course. "It's like she's on a fishing trip with her buddies," Fork observed. She was wearing a peasant dress that looked like a sequin-strewn trashbag. As she got more drunk, her high heels forced her to hunch over when she walked, like she was hiking up a hill. "They'll let anybody in here," Fork sniffed.

OK, so maybe we took a few liberties with our review. But what can one say about Daniel that hasn't been said? I think really this says it all: over twelve courses and three-an-a-half hours we ate: beef, lamb, tuna, swordfish, scallop, lobster, crab, shrimp, pancetta, pork belly, duck foie gras, quail pate, truffle and a tortellini.

We left the restaurant well after midnight, and prepared for our seventh course: four days on the beach in Montauk. Details to come.-S&F

No comments: