It was on Facebook that Jacqui Jones, now living in New York, saw that I was in the city, and invited me to join her and partner James for dinner at New York icon restaurant Daniel last week. Daniel is a Michelin two star restaurant, and is Relais & Chateaux accredited.
Jacqui and I got to know each other when she worked at Hazell PR and Wine Consultants in Somerset West, a professional PR consultant. Her life path led her to New York, and she met James, who has been eating at Daniel for years, his favourite restaurant in the city. We met at their apartment with amazing views from the 55th floor, and then took a cab to Daniel. It has a restaurant-branded canopy on the pavement, and one steps inside into a darker space, first into the bar, and then into the dining section.
Owner Chef Daniel Boulud opened the restaurant 23 years ago, initially in another location. He owns 18 restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Palm Beach, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Boston, and in London, but it is Daniel in New York that is his best known, which originally had three Michelin stars, but lost one star last year. The restaurant also proudly displays its Relais & Chateaux affiliation, and the floor staff wears the lapel pin.
We sat down at the Bar, and James insisted that I try a White Cosmo signature cocktail, made of lime juice, white cranberry juice, St Germain elderflower liqueur, and vodka. The ice ball in the drink had an orchid embedded inside it. The bar counter had a handbag hook, the second such convenience I experienced in New York.
We were shown to our table in the dining area, and my heart sank at the low lighting. Manager Elvier could not find any seating for us with better lighting, and the only plan he could make was to light up the plates with his cellphone, and for me to photograph the dishes. It was a compromise arrangement, and better than nothing. I also asked him for a copy of the menu to take with me, as well as the wine pairings we had per dish, as these are not normally specified in the menus of the restaurants I ate at (Le Bernardin being the only exception). When I opened the menu package back at my accommodation the wine pairings had been forgotten. Jacqui assisted me in getting them from the restaurant, but they were not linked to the dishes ordered. James had ordered the ‘upscale’ wine pairing options for us.
Most tables are round, covered with a table cloth, with a side plate, cutlery is by Christoffle Hotel, ceramics are by Bernardo and pick up the dotted design which is on the menu cover, on the carpet, in the bathroom, etc. A small handbag table was on the side of Jacqui and myself. The table had a yellow orchid in a vase, and a candle holder. The round lamps dominate the room, which has pressed steel ceilings.
Staff wear suits, and there were more female waiters than at any of the Restaurants I had experienced in New York.
The menu is impressive, made of white hard board, and folded in four sections, with a number of options, of which one chooses one each for the four-course meal. Catharina was our waitress, and impressed with taking the order for three of us in each of the four sections, without writing anything down! The dessert menu is smaller in size, with a brown board cover.
The winelist is a 89-page book bound in brown leather, and is dominated by French wines. We could not find the South African section, so requested the assistance of the sommelier. We were disappointed to see only two of our country’s wines, and that one was Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 ($200), the other being Crystallum Cuvée Cinema 2014 ($150).
An Amuse Bouche of lettuce quiche with green peppercorn and a lettuce coulis arrived, perhaps the least attractive of the dishes that we experienced. Staying on the lettuce theme, an interesting ingredient, was a canapé of lettuce chutney with a crispy baby octopus; lettuce vichyssoise with Gorgonzola Crème, sweet corn, lettuce julienne, and celery seed; and lettuce julienne with salmon tartare, brought to the table on a wooden board.
A basket with four bread types, including a poppy seed epi, Buckwheat, pain brioche, and multigrain rolls, was brought to our table, with an interesting face-like plate with unsalted New Jersey butter, Japanese black salt, and Fleur de Sel salt.
My first course was a beautifully presented Maine lobster salad, served with Champagne Mango, Chayote-Lime panna cotta, Aleppo pepper, purslane, and an anise seed tuile, which was paired with Domaine Ostertag Muscat Fronholz, 2010, from the Alsace. James had ordered Long Island Fluke with sea urchin, a Granny Smith apple, a seaweed crisp, and white sturgeon caviar. Jacqui did not like her Gazpacho with Parmesan Grissini, Kataifi crusted langoustine, and saffron tomato coulis, finding the soup very thick. Other options in this section were wasabi-cured Japanese snapper, rabbit, and caviar.
The kitchen sent a surprise intermezzo dish to our table, being Browke’s Point Maine oysters, served with a lemon grass and shallot velouté, Monterey seaweed and daikon salad, and salicornia (a succulent growing at beaches), which the sommelier had paired with a Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux 2013′ from Burgundy.
My second course dish was Vodka-flambéed Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the best dish of my week-long food journey in New York. It was flambéed at the table by Manager Elvier, and served with Washington State apricots , pistachios, and red ribbon sorrel. It was paired with Château Suduirat Sauternes 1998, from Bordeaux. Jacqui ordered Main Sea Scallop Rosette, while James ordered Slow-baked black-striped bass with farm yogurt, wasabi, semolina, and an avocado-cucumber emulsion. Other options offered were Kampachi (a game fish), fricassée of Oregon porcini, and Mary’s Garden snails!
My third course dish was roasted breast of Liberty Farm duck, with Dandelion flower marmalade, gooseberries, goji (a berry), fennel, and Kampot pepper jus, which was paired with Château Fortia Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée du Baron 2009, from the Rhone region. James ordered green-peppered high plain bison, the first time that I have seen this meat-type on a menu, while Jacqui ordered grilled bluefin tuna. Other dishes offered in the main course section were Baked Alaskan King Salmon, roasted quail breast, and lamb presented in different styles.
For dessert Jacqui and James each ordered a plate of artisanal international cheese, selected by its ‘resident Fromager’ Pascal Vittu. I ordered Tien Giang, a Vietnamese Single Origin dark chocolate mousse, served with a Sandalwood smoked cocoa nibs crémeaux, and biscuit macaron, which was paired with Royal Tokaji Company Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008 from Hungary. It was the most disappointing dessert of my New York eating experiences, being stodgy and solid. Most of the desserts were chocolate-dominant, including a Peruvian dark chocolate crémeaux, and an Ecuadorian Chocolate Bavoroise. There was also the option of a rhubarb Sabayon, lemon-bee pollen sorbet, and a Fleur de Jasmin gelée.
It was not the end of the evening yet, and a plate of friandise for each diner came to the table with the coffees, my dry cappuccino taking three attempts to get right. The friandise were cassis mousse with hazelnut biscuit; vanilla pie and orange confit and ginger; and Black Forest Cake.
Jacqui had asked Elvier if we could enter the kitchen, and he kindly organized it. As the restaurant was fully booked, we were unable to photograph head chef Eddy Leroux, who was literarily running in his kitchen.
I was thoroughly spoilt with the dinner, the quality of its dishes, and the extraordinary wines which I was able to taste. James and Jacqui were generous hosts, sending me back to my accommodation in Brooklyn via cab. While the space to my right and Jacqui’s left was restricted, it was a disappointment to have the staff stretch across us to place cutlery. We asked to meet the South African sommelier, but despite a number of reminders, we did not get to meet her.
Exchange rate: $1 = R14,58
Daniel, 60 E 65th Street, Manhattan, New York. Tel +1 212 288 0033. www.danielnyc.com. Twitter: @DanielNY Instagram: @ restaurantdaniel @danielboulud Monday – Saturday Dinner. Four course Prixe Fixe $142, seven course menu $234, wine pairing options $125 or $225.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein