April 16, 2018
When your evening at Restaurant Daniel begins with a cool crisp little oyster topped with sea urchin and caviar, you’re happy from the very first bite. At least I am.
It is followed by this citrus-cured hamachi, tinged with beets, on a jaunty swoosh of chive aioli.
Then this mosaic of poularde (that would be a fat castrated chicken) and foie gras captured in aspic while bits of langoustine, pickled ramps and wild mustard cavort around the plate.
It’s spring, so there will be white asparagus, slicked with hazelnut oil and served with a little puddle of hollandaise touched with a bit of that aged vin jaune from the Jura, which adds a sultry touch of mystery.
And abalone, served on the rocks in its own private shell of puff pastry.
You forget sometimes – or at least I do – about the kind of serious French cooking that requires a platoon of people in the kitchen madly turning and peeling and dicing and saucing – dressing up each morsel of food until it no longer resembles its natural state. And there is nobody who does this particular kind of celebratory cooking better than Daniel Boulud.
A meal at his flagship restaurant is an instant Special Occasion, and even if it’s not, it will become one.
The service is superb. Here comes the captain now, about to strike a match and start playing with fire.
He flames foie gras in mescal, then nestles it into its own private nasturtium garden.
And these are just the starters. Next up is squab, superbly rare, with a wonderfully musky flavor and
surrounded by an entire palate of spring flavors: fiddleheads, fava beans, pea shoots and tiny mushrooms.
Rabbit comes encircled by grapes, chard and daikon in a rich puddle of reduced saba.
I should, perhaps, mention, that there were four of us. But the food was so beautiful – and so intriguing – we were passing our plates, eager to taste everything. Between sips of a Saint Aubin from Thierry Pillot (Saint Aubin is an often-overlooked wine, which makes it one of the most affordable white Burgundies) and a deep Pelissero Barbaresco, we came to this little treat….
black cod steamed in seaweed in an aged sake beurre blanc. Is that caviar paving the top? Of course it is! A fantastic conception, and one of my favorite dishes of the evening. On to sole
with spot prawns, asparagus and seaweed in a saffron sauce.
This is fairy tale food, and it’s hard not to feel like Cinderella. Daniel creates a fantasy for you: for a few special hours you are a pampered person living in a more gracious time.
He knows not to end this story too abruptly. After dessert there is a basket of madeleines, still warm from the oven, breathing vanilla. And finally adorable little boxes to take home, a gift for the morning, when you can eat your cannele and relive dinner.