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January 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


Rarely does the NYT award four stars to a restaurant. Today is one of those rare days, as Frank Bruni renews the four-star rating for Daniel Boulud’s eponymous Daniel previously given in 2001 by William Grimes. The only other restaurants to have four-star ratings are Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Jean Georges, Eric Ripert’s Bernardin, Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, and Thomas Keller’s Per Se. I may never eat at these restaurants, but I always enjoy reading their reviews, so I can learn what would excite a reviewer so much. Here are some excerpts:

Among the handful of elegant restaurants that maintain the rituals once synonymous with superior cuisine and cling to an haute French style, Daniel is the most straightforward, the one with the fewest tics or tweaks. It’s the truest link to the past.

Le Bernardin has its microfocus of seafood. Jean Georges has its mission of lightening French cooking, finding alternatives to cream and reductions. Per Se does its bombastic strut, with discourses on ingredients that are equal parts tutorial and sonnet.

Daniel is the least peculiar, the least narrow and the most universal member of this exalted clan, to the extent that “universal” can be applied to any restaurant charging $105 for three courses. That’s a lot of money, and not just in lean times.

But you get a lot for it. In fact there are moments during a meal at Daniel when you may well wonder why it isn’t more expensive, given how much staff is required for service like this; how much pinpoint labor must be lavished on dishes with so many facets and such stunning physical architecture; how much cooking goes into the amuse-bouches alone; how much plotting goes into the ceremony.

… every dinner commenc[es] with a triptych of amuse-bouches that toy with a single ingredient: sweet potato one night, broccoli another.

On my most recent visit the ingredient was beets, and to the left was a Lilliputian beet salad with horseradish and candied walnut. To the right was a domino of beet-cured hamachi with an exquisite texture and a ruby gloss.

But it was the intense beet velouté in the middle that made me smile widest, because with it was the tiniest, most delicate grissini I’d ever seen, a nub of duck prosciutto on one end. It looked like a hummingbird’s Q-tip.

… I never walked out the door feeling less than elated.

Maybe that’s because Daniel has the smarts to finish strong, presenting an unusually broad and exceptionally fine dessert selection, about half of it devoted, in a manner you could almost call populist, to chocolate in various forms, with various partners.

The other half is fruity, and maybe even better, the pastry chef Dominique Ansel adds brush stroke upon brush stroke to these colorful works of art. Cilantro-poached pineapple was joined by not only coconut ganache and coconut cream but also coconut meringue, a coconut sablé and a piña colada sorbet. It was a Bahamian beach vacation on a plate.

I’m ready for the Bahamian beach vacation.

Categories: Food, Restaurants
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