With restaurants opening in Montreal and Toronto, Daniel Boulud affirms his belief in Canada’s food culture. With a gigantic Bar Boulud hit on his hands at the Mandarin Oriental in London, and Maison Daniel at the former United States Embassy in Beijing, you might be forgiven for wondering if his restaurants in his adopted home of New York are still as keen and current as ever. The answer is yes.
Restaurant Daniel was built on a grander scale than its predecessor (now the lovely Cafe Boulud, situated a few city blocks away from the newer version, itself now in its second iteration after a fabulous renovation in 2009). On a Wednesday evening of an early March, it is full to its capacity, servers, captains, sommeliers bustling about, all in complete chorus. The amuse bouche, which some diners still get a bit confused by (so small, and I didn’t order it, did I?) arrives, and it does what it is supposed to do: a trio of aubergine, each distinct, each a touch spicy, and providing a kind of tantalization of the palate, to set you up for what is to come. Not only that, each tastes fantastic, and in sum are a mini-study in texture and taste.
Daniel himself, the ultimate in crisp professionalism but in person a convivial, warm and charismatic figure, has been able to infuse those elements into each of his restaurants, from the grand flagship all the way to his tiny Epicerie Boulud. Service is attentive and on the warm side, while never losing focus. So, when the wine pairings begin to arrive, Head Sommelier Raj Vaidya strolls over to explain a little about his approach, and how each match is briefly discussed with Executive Chef Jean Francois Bruel. He had already asked if there were any preferences or varieties that he should take into account.
There is nothing better than sitting in a really great restaurant, having asked ahead that the chef cook anything he or she pleases, so that all you have to do is sit back, relax, chat, sip, and wait for the next surprise. If you are dining with someone, sometimes, as was the case this time, different dishes are presented to each of you, so the sense of exploration and discovery is doubled. The only thing is, you need to be pretty quick to ask for a taste of your dining partner’s dishes, or the plate will be empty and you will be stuck in vicarious suspension.
So, what might you expect? Things change pretty often, depending on seasons, produce, and inspirations, but some examples: tiger abalone, with smoked paprika and cauliflower puree, paired with Domaine Terrebrune Bandol; slow baked turbot with black truffles and sunchoke marmalade, paired with Domaine Drouhin Meursault; a duo of Four Story Hill Farm poularde, paired with Domaine Hudelot Noellat Chambolle Musigny; veal tenderloin, curried endive, crispy sweetbreads, paired with Domaine Jean-Louis Chave “Offerus” Saint Joseph. Cheeses, and then the tradition of madeleines and desert.
Opening image: T. Schauer
Second image: E. Laignel