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Daniel


mikec
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I find it very interesting that in my two visits to Daniel's restaurants (the original Daniel when it was on E. 76 St. and DB Bistro), the shockingly condescending/rude attitudes of the maitre d'at both restaurants have overshadowed the food (to be honest, it was fine, but not memorable). However, the superb service at EMP (by all staff members) and the excellent food by Chef Humm make EMP a restaurant that, IMHO, deserves the same, if not higher accolades than those received by Daniel. Daniel (again IMHO) is a case of the emperor has no clothes, but no one wants to admit it. I wouldn't care if Daniel receives 5 stars, I won't spend my money at his restaurants again and risk being treated poorly.

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I find it very interesting that in my two visits to Daniel's restaurants (the original Daniel when it was on E. 76 St. and DB Bistro), the shockingly condescending/rude attitudes of the maitre d'at both restaurants have overshadowed the food.

In about 7 visits to Boulud's various restaurants (only one to Daniel itself), I have never had that happen.
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I've had weak service at various Boulud restaurants, including an incident at the old Daniel where we were inexcusably rushed through out meal. The Boulud restaurants have always been aggressive about table turns, but this particular experience was off the charts. Were I not in the "business" of writing about food, I probably would never have gone back to a Boulud restaurant after that. In any event, in all my meals at Boulud restaurants -- surely in excess of 20, including half a dozen or more at Daniel -- I have never experienced the extreme of a rude maitre d', but at the same time I have never experienced the level of service Bruni describes:

charmed and charming service, which at times seems more like sorcery, the attendants swirling in and stealing away almost imperceptibly, set into motion by nothing more than the subtle raising of your eyes (they notice it) or the mere contemplation of craning your neck (they sense it).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I find it very interesting that in my two visits to Daniel's restaurants (the original Daniel when it was on E. 76 St. and DB Bistro), the shockingly condescending/rude attitudes of the maitre d'at both restaurants have overshadowed the food (to be honest, it was fine, but not memorable). 

ellenost, you and I could have been at the same Daniel meal.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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And, of course, this discussion thus far ignores the fact that the restaurant is notorious, even among the highly stratified levels of service frequently witnessed at the city's top restaurants, for its favoritism toward regulars and, surely, critics.

Going back over everything written, I think this is the key. It's incredibly even more apparent when you listen to the radio podcast. When Pete Wells returns from the bathroom, a waiter tramples over whatever was in his way to get to the table in time to pull out Mr. Wells chair for him. And Bruni was apparently sitting around making nuanced head nods and eye movements choreographing an entire army of servers at Daniel to his whim. Listening to the slide show, all I could think of was "yeah right! Like that would happen to me!".

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think Daniel serves three-star food, but Bruni acknowledges this shortcoming in effect and nearly explicitly gives extra/bonus points to the decor.  I don't find this all that compelling but I could see how some diners might find the presumed luxury of Daniel to be more evocative of a four-star experience than what's on the plate at, say, Corton.

On the basis of food alone, I think it's pretty clear that Bruni was rating Daniel higher than Corton. Leaving aside one's own opinion of the two restaurants, just read the reviews—leaving the service and ambiance aside—and it is abundantly apparent that Bruni thought Daniel was better.

Whether it's "better enough" to warrant four stars is a whole other question. But if you imagine a forced ranking of the four-star establishments, some restaurant would inevitably be at the bottom of the ladder, just as some restaurant would inevitably be at the top of the three-star ladder. But I think Bruni made a credible case for four stars, though he could have made the case for three, as well. The only problem is that it's so unlike anything else he has ever written.

And, of course, this discussion thus far ignores the fact that the restaurant is notorious, even among the highly stratified levels of service frequently witnessed at the city's top restaurants, for its favoritism toward regulars and, surely, critics.

I believe Fat Guy has suggested in the past that restaurants ought to be evaluated at their best, and I suppose this was an example of it. As I mentioned upthread, I have always been treated well at Boulud's restaurants—not like royalty, but well.
Going back over everything written, I think this is the key.  It's incredibly even more apparent when you listen to the radio podcast.  When Pete Wells returns from the bathroom, a waiter tramples over whatever was in his way to get to the table in time to pull out Mr. Wells chair for him.   And Bruni was apparently sitting around making nuanced head nods and eye movements choreographing an entire army of servers at Daniel to his whim.    Listening to the slide show, all I could think of was "yeah right!  Like that would happen to me!".

Bear in mind, Bruni has panned plenty of places where he was recognized, so the fact they know it's him is no assurance of a good review.

I did feel, though, that Wells was awfully naive if it didn't occur to him that maybe not every table would get the same treatment.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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On the basis of food alone, I think it's pretty clear that Bruni was rating Daniel higher than Corton. Leaving aside one's own opinion of the two restaurants, just read the reviews—leaving the service and ambiance aside—and it is abundantly apparent that Bruni thought Daniel was better.

Indeed, it's difficult to separate my own impressions and even more difficult to separate what I think makes a great meal vs. what Bruni thinks makes a great meal. If we ignore the service and ambiance, as I admitted, it kind of makes sense that Bruni would like this kind of food. It's at its heart rustic cooking but refined and a lacquer of luxury. To me, one is much more likely to have a great meal at EMP or Corton. Bruni seems to differ.

I'd also like to call attention to the similarities between Bruni's blog dispatch on EMP from 12/31 and the Daniel review.

Its gifted chef, Daniel Humm, no doubt has a four-star restaurant in him. But my experience during a return meal in the fall was that one in every three dishes didn’t measure up to the others (though nothing — nothing — was wholly undistinguished). Additionally, portions were too small, amplifying a tendency toward preciousness in some of the cooking and plating.

All in all Daniel remains one of New York’s most sumptuous dining experiences. And while it yields fewer transcendent moments than its four-star brethren and falls prey to more inconsistency, it has a distinctive and important niche in that brood, a special reason to be treasured.

While I concede that Bruni seems to like Daniel more--the issue we're debating here isn't really if he's consistent; if there's one classical, fussy restaurant to deserve four stars it is Daniel--it seems to be something like a half-step difference between the two. I suppose this makes sense--the best of the three-stars vs. the worst four-star--but to me the common thread in these two passages is that both restaurants have room to improve. It seems like I'm with Fat Guy here, in that a restaurant with such evident shortcomings isn't, by my definition, a four-star restaurant.

Which brings us to your next point.

Whether it's "better enough" to warrant four stars is a whole other question. But if you imagine a forced ranking of the four-star establishments, some restaurant would inevitably be at the bottom of the ladder, just as some restaurant would inevitably be at the top of the three-star ladder. But I think Bruni made a credible case for four stars, though he could have made the case for three, as well. The only problem is that it's so unlike anything else he has ever written.

So, as I answered, I don't think this better enough should warrant four stars. I think with such a dearth of four-star/three-Michelin star restaurants in the city, there are actually doesn't have to be a clear bottom of the ladder. It seems to me that Michelin got it right in elevating Per Se, Le B, and JG to the three-star level; all three have their various supporters and the general consensus is that all three are better than Daniel. Although Masa is less comparable, the consistency of glowing reports suggests that it too is a better restaurant.

I also think it's fitting that most posters here aren't saying, well, Daniel is almost as good as JG. Rather, we're debating how much better it is than the likes of EMP or Corton (or presumably Picholine, it's most apt competitor in my eyes) and whether or not these marginal benefits are worthy of that fourth star. That we're comparing it to three-star restuarants and not four-star ones says something.

And, of course, this discussion thus far ignores the fact that the restaurant is notorious, even among the highly stratified levels of service frequently witnessed at the city's top restaurants, for its favoritism toward regulars and, surely, critics.

I believe Fat Guy has suggested in the past that restaurants ought to be evaluated at their best, and I suppose this was an example of it. As I mentioned upthread, I have always been treated well at Boulud's restaurants—not like royalty, but well.

I've never gotten bad service at Daniel in my two meals there. It just feels too mechanical. And not in the good mechanical sense (there's something that makes me happy about the servers at Per Se even if they're a bit stiff) but in the hotel dining room sense. The whole UES club-thing is also a bit uptown for my tastes. But that's surely my age and downtown bias speaking. The whole thing is technically sound (though not faultless) and lacks a certain joy.

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Every restaurant has levels of service, but most modern high-end restaurants offer that service within a fairly narrow band. In particular, they all strive mightily to ensure a very respectable baseline for all customers. Unless there is some sort of disaster, the average customer at Per Se gets a phenomenally good service experience. The VIP customer gets various upgrades but not to the extent that the average customer should be upset about it. That's true at most restaurants that operate with contemporary service principles.

Daniel does not operate that way. It's restaurants like Daniel and Le Cirque, even though they are outliers, that provide the support for the whole theory of anonymous restaurant reviewing. The range of service experiences I've had at Daniel is inexcusable. It feels to me like a cynical system of service whereby there's a fixed amount of service to go around and, on a busy night, the people at the bottom of the hierarchy don't get enough of it to have great dinner experiences. Were it possible for a reviewer of Bruni's stature to be anonymous at Daniel, that might be a useful tool. Of course, it is not possible, so it's academic.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've never gotten bad service at Daniel in my two meals there.  It just feels too mechanical.  And not in the good mechanical sense (there's something that makes me happy about the servers at Per Se even if they're a bit stiff) but in the hotel dining room sense.  The whole UES club-thing is also a bit uptown for my tastes. But that's surely my age and downtown bias speaking.  The whole thing is technically sound (though not faultless) and lacks a certain joy.

I'm getting the sense that this isn't the type of experience you particularly crave, even when it's done well. That's a fair enough preference, but Bruni is the critic for the whole city, and for diners of all ages, not just the downtown critic for folks under 40. Since the Times elects to have just one critic giving out the stars, he needs to be able to put himself in the shoes of a lot of different demographics, including those he might not personally identify with.
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I would, personally, love a version of Daniel without Daniel's factory flaws. I wish the city had a restaurant like that. But Daniel is not that restaurant. It has many of the ingredients, but they don't come together.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I would, personally, love a version of Daniel without Daniel's factory flaws. I wish the city had a restaurant like that. But Daniel is not that restaurant. It has many of the ingredients, but they don't come together.

I believe Daniel's rating at its two locations has varied anywhere between two and four stars, and I believe Bruni is the third critic to award four. Do you think it was never a four-star place, or do you think it has lost something since the earlier days?
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I've never gotten bad service at Daniel in my two meals there.  It just feels too mechanical.  And not in the good mechanical sense (there's something that makes me happy about the servers at Per Se even if they're a bit stiff) but in the hotel dining room sense.  The whole UES club-thing is also a bit uptown for my tastes. But that's surely my age and downtown bias speaking.  The whole thing is technically sound (though not faultless) and lacks a certain joy.

I'm getting the sense that this isn't the type of experience you particularly crave, even when it's done well. That's a fair enough preference, but Bruni is the critic for the whole city, and for diners of all ages, not just the downtown critic for folks under 40. Since the Times elects to have just one critic giving out the stars, he needs to be able to put himself in the shoes of a lot of different demographics, including those he might not personally identify with.

Indeed, that's a fair point, but I think Fat Guy said it well in that Daniel's service bandwidth feels rather preferential. As in, there's only so much, and you can very clearly tell who is having a top-notch experience and who is being left to languish. On my two visits, I've been somewhere in the middle.

And to say, that I don't prefer this kind of experience isn't really fair. I love, love, love fine-dining in NYC and beyond. I've done the whole Temples of Gastronomy thing, and I'm just saying that the Daniel experience might not be worth the four stars just bestowed upon it.

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And to say, that I don't prefer this kind of experience isn't really fair.  I love, love, love fine-dining in NYC and beyond.  I've done the whole Temples of Gastronomy thing, and I'm just saying that the Daniel experience might not be worth the four stars just bestowed upon it.

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, but you did say, "The whole UES club-thing is also a bit uptown for my tastes. But that's surely my age and downtown bias speaking." You also described the service at Per Se as "a bit stiff," which is a judgment call, but IMO they're about the least stiff of any restaurant in that class.
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Well specifically the old-boy club that Daniel seems to lavish in is kind of wearing. I'm not too sure very many people--be they younger folks or just casual readers of the NYT reviews--like to be surrounded by the hierarchical ethos that the likes of Daniel and Le Cirque seem to represent. It's old-fashioned, and not in a nostalgic, good way.

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If anything, in my opinion Daniel has improved over the years. At the beginning, Daniel Boulud was a good chef but not a good restaurateur. Over the years he has done a better job on the restaurateur side of the equation. But no iteration of Daniel has ever, in my opinion, overcome its factory flaws.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I am laughing out loud at the thought of comparing Daniel and Eleven Madison Park. 

EMP is a joke compared to Daniel.  Anyone who thinks EMP should have a Michelin star is off their rocker.

I agree completely. EMP is the most overpraised restaurant in the city.

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You know what is alluring about Daniel to me? It seems like, looks like, smells like, and sounds like the type of restaurant that could delivery the meal of a life-time.

But, from the comments made here and elsewhere, it seems that it simply won't (as opposed to can't).

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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See, I don't see Daniel as a "meal of a lifetime" kind of place.

I see it more as "comfort food goes to heaven."

I would bet that Daniel has more regulars who eat there weekly or more than any of the other four stars. And among the many reasons is that this is the kind of food you can eat that often.

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Agree with Sneakeater...not the meal of a lifetime; more like the meal of the week, or the month, depending how many 0's to the left of the decimal mark in one's bank account. Their bread and butter, no pun intended, consists of the folks from the UES who eat their regularly. Last time I was there, they commented that they have a lot of regulars from the UES, who they must continue to please.

After about 10 meals at Per Se, I burned out and that was that. I just lost interest. I could eat at Daniel regularly but a bit boringly.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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See, I don't see Daniel as a "meal of a lifetime" kind of place.

I see it more as "comfort food goes to heaven."

I would bet that Daniel has more regulars who eat there weekly or more than any of the other four stars.  And among the many reasons is that this is the kind of food you can eat that often.

Right, but it seems to have all the trappings of a place that might deliver a "meal of a lifetime." I'm clearly learning, from you and others, that it's not that kind of place at all.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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You know what is alluring about Daniel to me?  It seems like, looks like, smells like, and sounds like the type of restaurant that could delivery the meal of a life-time.

But, from the comments made here and elsewhere, it seems that it simply won't (as opposed to can't).

The above post sums up one big thing I've been thinking. I've been to Daniel in a VIP situation. I've been to Le Bernardin just as a couple on an odd weeknight. It was nice to be fawned upon at Daniel, but Le Bernardin delivered one of my meals "of a lifetime." Beginning to end.

~ elisejames08.blogspot.com ~

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You know what is alluring about Daniel to me?  It seems like, looks like, smells like, and sounds like the type of restaurant that could delivery the meal of a life-time.

But, from the comments made here and elsewhere, it seems that it simply won't (as opposed to can't).

The above post sums up one big thing I've been thinking. I've been to Daniel in a VIP situation. I've been to Le Bernardin just as a couple on an odd weeknight. It was nice to be fawned upon at Daniel, but Le Bernardin delivered one of my meals "of a lifetime." Beginning to end.

That, to me, is the definition of a four-star restaurant.

Fine, meal*-of-a-lifetime is a bit much, but at least a contender for meal of the year. And, as many have said, it's not quite that kind of place.

*By meal, I mean food and service experience provided by the restaurant. I can totally see it as a place to propose or to have a 10th anniversary dinner or to celebrate your 50th birthday. The restaurant succeeds most as a backdrop for those grand moments in one's life--assuming you're not a regular. To this end, the refined-rustic food works, but only as a backdrop to something else. In this way, Daniel is most like Le Cirque, just better.

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Well specifically the old-boy club that Daniel seems to lavish in is kind of wearing.  I'm not too sure very many people--be they younger folks or just casual readers of the NYT reviews--like to be surrounded by the hierarchical ethos that the likes of Daniel and Le Cirque seem to represent.  It's old-fashioned, and not in a nostalgic, good way.

That, I'm afraid, is contradicted by the facts. Daniel does far more covers than any other four-star restaurant. In fact, it's among top-grossing 100 restaurants in the whole country. It got that way by having a large, loyal cadre of regulars who absolutely swear by it. It couldn't survive if most of its patrons felt about it the way you've just described. I think it was Sneakeater who said that Daniel has more regulars than any other four-star place. Although you personally do not particularly enjoy this type of experience, there are many who do.

Again, I don't like to put words in people's mouths, but I suspect your hostility to the concept gets in the way of your appreciating why some people find it welcoming, not wearing, and not at all old-fashioned. In percentage terms, there aren't many such people. But there aren't many such restaurants, so it all works out.

See, I don't see Daniel as a "meal of a lifetime" kind of place.
Even Masa has people who dine there 3 times a week. Although many of us see restaurants like Daniel as "occasion" or "once in a lifetime" places, even the most expensive of the brood has a loyal clientele who visit them as often as some eGullet members visit Ssäm Bar or Noodle Bar.
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Agree with Sneakeater...not the meal of a lifetime; more like the meal of the week, or the month, depending how many 0's to the left of the decimal mark in one's bank account.  Their bread and butter, no pun intended, consists of the folks from the UES who eat their regularly.  Last time I was there, they commented that they have a lot of regulars from the UES, who they must continue to please.

After about 10 meals at Per Se, I burned out and that was that.  I just lost interest.  I could eat at Daniel regularly but a bit boringly.

A restaurant of the caliber, reputation, and price of Daniel should make all its patrons feel special not only the regular customers. I also think that fact that Daniel is willing to admit a need and desire to treat UES regulars differently from first timers is terrible. I am fortunate that I am regular customer at the other NYTimes four star restaurants and perhaps get treated better than first time guests. But, I expect that first time guests at Jean George or Le Bernardin get treated superbly. I was a first time guest there once and decided to return often not only because of superb food, but because I was treated so well by the staff at my initial visits.

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But I get treated fine at Daniel, and I'm far from a regular and very far from a UESer.

Also, in terms of age, what shocked me the last time I was there (in September or so, after a hiatus of several years) was how young the crowd was -- on the average, it seemed much younger than me. The kind of people I hate, to be honest -- but while that can be a criterion for whether you'd enjoy going to a particular restaurant, it can't be a criterion for objectively judging it.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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