The Michelin Quest Revisited: Take Two

So, following the completion of my 3 Star list, I still had about 3 days left of my trip. What a perfect time to do a second take on a couple key restaurants, namely, Le Bernardin and Daniel. As I had mentioned in previous posts, I wanted to try the dinner experience at Le Bernardin and also try to figure out why Daniel had been demoted to a two star restaurant.

Le Bernardin: Dinner: Same space, but this time the ambiance was more of a darker/cozier feeling. To my not so surprise, on the menu again was the Maine Lobster and the Langoustine. If you had read my previous post on Le Bernardin, you would know the issues I had with their lobster. This time, no problems with the lobster, masterfully executed and well balanced. This time however, I did have an issue with the langoustine. Langoustine was a bit overcooked, giving it more of a chewy shrimpy texture than the desired lobster texture. Other than that, the rest of the meal was on point. Really the only other complaint I could give was the portion size of the Wagyu beef was a bit on the smaller side, but that is to be expected.

And here is the photo dump:

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And a shout out to all the Houston Bellaire readers out there: Even at a nice restaurant in NYC, we still do Hennessy.img_20161013_212616

Summary: Le Bernardin: In summary, this dinner solidifies my previous rating of a 4.5/5 (or current 10 point scale, 9/10). An overall very enjoyable experience with just some minor hiccups here and there keeps Le B from reaching full marks on my list. Still, at Le B, you cant really go wrong with lunch or dinner.

 

The Lost Star: Daniel: So coming into this dinner I was biased, I really wasn’t sure what to expect coming back to Daniel after losing a star but a world class experience the first time. After the first couple courses, however, it soon became clear why Daniel is now a two Michelin star restaurant rather than a Three Star. Once again, the photography policy at Daniel is one where pictures of food or phones at the table are frowned upon. On several occasions I saw some individuals take a quick picture of their food, only to be quickly reminded by the waitstaff that pictures were not appreciated. Foodwise, every dish was on point. Upon ordering, I asked the waiter if there was a special Chef’s menu other than the traditional tasting menu, (as chef had recommended me ask the previous visit I had). Initially the waiter said that the 7 course menu presented was the only such menu, which I obliged and accepted. Later on, the waiter came back and said chef was able to do a special menu for me and asked if I had any preferences. Aww yeah, you bet I did. My only request was that chef go less on the truffle (anyone who’s read my previous posts knows how much I dislike the excessive use of truffles to elevate a dish). My resulting meal was a 9 course menu, which largely followed the more traditional 7course menu but with a couple changes and modifications. The 9 Courses were as follows: Poularde (Foie Gras and Truffle), Flet (Fluke, Uni, Caviar), Ormeaux (Abalone), Turbot, Foie Gras (Flambeed tableside), Lapin (Rabbit), Coq de Bruyere (Scottish Grouse), Fraise (Strawberry Sorbet), Sambirano (Madagascar Milk Chocolate).

First course out the gate: Foie Gras and Truffle: This after specifically relaying that I was not a big fan of truffle. A bold statement by chef, laying a sliver of black truffle right next to the foie. To my delight, even as bold a statement for the truffle as it was, the dish was very well balanced and the truffle only remained a subtlety rather then an imposition. This was when I knew the food at Daniel had not wavered since the last time I had visited. If anything, the dishes this time around were more bold and creative, almost as to signal thumbing the Michelin reviewers that his restaurant should indeed be a 3 star restaurant. Dish after dish, course after course, everything was immaculate. Cooked perfectly, finished perfectly, conceived and executed perfectly. If based on food alone, there was no doubt that Daniel is one of the best, all the way through the last dish.

And on top of that, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the only head chef at a Michelin Restaurant (other than the ones at a chef’s table/counter) to actively come out of the kitchen to greet his patrons. This, in my eyes speaks volumes towards his character and his genuine passion for delivering a world class experience.

Then why the downgrade to Two Stars? I can only speculate, but throughout the course of dinner there were several things I noticed. First off, the main dining room is big, very big. I think it is one of the largest open dining rooms for a 3 star restaurant I’ve been in. On top of that, the ornate vaulted ceilings and sunken middle area does not lend well to proper dining acoustics. It is loud when the dining room is full. Not just loud, but you can hear conversations from across the room. This detracts from the intimate feel that you would like at a restaurant like this. Perhaps a few less tables or more sound deadening features could solve this issue. Another issue I ran across was the timings of the dishes that came out. Some dishes came promptly following the previous, while others had a prolonged wait. This meant that with the wine pairings, sometimes the pourings preceded the dish by a large duration. On a couple occasions I found myself having to ration out the wine just to have some left for the dish it was supposed to accompany. Again, this could be attributed to the large amount of tables which can back up the kitchen, or some other factor. All I know was that I was just sitting there people watching for a good amount of time between certain courses. Lastly, there is an insane amount of waitstaff. Probably lined up, there is roughly a little more than one waitstaff per table for the entire restaurant. While this would seem like a good thing where your every need would be promptly addressed, it does create a consistency issue to be able to have everyone perform to the same standards. There were on several occasions I noticed some slip-ups or confusions in the waitstaff.

Summary: Daniel: In terms of food, hands down 10/10, for overall experience, because of the environment and some inconsistencies in service, unfortunately I have to rate a 9/10. In my opinion, does Daniel feel a whole star less than other three star restaurants such as Per Se, or Le B? I think it still deserves to be mentioned in the same category, but I can see why certain critics may feel otherwise. Pricewise, Daniel is still positioned in the same range as a 3Star Restaurant with the traditional tasting menu at 240 with two options of wine pairings at 160 or 230. $400-500 depending on your wine preference. Still, don’t count out Daniel Boulud just yet as I’m sure Daniel will return to a three star status if they just make a couple minor adjustments.

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