What better way to kick-off a dessert blog than to go to one of the best restaurants in all of NYC– Daniel? I didn’t know it was even possible to make a reservation for dessert only, since there’s no way I could afford to eat there, but Daniel is very accommodating and lets you sit in the Lounge. We decided to eat dinner in the form of sandwiches from Defonte’s new Manhattan outpost, and, enjoying the marked contrast, we sat down to dine in luxury. The desserts were delish, and we had a wonderfully unexpected adventure afterwards that made me conclude I may be on-track with this whole food blogging thing.
I adore the way Daniel’s dessert menu is laid out– Fruit on the left, Chocolate on the right. For Fruit, we had the Kaffir Lime Infused Mango with Buddha’s hand Confit and Pink Guava Sorbet, which was a contrast of sweet and tart, and distilled the taste of summer with fresh, not fibrous mangos, decorated with little lime leaves. If you don’t know what a Buddha’s Hand is, it’s a kind of citron. For Chocolate, we had the Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant with Liquid Caramel, Fleur de Sel, and Milk Sorbet. You had to crack into the cake’s crust like an egg, then the caramel flowed out slowly, but not into a big soupy mess that you had to chase around the large plate and scrape up with your spoon– it was thick enough that it obediently stayed close by its cake. The milk sorbet was the perfect balance—not too heavy or flavorful, and was a nice palate-cleanser. The gold leaf tasted like nothing at all. Afterwards, we were given 8 amuses bouche, and then they (perhaps by mistake?) gave us another round, totaling 16. We had: rhubarb jelly, espresso with praline crunches and white chocolate crème, pineapple & coconut marshmallow, hazelnut tartelette, passion fruit cake, coffee & chocolate square, lemon meringue tartelette, and macarons. We yucked these little gems up and were then presented with warm, buttery madeleines nestled sweetly in a napkin blanket—you almost didn’t want to disturb them.
Somewhere along the way, as I was snapping pics and jotting down notes under the table, a waiter/concierge suddenly swooped in like a specter, making my friend, whose back was turned, jump in his seat. “Are you in the food industry?” he said. “Well, I’m starting a dessert blog so that pastry chefs and bakeries finally get their due in the world of food criticism,” I replied. Waiter: “Would you like to see the kitchen?” Me: “Um, yes.” Waiter: “I’ll see you when you’re done eating, then.” And soon began our hour and a half-long tour of the kitchens of Daniel and interviews with both the Sous Pastry Chef and the Executive Chef. Of Daniel. 2 Michelin stars. 4 NY Times Frank Bruni stars. Serious. Scary. Exciting.
Once we were safely deposited into the kitchen, we observed the frenzied hands of the pastry chefs as they spooned lovely egg-shaped sorbets onto plates, took gold leaf out of little booklets and quickly swiped it onto the chocolate cakes, and constructed beautiful dessert creations, many with large, long stick-like protrusions made out of chocolate and candy, making many of the finished plates look like the hats worn at the Royal Ascot Races. There was a poster at the pick up station that showed what each dessert looked like once it was fully prepared, presumably to help the waiters know when things were ready to be whisked away. Then Pastry Sous Chef Arnaud Chavigny came out of his kitchen to talk to us and show us around. He works under Chef Dominique Ansel. He feels very free being a pastry chef, because it’s so separate from the rest of the kitchen. He’s able to experiment. He sees pastry preparation as being more technical, scientific, and delicate than cooking. He suggested Financier & Payard as good go-to patisseries for French desserts, and he feels that Alex Stupak of WD-50 is doing some of the most interesting work with pastry.
He then took us downstairs to show us the large prep kitchen and small pastry kitchen. We could immediately smell the meat and garlic that go into making the large vats of fond that were steaming away in the corner. Upon entering the pastry kitchen, the savory fond smell immediately gave way to an intoxicating aroma of butter, sugar, and fruit. This kitchen was so small, that when Chef Chavingy proudly told us that it produces baked goods for all of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants (Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, & Bar Boulud), I could hardly believe it. Just four hard-working pastry chefs do it all. I asked him where to get the best fruit and vegetables, expecting him to say Union Square Greenmarket or something, but he surprised us by saying that the best stuff in the city often comes from the little fruit carts on the street.
More tour, more pics, then it was time to talk to Executive Chef Jean-Francois Bruel. It was close to midnight at this point, so his evening’s work was wrapping up. He looked so young, I had to ask him his age– 36, it turns out. He’s been at Daniel for almost six years, has been working with Daniel for 13 years, and was at Café Boulud before Daniel. He described all the food stations to us and said his favorite kind of cooking is new takes on classics, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. He suggested Blue Hill as a next stop for great food. When we went to Blue Hill a month later, we agreed. And I think the Obamas enjoyed their time there as well!Daniel 60 E. 65th St. New York, NY 10065 212-288-0033 http://www.danielnyc.com