September 15, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
Bloomingdale Road Evolves: Daniel Gets a Room Lift
The smoked fries with not-too-much cheese are on the mark. Photo: Steven Richter
“The menu is designed for the table to share,” our waiter at the new Bloomingdale Road announces.
I look at the list of “snacks” just above “small plates and sandwiches” and “soup and salads.” “How many smoked deviled eggs on the plate?” I ask.
“Three,” he says.
“But we’re four.”
“You can always get two orders,” he responds.
“I don’t need six eggs.”
“Well, they’re big and you can cut them in half.”
“But then I’ll have six halves. How about the suckling pig meatballs?”
“Three,” he says grinning. “I could just bring you four anyway.”
“Bring us four and charge for the extra meatball,” I instruct. “And we’ll have four chowder shots too.”
Upper West Side crowds can’t wait to fill this duplex and the sidewalk tables. Photo: Steven Richter.
This is not just another lineup of comfort food. It’s playpen time. It’s the homey and weirdo hour. We have chicken lollipops-Buffalo with blue cheese fondue. Country ham is roasted with Coca-Cola. Everyday fries? Not here. Smoked fries, Old Bay fries and bone marrow fries. The tuna ribs are chili and honey glazed. Country-fried quail comes with biscuits and gravy. This unquenchable exuberance and desperate need to fry up something not yet invented might be inspired by how many restaurants are in countdown phase all over town (especially Fatty Crab and Tom Valenti’s West Branch, imminent not far away on Broadway – which was once called Bloomingdale Road).
I wouldn’t be going into all this today if I hadn’t actually liked some of Chef Ed Witt’s dishes since, I must confess, I accidentally barged into Bloomingdale Road on its first night, thinking it had opened a week earlier. And I wasn’t the only trigger happy Upper West Sider piling in the door as if starved. The duplex, bar and sidewalk tables are jammed with yuppies and yippies, seniors and younglings in startling juxtaposition.
The fussy Road Food Warrior likes this whole wheat pasta. Photo: Steven Richter
If I’d hated every bite I would have left the place to expire of terminal silliness and possibly come back eventually if it rallied, just to be fair. But the fabulous chowder shooters (not exactly drinkable in their shot glass – we had to ask for spoons), the sensational smoked fries with not-too-much cheddar and the Road Food Warrior’s whole wheat fettuccine with spicy shrimp, grilled squash and marjoram actually live up to Witt’s resume – Rubicon in San Francisco, Restaurant Daniel, Il Buco and the ambitious but doomed Varietal.
We’re all wild about the brioche baked in a tin can – “Watch out,” says the waiter, leaving a small ramekin of herb-black-pepper-honey doused butter. “That’s really hot.” Yoicks! I discover he’s not kidding as I try to pull the puffed-up top free from its baking tin, a lawsuit in a can in this litigious town. “Want more bread?” the runner asks. Even devout carbophobes want more. A second pouf comes in a burning hot ramekin (easier to extract without injury). “I’ll leave this used butter because we’re running short,” says the runner, the same guy who assures us the chowder shots are “chicken.” On the first night it’s almost amusing. (Even Sarah was amusing for 24 hours.) And the ancho-dusted scallops with corn and wild mushrooms are small but good (at least our fussy friend is impressed and her husband attacks the trout on chunks of potato slathered with horseradish cream with unabashed gusto).
Corn and wild mushrooms accompany ancho-dusted scallops. Photo: Steven Richter.
The teeny suckling pig meatballs are lost in a smother of chipotle tomato sauce and not worth saving anyway. Mac and cheese Witt style is witless – macaroni cheese soup. It comes with a tripartite dish alongside sporting the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever tasted, bits of bacon and minced jalapeno. “You can run your macaroni over the condiments,” we are instructed. No. No. No. Impossible. (But save the croutons. They’re marvelous.) I’m not sure if it was something my grass-fed cow ate but the barely chewable strip steak smells and tastes spoiled. Still, those fries. The kitchen has them mastered. Well, I hope. Who knows what day 2 will bring?
More crowds, says Proprietor Jeremy Wladis, who knows the neighborhood’s consuming fervor from his two other ventures, Nonna (Columbus and 85th) and Campo (Broadway at 112th Street). But even he is reeling with the demand, walk-ins and reservations, “We fed 200 last night. We’re completely booked for the weekend." And yes, the menu is still evolving. "We’ve been tasting the food for two months,” he confides, “but it’s one thing to do cedar roasted sockeye salmon for five tasters and another when every table is jammed. Some of our dishes are controversial. One table hates it. The next table loves it. You don’t know what to do.”
At six o’clock on the house’s fourth night Wladis just got handed the sixth version of the menu. I hope they’ll realize how mean it is to the middle-aged among us to have type that small and palest gray. “Order whatever you want me to eat,” our friend Harvey pleaded. “I can’t read the menu.” My guy passed him the flashlight.
Syrupy sweet apricot and bourbon glaze on brioche does not mean “bread pudding” in my book. And I probably should not have ordered peanut butter and jelly tart with marshmallow ice cream, although, like Elvis, I was once addicted to peanut butter and bacon with banana. I guess I’ve tossed that monkey off my back. This is my neighborhood after all. We’ll be back.
2398 Broadway near 88th Street 212 674 7400
Let There Be Light on Daniel’s Makeover
New light boxes and custom chandeliers reflect on the existing arches at Daniel.
With glowing pride and grinning allusions to pain in his bank account, Daniel Boulud welcomed an eclectic crowd of friends and rainmakers, old and new, to see Restaurant Daniel all dressed up by architect Adam Tihany in grey, beige and brown neutrals for its second decade on 65th Street.
How much did he pay for the etched glass light boxes wrapping the existing balustrades, the bronze-finished iron tree branches, the custom chandeliers tiled with Limoge porcelain by Bernardaud and the witty modern patchwork play on Renaissance paintings? No one was nouveau riche enough to say, though Daniel couldn’t resist noting, “Adam has expensive ideas.” He introduced the contractor and Tihany’s team and crowed that the entire rehab from demolition to silvery grey Roman shades took just five weeks.
Called to the mic, Tihany clarified: “Of course, that was only possible because the planning began a year ago when we ordered carpets and chairs, fixtures and fabric."
With the thriftiness of his bourgeois Lyonnaise heritage, Boulud was taking advantage of the media scrum gathered to see the new do to announce his latest global outreach – not one, but two restaurants in Vancouver. He has entered some sort of “partnership” to inject “a lot of Daniel” in Vancouver’s highly rated Lumière, as well as opening a DB Bistro next door. That was how he put it. Only the lawyers know what that means.
He introduced Lumière’s proprietors, David and Manjy Sidoo, and the restaurateurs he’d met scouting the scene in Vancouver whom he’d enticed to New York to cook the lunch. Hidekazu Tojo did sushi for the champagne reception. Chef Guiseppe Posteraro of Cioppino’s poached medallions of Canadian lobster with maple syrup-vinaigrette, green lime marmalade and passion fruit jelly. At our table, Posteraro noted that the ham on his jelly in the shot glass was pata negra, Spanish not Italian, a shocking confession that would get him drummed out of the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani if he belonged. In spite of this sacrilege or possibly because of it, the dish was remarkable.
Daniel’s team baked whole Alaskan King salmon wrapped in fig leaves in clay and served it with figs, also a triumph. Vikrim Vij’s wine-marinated lamb popsicles in fenugreek cream curry, followed by Lumière dessert chef Wendy Boys Moroccan spice-poached peach with roasted white chocolate foam, and crispy chocolate wafers from Daniel’s one time pastry terror Thomas Hass (now a Vancouver chocolatier), didn’t tell us much about what, if any, cuisinary shift Daniel has decreed in the kitchen. How smart of him. We’ll all have to come back to see if there’s a discernible evolution.
Astonished by the noontime turnout on a Friday, I note the predictable food world faces: Florence Fabricant, Jacques Pepin, Food and Wine’s Dana Cowin, Nilou Motamed from Travel & Leisure, John Mariani, my New York colleague Gillian Duffy, Peter Kaminsky, Gourmet’s Corky Pollan, Josh Ozersky, who just left NYGrub Street for Citysearch, plus “French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Giuliano, a paragon of her thesis. And I guess that whoever else isn’t a contractor must be a food blogger. Five years ago, Daniel could have thrown this lunch with ten less tables.
60 East 65th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. 212 288 0033