First Look: Restaurant Daniel Is Even More Stunning Post-Renovation

NYC’s bastion of French fine dining has unveiled a new look and menu.

Lukan’s Farm Honey Mille-Feuille at Restaurant DANIEL
Lukan’s Farm Honey Mille-Feuille at Restaurant DANIEL | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Lukan’s Farm Honey Mille-Feuille at Restaurant DANIEL | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

It’s hard to think of a place in NYC more synonymous with “special occasion meal” than Restaurant DANIEL. The space, which chef Daniel Boulud opened in 1993, exemplifies the best in white-tablecloth dining: elegant surrounds, a staff so in tune with guests’ needs they might be mind readers, and, of course, a menu of French (and French-influenced) dishes worthy of Michelin stars.

But even DANIEL was not immune to the difficulties of the last 20 months. Like every other restaurant in the city, they too had to shutter their doors during the early weeks of the pandemic. And Boulud himself had to make the difficult decision to furlough around 800 staff members of his company at his restaurants worldwide.

Chef Daniel Boulud
Chef Daniel Boulud | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Luckily, the chef is never one to stay idle long. He soon created a foundation, Hand in Hand, which helped to generate funds for his employees during the closures of his empire of restaurants. It quickly raised about three-quarters of a million dollars; 100 percent of which went to his staff.

At the same time, he was constantly reinventing DANIEL. First with to-go orders in June of 2020, then—as the seasons changed—an outdoor terrace, bungalows for the winter, and the South of France-themed pop-up, Boulud Sur Mer.

Major renovations for the space were actually in the works even before COVID hit (some, like the wine cellar, were completed in 2019). Boulud and his team took advantage of the pause of this past year to redo the main dining spaces and menu. “In retrospect, it was better to not have done the dining room in 2019,” says Boulud. “Because then during COVID, we could just trash the whole place and create these theatrical elements in the room [during the pop-ups], just for the sake of doing something different—we knew at the end we wanted to change it, anyway.”

Interior of Restaurant DANIEL
Interior of Restaurant DANIEL | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

The revitalized space is still as elegant as before (Boulud worked with his same interior designer Tihany Design to refresh them), but now brighter and more modern. Wave-like wood screens offer both privacy and a bit of whimsy in the main dining room, while an ultra-modern, stainless steel arch greets guests as they walk in. The chef particularly wanted to highlight the use of wood and nature; the latter is evidenced by large-scale Alex Katz landscape paintings that line the room. And, as part of a new rotating art program in conjunction with art advisor Janis Gardner Cecil, DANIEL will also change the paintings in the spaces biannually. “I’m looking for pieces that are soothing enough for dining and showing artists that are relevant to NYC,” Boulud says.

Lehigh Valley Squab
Lehigh Valley Squab | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

The chef and his team took advantage of the restaurant’s closure to reimagine the menu. In addition, there is also a new team behind the burners: executive chef Eddy Leroux, who has worked at DANIEL for 17 years, and Bronx-born executive pastry chef Shaun Velez. While the new dishes still hew closely to classic French technique for which DANIEL is known, they are far from traditional.

For the fall, highlights include a tender Scottish langoustine served with tapioca pearls, spruce tips, and a consomme broth; Long Island duck with Concord grapes and einkorn berries; and innovative desserts like a huckleberry vacherin (if you’ve never had one, think ice cream, but, somehow, better). There are also always surprises from the kitchen: a recent visit included a trio of broccoli-themed amuse bouches; and fresh bread served with a salted butter from Brittany, France, that was creamy, rich, and melted instantly on the tongue.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Diners in the main dining room have the choice of a four-course prix-fixe or a seven-course tasting menu. But, we’ll let you in on a little tip: if you’re not quite hungry enough (or maybe don’t have quite the funds) for that, you can order dishes from those menus a la carte while sitting at the bar or in the lounge. And it should go without saying that we all deserve a bit of luxury after this year.

Restaurant DANIEL is currently open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 5 pm to 10 pm.

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Juliet Izon is a contributor for Thrillist.