Daniel and the Beasts

Each year, Daniel Boulud hosts a Fall Game Feast at his restaurant Daniel, the famed chef’s flagship kitchen that is–with

Each year, Daniel Boulud hosts a Fall Game Feast at his restaurant Daniel, the famed chef’s flagship kitchen that is–with its three Michelin stars–considered one of the best restaurants in the world.

Guests were still trickling into the private room in the restaurant’s sweeping, richly adorned space on the Upper East Side. There was Champagne and it was plentiful, but no wine or liquor could distract the attendees from the evening’s one true star: the lavish display of terrine and pate charcuterie.

“You like game?” Mr. Boulud asked The Observer after we introduced ourselves. A well-built gregarious man in his mid-40s, Mr. Boulud was the perfect host, smiling happily at his guests despite having to split his time between the dining room and the kitchen, where a strict health inspector was watching over the kitchen’s practices for the night.  

Very much so, we told him.

“Well, good thing!” he said with a heavy French accent, gesturing toward the buffet behind him. Indeed, there was quite the meat-lover’s fantasy there for guests.

Among the offerings were: wild boar head cheese, wild hare “a la Royale,” wild boar ham “en croute,” and wild duck stuffed with morels and apricots.

“All the game is truly wild,” Mr. Boulud’s co-host, Ariane Daguin, explained as the first course (red-legged partridge and savoy cabbage soup with puffed pastry shell) was placed in front of us. Not a single bite of food that evening came from a domesticated animal, she explained further. Ms. Daguin owns D’Artagnan, the company that provided the meats for the evening, and she served as the event’s emcee.

She fancied herself a game-show host of sorts. Following each course–there were five of them–Ms. Daguin would tap her glass with a knife and ask a question related to the night’s fare. For example: What do the English call the first day of grouse-hunting season?

“The Glorious Twelfth,” a stately man with a bandage on his nose announced.

Correct. For his prize, the man received a small tub of black truffle butter, the appearance of which had others at our table salivating. “I could eat it with a spoon,” one whispered.

Other questions were asked after the second course (warm wild duck salad with porcini, dates and arugula) and the third (Scottish wild hare ravioli with chestnuts and celery).

Which is the dish that D’Artagnon is famous for?

“Pressed Duck!” several people exclaimed. That dish–a dauntingly complex recipe that requires the chef to find a young and plump duckling exclusively from Rouen and prepare it using a specific extraction technique–has just been added to the menu at Daniel.

Who will be representing the U.S. in the Bocuse d’Or competition?

“James Kent!” shouted another. Indeed, Kent, the young sous chef at New York’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant, will be heading to Lyons in January to represent the U.S. in what is considered the Olympics of French cooking. An American has never won the competition.

The fourth course (stuffed millbrook venison saddle with fall root vegetables) arrived in front of us, as did another round of vibrant, exquisitely paired French wines from Piedmont and Châteauneuf du Pape. There was a brief silent auction where an elderly woman captured, for a large sum of money, a private Thanksgiving dinner for her and guests cooked by Mr. Boulud.

The chef normally is much more involved in the “game game” questions, but this year he was forced to spend over three and a half hours in the kitchen with the health inspector. (“We are laughing,” Ariane said to us, “but I don’t think he is laughing anymore.”)

As is the case with restaurants on the level of Daniel, though, there was never a shortage of distractions for the head chef. “Sheryl Crow was here tonight,” Mr. Boulud boasted to The Observer. He didn’t tell us what she ordered.

Daniel’s pastry chef, Dominique Ansel, emerged from the kitchen, and we congratulated him on settling the night’s assault of the savory with a perfectly balanced dessert course (honey crisp apple confit with cinnamon sablé with a sparkling apple cider sorbet).

But after nearly four hours, the meal had come to an end, and Mr. Boulud began to personally thank each of the attendees. When he got to the woman lucky enough to place the winning bid and earn the eight-person private dinner from the chef, she had forgotten about the auction entirely. After a meal that intoxicating, a slip of the mind can be more than forgiven.


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