It was, in a word, sublime. Perhaps the most ethereal restaurant experience we’ve ever had. Five grown men (including America’s greatest French chef) at one of the world’s greatest restaurants working their collective tails off for our culinary pleasure. Look up “once in a lifetime” in the foodie dictionary, and the pressed duck at Restaurant Daniel in New York City will be the picture beside the definition.
Alan Richman named this preparation one of his Top Five Dishes of the Year in January’s GQ, and he affectionately refers to the preparation as “muscular cuisine” instead of molecular — because, in fact, it takes a bit of elbow grease to squeeze all of those juices out of the heart, lungs, bones and carcass of the royal fowl that’s been freshly killed for your dinner. (This dish and the event surrounding it must be arranged in advance.)
Daniel Boulud told us that he rescued two presses from the estate of a Cleveland, Ohio gourmand who had bequeathed them to his daughter — who didn’t want them to end up as doorstops somewhere. As soon as Daniel heard about the presses, he knew he had to have them. He also knew a revival of this classic dish was just what his renovated restaurant needed for a bit of showmanship to go with its always superlative French food. (From what we can gather, any and all duck presses ever made are now antiques. No one makes them anymore and besides La Tour d’Argent in Gay* Paree, no one else makes this exalted dish either.)
Part of the awesomeness of the event comes from watching the entire room come to a halt as everyone gapes and stares at the performance. We were initially hesitant to whip out the old Nikon in such a swanky joint, but as soon as we did, a couple of well-heeled folks on the far side of seventy were right beside us, snapping away.
How did it taste? The meat was heavy with the taste of duck, only slightly gamy, not greasy or oily, and rich beyond belief. The sauce of course is the real star — an intense reduction (to say the least), deep purple-black-red in color, thickened with duck liver and finished with wine and eau de vie, and possessing a dimension of ducky-ness heretofore untasted by these buds. French food is about nothing as much as the extraction and intensification of flavors, and canard a la presse stands as Exhibit A, proving the point.
It is the closest we at ELV have ever come to a religious experience over food. You are at one with the duck that gave its life for yours; you are tasting all of it, and a communion of souls seems to take place as you pray and give thanks to the creature for allowing you such pleasure.
Barbaric you say? Maybe, but if god hadn’t wanted us to eat animals, she wouldn’t have made them taste so good.
* As in: fine, showy, frolicsome, mirthful, and given to pleasure.
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