55 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 391-2400

104-02 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-2144

I wouldn't normally write a second review about a restaurant; I'd just write an update to my original one. But this was too good to pass up. This is old news to some, but for the rest of you not in the know, here's the basic storyline: A few months back, celebrity chef and prolific restaurateur Daniel Boulud threatened Danny Brown, owner of a restaurant in Forest Hills, Queens with a lawsuit for using the same introductory initials in his restaurant: "DB". See, Daniel Boulud owns DB Bistro Moderne (DBBM) and Danny Brown owns DB Wine Bar & Kitchen (DBWBK).

Boulud basically alleged that he's so famous and so well-established that anyone out there using those initials was violating his trademark. But going deeper than that, Boulud argued that Brown's use of the initials in lowercase letters where the D and the B were stem-to-stem with each other (db) makes the violation even worse and that he owns even the mere sound of the initials when spoken (dee-bee).

Boulud, I suppose, feared that Brown's restaurant would lure customers there who were under the impression that it was a Boulud proprietorship. Brown's food, which could not possibly be as mouth-wateringly spectacular as Boulud's, would thereby water down Boulud's name. Comparing their respective restaurants to department stores, Boulud likened his to Saks Fifth Avenue and Brown's to Wal-Mart.

Since only someone of questionable character would try to bleed off of someone else's success to avoid having to build a reputation of their own, I figured that the only way for me to really be able to discern whether Danny Brown was leaching off of Daniel Boulud, sucking away his street cred, stealing his customers, and otherwise doing all he could to bleed out the Daniel Boulud machine would be to go both restaurants and try to eat the same exact meal. This proved harder than I initially thought, since they each have rather different menus. DBBM is French. DBWBK is European-influenced American.

But still, one must try, mustn't one?


It was Bro's birthday. So I figured it was worth splurging. I actually waited to write a review of DBBM until this time of year so it could be Bro's present (and mine too, kinda). I made reservations and requested a specific table, which I got. So far so good. We were seated promptly and the staff is something I can't complain about. They were very attentive, never arrogant, never vanished if we needed anything, and were never slow. They were always right on the ball. Actually, they looked kinda scared. Like Coach would make them do laps if they made any boo boos.

Side note: I was surprised that on a Saturday night, DBBM never filled up.

The DBBM website has a link that discusses the wonders of the restaurant's design. I didn't visit the back half, but you can see from the photo below (borrowed lovingly from the aforementioned website) that the front half is, in a word, gaudy. The tacky, diner-like menus, bright red walls and ginormous photos of orange sea anemones contrast starkly with the West-Elm-ish clean lines of the tables and the chairs that, for some reason made me think of Volvo headrests.

Since DBBM is supposed to be the more casual, hip, fun sibling to extra-expensive superestaurant Daniel, I was expecting it to be lively. Or at least not as quiet as a tomb. When Bro and I arrived there was some French cocktail music playing, but when the CD tracked out, no one replaced it. I have a tendency to talk too loudly for my own good, and when the couple next to us requested a new table on the other side of the floor, I worried that I was the cause. You can imagine my sigh of relief when I found out minutes later that it was just because making out at dinner is harder when you're sitting across a table from your partner and there are glasses and bread in between you.

The food came like clockwork. Within minutes of sitting down, we were given a bread basket and butter. Actually, it was a silver bread goblet holding a variety of baked moist carbohydrate slices, like pretzel and raisin. Bro liked the breads. I thought they were a little hard. Also to munch on while pondering the menu and waiting for our appetizers once we ordered was a plate of garlic bread chips with an olive pate spread and a small loaf of focaccia. The pate and focaccia were excellent. The bread chips lost points for slicing into the roof of my mouth like stale toast.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, a raw tuna dish served with pesto and olives. It was so light that without the pesto it might have floated off the plate. Actually too light for my taste, but still not bad, and I very much recommend it. Bro ordered the Arugula Salad. He initially was put off by the ham cubes and parmesan slices that came perched atop it, but soon sort of learned to enjoy them. That said, he felt it was small and bland. Enjoyable. But bland.

Because Bro and I went for for two very different entrees, we each ordered a glass of wine (about $15 each), rather than split the average $75 bottle. Although that might be seen as a bargain, since at least one bottle went for $6000.

Bro's entree was the Grilled King Salmon. This dish came with fava beans, tomato, and spinach. It was moist and delicious according to Bro. I would have stolen some, but at the time it felt weird to steal a piece off his plate. Later on, when people started talking in the restaurant, I swiped some of his dessert. The only complaint Bro had with this otherwise tasty morsel of Omega-3 laden goodness was that he would have liked a few more vegetables. For my entree I ordered the Hanger Steak, which came with beans, a mini-salad, and an oxtail ragout. The oxtail ragout should have been the entree. It was delicious on its own and without it, the hanger steak would not be receiving the generally positive review it's getting here. The rougout's sauce was the perfect (and necessary) accompaniment to what was basically a tough piece of meat that did not arrive medium-rare the way I ordered it.

Our desserts were excellent. My choice was the Strawberry Trifle. The easiest way to describe this particular dessert is through comparison. You know how at Starbucks there's the refrigerated section that has sandwiches and bottled Frapuccinos? Sometimes in that area is a yogurt cup with layered yogurt and fruit. That's the strawberry trifle. Now just replace the yogurt with ice cream, toss in some whipped cream, a shelf of chocolate, and a dash of heaven. Damn good stuff. Plus I got a coffee. Bro went with the Cherry Profiteroles, a three pillared, multi-layered cherry ice cream dessert. This was also excellent. He also got the Wild Mint Tea. The tea came loose and piping hot in its own teapot.

Bro loved, loved, his mint tea.

To wrap it up, the meal, which included two appetizers, two entrees, two glasses of wine, two desserts, a tea and a coffee, plus tax and tip came in just north of $200.

...well, actually,

I've already reviewed DBWBK once before. But I don't want to be lazy and not give something of a description.

One thing to note right upon walking up to DBWBK is that the sign hanging over the street, the one that uses the "db" initials, is gone. Once you get the menu, same thing. No db. Only the business cards retain the logo, and probably not for long. So at this juncture, it would appear that Daniel Boulud got what he wanted. Walking in, the atmosphere is fundamentally different. Where DBBM tries to be the opposite of the opulent, reserved Daniel by being dark and moody and funky and garish, in an almost forced-feeling "look we're wild" sort of way, DBWBK is crisp and clean and comparatively bright. While DBBM was oddly quiet, DBWBK was loud. You could talk and laugh at your own volume without feeling that you might inconsiderately wake up the diners at the next table. There was even music. Though it was practically drowned out by people talking. It felt almost like a Queens Craftbar. Tom Colicchio, you could make some money in this neighborhood.

DBWBK touts itself as a wine bar, so naturally there's a bar to sit at and there are people actually using it, drinking wine, eating food, chilling out. I didn't see any such bar at DBBM. DBWBK has a large wine list and regular wine tastings/parings, but since we only ordered a single glass the last time, I didn't really give the list more than a cursory glance. The wines we ordered were about $8 per glass.

DBWBK did not offer tuna tartare, so appetizer I ordered was the Salmon Tartare. It was very different from the traditional sashimi-on-greens version of a tartare. This dish was a salmon and herb puree served with capers, balsamic vinegar, and a dollop of creme fraiche on top. It was served with those cut-the-roof-of-your-mouth bread chips to spread the tartare on. Tangy. Very very good and far removed from what I was expecting. Bro chose the Endive and Watercress Salad with walnuts, blue cheese, and smoked bacon. This dish he praised far more than the arugula salad he ordered at DBBM, largely because, in his words, "this one has taste". It didn't hurt that, as he remembers it, it was about twice the size.

As at DBBM, my entree at DBWBK was the Hanger Steak. Unlike at DBBM, this one was served far more plainly. Nothing fancy. Just plain ol' grilled served with a red wine shallot butter and a mountain of fries. But it was delicious. Melted in my mouth tender... although the fries were much too salty. Bro again ordered a salmon dish, the Roasted Atlantic Salmon, served in a bowl like bouillabaisse with a saffron clam vinaigrette. Spread on the top of the salmon steak was a green olive and golden raisin tapanade that I personally thought well-complimented the dish. Bro disagreed, preferring DBBM's dish. But Bro also doesn't like olives.

There were no comparable desserts between the two menus, so Bro and I went with our hearts. My pick was the Sweet Crepe, a duo of crepes wrapped around creme fraiche and mixed berry compote served with a healthy dusting of powdered sugar. The crepe was a tad on the spongy side but it was still awfully delish and not so sweet that one would need a slug of coffee between bites. If you like berries and want a light change from the more common heavy chocolate lava cakes that abound on dessert menus, then this is the way to go. Of course, I had a coffee, too. Bro went for the Warm Apple Tart, which pretty much sounds like what it was, a warm apple tart that was served with maple syrup and walnuts. He liked it and said that he'd get it again, but did say that it wasn't all that warm and that the crust was a bit too brittle. "I like it. I don't love it." quoth he. Bro says DBWBK lost the tea-battle for his heart and mind with the Twinnings-in-a-bag mint tea.

The service at DBWBK is both its biggest flaw and one of its greatest draws. The flaw is that there never seemed to be a waiter when you needed one, or one that saw you when you were trying to wave one over (Water? Please? I'm so thirsty). This is most likely a sign that they need to hire another person. The Saturday that this meal was eaten, they were filled to the brim by 8:30. That said, the people who work there were extremely nice and always smiling, as opposed to the stoic and cheerless waiters at DBBM. This is not to say that DBBM's service was poor by any standard. In fact, it was excellent. It was just hollow and soulless.

Our meal here, two appetizers, two glasses of wine, two entrees, two desserts, a coffee, and a tea, plus tax and tip, clocked in at $120.

Danny Brown is closed Mondays.

So who should win? Service is a tie; DBBM's were as punctual as a Swiss watch but just as cold, DBWBK's were warm and friendly, but missing in action too often; Prestige goes to DBBM; Cost goes to DBWBK; Salmon goes to DBBM; Steak goes to DBWBK; Desserts go to DBBM; Appetizers go to DBWBK; Convenience to the average NYer, given subway proximity, goes to DBBM; the restaurant I'd recommend becoming a regular at, even if you have to drive to get there, goes to DBWBK. Luckily for me, I don't have to drive to get there.

Watch out girls...

Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon
db Bistro Moderne on Urbanspoon

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