Gary Danko: Fire and Disco Balls!


Confession: I dined for the first time at Gary Danko … last week. Yes, Gary Danko, winner for Best Overall restaurant for our 2008 Reader’s Choice Awards, Michelin-star Danko, Relais & Chateau Danko. I was prepped for great service and a great cheese cart, but there was one thing I hadn't considered. Gary Danko can actually be quite thrilling—and I’m not talking about the food.

Pyrotechnics at Gary Danko.

1. It offers great people watching.
The mix of wide-eyed tourists and locals is actually endearing. The family next to us—parents with their two, super awkward, super geeky tween-age sons wearing matching white button-down shirts and sitting up very, very straight—looked like they were straight out of a Christopher Guest movie. The boys had every allergy known to man, but the waiter didn’t blink. Instead he quickly morphed into a doctor, asking questions and scribbling down all the can't-haves (shellfish, wheat, dairy, nuts, you name it). It was kind of heart-wrenching, but somehow very cute.

2. The flower arrangements are something to write home about.
When one of our many attendants (I don’t think you can call them servers at Danko) asked us if there were any questions, my friend and I tore ourselves away from our psychoanalysis of our neighbors to ask: “What’s up with the disco balls?” The very conservative dining room was decked out as if it was in memoriam to Studio 54. In each mirrored corner, above the banquettes, were huge disco balls, perched atop of each other in a tower of bling, with orchids and lilies mixed in. Apparently, Gary Danko has a good friend named Mary who does the flowers and, well, as one server implied very delicately, she’s kind of eccentric.

3. It makes open kitchens seem overrated.
While I found the menu options surprisingly safe (it’s a very non-threatening, if nicely done, have-it-your way kind of fine dining experience), one aspect of dining here is truly exciting. Our waiter wheeled a cart over to the Chrisptopher Guest table and right there made caramel (which filled the room with that gorgeous burnt-sugar smell) and flambéed bananas with Grand Marnier (in shockingly close proximity to the mother’s very long, very brushed hair) and served it all over crepes with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream. My friend and I quickly changed our dessert order to mimic theirs (apparently, this reaction to seeing fire and caramel is typical) and got a tableside show of our own. I think the flames brushed the ceiling. The cheese cart, which Danko is truly famous for? Suddenly, not so interesting.

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