When we dropped in to Daniel George in Mountain Brook on a Friday a few weeks ago, we weren't sure what tipped us off first that something was up -- the fact that the gigantic aqua painting that had dominated the bar was gone, or the big smile on Daniel Briggs' face.
Turned out Daniel George, founded in 2000 by Briggs and George McMillan III, was just that day now owned solely by Daniel. After 11 years of partnership, the team we once dubbed "the odd couple" in a story for Birmingham Weekly just wasn't working well anymore. And in our opinion, it showed. While the food was still good, the menu had gotten a bit tired and stale, and some longtime employees had left. The only question was, who was going to buy who out.
In the weeks leading up to the deal, Daniel had been scoping out the local restaurant scene, eating at Birmingham's high-end restaurants and lending a hand in the kitchen at Little Savannah. He came to the same conclusion we have: Birmingham has some great restaurants, but they are too focused on Southern food. Ever since Frank Stitt gained national acclaim with his way of blending Southern traditions and local ingredients with French cooking techniques, it seems everyone has jumped on the same bandwagon.
Daniel's doing something different, bringing in other cuisines and blending them to create something all his own, using fresh, local ingredients -- and we say, hurrah!
A couple weeks later we stopped by for drinks and had a chance to check out the new menu and sample a couple of items. We've never seen Daniel, who was always the more quiet one of the partnership, so energized. One of the big changes is that now you can opt to get half-portions of most of the entrees, so you can build your entire meal off of small plates if you choose. There are also ala carte sides in addition to the setups that come with each entree, such as grits, farmer's market succotash, grilled asparagus and truffled parmesan fries.
One of our favorites, salmon tartare, was still on the menu, as well as veal picatta, one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. Two previous appetizers have been combined into an oyster duo, pairing raw beausoleil oysters on the half shell with cornmeal-crusted fried apalachicola oysters, mardi gras slaw and cayenne remoulade. We noticed the remoulade had more zip; at times in the past it has been a bit too gloppy and mayonaissy.
A dish that did a good job of illustrating Daniel's new approach was the crispy spring roll, which combined Asian and Southwestern flavors with a kick of sweet heat from both Asian chile sauce and ancho chili.
A tomato and watermelon salad was another adventure, getting just a bit into molecular gastronomy, with its "balsamic caviar" (tiny spheres of balsamic vinegar that evoked the contrast of black watermelon seeds with the red of the watermelon) and "goat cheese snow" (frozen bits of goat cheese). Mint added a surprisingly effective counterpoint of flavor.
We didn't get a chance to try them on this visit, but a couple other menu items that caught our eye were a grilled romaine salad with avocado, roasted corn and chili lime vinaigrette; tea-smoked duck breast with greaen tomato peach salsa and haricots verts, and and shelfish puttanesca with clams, mussels, olives, capers, melted onions and oregano. Also glad to see vegetable tasting listed on the menu; it's always been available by request, and we have often enjoyed a generous platter of the various vegetables of the day.
We have to admit, we will probably miss George's homemade sausages, and wish him well in his endeavors. Bob Carlton at the Birmingham news reports that McMillan hopes to eventually open another restaurant but will do catering and private chef jobs until he figures out his next move.
The restaurant will be closing for a week or so next month for some redecorating and will unveil a fresh new look at dg to go with the new menu. They also will not be serving lunch during the summer months.