Fine dining, politics, and a host of strange characters meet in this engaging, behind-the-scenes look at one of New York’s hippest restaurants. Daniel is a place both to be seen and to eat well, at a fabulous cost: “The average dinner cover, meaning the cost of a meal for one person, including beverages, but not including taxes and gratuities, is $184.” The experience, suggests restaurant reviewer, food historian, and novelist Brenner (Greetings from the Golden State, 2001, etc.), is worth every bit of the cost; one of the many virtues of her insider’s look at the workings of a grand restaurant is its explanation of how costly it is to keep such a place running. (Just keeping a decent wine cellar on hand is an expensive proposition: Daniel’s holdings are valued at $800,000—money, Brenner points out, that is tied up in inventory and not earning interest.) Writing with a flair for on-the-street reportage, the author conveys such details as squabbles between chefs and sous-chefs, the curious ways of customers, many of whom the floor and kitchen staff rightly despise for their whiny demands, and the extraordinary problems attendant at every turn in bringing pleasure to people by way of the plate. Brenner is also superb at context; her disquisition on the general decline in American fine arts and the concomitant rise in the “living arts” is worth the price of admission. Non-foodies may not appreciate the drama around which she organizes her narrative: chef/owner Daniel Boulud’s quest to recapture a coveted four-star rating that had been stripped away for hotly contested reasons. But those who revere food will find Brenner’s approach as riveting as a good mystery, and just as much fun. A finetreat for food buffs, less snotty than Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential but just as revealing on how a fancy meal makes it way to the table.