Daniel Frishberg may be just 12 years old, but he's an opinionated kid foodie, or "koodie," with a budding palate and an active food blog to prove it.
The seventh-grader lives in Palo Alto with his mother and father and chronicles his adventures in gastronomy on a website called "Danny's Restaurant Review." A friend of his father's helped him put the website together, but "the reviews are all mine," Daniel explained proudly in a recent interview. His reviews are short, accompanied by photographs of the author at each eatery, where he often meets the chef or manager to learn more about the behind-the-scenes secrets of running a restaurant.
The desire to pursue food criticism was sparked in fifth grade, Daniel said, when Marco Fossati, head chef of Quattro restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto, came to his elementary school to give a talk. Daniel ended up talking to Fossati and visiting Quattro shortly after to review the contemporary Italian restaurant, where he said he had a five-star pizza with the perfect amount of tomato sauce, light and crispy crust and fresh sautéed mushrooms.
But Daniel's love for food started long before he met Fossati.
"I've always been interested in food. Ever since I can remember, I was in restaurants making pizza," he said, pointing to a photograph of his 4-year-old self making a pizza at Pizzeria Napule in Kiev, Ukraine, where he lived from age 3 to 6. The photos, included in a 2008 online post, show a small boy, his head dwarfed by an adult-sized chef hat. In one shot, he kneads the dough. In another, he supervises the cooking of his personal pizza.
When Daniel reviews a restaurant, he explained, he scrutinizes four elements, including service to kids. Does the restaurant offer something other than crayons to color with? How does the wait staff treat younger patrons?
"Kids should always be treated like adults," Daniel said.
He said he also considers lighting, food quality and quantity, and cleanliness.
In a 2012 review of Le Petit Bistro on El Camino Real in Mountain View, Daniel declared the French restaurant's food "excellent." He recommends the escargot and French onion soup.
"Be careful," he warns, "the escargot is hot and the French onion soup is hot, too. Order for dessert the Crème brûlée -- it is the best!"
Photos accompanying the review show Daniel in the kitchen with the chef-owner, talking about imported snail shells and looking at cow tongue (which Daniel ate until he was 4, at which point he found out exactly what he was eating and stopped, he writes in a photo caption).
A few miles north in Palo Alto, Daniel slurped down some Fanny Bay oysters at The Fish Market, remarking in his review that "the oysters taste weird, but good."
"The oysters are so delicious ... They are soft and slippery, but sometimes they have shells in them. I can't describe their taste. It's impossible," he wrote. Photos show the Fish Market manager giving Daniel a tour of the restaurant, from the area where dishes are cleaned and dried to a food storage room to the dumpster outside -- "One of the most important parts of the restaurant cycle," Daniel noted in his review.
The young critic has featured several non-local restaurants on his website: L'Auberge Del Mar in San Diego (five stars); Sardinia Ristorante in Miami, Florida (four stars); Limoncello in Aventura, Florida (four and a half stars), among others.
His assessments are quite serious, which is very funny to watch, said his father, Alex Frishberg, adding that Daniel "is usually right on all points and never disguises the truth with diplomacy."
"I really enjoy taking Danny to restaurants not just because we explore new cuisines, but mostly because we spend quality time together and talk about everything that's important, including the food, the waiters (where they come from) and life in general," he said.
Like most 12-year-olds, Daniel's favorite food is pizza. But he also has an appetite for dishes not usually considered kid-friendly fare: He dined on escargot prepared with spinach and basil at Le Petit Bistro, sea urchin at Ebisu in San Francisco and foie gras (goose liver) at Loulay Kitchen & Bar in Seattle.
The weirdest foods he's tasted include alligator, which he said "tastes like a mixture between pork and beef and a bit of chicken," wild boar and roasted pigeon at a popular Shanghai eatery that was reviewed by The New York Times.
"It was a traditional Chinese restaurant. It was almost literally a hole in the wall. It was that small. It was the first time I got to sit at a table with three different families," he said of the experience.
Photos of Daniel's food adventures are posted on his website as well as in a published book, "Danny's World-Famous Recipes," available on Amazon. The book features Daniel's favorite recipes, including pistachio-stuffed leg of lamb, Salisbury steak, chocolate lava cake and apple streusel.
The culinary journey, Frishberg said, has changed his son in a "very predictable way."
"He wants to eat delicious food only, no matter whether it's prepared at home or at a restaurant," Frishberg said.
And of course, the young critic also writes about his gastronomic experiences with vivid descriptions -- and humor -- in a way that only a kid can.
Daniel has only reviewed a handful of restaurants, and there are plenty to explore throughout the Midpeninsula. The next establishment he wants to write about? Vesta, a contemporary Italian restaurant in Redwood City known for its wood-fired pizzas and small plates.
"They have very good burrata -- grilled pears with fresh burrata cheese. They also have delicious pizza. It's one of my favorite restaurants," Daniel said.
As for the food scene in Palo Alto, Daniel praises its diversity: "There's not just one type of food. There's pizza, hamburgers and foie gras. There's lots of different types of cultures and cuisines."
When Daniel eats, he does so with gusto, curiosity and an open mind. Kids have a point of view, he said, that allows them to look at food, like a piece of steak, as not just a piece of meat but with the ability to see and taste the discovery and joy of it.
"Food is really special," this koodie concluded.