What happens when you cross three-star food with the service and ambiance of a diner at Grand Central Station? Upstairs at Bouley Bakery is the answer. I persuaded a friend to join me there yesterday evening [September 17, 2005].
We misjudged our arrival time: at 6:45pm, all of the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor tables had just filled up. It’s all very frenzied. “Find a table outside, if you can,” the host du jour advised. When none was available, he reluctantly took our name. There is nowhere to wait—no bar, no lounge. We were advised we could hang out in the bakery, or take our chances and go elsewhere for a drink. (If you’re not back when he calls your name, you’re outa luck.)
Fortunately, we timed it perfectly, arriving back at the restaurant just a few minutes before a table freed up. Once inside, a tighter fit is harder to imagine. Some people’s master bedrooms are larger than this restaurant. We felt rather lucky to have a corner table, which was cramped like everything else, but at least meant that we had the din coming at us from two directions, instead of four. So tightly were we packed in, that our server had to lean over the backs of two other diners’ chairs to speak to us.
My friend and I both ordered the halibut that Frank Bruni raved about. This was uncommonly good, among the top 2-3 fish entrées I’ve enjoyed in New York, at any level of dining. Bouley himself was not in the restaurant, but his team is clearly knows what he wants.
Service was generally acceptable until after we finished the halibut. We waited and waited for our server to come back, before we finally caught her attention to get our check.
Upstairs at Bouley Bakery (130 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)