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bouley_logo.jpgNote: This is a review of Bouley at its former location on West Broadway. Click here for a review of the new location, to which the restaurant moved in November 2008.

My mom and I had dinner at Bouley last week. I had already been to the restaurant twice before, including a visit last summer, when two colleagues and I were most impressed with the tasting menu. This time, we ordered à la carte.

I loved my appetizer, described on the menu as “Organic Connecticut Farm Egg Steamed with Black Truflle, Serrano Ham, Parmesan Reggiano and 25-Year Old Balsamic Vinegar” ($22). This is typical of a Bouley dish, with a large number of ingredients and a cooking style not anchored to any one region. It all fits together, and never feels too busy or over-engineered.

The entrée was Baby Pig ($42)—not currently listed on the website, so I can’t quote every ingredient. If a little less clever than the appetizer, I was nevertheless pleased with the careful preparation, with the crispness of the skin contrasting the tender flesh underneath.

Dessert was excellent: “Tahitian Vanilla-Nishiki Rice Pudding with Tropical Fruit Compote and Yuzu Sorbet” ($13). On top of that, there were several bonus courses: the amuse bouche (a tomato gazpacho), pre- and post-dessert, and petits-fours. We were, of course, sent home with the signature sponge cake, which I enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

The wine list is lengthy, expensive, and generally French. The Saint Domingue we ordered ($90) was excellent, and the staff kept our glasses filled without my ever having to touch the bottle—a degree of pampering worth mentioning only because it is so rare.

A few years ago, there was a sense that the front-of-house at Bouley was letting down the kitchen. Several lapses—unforgivable at a restaurant purporting to offer a four-star experience—were cited in Frank Bruni’s demotion review three years ago. I myself had noticed some minor infelicities in two previous visits, but on this occasion the staff had it just about perfect.

There is, I suppose, a certain sense that David Bouley is no longer innovating—that he is too busy opening new places to really focus on his flagship restaurant. But there is a certain sense of refinement and polish at Bouley that very few restaurants can match.

Update: A few weeks later, I was back at Bouley with a colleague. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings. All of the food was polished and refined, but there really wasn’t any “wow” in it. I once again felt that the service was rushed, as it had been the last time I had a tasting menu here. Given the track record over multiple visits, I’ve at last concluded that 3 stars is the correct rating, not the the 3½ stars I had awarded previously.

Bouley (120 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***

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