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The State of the Bouley Empire

David Bouley’s growing empire fascinates me. What is it like to build seven restaurants at once? Not seven clones, but seven one-of-a-kind places?

One of the seven, Secession, is an early failure. It got zero stars from Adam Platt this week. If it gets much better than a weak singleton from Frank Bruni, I’ll be surprised.

I walked by the others last night for a brief look-in. Here’s a report:

Bouley Bakery. The bakery has now moved into the old Bouley restaurant. It’s a work in progress, with signs of unfinished construction. David Bouley himself was wandering around inside. They’re selling baked goods and soups, in what appears to be a makeshift space. My understanding is that there will eventually be a wine bar in here, but that part isn’t ready yet.

Upstairs. With the bakery gone, Upstairs has the whole building to itself. I saw four lovely tables on the ground floor with — gasp! — white tablecloths and formal glassware. It actually looks like a pleasant place to dine, certainly not the case when I visited three years ago, and promptly crossed it off my list. There is no longer a menu posted outside, but a sign on the door announces various prix fixe sushi specials, presumably still available on the second floor.

Bouley Restaurant. This is now open in the old Mohawk Atelier building, on a scale of unprecedented luxury. There’s a private dining room on the lower level with a separate entrance. The kitchen features panoramic windows facing the street. If you can’t afford to eat at Bouley, you can press your nose to the glass and watch him (or more likely, his minions) cook for those who can. It’s a gutsy move—a new take on the idea of an “open kitchen.” There’s no menu posted, at the restaurant or online. I’m in no rush to visit until I read a few more reports, but I may stop in for a drink sometime soon.

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