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The Payoff: Bar Boulud

Yesterday, Frank Bruni awarded a slightly generous two stars to Bar Boulud, even though “there’s little wow from the kitchen, which turns out treatments of salmon, sea bass and roasted chicken that, while not quite losers, are definitely snoozers.” He actually preferred the lunch sandwiches to anything offered at dinner.

Frank has never cared much for classic French food, but the charcuterie won him over:

Bar Boulud is a terrine machine, a pâté-a-palooza, dedicated to the proposition that discerning New Yorkers aren’t getting nearly enough concentrated, sculptured, gelatinous animal fat, at least not of a superior caliber.

I’ll buy that, and I’ll buy it on the basis of the restaurant’s smooth pâté grand-mère (chicken liver, pork, Cognac) and coarse pâté grand-père (foie gras, pork, port), both of which are such pure joy to eat — on their own, on toasted bread, with mustard, without — that they sent me on a search across the menu not only for close relatives but also for distant cousins. I was ready to ingest the entire extended family.

And it gave Frank an opening to write another meta-review, to meditate on the micro-trends that fascinate him so:

Much of what you need to know about the direction of fine dining these days is distilled in Bar Boulud, where one of the most accomplished French traditionalists on this side of the Atlantic stages a production whose weakest facet is the conventional three-course dinner.

It’s not just white tablecloths that have fallen by the wayside at Bar Boulud, which extends the chef Daniel Boulud’s trajectory toward ever-more-casual restaurants, mirroring the culture around him. Gone, too, is the notion that sitting at a proper table and ordering a proper sequence of dishes is the way you want to eat.

You can certainly take that route, which in fact has rewards enough for anyone who does elect it. But unlike Mr. Boulud’s other New York restaurants — Daniel, Café Boulud and DB Bistro Moderne, in their order of birth and descending degrees of formality — Bar Boulud doesn’t press that path on you.

Many of its roughly 100 seats are stools at a high, long counter or chairs at a circular communal table. The fraction of menu real estate claimed by entrees is only about a quarter.

You get the sense that if Boulud had installed white tablecloths, Frank would have deducted a star.

We took the one-star odds, and lose $1 on our hypothetical bet. Eater took the two-star odds, and wins $4.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $70.50   $86.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   –1.00
Total $74.50   $85.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 33–14   33–14

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