The restaurant scene around Lincoln Center—rather, the lack of it—is inexplicable. Its theaters and auditoriums, with about 10,000 seats between them, are in use almost every night of the year. The programs they put on appeal to the city’s most affluent and sophisticated people. Many of them need to eat dinner.
Yet, the vast majority of the restaurants on the surrounding blocks are dull, if not awful. If you broaden your search to Columbus Circle and the Upper West Side, there are certainly plenty of pre-show dining options. But I can’t conceive of a reason why the restaurants in the immediate vicinity should be so depressing. Until recently, Picholine and Shun Lee West were the only ones I could seriously recommend.
Enter Bar Boulud, the most recent creation of über-chef Daniel Boulud. As he did at his previous three New York restaurants, he seems to have grasped exactly what the neighborhood needed. Both the food and ambiance are casual, and equally suited to a quick pre-show meal or a snack afterwards.
But Bar Boulud has become a destination in itself, which in this neighborhood is almost unheard of. Reservations have been tough to get—it took me nearly three months. And unlike most restaurants catering to a pre-theater crowd, we saw no appreciable clearing-out after 8:00 p.m.
GougèresSylvain Gasdon’s chacuterie menu has garnered rave reviews, including two stars from Frank Bruni in the Times. But hardly anyone has raved about the standard appetizers and entrées. Bruni said “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.”
I loved the Pâté Grand-mère the last time I visited, so I persuaded my girlfriend to join me for an all-charcuterie dinner. It wasn’t a tough sell, as we both love to order pâtés and terrines wherever they’re served. And no restaurant offers anything like the variety on offer at Bar Boulud.
Dégustation de Charcuterie
The items on the charcuterie menu run anywhere from $5–18, or you can get a good sample with either of two dégustation plates ($22, $46). We ordered the larger of these, which appeared to have a bit of almost everything.
They only thing they don’t supply is the roadmap. There were sixteen pieces on the plate, and even the server wasn’t sure what they all were. His explanation went by awfully quickly, and we could barely hear him in the loud room. So we gave up trying to figure out exactly what we were eating, though I can tell you that the pâtés are on the right side of the photo, the more gelatinous terrines on the left.
Anyhow, it is all excellent. There were two different mustards and a basket of bread, but I was happy to enjoy the pâtés and terrines on their own.
Rillons Croustillants au Poivre (left); Cervelas Lyonnais en Brioche (right)
There are also a few hot dishes on the charcuterie menu. Rillons Croustillants au Poivre ($12), or pork belly with pepper, was predictably good, though I thought it should be a bit warmer.
Cervelas Lyonnais en Brioche ($14) is a Lyon sausage baked into a brioche (see photo, right). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it’s a fun dish. The menu promised black truffle, but if it was in there, it was a trace amount that my taste buds couldn’t detect.
Besides charcuterie, the other theme at Bar Boulud is wine. Indeed, the long, narrow room is in the shape of a wine bottle. The first time I visited, I was surprised to find just four reds and four whites by the glass, a curious choice for a restaurant focused on wine. That has now been rectified: there are more like ten of each ($10–22).
Wines by the bottle are focused on Burgundy and the Rhone Valley, plus “cousin wines” made elsewhere from similar grapes. Each section of the list is divided into “Discoveries” (less expensive), “Classics” (more) and “Legends” (most). Among the “Discoveries” are numerous bottles below $50, and even one as low as $29. We were happy with a Rhone that the server recommended at just $40. It has been a very long time since I saw a decent bottle in a restaurant at that price.
We are fans of Bar Boulud, but there are some definite drawbacks. There is just a small waiting area at the front, where patrons scrum to announce themselves to the hostess, check and retrieve coats, wait to be seated, and order drinks. Several tables adjoin that area, including the one where we were seated. It has all the ambiance of a train station.
Tables are quite close together, and the staff seem to be over-taxed. I ordered a martini; it took fifteen minutes to arrive. I heard one patron say, “We’ve been waiting twenty minutes for our coats. Can we just go downstairs and look for them ourselves?” I wasn’t given a claim-check for mine, and I feared the worst, but miraculously the attendant quickly found it.
Boulud had his own china made for Bar Boulud, but they’re stingy about using it. We had to eat the charcuterie on our bread plates, and the server didn’t replace the knives we’d used to spread the butter. We couldn’t tell if this was a considered choice, or just one of the many service lapses the restaurant is quickly becoming famous for.
Despite the occasional miscue, Bar Boulud is probably the second-best Lincoln Center restaurant (after Picholine). For its charcuterie menu alone, it’s a worthy destination even if you don’t have a show to go see afterwards. My girlfriend remarked, “It’s a good thing this isn’t in our neighborhood, or I’d be eating here every day.”
Bar Boulud (1900 Broadway near 63rd Street, Upper West Side)