Restaurant openings are notoriously prone to delay, but the wait for David Bouley’s Brushstroke was epic. Announced in October 2007, it didn’t appear until April of this year. Plans to take over the old Delphi space were scuttled: the restaurant now occupies what was Secession, and before that Danube—all Bouley productions.
The restaurant format is a hybrid. In the dining room, where we sat, there is a choice of three fixed-price kaiseki menus. At the counter, there’s a sushi menu, or you can order many of the kaiseki dishes à la carte.
The menu format is a bit clunky. You’re presented with the choice of an eight-course Vegetarian menu ($85) or a ten-course meat and fish menu ($135), but the longer menu can become a shorter one: the server explains what is omitted if you choose that option. After a while, you grow tired of overhearing the server repeat his explanation at one table after another.
You make your choice, the food starts coming, and all objections fall to the ground. Brushstroke is wonderful. We ordered the longer menu, and it was too much food. The eight-course menu should satisfy all but the most ravenous appetites.
This is no casual production. Bouley claims to have worked on the concept for a decade, and to have tried thousands of recipes in his test kitchen. His chef, Yoshiki Tsuji, runs an acclaimed culinary school in Osaka, Japan. There seem to be as many cooks in the enormous open kitchen and servers in the dining room as there are customers in the restaurant.
As the kaiseki style demands, there is a dazzling array of serving pieces, which are as artful as the food itself. I didn’t take notes: sometimes, I’m glad to be an amateur blogger who can enjoy the meal and not worry about remembering the details of every dish. You’ll have to make do with the photos, descriptions from the menu (the restaurant emailed me a copy, after I asked twice), and some bare-bones recollections.
Seasonal appetizers (above left) rested in a bowl partly concealed by an autumn-themed twig sculpture. Next came a luscious Kabocha Squash Soup (above right) with maitake mushrooms, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
The sushi (above left) was a tad underwhelming, but we loved the steamed Chawan-mushi (above right), an egg custard with black truffle sauce.
After sashimi (above left) came another highlight, an onion puré and kanten gelée floating in a beet-vinegar foam (above right).
For the first entrée, we both chose the Grilled Cape Cod Lobster and Lobster–Scallop Dumpling (above left) with an Edamame Purée and Cherrystone Clam Sauce, a terrific dish.
For the second entrée, my girlfriend chose the Wagyu Beef and Autumn Vegetable Sukiyaki (above right), while I chose the Yuzu-kosho Pepper Marinated Pork Belly (below left) with Malanga Yam Purée and Ponzu Sauce.
There is a choice of four rice dishes to end the meal. I had the Stewed Wagyu Beef over Rice (above right), which I was quite sorry not to be able to finish. My girlfriend had the Crab and Mushrooms Steamed with Rice in a Do-nabe Pot (below left), also excellent.
There were three pretty good desserts (above right and below), but I didn’t take note of them: sorry. We were by this time too full to appreciate them properly.
The meal ends with a refreshing cup of green tea (below).
The wine list has many pages of sakes and western wines, not inexpensive, but not out of whack with the cost of the meal. A 2006 Lucien Crochet Sancerre pinot noir, at $72, was about two times retail, a fair price.
The faux-Klimmt décor of Danube and Secession, one of the city’s gems, is alas no more. But they certainly have not stinted on the design of Brushstroke, a riot of blond wood and under-stated elegance.
You can understand why people are reluctant to open anything ambitious in New York. The city’s two most influential critics, Sam Sifton and Adam Platt, both gave it two stars, the same rating they’d give some random pasta joint. Count on the Post’s Steve Cuozzo to get it right: three stars.
Like any David Bouley production, there are some missteps. The only website for Brushtroke is David Bouley’s corporate site, which is tagged with the watermark, “Site in Development.” Want to look at a menu or download a wine list? Fuhgeddaboudit. This is really inexcusable. The place has been open for six months!
And as I mentioned, the menu format is somewhat confusing. Without looking up critics’ reviews, it isn’t even clear that a sushi and à la carte menu is available at the counter. Despite these missteps, the dining room is filling up routinely. Even a Wednesday evening had to be booked a month in advance.
It is well worth the effort.
Brushstroke (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)