Entries in Bar Boulud (5)


Bar Boulud

I dropped into Bar Boulud last night for a pre-opera snack. The tables were all full at around 7:00 p.m., but there were a few seats available at the communal table (far left in the above photo).

The menu offered at the communal table seems to be abbreviated, but I quickly settled on one of the warm charcuterie specialties, the Saucisse Fumée Façon “Morteau” ($16), or smoked cumin-spiced sausage on a lentil stew. For what it was, this dish was about perfect. I could eat like this every day.

As I observed last time, service can be helter-skelter, although they fared better at two recent lunch visits. Servers do a first-class job when you have their attention, but getting it isn’t so easy, as there aren’t enough of them to go around, especially in the frantic pre-theater hour.

But the kitchen still seems to have its act together, which is more than you can say for many a Lincoln Center restaurant. Despite its faults, we are lucky to have Bar Boulud in our midst.

Bar Boulud (1900 Broadway near 63rd Street, Upper West Side)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **


Bar Boulud


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.

barboulud_outside.jpgEnter 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.

Sylvain 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.

barboulud03a.jpg barboulud03b.jpg
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.

barboulud04.jpgCervelas 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).

barboulud05.jpgWines 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)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


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

Rolling the Dice: Bar Boulud

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Daniel Boulud’s Lincoln Center charcuterie palace, Bar Boulud. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 8-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 4-1 √√
Three Stars:
Four Stars: 5,000-1

The Skinny: This week’s bet is a tough one, with the BruniTrends® balanced on a razor’s edge. Though early reviews haven’t been rapturous, you’ve got to figure that if anyone can right the ship, it would be Daniel Boulud, whose restaurants already carry nine New York Times stars. Charcuterie takes center stage here, and Bruni is a confirmed meathead. Lastly, the restaurant is on his beloved Upper West Side, where the grading is always easy.

But was Boulud able to correct things quickly enough? Reports of bumbling service still come across the transom fairly regularly, and aside from the charcuterie no one has really loved Bar Boulud—not counting celebrities who go there to “see and be seen.” Great charcuterie, on its own, is probably a one-star deal, and Bruni loves to take down celebrity haunts. Bruni has been awfully lenient lately, with five positive reviews in a row. If this keeps up, people might almost start to think he’s gone flaccid. Frank wouldn’t want that to happen, would he?

Alas, we can’t bring any personal experience to the decision: our own first look at Bar Boulud was on opening night, and we tasted too small a sample to get a good idea of the restaurant’s capabilities.

The Bet: Our reasons, we admit, are soft. But we feel that Bruni is overdue to bring someone crashing down to earth. We are betting that he’ll award one star to Bar Boulud, with strong praise for the charcuterie, but too many other things wrong to justify the second star.


First Look: Bar Boulud

Kalina via Eater

In today’s Diner’s Journal, Frank Bruni reports that it’s not easy to make a reservation at Daniel Boulud’s latest restaurant, Bar Boulud. Not since Per Se, almost four years ago, has poor Frank had so much trouble reaching a human being. In Per Se’s case, he waited. In Bar Boulud’s case, he hung up in frustration after 15 minutes. [Update: The next day, he finally got through.]

He should have tried just walking in, which a friend and I did yesterday. At 6:00 p.m., we were seated at the bar without a wait. Three doors down, Josephina was full. Go figure.

Like most Michelin-starred chefs, Daniel Boulud isn’t content to have just one restaurant, but he hasn’t opened them as promiscuously as Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Alain Ducasse. Bar Boulud is his first New York opening in at least four years. The location across Broadway from Lincoln Center has long needed some more serious restaurants. I yawned when I heard that Bar Boulud was going to be focused on wine—who needs another wine bar? It turns out the real star is Sylvain Gasdon’s charcuterie menu.

Though yesterday was the official opening to the public, Boulud has been serving friends and family for a few weeks now. Grub Street responded with “dumbstruck awe,” adding that “this kind of charcuterie has almost never been available in this profusion and variety in the United States.” Ed Levine gushed, “Simply put, Gasdon is making the best charcuterie Americans have ever seen and tasted on these shores.” But he wondered, “are Americans ready for this kind of food?”

If you sit at the bar, as we did, you’ll have the massive terrines, pâtés and sausages right in front of you, a gorgeous sight incomparable to anything else in New York. If charcuterie isn’t your cup of espresso, Bar Boulud also has a more conventional bistro menu that takes its cues from Boulud’s native Lyon.

We had actually come in only for drinks, but there was no way I could leave without tasting the charcuterie that refined meatheads like Cutlets and Levine are raving about. So I tried the Pâté Grand-mère ($8), made with chicken liver, pork and cognac. It was a nice hunk, half an inch thick, and about 3 inches by 5, with a dollop of spiced mustard on the side and two bowls of bread (with soft butter). I ignored the bread and just ate the pâté with my fork. It had a luscious buttery taste, the liver pungent but not overwhelming. There’s much more where that came from, and I can’t wait to return.

The wine selection was disappointing. There were just four reds and four whites by the glass, far less than one expects at a purportedly wine-themed restaurant. Bar Boulud needs to do better—far better—than that. Servers were gracious, and the mise en place everything you’d expect in a Boulud restaurant, but the staff was too busy to pay us sufficient attention. We had trouble flagging down a server to order a second glass of wine, and we were there for about 45 minutes before they came with water glasses.

It is too soon to the judge the service, as this was only Bar Boulud’s first night. It will also take more than one pâté to reach a judgment on the food, but Bar Boulud certainly looks promising.

Bar Boulud (1900 Broadway near 63rd Street, Upper West Side)