I am late to the party with this review, in that the new Bouley opened almost a year ago, and our meal there was over a week ago. Recollections of specific dishes have faded a bit, but my feelings about the restaurant itself are perfectly clear.
Bouley restaurant is now in its third and most elegant location. It started out in the space that is now the Italian restaurant Scalini Fedeli, then moved to the space that is now Bouley Bakery. In late 2008, Bouley finally got the palatial dining room that the chef had always wanted. Louis Quatorze could be happy here. It is expensive and stunning.
The restaurant does not want for business. Every table was occupied on a Saturday evening in early September, and at 10:30 p.m. there were still new parties being seated. David Bouley has one of the top fine-dining brand names in New York. He is recession-proof.
The various Bouleys have yo-yo’d between three and four New York Times stars, most recently three, courtesy of Frank Bruni. Even he, never one to be wowed by elegance, acknowledged the over-the-top sense of privilege that one gets by dining here. Words can’t describe it.
But there is unevenness in the food and service, which is the one defect a change of venue could not rectify. There’s a large service brigade, and they’re all in a hurry, which leads to carelessness. More than once, wine glasses and serving trays came crashing to the floor. A runner was scolded loudly for delivering food to the wrong table (not ours).
More seriously, not until we got to the molten chocolate cake was a dish delivered at the right temperature. Amidst a long parade of courses, almost every one was lukewarm. Plates were not pre-warmed, and most of them sat on the pass too long. The food here is accomplished, but it is undermined after it leaves the chef’s hands.
We were, however, treated with courtesy and care by the many captains, sommeliers, and runners who waited on us. You cannot eat cheaply at Bouley, but it is one of the few restaurants in its class that offers dining à la carte, with appetizers $14–21 and entrées $36–43. There are two tasting menus, $95 and $150. We had the latter, all nine courses of which unfolded over four hours.
The amuse-bouche (above left) was a Cauliflower mousse with trout caviar and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar. Next was the Porcini Flan (above left) with Dungeness Crab and Black Truffle Dashi. One can understand the raves this dish has received, but as would be the case all evening, it needed to be warmer. This was followed by a Foie Gras Terring (below left).
Unlike most tasting menus in town, there are choices for most courses. We split for the next course, one of us having the Cape Cod Striped Bass (above right), the other an Organic Farm Egg (below left) with Serrano ham and a blizzard of other components.
Lobster (above right) was, once again, not quite warm enough.
The next savory course offered a choice of Foie Gras (above left) and Squab (above right).
The final savory course was the only outright failure. A whole “All-Natural Pennsylvania Chicken,” supposedly baked “en cocotte,” was brought out in a large glass vessel. Imagine our surprise when it was returned to the kitchen for plating, and three wan slices of breast appeared (above left), once again lukewarm—spa cuisine at its worst. How could such a beautiful bird could yield so little? What became of the dozen other chickens that paraded by us? Was there just one Potemkin chicken, brought out for show, but having nothing to do with what we were served?
Rack of lamb (above right) came out without a flourish, but the meat was on the tough side, and as you may have guessed by now, lukewarm.
Desserts ended the evening on a high note, even if we were too full to fully appreciate them. There was a Strawberry and Rhubarb parfait (above left), and then a crème brûlée birthday cake (above right).
We moved onto “Chocolate Frivolous” (above left) with five different variations on chocolate, with which the house comped a glass of Maury. The petits-fours (above right) were excellent, too.
Portion sizes for this nine-course menu were on the large side. The chocolate alone was more than I eat most evenings for dinner. I do not recall feeling more full after a long tasting menu.
I can’t imagine why David Bouley’s service team so often lets him down. He can afford the best, and he ought to be getting the best. Of course, I am phrasing my complaints in relative terms: we didn’t experience bad service. But we didn’t get what the chef and the room deserve.
Bouley (163 Duane Street at Hudson Street, TriBeCa)