Entries in Bouley (7)



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)

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


The Payoff: Bouley

Today, Frank Bruni gave three stars to the new Bouley, confirming what most other critics have said: it’s better than the old one, but not quite four-star material.

[T]he new Bouley is a labor of obvious and obsessive love, its décor preferable to that of the old Bouley, whose purplish pink color scheme and candied gloss always left me feeling that I was supping inside a gigantic magenta gumdrop… .

In an era when the trend in restaurants is toward sleek minimalism, Bouley is a thrilling blast from the gaudy past, a reminder of how much pleasure can be had just from being tucked into such opulent chambers and attended with such formal manners. The servers are punctilious. Numerous, too.

While a three-course dinner here will set you back at least $75, not counting tax, tip or drinks, you’ll never wonder where that money is going. Only Daniel — which, interestingly, also spruced itself up recently, just in time for the recession — and Per Se give you quite the same feeling of giddy privilege… .

A meal at Bouley has many such peaks, but it has valleys, too, and now as in 2004, when I gave the restaurant three stars, its cooking over all isn’t on par with Daniel’s or Per Se’s. The food can be uneven, and too often engenders appreciation more than ardor. You regard rather than devour it.

We and Eater both took the one-star bet, winning $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $120.50   $141.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $123.50   $144.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 55–25

Rolling the Dice: Bouley

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews the latest reboot of Bouley, the TriBeCa standout and former four-star-club member. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 15,000-1
One Star: 2,000-1
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 3-1 √√
Four Stars:

The Background: Bouley is a restaurant with a track record, now in its third TriBeCa location. After leaving Montrachet (where he had earned three stars from Bryan Miller in June 1985), chef David Bouley struck out on his own, in the space that is now Scalini Fedeli. It was a rocky opening, with Miller awarding two stars in November 1987. By August 1990, Bouley had his act together, and Miller awarded four stars.

The restaurant closed in 1996, as the chef announced big plans (with then-partner Warner LeRoy) for half-a-dozen establishments. The first of these, Bouley Bakery—a slimmed-down version of the original restaurant—opened with an enthusiastic three stars from Ruth Reichl in December 1997.

The flagship was supposed to re-appear somewhere else, grander than ever, but the chef split with LeRoy, and most of the dream was temporarily shelved. Instead, Bouley upgraded the bakery space, which William Grimes hailed with four stars in September 1999. (The word “Bakery” was dropped from the name later on, with no other changes to the concept that I’m aware of.)

By June 2004, Frank Bruni concluded that Bouley had lost its luster, quickly demoting it to three stars in the first month of his tenure as restaurant critic:

I had the sense of being at a party to which I had come too late, or at which I had stayed too long. Of watching the awkward ebb of the excitement rather than the jolt itself. The electricity had dimmed, the crowd seemingly changed and the polish worn off.

It was not one of Bruni’s better reviews, including unsubstantiated allegations of nefarious doings in the post-9/11 era, but I think he got the rating right. Among my multiple visits to Bouley, all of them after the Bruni review, I was always happy, but not quite persuaded that it was a four-star restaurant.

Last year, the chef finally started making good on the plans first announced in 1996. I won’t rehash the details (see prior posts 1, 2), but he has something like seven TriBeCa projects either operating or under construction, including a lavish reboot of the original Bouley, in a space that makes a French château look humble. It’s that restaurant that Frank Bruni reviews tomorrow.

The Skinny: It has been 221 weeks since Frank Bruni gave four stars to a restaurant that did not have them already—the longest such drought in Times history. (His four-star review for the remodeled Daniel two months ago doesn’t count, as it re-affirmed the existing rating.) Bouley is the first restaurant in quite some time that is a serious threat to break the string.

The recession has curbed my dining habits, so I’ve not yet been to the new Bouley, except once briefly, for a cocktail. But my sense is that when a four-star restaurant comes along, critics and foodies start screaming from the rafters, “You have got to eat here.” There have been no such screams for the new Bouley. Nearly every review I’ve read suggests that the move across the street is an improvement, but with significant qualifications.

Bouley (the chef) is said to be in the kitchen most nights. Nevertheless, I have to wonder how it could have his full attention, given the number of projects he is trying to manage at once. It is hard enough to launch a four-star restaurant when it’s your only pursuit, much less when it’s one of seven. Other four-star chefs have branched out, but not at the same time as their new flagship restaurant was in its teething stages.

During Bruni’s tenure, there have been only two restaurants awarded four stars that didn’t have them already, Per Se and Masa. I cannot imagine Bruni saying that Bouley is as good as those two stand-outs. In late 2008, Corton received one of the most enthusiastic three-star reviews of Bruni’s tenure. I cannot imagine Bruni saying that Bouley is better than Corton.

In short, my guess is that Bruni will note an improvement, but that he is not quite ready to award four stars.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award three stars to the new Bouley.


The State of the Bouley Empire

David Bouley’s growing empire fascinates me. What is it like to build seven restaurants at once? Not seven clones, but seven one-of-a-kind places?

One of the seven, Secession, is an early failure. It got zero stars from Adam Platt this week. If it gets much better than a weak singleton from Frank Bruni, I’ll be surprised.

I walked by the others last night for a brief look-in. Here’s a report:

Bouley Bakery. The bakery has now moved into the old Bouley restaurant. It’s a work in progress, with signs of unfinished construction. David Bouley himself was wandering around inside. They’re selling baked goods and soups, in what appears to be a makeshift space. My understanding is that there will eventually be a wine bar in here, but that part isn’t ready yet.

Upstairs. With the bakery gone, Upstairs has the whole building to itself. I saw four lovely tables on the ground floor with — gasp! — white tablecloths and formal glassware. It actually looks like a pleasant place to dine, certainly not the case when I visited three years ago, and promptly crossed it off my list. There is no longer a menu posted outside, but a sign on the door announces various prix fixe sushi specials, presumably still available on the second floor.

Bouley Restaurant. This is now open in the old Mohawk Atelier building, on a scale of unprecedented luxury. There’s a private dining room on the lower level with a separate entrance. The kitchen features panoramic windows facing the street. If you can’t afford to eat at Bouley, you can press your nose to the glass and watch him (or more likely, his minions) cook for those who can. It’s a gutsy move—a new take on the idea of an “open kitchen.” There’s no menu posted, at the restaurant or online. I’m in no rush to visit until I read a few more reports, but I may stop in for a drink sometime soon.


State of the Bouley Union

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Restaurant Bouley (left); In case you were wondering… (right)

David Bouley, chef/owner of three successful TriBeCa restaurants, is throwing his whole restaurant empire into a state of turmoil.

The flagship, Bouley, will be moving into new quarters in the old Mohawk building, a block away. His bakery, now located across the street, will move into the old restaurant space. That will create room for the restaurant Upstairs to expand into all three floors of that building. (I wonder if they’ll still call it “Upstairs”?)


Bouley’s Austrian-themed restaurant, Danube, will close, to be replaced by Secession, a French brasserie. Lastly, he’ll be creating a three-story Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke, in the space formerly occupied by Delphi, which had been the oldest restaurant in TriBeCa. The place closed last year after it couldn’t agree to a new lease with its landlord.

These changes are supposed to happen in the course of this year. Mind you, all of these restaurants, existing and to be, are literally within one block of the current Bouley space. If David Bouley is a control freak, he won’t have to go far to check up on any of his projects.

So how is the state of the Bouley union? Let’s begin with the flagship, Bouley. I was able to get a nice wide-angle shot (above), because there are no cars outside. This is one of the Community Board’s major complaints about the place. Notice the sign outside, “No Double Parking.” At the moment, there’s no single parking there either.

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Restaurant Upstairs (left); At Danube, “Do you think someone’s going to blog about us?” (right)

Business is brisk at Upstairs (above left). This was the first night of the year that the outdoor tables were in use. Over at Danube (above right), a gaggle of employees loitered outside.

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The old Delphi space will house the new restaurant Brushstroke, and apparently, Luxury Lofts up above

The space that will be Brushstrokes still looks like the vacant hulk that was Delphi. It isn’t a very appealing sight. Note the sign for “Luxury Lofts” next door. Doesn’t look very luxurious, does it?

This restaurant has not had an easy gestation. In February, a committee of Community Board 1 twice voted to deny Brushstroke a liquor license, based on years of complaints about the way Bouley runs his restaurants. Bouley put on a charm offensive with the full Community Board, and miraculously, they voted in favor of recommending a liquor license. (They almost never override the committee vote.)

Here it gets creepy. The very next day, the Buildings Department issued a Stop Work Order at the Delphi site “after finding that a floor joist had been removed without providing shoring.” That seems almost too coincidental. Could it be that someone in the area who had opposed the liquor license filed an anonymous tip?

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There’s no work being done here, after the Dept. of Buildings found unsafe conditions

It looks like this restaurant still has a long way to go. I don’t think we’ll see Brushstroke before 2009.





bouley_logo.jpgNote: This is a review of Bouley at its former location on West Broadway. Click here for a review of the new location, to which the restaurant moved in November 2008.

My mom and I had dinner at Bouley last week. I had already been to the restaurant twice before, including a visit last summer, when two colleagues and I were most impressed with the tasting menu. This time, we ordered à la carte.

I loved my appetizer, described on the menu as “Organic Connecticut Farm Egg Steamed with Black Truflle, Serrano Ham, Parmesan Reggiano and 25-Year Old Balsamic Vinegar” ($22). This is typical of a Bouley dish, with a large number of ingredients and a cooking style not anchored to any one region. It all fits together, and never feels too busy or over-engineered.

The entrée was Baby Pig ($42)—not currently listed on the website, so I can’t quote every ingredient. If a little less clever than the appetizer, I was nevertheless pleased with the careful preparation, with the crispness of the skin contrasting the tender flesh underneath.

Dessert was excellent: “Tahitian Vanilla-Nishiki Rice Pudding with Tropical Fruit Compote and Yuzu Sorbet” ($13). On top of that, there were several bonus courses: the amuse bouche (a tomato gazpacho), pre- and post-dessert, and petits-fours. We were, of course, sent home with the signature sponge cake, which I enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

The wine list is lengthy, expensive, and generally French. The Saint Domingue we ordered ($90) was excellent, and the staff kept our glasses filled without my ever having to touch the bottle—a degree of pampering worth mentioning only because it is so rare.

A few years ago, there was a sense that the front-of-house at Bouley was letting down the kitchen. Several lapses—unforgivable at a restaurant purporting to offer a four-star experience—were cited in Frank Bruni’s demotion review three years ago. I myself had noticed some minor infelicities in two previous visits, but on this occasion the staff had it just about perfect.

There is, I suppose, a certain sense that David Bouley is no longer innovating—that he is too busy opening new places to really focus on his flagship restaurant. But there is a certain sense of refinement and polish at Bouley that very few restaurants can match.

Update: A few weeks later, I was back at Bouley with a colleague. We had the tasting menu with wine pairings. All of the food was polished and refined, but there really wasn’t any “wow” in it. I once again felt that the service was rushed, as it had been the last time I had a tasting menu here. Given the track record over multiple visits, I’ve at last concluded that 3 stars is the correct rating, not the the 3½ stars I had awarded previously.

Bouley (120 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Bouley.

I’ve been dining out periodically with some consultant friends from Boston. Last week was their final week in New York, at least for a while (their contract having ended), so we decided to go for a “blow out” meal somewhere special: Bouley.

Bouley is one of New York’s iconic high-end restaurants, helmed by celebrity chef David Bouley, who also runs Danube and Upstairs, both of which are just steps away. The restaurant is located in a stately TriBeCa building that announces its importance with understated elegance. Inside are two lovely rooms dubbed the “red room” and the “white room.” The entrance lobby is lined with fresh apples. The intense aroma transports you into Bouley’s world.

Unusually for a restaurant at its level, Bouley hasn’t succumbed to the prix fixe trend. The menu is pricey, but still à la carte. Appetizers are $16–29. Entrees are $38–45. The tasting menu ($90) is also unusual, with several choices offered for most of the courses. It is also shorter than some tasting menus, offering an amuse bouche, three savory courses, a palate cleanser, and dessert. The menu mentions the availability of a seasonal chef’s degustation menu, without stating the price.

In light of the special occasion, we chose the regular tasting menu, on which I had the following:

  1. Chef’s Canapé (which I have forgotten)
  2. Phyllo Crusted Florida Shrimp, Cape Cod Baby Squid, Scuba Dived Sea Scallop, and Sweet Maryland Crabmeat in an Ocean Herbal Broth
  3. Mediterranean Rouget with Mung Bean and Saffron Risotto, Rose Olive Puree, and Parmesan Foam
  4. Maine Day Boat Lobster with a Fricassée of Baby Bok Choy, Sugar Snap Peas, Celery Root Purée, and a Passion Fruit and Port-Wine Paprika Sauce
  5. Wild Hudson Valley Strawberry Soup with Homemade Fromage Blanc Sorbet
  6. Washington State Rhubarb “Shortcake” with Crème de Cassis, Guava Sorbet, and Warm Wild Strawberry Jam

(For the record, there were two options for the second course, three for the third, four for the fourth, and two for the dessert; the list above shows the selections I had, copied from a menu I brought home with me.)

All the courses impressed me as complex, expertly composed, and exquisitely prepared. I particularly loved the seafood medley (the second course). The lobster was superior to a similar dish I had at Per Se in February. The presentations, too, were gorgeous and artistic, with each course on a different style and pattern of china, and usually accompanied by a decorative swish of some kind of sauce.

As there were only three savory courses, each came in a portion large enough to appreciate and dwell upon. As special as the Per Se experience is, the nine bite-sized courses on its menus go by too quickly, even if the meal itself is a long evening. The portion sizes at Bouley seemed perfectly judged.

Bouley is legendary for its bread service. On a cart wheeled to your table there’s a choice of eight breads, all baked in-house. They are all, of course, fresh, but I found the butter a little too hard and uncompromising.

The pacing of a tasting menu can be a challenge, and this one felt a bit rushed. From arrival to departure, the whole experience was just 90 minutes. Service was polite and efficient throughout, and no one ever acted like they were pushing us out the door, but in the end they did just that. An extra dessert course (not listed on the menu) arrived while we were still eating the first one.

As we were leaving the hostess said, “I have a gift for the ladies.” Then, my two companions were each handed a wrapped Bouley coffee cake. I didn’t say anything, but I thought it should have been obvious that I was not going home with either of them, and deserved a coffee cake of my own.

Until a couple of years ago, Bouley carried four stars from the New York Times. The current critic, Frank Bruni, demoted it to three. I can see why. Bouley doesn’t create the sustained magic of a Per Se or an Alain Ducasse. The food, I think, is up to that level, but the overall package falls a bit short.

Bouley (120 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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