Entries in Bouley Upstairs (6)


Bouley Upstairs to Close

Update: The Tribeca Citizen now reports that Bouley Upstairs will turn into a catering and private event space, with guest chefs cooking on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. We’ll have to see how that turns out.

Update 2: After multiple rounds of clarifications, the Times reports that the space will be called Bouley Studio, and that the special dinners ($75 prix fixe) will feature Japanese chefs and will be served only on Thursdays. Perhaps this is a tryout for the Japanese concept that will become (or was to have become) Brushstroke.

Today, Tribeca Citizen has the surprising news that Bouley Upstairs will close this Saturday.

Nobody saw this coming. In tough economic times, usually it’s the high-end restaurants that are most vulnerable. Instead, the eponymous Bouley, the chef’s three-star extravaganza, will now be his only restaurant.

Earlier this year, Eater.com reported that Bouley’s $2.5 million condo (in the same building as his restaurant) was in foreclosure.

With the closure of Bouley Upstairs, Bouley now controls three restaurant spaces that are empty, including Bouley Bakery, which closed in April, and the former Danube and Secession space, which closed a year ago.

At one point, Bouley planned to open a Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke, in the former Delphi space. But that was three years ago. He later said that it would open in the failed Secession space, but with all of his financial troubles, it is hard to see how that could happen.

As for Bouley Upstairs, we found it slightly over-rated, and certainly not worth the two stars Frank Bruni gave it. But in the current restaurant economy, you would not expect such a place to fail, if management were the least bit intelligent.

But it is perhaps notable that Bouley Upstairs had entirely disappeared from the culinary conversation. On a more recent visit, when I sampled the burger, it seemed like Bouley had turned it into a diner, with the cuisines of many genres and nations represented. That might not have been the wisest strategy.


The Bouley Burger, Upstairs

Note: Bouley Upstairs closed in July 2008. It now operates as Bouley Studio, with a Japanese Kaiseki menu on Thursdays and Friday evenings, and a limited menu of sandwiches and burgers the other days.


When I walked by Bouley Upstairs a couple of weeks ago, I saw a space transformed. The former bakery has high-tailed it across the street, and in its place are about half-a-dozen tables, generously spaced, with crisp tablecloths and wine glasses. The formerly rag-tag place has turned into a real restaurant.

The name “Bouley Upstairs,” which was formerly “Upstairs at Bouley Bakery,” will probably be the answer to a trivia question someday. The restaurant is now both upstairs and downstairs. The added space allows more room to breathe, though the staff told me the second floor is still a tight fit.

The menu seems to be broader than it was, with some classics kept around and seasonal specials. I am not quite sure how they manage it with such a small kitchen, but I suspect there are sometimes long waits for food. The Japanese offerings have been expanded considerably, to the point that Upstairs is practically two restaurants in one. There are now several prix fixe options on the Japanese side of the menu, ranging from $35 to $85, along with a substantial à la carte list.

I’ve started a new project: sampling the upscale burgers that are popping up all over town. Last night, I decided to try Bouley’s ($15 with cheese), which has been on the menu from the beginning. Alas, this wasn’t one of the better ones. An English muffin should not stand in for a bun, and the taste of red onions overpowered the meat.

It’s a messy burger to eat, though that’s not necessarily a flaw. When I got home, my suit jacket went onto the dry cleaning pile.

The $10 glass of red wine I had was pretty good, though I’ve forgotten what it was. The wine list overall seemed to lack the inexpensive bottles that a restaurant in Upstairs’ price range ought to have. When the entrées top out at $21, the wine list shouldn’t be almost all above $50.

I am not sure if this is destination dining or a good neighborhood cafeteria, but based on past meals (here, here) I’ll assume it’s still a 1½-star restaurant. Upstairs has a stratospheric 25 food rating on Zagat. At the very least, it’s a lot more comfortable to graze here than it was before, and the service last night was much improved compared to my previous visits.

Bouley Upstairs (130 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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


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.




Upstairs at Bouley Bakery

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to the restaurant, which closed in July 2010.

Upstairs at Bouley Bakery is the casual cousin to David Bouley’s eponymous Michelin two-star restaurant.

These days, it’s pretty common for high-end luxury restaurants to have an informal companion establishment serving less expensive fare. Jean Georges, The Modern, Country, and Gordon Ramsay all have versions of it (though the details vary). Usually, they are located in the same building. Upstairs is across the street. Unlike the luxurious mother ship, Upstairs doesn’t take reservations. Everything about it screams informality.

I’ve been hearing great things about Upstairs lately, and as I missed lunch at work today, I decided to drop in. At 6:15 p.m. on a weeknight, Upstairs is actually rather pleasant. There were only about five people there when I arrived, and it was still less than half full when I left.

That’s the best way to experience Bouley Upstairs. On weekends, the noise is deafening, and the servers need the agility of Romanian gymnasts to reach the tightly-packed tables. My last visit, on a Saturday evening, was so unpleasant that I really didn’t want to return. The food is great, but at some point the surroundings are just too oppresive to enjoy it. Visiting early on a weeknight changed the whole experience.

To start, I ordered the homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola in a cherry tomato sauce ($12). I was impressed with the pillowy softness of the gnocchi. It wasn’t at all chewy, as gnocchi tends to be when a less assured kitchen is preparing it.

Roast chicken ($15) came in a parsley root purée with grilled fava beans and a taragon sauce. I seldom order chicken in restaurants, but I wanted to see what Bouley’s team would do with such a humble meat. It was everything you could ask, remarkably tender and full of flavor.

The bread service is terrific, as you’d expect from a restaurant above a bakery. There are many three and four-star restaurants not serving bread as good as this (e.g., Jean Georges).

The staff are not as attentive as they should be. Even with the restaurant more than half empty, they don’t notice when your water glass needs filling, when your plate needs clearing, and so forth. The knife that I used to spread butter was left on my table for the appetizer course, and when I asked for a clean one, the server seemed flustered, as if it were an unusual request.

David Bouley has announced that the size of the restaurant will soon double. His Bouley flagship restaurant will move into the Mohawk Building at the other end of the block; the bakery will move into the space the restaurant is vacating; and Upstairs will expand into the downstairs space now occupied by the bakery. Got that?

Perhaps, once it has grown, Upstairs won’t feel quite as cramped as it does today. In its current configuration, nothing would persuade me to dine there on a weekend. But on a quiet weeknight, I can heartily recommend it. The food is first-class, and it comes at a remarkably low price. I mean, there are probably diners that charge $15 for their roast chicken without doing it half as well.

Upstairs at Bouley Bakery (130 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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


Upstairs at Bouley Bakery

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Upstairs at Bouley Bakery, which closed in July 2010.

What happens when you cross three-star food with the service and ambiance of a diner at Grand Central Station? Upstairs at Bouley Bakery is the answer. I persuaded a friend to join me there yesterday evening [September 17, 2005].

We misjudged our arrival time: at 6:45pm, all of the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor tables had just filled up. It’s all very frenzied. “Find a table outside, if you can,” the host du jour advised. When none was available, he reluctantly took our name. There is nowhere to wait—no bar, no lounge. We were advised we could hang out in the bakery, or take our chances and go elsewhere for a drink. (If you’re not back when he calls your name, you’re outa luck.)

Fortunately, we timed it perfectly, arriving back at the restaurant just a few minutes before a table freed up. Once inside, a tighter fit is harder to imagine. Some people’s master bedrooms are larger than this restaurant. We felt rather lucky to have a corner table, which was cramped like everything else, but at least meant that we had the din coming at us from two directions, instead of four. So tightly were we packed in, that our server had to lean over the backs of two other diners’ chairs to speak to us.

My friend and I both ordered the halibut that Frank Bruni raved about. This was uncommonly good, among the top 2-3 fish entrées I’ve enjoyed in New York, at any level of dining. Bouley himself was not in the restaurant, but his team is clearly knows what he wants.

Service was generally acceptable until after we finished the halibut. We waited and waited for our server to come back, before we finally caught her attention to get our check.

Upstairs at Bouley Bakery (130 West Broadway at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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