Entries in Brushstroke (4)



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)

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


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.


Secession is Done

Last week, we returned to Secession to see how the ill-begotten restaurant was faring under four-star chef Christian Delouvrier. We found it much improved, but alas, mostly empty. Frank Bruni also circled back, finding the food better than it was, but marred by service gaffes. We often disagree with Bruni, but we believe him on matters like stale bread, absent servers, and wine served too warm.

Today, the penny dropped: Secession has closed. It will be replaced “by the end of the year” (meaning sometime in 2010, if we’re lucky) by a Japanese concept called Brushstroke, which David Bouley had intended to open across the street in the old Delphi space. That space, according to the Times, “ran into structural and other problems.”


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.