As it has been from the beginning, the menu is in four sections: La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager, and Le Voyage, as well as a separate printed list of daily specials. After two prior visits (here, here), I finally learned my lesson:
Order Anything but Le Voyage!
The only really disappointing dishes I have ever had here, have been from Le Voyage. Avoid them and you will have a happy experience. This was the best meal I have had at Café Boulud.
Full disclosure: my mom and I received a version of the VIP treatment, with a triple amuse-bouche (left), a comped mid-course, and a comped dessert. Perhaps the staff recognized my name, but I have never received extras at any of Boulud’s other restaurants.
For whatever the reason, service was superb—practically clairvoyant—but no amount of pampering could create excellent food unless the kitchen is already capable of it. Which it clearly is.
To strart, my mom had the oysters ($21), while I had the Jersey Corn Agnoloti ($18), with flavors wickedly fresh and vibrant. The kitchen comped a bright, colorful Heirloom Tomato Salad (below).
I love the wine list at Café Boulud. You can spend a whole paycheck, if you want to, but there is more variety under $100 than at just about any other restaurant in its class. There is still a whole page of wines under $60, but I decided to spend a bit more than that—a 2002 Bernadotte, a comparative bargain at $80, but still more than we normally spend. Not many restaurants right now have any 2002 Bordeaux at that price. We ordered it before the food (the only reliable strategy), and the sommelier offered to decant it for us, giving the wine time to bloom.
I can’t begin to describe the excellent and beautifully plated entrées in detail—they were far too complex for that, and the joy of being an amateur blogger is that I don’t have to. (If I were Sam Sifton, I’d need to call the chef and write down every ingredient, for fear of misstating one.) So go, and order them: cherry-glazed duck ($38; above left) and rabbit three ways ($37; above right).
Goat’s milk sorbet ($10; left) was a fulfilling, uncomplicated way to end the evening. The kitchen comped an extra scoop for my mom, along with a “fruit soup” (above right) that was somewhat underwhelming. We did our best to lay off of the traditional beignets that come as petits-fours, but resistance was futile.
Frank Bruni once said that Café Boulud was his favorite of the Boulud restaurants. It took me a while to see why. Daniel, the flagship, is a formal dress-up evening, and I’ve never quite had the feeling that it lived up to its price point. The other three (DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, and DBGB) are all very good, and I enjoy them, but they are casual, quick-bite places. (Two of the three are dominated by pre- and post-theater business.)
Café Boulud is fancy enough to make you feel special, but casual enough that you don’t need an occasion to dine here. The restaurant used to be booked solid weeks in advance, virtually precluding an impulse visit, unless you were a regular. They’re still doing fine, but the reservation book has loosened up, and there’s even the occasional 1,000-point booking on OpenTable. We should go more often.
Café Boulud (20 E. 76th St. between Fifth & Madison Avenues, Upper East Side)