Entries in Danube (3)


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.




Return to Danube

Note: Danube closed on August 2, 2008. It re-opened in October as Secession, a French brasserie with Italian and Austrian influences. The pseudo-Klimt décor remained in place, but with a more casual vibe. Secession closed in May 2009 after receiving scathing reviews. The space is supposed to re-open as a Japanese restaurant, Brushstroke.


I visited Danube for the second time last night. (An account of my first visit is here.) It remains a wonderful restaurant for a special occasion. The Klimt-inspired décor is a gem, although it occurred to me that curtains in the main dining room would be an improvement. It almost spoils the atmosphere to look out the windows and see gloomy Hudson Street outside.

Although Danube is a beautiful room—arguably one of the city’s nicest (it shares the top Zagat rating of 28 for décor)—it is not a large space. As at many New York restaurants, you could easily reach out and touch your neighbors at adjoining tables. Luckily, the room is not loud. I don’t know if it’s because diners are speaking in hushed tones, or because the heavy carpeting and tapestries absorb the sound.

There are three à la carte menus at Danube: Austrian, Modern Eclectic, and the Chef’s Market Choice. Each has two or three appetizers and anywhere between two and five main courses. You are not required to order your entire meal from the same menu. Appetizers are $9-19, but most are under $15. Mains are $26-35.

I should note that Danube has what they describe as a “tasting menu” at $85 ($155 with paired wines), but it is actually a four-course prix fixe (appetizer, fish, meat, dessert), with two or three options for each course. Anyhow, that’s not what we had on this occasion.

It is remarkable that you can have a very respectable meal at this fine restaurant for $35 total (before tax, tip, and beverages), if you order at the bottom end of the appetizers and entrées. Finding an inexpensive wine at Danube is more of a challenge, as nearly all of the selections on the long list are over $60. We found a very respectable burgundy right at $60. I thought the staff left me to struggle over the decision for rather a long time. At a restaurant of this calibre, a sommelier should come over without being asked.

The wonderful amuse bouche was a small cube of smoked salmon, with creme fraiche, cucumber salad, and mustard seed. This was a variation on the same amuse that I was served the last time. The server who deposited it at our table had an extremely thick accent, and we had to ask for the description twice.

The bread service was disappointing. Several choices of rolls were offered, but both that I tried were unimpressive. At Outback Steakhouse, you get a wonderful loaf of warm, freshly-baked pumpernickle bread. Why is it that so many high-end restaurants are content to serve perfunctory dinner rolls that were baked hours ago?

The food was a happier experience. I ordered from the Modern Eclectic menu. The restaurant is rather long-winded in its descriptions. Per the website, the appetizer was described as “Freshly Harpooned Sashimi Quality Bluefin and Hamachi Tuna, Key Lime Pickled Onion, Pumpkin Seed Oil and Sesame Mustard Dressing” ($14). This was a wonderful dish, rich and flavorful.

When the appetizer is this good, sometimes the entrée is an anti-climax, but not here. I ordered “Chestnut Honey Glazed Long Island Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms, Corn Purée and Seared Foie Gras” ($31). The duck was luscious, tender, and enveloped in fat, while the foie gras was pure heaven.

For the record, my friend ordered two of the Austrian specialties, an Austrian ravioli ($11) and the Wiener Schnitzel ($30). She was pleased with both.

The tasting menu shows an “Elderflower Gelée with Lemon Verbena Sorbet” as a pre-dessert, and I believe this is what we were served. This was a palate-cleanser, which prepared us for the “Original Viennese Apple Strudel, Crème Anglaise and Tahitian Vanilla Ice cream” ($10). I thought this was just okay; nothing wrong with it, but rather forgettable.

Service was generally smooth and polished. Early on, I felt that we were being slightly rushed through our meal. We started with cocktails. It seemed like only a few moments had gone by, and we were placing our order, receiving the amuse, and inspecting the wine—with our cocktail glasses still half full. Yet, it was over two hours before when we left, so things slowed down considerably later on. As we departed, the staff handed us a blue Bouley bag containing a wonderful lemon coffeecake, which we enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

While no one would call Danube inexpensive, overall it is very fairly priced for what you are getting. The New York Times ratings have been bastardized in recent years, and three stars isn’t quite what it used to be. Danube has truly earned every one of its three stars.

When Michelin’s New York City guide came out in November, eight restaurants received one of the two highest ratings. Seven of those restaurants either have now, or have had very recently, four stars from the New York Times. Danube was the eighth. What this basically means is that Danube is, in at least one reasonable opinion, the best restaurant in the city that has never had four stars from the Times. There are a handful of other plausible candidates, but I’ve certainly no argument with Danube’s extra Michelin star. It is one of the city’s best fine dining experiences.

Danube (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

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



Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Danube.

Last night, I had a wonderful dinner at Danube. A vendor was buying, and he asked if I had a favorite. I approach my restaurant life a little differently. An invitation to dinner is opportunity to try someplace I’ve never been. Danube came immediately to mind.

This is one of those restaurants that hardly ever attracts an unfavorable comment. It is almost universally adored, and for good reason. From its Klimmt-inspired décor to its impeccable service, everything at Danube is well thought out and smartly executed. Whether it’s a romantic occasion, a business dinner, or a birthday celebration, Danube delivers a memorable experience.

The amuse bouche was a tiny salmon square on a bed of avocado cream. To start, my dining companion and I both chose the what I called the double foie gras ($19), which came with a conventional seared Hudson Valley foie gras and an odd confection called “Crème Brûlée of Foie Gras with Harvest Corn Goulash.” If you love foie gras, then twice as much of it is heaven. My only complaint is that the crème brûlée was at an in-between temperature: it had been allowed to cool a bit too long.

I almost never order Wiener Schnitzel, but I figured that if any restaurant was going to make it memorable, Danube would. (I also concluded that if you’re at an Austrian-themed restaurant, you should try some Austrian food. My colleague concluded the same, and ordered the goulash.) The Wiener Schnitzel came with austrian crescent potatoes, cucumber salad, and a lingonberry sauce. I must say that I was initially underwhelmed, but the dish grew on me, and I was sad to take the last bite. The light breading was just perfectly fluffy, the veal succulent and tender. Still, part of me wondered if this really deserved to be a $30 entrée.

Desserts at Danube are mostly Austro-Germanic specialities, such as Caramel Strudel and Sacher Torte. I tried a pina colada ice cream dish, which is not shown on the restaurant’s website, and I can’t quite recall how it was put together. After this, a plate full of chocolates arrived, which I struggled (in vain) to resist.

Danube offers a vast array of menus. As at many uscale restaurants, the first page shows the tasting menu (five courses, $75; or, $135 with wine pairings). The nine-course degustation is $95. A four-course seasonal menu is $55. There are three à la carte sections of the menu: the Austrian specialties, “Modern Eclectic,” and the chef’s weekly market choices. Appetizers are $9-19; entrées are $26-35.

You’ll pay handsomely for your experience at Danube, but it is well worth it. A glance at the bill showed a bottom line of $270, which included more wine than was strictly necessary. But then, there’s no point in doing Danube half-way. Go and enjoy yourself.

Danube (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)