Entries in David Bouley (22)



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.



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: ***


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.”



After a horrific beginning, there are signs that Secession may be turning into a good restaurant.  [Update: So much for that. Less than a week after our visit, Secession has closed.]

This is the place that replaced three-star Danube and promptly crapped out, earning zero stars in this blog and from Frank Bruni of the Times. We’re seldom simpatico with Bruni, but we entirely agreed with him on everything at Secession—even the rude coat-check lady. How on earth did David Bouley believe he could serve a menu with 70 items and get even half of them right?

A few months after Bruni’s review, David Bouley wisely hired Christian Delouvrier to take over the kitchen at Secession. Delouvrier once earned three stars at Maurice in the Parker-Meridian Hotel, three stars at Les Celebrites in the Essex House, four stars at Lespinasse in the St. Regis, and three stars at Alain Ducasse, again in the Essex House. If it’s classic French cuisine that you want, Delouvrier is your man.

The menu at Secession has now been very wisely pared down to less than half its former girth. In our view, it could stand to be pared down even more, but it has taken a huge step in the right direction. We ordered two dishes that Delouvrier himself is responsible for, and we went home happy.

A cold pea and mint soup ($9) was terrific. Duck confit ($21) was exactly what this classic dish should be, but they ought to jettison the cast-iron serving dish, which only gets in the way. The fries are perfect, but those closer to the bottom of the pan got soggy.

It won’t be easy to get the critics back. None of the patrons seemed to be under fifty. The server mentioned that Danyelle Freeman of the Daily News was in last week, but she already posted an irrelevant pre-Delouvrier rave and is unlikely to review it again so soon. Mimi Sheraton was in the house. She is precisely the demographic that this restaurant appeals to, but she doesn’t have a reviewing platform these days.

Secession is a lot better than it was, but getting the recognition it deserves won’t be easy.

Secession (30 Hudson Street at Duane Street, TriBeCa)

Food: *
Service: *
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 Payoff: Secession

Update: Scorecard added to bottom of post…

Today, as expected, Frank Bruni laid a goose-egg on David Bouley’s TriBeCa Titanic, Secession:

Menus this epic and indefinable can certainly work, as long as the majority of dishes are appealing in and of themselves. But when as many are as unremarkable or off key as they were at Secession the production comes across as slapdash, undisciplined…

Not much of what emerged from Secession’s seemingly overburdened kitchen rose far above mediocrity. And there were instances of outright sloppiness.

Bruni’s review exactly channels our own experience, from the cold terrines down to the grumpy coat-check woman. (Yes, she was rude to us too.) How hard is it to find someone to check coats with a smile?

Where does Secession go from here? I think Bouley needs to ditch about three-fourths of the menu, hire a new chef de cuisine, and find a new drill sergeant to run the front-of-house.

Thanks to this week’s rather generous odds, we and Eater both win $5 on our hypothetical $1 bets.

      Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $101.50   $120.67
Gain/Loss +5.00   +5.00
Total $106.50   $125.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 47–21   49–19

Rolling the Dice: Secession

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

By popular demand—okay, two or three folks asked for it—Rolling the Dice has returned for the first time since July.

The Line: Tomorrow, we have a doozy, as Frank Bruni tackles the TriBeCa trainwreck, David Bouley’s Secession. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1 √√
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 60-1
Four Stars: 20,000-1

The Skinny: We didn’t like Secession, and we don’t know anyone who did. Eater already gave ample reasons for predicting the goose-egg, which we’ll amplify. Steve Cuozzo liked it, and Cuozzo is practically the anti-Bruni.

Bruni doesn’t like phoned-in restaurants with consulting chefs on the roster and more than 70 items on the menu. He’s not especially fond of French cuisine, which this mostly is. He takes offense at over-priced mediocrity, and faux luxury.

Alain Ducasse’s Benoit managed to eke out an unenthusiastic one-star review. But Benoit, uneven though it is, at least feels authentic. Secession feels fake, and it will take a lot more than just modest tweaks to fix it. You get the sense that Bouley needs a wake-up call. Our man Bruni is the man to deliver it.

The Bet: For the return of “Rolling the Dice,” we thought hard about bucking the Eater prediction. The trouble is, we just can’t make the one-star case. We’re not saying it can’t happen, but we don’t see it.

We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award no stars to Secession.



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