Entries in DB Bistro Moderne (3)


db bistro moderne

Let’s bow down to Daniel Boulud’s genius. None of his New York restaurants have ever failed. Even at the flagship Daniel, which some people find stodgy, he has managed to keep it just enough up-to-date to remain popular and relevant.

More remarkably, he did this without ever abandoning his French roots, during many years when his cuisine was not exactly fashionable. Even that Italophile and Fracophobe Frank Bruni never gave him a bad review.

Boulud renovates his restaurants after a decade or so. Both Daniel and Café Boulud went under the knife at around their tenth anniversaries. This summer, it was db bistro moderne’s turn. I’m sure it was still doing decent business, but after a dozen years it was Boulud’s most off-the-radar restaurant. It was time.

My two previous meals there were in 2004 and 2006, so I don’t recall the original very well. The interior has been totally redone by Jeffrey Beers International in mirrors and dark paneling (see Eater.com for photos). They’ve added a bar, which the original db bistro lacked. Most of the tables have tablecloths. It looks a bit corporate, but very much in Boulud’s style, and appropriate for a neighborhood that sees a lot of hotel and commercial traffic. Boulud was never the sawdust and heavy metal type.

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db bistro moderne

I dined at db bistro moderne a couple of years ago, but my only memory is their $29 gimmick hamburger. A couple of Saturdays ago, I went back with my friend, determined to try anything but that hamburger.

The restaurant caters heavily to a pre-theatre crowd — and I must say that it’s a far higher-class dining experience than most Theater District restaurants can offer. The décor is stylish and comfortable: a “modern bistro” indeed. We arrived at 7:30 to a busy, bustling room. By 7:45, it was practically deserted. A few more diners came in later, but clearly their busiest hours were behind them.

No one seems to have told the serving staff that a couple who arrive at 7:30 probably aren’t going to the theater. The appetizers couldn’t have taken more than five minutes, and the entrees came out pretty fast too. In all, we didn’t spend more than about an hour at db, and that included the time we spent lingering over our bottle of wine at the end. Although the staff didn’t suggest that they were eager for us to leave, it seems the kitchen is geared up for turning out food in a hurry, and they don’t change their rhythm after the theater crowd has departed.

The food, however, was wonderful. I had a great tuna tartare followed by duck confit. My friend had duck pâté followed by coq au vin. All four dishes were prepared in classic style and were flawless. If there was nothing particularly imaginative, there is much to be said for executing old favorites to near perfection. The wine list mentioned that the sommelier was highlighting syrah and granache this month, so we tried one of the recommendations in that category, and were pleased we did.

The bread service was underwhelming, and not up to the level of the rest of the food.

db bistro moderne (55 W. 44th St. between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)

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


db bistro moderne

Note: Click here for a more recent visit to db bistro moderne.

db bistro moderne is the least formal of Daniel Boulud’s New York properties. The menu is organized by ingredients, instead of the usual appetizer/entrée split. The categories are in French (hommard, thon, artichaut, etc.), but the descriptions of the items in each category are in English. You have to notice an “AP” or “MC” next to the price to identify whether the item is an appetizer or a main course. You can also look at the price itself: db’s entrées are remarkably consistent, at about $28-34 apiece regardless of the item.

I just had to try the “Original db Burger,” to find out what a $29 hamburger tastes like. The menu says it’s a “Sirloin Burger filled with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Gras and Black Tuffles.” I was not able to identify all of those ingredients from the taste. It’s thick (to accommodate all of the goodies stuffed inside), but not very large. Getting your mouth around it is a challenge, somewhat like a three-decker sandwhich at a Jewish deli.

Was it a very fine hamburger? Yes. Do I recommend spending $29 on it? No. Rounding out the meal was a smoked salmon appetizer ($14) that was perfectly competent, but not a patch on what I had at Ouest a couple of weeks ago.

The burger and the salmon are both found in a section of the menu labeled “Specialitiés De La Maison.” Gimmicks of the house seemed more like it. I saw a lot coming out of the db kitchen that appealed to me. Neither of these really did the trick. If I go again, I’ll try something else. At $72 per person (including drinks, tax, and tip), I think this town has better bargains for your money.

db bistro moderne (55 West 44th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, West Midtown)