Entries in DBGB (6)


The Whole Hog at DBGB

Many restaurants offer whole-animal “feasts”, or what’s called “large format” in the trade. Recently, a group of friends gathered for the Whole Hog at DBGB, Daniel Boulud’s charcuterie and burger-centric restaurant on the Bowery. 

The feast is offered on at least 72 hours’ notice, and costs $495 for “up to 8 guests.” (The advance notice shouldn’t be an issue: rounding up such a large party took weeks.) Anyhow, you get starters of salad and pig’s head terrine, the pig itself, and Baked Alaska for dessert. All the beer you can drink is an extra $200, but we ordered beverages à la carte and spent less than that. The full bill came to $636 before tax and tip.

Although not stated on the website, extra guests are $60 each, and if I did it again, I’d highly recommend bringing at least 10. The eight of us went home full, and there was still a ton of food left over.

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On a recent visit to Daniel Boulud’s newest restaurant, Boulud Sud, I was struck by the consistent solidity of the chef’s restaurants.

Have there been wobbly moments? Yes, of course. Have the food and service always been precisely as they should be? No, of course not. But still, I find Boulud’s establishments more reliable than those of any other chef or restaurateur who has as many places as he does—except, perhaps, Danny Meyer.

Unlike Meyer’s empire, there is no one in Boulud’s large empire who is the obvious public frontman for the service end of the business, although he or she must exist: restaurants don’t keep executing at this level by magic, and Boulud himself could hardly be keeping track of them all.

Two years ago, my first visit to DBGB, the most casual restaurant in Boulud’s brood, had some hits and misses, but the restaurant then was nearly brand new, and so packed you could barely move. Sam Sifton came along and gave it two stars, which we thought was on the high side.

On a recent Saturday evening, we found DBGB very enjoyable indeed. It was less than half full, but as it was quite early—and a holiday weekend to boot—I wouldn’t draw any conclusions.

I certainly don’t remember a Matzo Ball Soup ($8; above left) on the opening menu. My son was perfectly happy with it.

One could argue that Spring Lamb ($27; above left) was over-priced for a rather small portion, but you can’t fault its preparation, which was first-rate. I wasn’t sure which of many sausages to try, but I finally chose the Korean, or Coréanne ($13; above right), a wickedly spicy pork sausage with a kimchi sauce and a stingy allotment of two shrimp chips.

DBGB has an attractive, casual dining room. It’s a pleasant place to be—at least when it is not crowded (and I don’t know when the crowds come, if they do at all these days). Service was much better than it had to be: I think the server checked back about 17 times, to ensure we had everything we needed.

The restaurant is a bit expensive, for what it is. My son didn’t drink alcohol, and all I had was a $10 beer. Nevertheless, the bill was $73 before the tip: not a splurge, but you can see from the photos how much food we got for that price, and it isn’t much. Obviously, there’s a “Boulud premium,” but at least the chef delivers.

DBGB (299 Bowery at E. 1st Street, East Village)

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


Review Recap: DBGB

Today, the Sam Sifton era began with a two-star review of Daniel Boulud’s DBGB:

A cynic would call this fashion and scoff. But one bite of the crispy lamb ribs that were served in the bar area when the place first opened — sweetly glazed, grassy meat, with a dab of creamy mint-flecked yogurt sauce — ended all snark: Mr. Boulud has opened a very good restaurant. The lamb was sublime, earthy and spicy and rich, evidence of superb technique, the sort of snack that separates his empire from others in the celebrity firmament.

Recent visits to all five of Mr. Boulud’s New York restaurants suggest: his kitchens put out perfectly cooked food. Diners may quibble here and there (with the sweetened cucumber juice in the Hendrick’s gin cocktail at Daniel, for instance), but rare is the complaint about technique. Jim Leiken, DBGB’s executive chef, a young veteran of Daniel and DB Bistro Moderne, is no exception. His food game, as they say in rap precincts, is tight.

What do we want from a review, anyway? Entertaining? Check. Relevant—that is, not self-indulgent? Check. Well informed? Check. Accurate? I can’t tell. Sifton liked the place a tad better than we did two months ago, and better than most other critics did. But two months in the life of a four-month-old restaurant is a long time.

It will take many more reviews before we can say whether we trust Sifton’s verdicts. We suspect, however, that we will much enjoy reading them. We are delighted that he can write a robust paragraph. We recall—not with fondness—Bruni reviews with a dozen or more one-sentence grafs in a row.

With the return of the Eater odds, we are now resetting the score to zero (as we had promised) and resuming our weekly guessing game with Ben Leventhal, with a hypothetical one-dollar bet on the line. Both we and Leventhal believed that DBGB would get a star, so we both lose a dollar.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $0.00   $0.00
Gain/Loss –$1.00   –$1.00
Total –$1.00   –$1.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 0–1

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 70–26 (73%).


Review Preview: DBGB

Record to date: 12–5

Tomorrow, the Sam Sifton era at The New York Times begins with a review of Daniel Boulud’s casual downtown burger-and-sausage joint, DBGB Kitchen & Bar.

The Odds: The Eater.com odds have returned, with a slightly different format: One Star Odds: 3-1; Two Stars: 4-1; Sift Happens: 45-1.

The Skinny: With its casual vibe, informal décor, and a menu of mainly burgers, charcuterie, and inexpensive classics, DBGB screams “one-star restaurant.” To get two stars, it would need to be extremely good.

Reviews have been mixed, including a star each from Adam Platt in New York and Ryan Sutton in Bloomberg. However, Jay Cheshes in TONY four-of-fived it.

Boulud has had the luxury of an unusually long break-in period. The restaurant opened in June, and most reviews appeared in July or August. Sifton’s review meals likely did not begin until September, giving Boulud plenty of time to correct flaws the earlier reviewers complained about.

Sifton’s choice of a first review is a significant contrast from Frank Bruni, who opened by re-affirming Babbo’s three-star rating. We didn’t know it at the time, but that review foreshadowed what the Bruni era would be about—a preference for Italian cuisine, the love of all things Batali, and a distinct dislike for formal dining. A review of DBGB is not likely to tell us nearly as much.

But if, as we suspect, Bruni-era star inflation is finally over, Sifton is hardly likely to blow a two-star kiss at DBGB, which wouldn’t leave him much room for the real two-star restaurants to come. At the same time, we don’t think he’d begin with a restaurant he dislikes, which leaves one star as the most likely outcome.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Sam Sifton will award one star to DBGB.


Review Previews: DBGB, Marea, Eleven Madison Park

Record to date: 8–3

We’ll be away for the next two weeks, and most likely will not be able to post our Review Previews in real time, so we’re posting them now.

Bruni has three reviews remaining. What will they be?

  1. Marea is a definite: there’s no way Bruni would pass up an upscale Italian place that opened on his watch.
  2. Eater.com reported that Bruni has been spoted three times recently at Eleven Madison Park. He wouldn’t be there so often in the twilight of his tenure unless he’s working up a re-review.
  3. The last one’s something of a wild card, but among places that must be reviewed (and a Boulud restaurant clearly fits this description), we are fairly certain that DBGB is the oldest outstanding.

Bruni has already reviewed Eleven Madison Park twice (two stars; 2/23/2005 and three stars; 1/10/2007). A promotion to four is the only conceivable reason to review it again. He has not named a new four-star restaurant since Masa in December 2004. The 4½-year gap is the longest in Times history, a record he set in the middle of last year. We and others believe that he’s itching to crown one more.

Unfortunately, that will leave poor Marea with three stars, as Bruni isn’t going to canonize two restaurants in under a month, when in almost five years he found none at all. We don’t think Marea is a four-star restaurant in any event, but given Bruni’s love-affair with Italian cuisine we thought he just might pull the trigger until we heard he was taking another hard look at Eleven Madison. (If the 11MP review doesn’t come through, then Mike White and Chris Cannon could still have a chance.)

Finally, DBGB: Most reviews we’ve seen (including our own) have been slightly less enthusiastic about this place than Bar Boulud at Lincoln Center, where Bruni awarded two stars. We therefore believe that DBGB will be rated a notch lower, at one star.

In summary, our predictions are: one star for DBGB, three stars for Marea, and four stars for Eleven Madison Park. Obviously, it’s possible that Bruni’s final reviews will include one or two other places, but we’re positive that Marea will be among the three.



Chef Daniel Boulud is gradually working his way down the formality ladder. His five New York restaurants, in order of opening, are Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, and now DBGB—each more casual than its predecessor.

This is sensible positioning on Boulud’s part. Each of his five NYC properties fills a distinct niche, but all of them retain an essential French soul. In that respect, he parts company with fellow four-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who puts his name to a much wider variety of concepts, many of which have little to do with the cuisine he is famous for.

Not that DBGB is a classical French restaurant—it serves hamburgers and hot dogs, after all—but the core of the menu is French, and it’s a sensibly edited document. It doesn’t try to be all things to all people—as David Bouley tried and failed last year at Secession.

And Boulud knows how to roll out a restaurant. Industry glitterati were all a-twitter at the opening, fawning over the chef’s beer and sausages, admiring the row of cooking pots dotted along the walls, all donated by famous chefs. Beneath its rustic pretensions is a business model that, according to the Times, needs to gross $4.5 million per year to be profitable.

None of this is resentment. Actually, it’s admiration. Boulud could teach the rest of the industry how to open a restaurant. Even at his most casual place, the kitchen runs smoothly. The serving staff are attentive and friendly. They take reservations, check parcels, and transfer the bar tab to the table. It’s nice to know that at least some of David Chang’s antics aren’t being copied by everyone.

The menu is a slave to fashion in at least some respects, with many sections that blur the traditional lines between appetizers and entrées, a system that encourages sharing, and at times over-ordering. We had about the right quantity of food, but it was far too monotonous, and our stomachs felt weighed down at the end of the evening. We may well have chosen the wrong mix of items, and in that respect neither the menu nor our server offered much guidance.

About that menu: there are cold appetizers ($7–17), fruits de mer ($30, 60, 90), hot appetizers ($8–16), charcuterie (a subset of the Bar Boulud menu; $7–12); sausages ($9–15); a section labeled tête aux pieds, which I interpret loosely as “head and feet” ($9–12), entrées ($16–26), three different burgers ($14–19), and side dishes ($6).

Despite all of those categories, the menu manages to avoid the appearance of rambling. The largest section is the sausages, with 14 choices. Along with the tête aux pieds, it’s somewhat confusingly captioned “To Share,” although the section also includes the DBGB Dog ($9), which is just a standard hot dog, albeit with house-made sautéed onions and relish.

We ordered one hot appetizer, two sausages, and one of the tête aux pieds, all to share. This may have been the wrong way to appreciate the menu, but our server either encouraged, or at least did not discourage us from doing this. The kitchen sent out the items one at a time, and at a good pace.

We loved the Octopus à la Plancha ($12; above left), an ample portion lightly cooked, exactly as it should be. Our next item was supposed to be the Toscane ($11; above right). We are not sure if we got the right thing, as it was in a sub-section of the menu captioned “spicy,” and we found nothnig spicy or Tuscan about it. This was the one part of the evening when we could not flag down a server, so we decided to just eat what we had been given. The sausages here tasted like dressed-up breakfast—which is to say, not bad but not wonderful either.

Our next item, the Tunisienne ($15; above left) lived up to its billing. A spicy lamb & mint merguez gave way to a punchy braised spinach with chickpeas. Other sausages caught my eye, such as the Toulouse (pork & duck gizzard with cassoulet beans) and the Boudin Basque (spicy blood and pig’s head), but those will have to wait until another day.

The Pied de Cochon, or pig’s foot ($13; above right) needs to come with a Surgeon General’s warning. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this thing is huge. Even to share, it was probably excessive. Meat from the pig’s foot appeared to have been smoked, braised, then wrapped in a log and deep fried. There were a few small pieces of bone that apparently remained by mistake, though it is hard to say for sure, as I have nothing to compare it to. The dish was intense, but in the end a bit cloying.

A side order of fries (photo above; $6) was a tad on the mushy side.

There’s a wine list, naturally, but we ordered from the long list of beers, which pair well with such fat-laden food.

DBGB is a noisy restaurant. There are a few booths in alcoves that seem to offer a bit of seclusion, but they’re available only for larger parties. Most diners, even VIPs, are seated in the larger central section, where the packed tables and exposed hard surfaces are tough on the ears. Despite the raucous atmosphere, servers are dressed smartly, and we saw at least three managers prowling the floor and checking on customers’ wants. Except for one brief stretch when we could get no one’s attention to ask about our Tuscan sausage, it seemed there was always a server, a runner, or a manager stopping by—even if you couldn’t quite hear them.

There is much more here, and if the restaurant were on my way home I’d visit a lot more frequently, but I feel full just thinking about all of that fattening food. I’d still like to come back for the “Piggie” (a 6 oz. burger topped with Daisy May’s pulled pork), but I think I need to diet first.

DBGB (299 Bowery at E. 1st Street, East Village)

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

DBGB Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon