25 years ago, the word Bouley was the definition of fine dining in New York City. It was a time before Daniel Boulud’s Daniel, before Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Jean-Georges. In 1987, David Bouley opened his namesake restaurant Bouley, and became the darling of Tribeca.
In the 2 decades, his peers have expanded globally, some of his disciples expanded nationally, David Bouley remained in Tribeca. It’s as if time stood still for one chef, while the rest of the culinary world moved on.
But time did not stand still, even for Bouley. If someone had setup a time lapse camera over the block between West Broadway and Hudson Street, you’ll observe the rise and fall of the original Bouley, it’s conversion around the block to Bouley Bakery, the addition of Bouley Market, the opening of Danube, Danube’s conversion to Brushstroke, and finally the relaunch of Bouley. Running in circles, around the same block, quite very literally.
There’s absolutely no doubht, however, that this man can seriously cook.
Today’s Bouley is decidedly old-fashioned in its decoration, which for today’s diners is actually a welcoming change of pace. Some describe it as luxurious, some romantic, I call it pretty. Bold colors, sensual textures, and a full room of apples that greet you at the entrance both visually and with pleasing fragrance.
Why review a 25 year old (through many iterations) restaurant? Because the lunch prix-fixe offered at Bouley is one of the best dining deals you can find. 5-courses for $55, with many options to chose from. Read on.
The amuse, curiously served before we received our menus (granted it was a busy early afternoon), gave us a glimpse of what’s to come. French core techniques with global influences in plating and flavors.
For the first course, the salad Of Boston Bibb (hydroponic lettuce), Red Watercress, Fresh Hawaiian Hearts Of Palm was a modest looking salad, but once you get to the royal trumpet mushrooms on the bottom, the flavors were absolutely wonderful.
The other appetizer, the Carpaccio Of Kampachi, cube of Blue Fin Tuna and Striped Amber Jack featured innovative plating, although it looked slightly out of place with the restaurant. The dish was good, though a bit light on flavor.
When someone sees the word miso and cod, they think Nobu. Bouley’s Black Cod Marinated with pistachio miso, organic buckwheat, ginger aromatic sauce tasted distinctively Japanese, but the fish was cooked like only a master French chef could.
Was the 2nd course the Japanese course? The Porcini Flan, Alaska Live Dungeness Crab black truffle dashi is basically a Japanese stew. The gelatinous broth filled with shellfish imbued umami was absolutely fantastic.
The main meat course returned to more of a French American flavor: duck and truffles. The Organic Long Island Duck was thinly sliced, very tender, and topped with roasted White Truffle Reglise Crust wheat berries, red currant, and ripe persimmon. A very solid duck dish.
I had high hopes for the slow braised Kobe Style Beef Cheeks, though I must say cheeks are not the best representation of Kobe or Wagyu. I still very much enjoyed the entree, but the Japanese massaged beef had my hopes raised.
After a palate cleansing mini 4th course, which despite the name of “soup” is really a lychee sorbet with crystallized honey, it was time to order dessert.
Having taken us on a tour of Japanese flavors, the desserts are very grounded in western flavors. Hot Valrhona Chocolate Souffle was nice and puffy, with a warm, moist interior. The Caramelized Anjou Pear could have perhaps been more caramelized, but was still a satisfying way to finish the meal.
Before you go, you get some petite fours in a mini tower. I wonder how many more flavor of macaroons people will come up with.
25 years, and still cooking on the same block. Some might fault Bouley for failing to expand his brand, maybe that’s why his restaurant hasn’t gotten as much press as it likely deserves. However, from the perspective of a diner, I say we take a break from reading about celebrity chefs and their empire building, and enjoy the excellent food of Chef Bouley in his Tribeca kitchen.
Rating takes into consideration the incredible value of the Bouley prix-fixe lunch. The honey tangerine soup looked quite familiar, because I had a similar dessert at Brushstroke, across the street.
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