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Jul 21, 2000 03:08 AM

Jim's lunch at Cafe Boulud

  • m

That was really sad, and extremely well-written. Unbelievable that it all concluded with you having to get your own bag from the checkroom. I hope anyone who was thinking of having lunch there reads Jim's report and thinks again.

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  1. Give me a break. He went with a preconception that the food for which the chef is known was a form of pornography. It's not the kind of food he likes or appreciates. Daniel Boulud has apppeared on the cover of numerous slick glossy food, lifestyle and general interest magazines over the past few years. Can any sophisticated person in NYC believe the photo on the promotion represents his food better than the actual food shots in color. What did Jim expect?

    Does anyone familiar with the twenty dollar lunches where restaurants normally serving tourists in the middle economic bracket offer a sandwich and dessert at that price, expect Cafe Boulud to serve more than a token of their repertoire at the same price?

    He "couldn't find a decent wine for under $50?" I've had many a bottle under 50 bucks there and the sommelier has recommended bottles under $40 to me. The high quality of the produce is ackowledged, but most of the criticism of the cooking is so personal, subjective and unprofessional that it should appear of little value to those who don't share the author's prejudices. Of course to those who do, it should be obvious that this isn't their type of place in the first place. Different strokes for different folks. If you want to read a constrasting review based on several visits from someone who does not find this sort of food to be sterile food porn check out the EdifaceRex review. That Daniel Boulud should trim his mailing list is the only message I get.


    20 Replies
    1. re: Buxbaum

      Robert--Perhaps you missed my last caution, but I really have to insist that in every posting about Daniel or Cafe Boulud you mention your financial affiliation with them (Robert runs their websites and enjoys friend-of-house treatment there). I do appreciate that you've noted this affiliation several times on these boards, but we can't count on all our users noting and remembering this in all your postings.

      You've badly twisted my words regarding my opinion of the "style of cookery" there. For what it's worth, I adore Daniel. And my comment about the photos had more to do with photography and marketing. The shots on their postcard portrayed what I called showy and sterile-looking food. I would not characterize anything I've eaten at Daniel or at Cafe Boulud as showy and sterile. Daniel is sometimes a bit showy (which is not in and of itself a bad thing), but never sterile (in my limited experience...only ate there twice). Cafe Boulud was non-showy, non-sterile (some of the sauces were pretty soulful)...just disappointingly mediocre. And the service totally totally sucked.

      In any case, my goodness...are you defending sterility?!? Is sterile-looking or tasting food a GOOD thing? Is my disdain for "sterile" truly something I need to lose? I'm not being ironic, promise, I truly want to understand...or perhaps find a better word choice that doesn't exclude babies with bathwater!

      As for "what do you expect for $20?", you're absolutely right. But I didn't pay $20, I paid $60. That was the problem. And a $60 lunch should've been a lot better.

      I stand behind all my other opinions. Sorry you don't agree. Different strokes, indeed!


      1. re: Jim Leff

        A restaurant offering (and advertising via mail) a $20 menu should be able to deliver something worthy of the restaurant at that price. If they can't, they should see it as a loss leader. Or not offer it.

        1. re: Anonymous

          worthy? i believe that the goal of the $20.00 lunch is to give people a taste of the place. ...not a taste of the best be more leary of a high end meal for 20.00..after all this man has a business to run..go for the 20.oo or call in advance find out out what it is..maybe order something in addition to share...if you are looking for a freebe or something of value///then grays papaya at 72nd and bwy has a great deal on 2 dogs and a papaya drink!

          1. re: chaz

            I think we are having a misunderstanding about what a semi-educated consumer (in both senses of the word) should expect out of a $20 special. In my opinion, there shouldn't be much of a correlation with the expense of the ingredients and getting "the best" out of a high-end restaurant.

            For a $20 lunch, I expect not to eat lobster and foie gras, but that doesn't mean that a pasta or a chicken shouldn't be prepared with as much care.

            Otherwise, what's the purpose of these special lunches? They are being offered by restaurants that generally are more expensive. Jim's book is full of restaurants where you can eat great lunches for well under $20. If the "fancy" restaurant can't be competitive in terms of quality, why should I ever return when the bill triples or quadruples?

            I was treated so shabbily (in food and service) at a San Domenico $19.96 lunch that I've gone out of my way not to return. Better not to participate in the program than to treat newcomers with contempt.

            Also, in defense of Jim, not that he needs it, he makes it MOST clear in the "What I Had for Dinner" section that these are not real reviews, but rather an informal journal, sometimes just snapshots of a first visit.

        2. re: Jim Leff
          Anonymous Coward

          Better yet, bux should refrain from writing about Daniel -
          obviously he is very far from being objective about it and adding a short disclamer is hardly enough to offset an opinion he expresses. This is true in particular when his urge to protect Daniel is strong enough that he accuses others of prejudice.

          1. re: Anonymous Coward

            We do allow people to post about places with which they have "backdoor" relationships, so long as they clearly announce their affiliation.

            I'm sure that if Robert has deeper ties to Boulud's restaurants than he is currently letting on, he will either come clean with them in his future postings about them or voluntarily cease posting on the topic.

            In any case, let's move on!

          2. re: Jim Leff

            Sorry about not mentioning my affiliation with Boulud which all stems from my early visits to the old Daniel. It's a double edged sword. Although a hired gun for the website at times, (I originally offered to help him understand his needs and establish a minimal presence on the web as a favor but he later suggested I design the finished site on a professional basis) I'm not a spokeman for either restaurant and in terms of this post I did not want it to appear that I was speaking in any official capacity.

            If I twisited your words, I apologize. It was not my intention to escalate a misunderstanding. I suppose part of the problem is that I would not have expected more than pasta and chicken at those prices in the first place, but I should not have ignored your willingness to order a la carte if necessary. I was also responding to the board post as much as your piece, I suppose. It was unprofessional for me to say I found most of your criticism unprofessional, but much of that criticism doesn't seem to mesh with what you say in your reply to me about food.

            With the government so anxious to remove the few remaining real cheeses on the market, sterility in food is a real and frightening thought. You can be sure I am not a defender of sterility in food. It's just that I've never found it in either the photographs, nor the food at either of Daniel's restaurants. Your perception is different, I understand and I'm happy to note that you find it in the photos and not in the food.

            I still find the wine comments perplexing. I understand that sometimes there exists a level of dissatisfaction so great that everything else begins to sour. I've been the victim of my own dissatisfaction at times, but although I might let it ruin my meal, I would find it unfair to let it influence my writing about the meal. "Garbage" is still a word I can't equate with anything I've had in my most disappointing meal in NYC, let alone with what I've seen served in Cafe Boulud. Once again I doubt the menu was craftily designed to force you to triple your tab unless you truly believed you could get the best of the restaurant for less. I suspect the $20 menu exists only because of social and political pressure to serve those who are not interested in the best the Cafe has to offer. That you were disappointed at $60 is of course not arguable. Whether that's because your standards are higher than mine, different than mine or just due to a bad day are up to interpretation, and I'm happy to leave that an open issue not to be determined by either of us.

            I thank you for responding without taking personal offense and for not raising the misunderstanding as well as for hosting diverging opinions.


            1. re: bux

              "I understand that sometimes there exists a level of dissatisfaction so great that everything else begins to sour."

              yes, true. In fact, I've written at length here of the difficulty in fairly assessing a place when one's initial bite (or sip, as the case may be) is sub-optimal. But I've spent the past twelve years training myself not to do this. Not that I'm infallible, of course...but I am aware of the problem.

              About the wine: I kind of know my way around wine, though am nowhere near expert. Same for the others at my table. And we experienced CONSIDERABLE frustration finding an affordable wine. I mean, we were REALLY working, and it was quite dismaying to keep finding interesting wines then noticing $50-70 price tags...even on Rhone and Loire wines, even on South Americans. In fact, I don't know if I've EVER worked so hard to find a nice drinking wine for under forty bucks (which is by no means a miserly limit!).

              I do like expensive wine, and have been lucky enough to have tried most of the best first growth Bordeaux vintages of the century. But lunch at a rather informal cafe is just not a "blow out" situation.

              Granted, we may have missed a few less expensive worthy bottles on the list. But they're certainly few and far-between.

              And lord knows we did not get much help with our selection...though, frankly, given the awfullness of the staff, I wouldn't have much valued advice given me.

              1. re: bux

                Bux wrote: "I suspect the $20 menu exists only because of social and political pressure to serve those who are not interested in the best the Cafe has to offer."

                [Pardon me while I gag.] My response is that if the restaurant agrees with you, it's absolutely inexcusable for them to deign to patronize people with such a noblesse-oblige attitude. If they don't want the [choke] _class_ of people who will come for the $20 menu, and figure those customers are coming because they must have coarse taste, the restaurant ought to discontinue it immediately.

                Care to clarify your remarks?

                1. re: Michael

                  "If they don't want the [choke] _class_ of people who will come for the $20 menu, and figure those customers are coming because they must have coarse taste, the restaurant ought to discontinue it immediately.
                  Care to clarify your remarks?"

                  I didn't say anything about class. I don't equate money with class or with a lack of coarseness. I implied I thought there was pressure by the tourism and hospitality industries in NYC to open more restaurants to people with less disposable income to spend. If nothing else, it's good for NYC tourism. My point was only that there are people who are curious about certain restaurants and who might be happy to dine on chicken without needing to eat foie gras.

                  1. re: bux

                    "My point was only that there are people who are curious about certain restaurants and who might be happy to dine on chicken without needing to eat foie gras."

                    Sorry, Bux, that's a nonsequitur, as far as I'm concerned. Nobody complained that they weren't served foie gras for $20. The $20 lunch program is an advertisement for restaurants. If I go to a restaurant that serves a great $20 lunch, I am likely to want to return for a significantly more expensive dinner for a special occasion. If the lunch is merely good - let alone mediocre or worse - I am not likely to want to return and pay more. Any restaurant that doesn't treat the $20 lunch program as an opportunity to increase its customer base is stupid, in my opinion. As a result, the $20 lunches should be a taste of the type of culinary expertise and creativity the restaurant has to offer, but without the expensive ingredients or the more difficult preparations required for the blowout dinner specials. As has been pointed out numerous times, a delicious roast chicken with excellent side dishes can be a great advertisement for a restaurant.

                    So let me repeat that a restaurant that thinks it's participating in the $20 lunch program just in order to succumb to some kind of pressure to let the cheapies in is idiotic. It seems to me that there are enough restaurants that don't think that way for others to opt out.

                    Incidentally, I have absolutely no personal opinion or axe to grind on Cafe Boulud, having never eaten there, and do thank you for never insinuating I did.

                    1. re: Michael

                      I don't understand the misunderstanding. I was trying to explain, in broad terms, That I had made no referenses to class. Read the foie gras as a metaphor for expensive ingredients and note that I have no doubt the chicken offered as part of the three course $20 dinner was probably an excellent advertisement for the restaurant. In truth I do not recall having had chicken at Cafe Boulud, but someone connected with the Boulud organization once suggested I order the chicken at Gramercy Tavern, so I suspect the cooks in Boulud's restaurants regard chicken as a dish worth of serious attention.

                      My biggest objection to this thread is that I am being attacked for what others choose to misread into my statements and the sense that I am posting to a forum less interested in opposing views than in defending its host.

                      1. re: bux

                        ok, this has gone on long enough. Please, people, let's give Mr. Buxbaum the last word on this and move on. I don't think we have much new territory to mine on's starting to just swat back and forth. And that's BORING.


            2. re: Buxbaum

              I have to weigh-in in defense of Cafe Boulud based on my experience in December to celebrate my wife's birthday.

              I arrived late parking the car and joined my wife and our 13 and 9 year old. Not exactly the trendiest looking foursome to occupy Boulud that evening. I remarked to my wife that I didn't have a quarter for the meter but that since it was 6:50, I would take the chance that we wouldn't get a ticket. The maitre'd for the evening, who I subsequently found out was the Restuarant Manager, overheard my comment, asked me where my car was parked and distpatched someone from the restuarant, on his own accord, to put a quarter in the meter!

              We were treated royally the rest of the meal. Our waiter said it was a lot of fun to serve kids given the usual customer base of the restaurant. The kitchen accomodated our daughter with an off the menu chicken breast, french fries and plenty of ketchup. When our waiter noticed that my son was having difficulty reading the menu in the dim light, he ran over with a reading flashlight. The sommelier was obviously enthusiastic about wine and went into great detail on the alternatives (including a glass of dessert wine from Canada, where he was from). I agree that some lower end wines would be welcome on their list but there are far worse wine lists on the Upper East Side where they serve it like they are doing you a favor if you don't order a first growth Bourdeaux. The evening was topped by a gift take-away box of freshly baked madelines for my wife's birthday.

              The food was great but, obviously, it was the total experience of that evening, which made it something that our family will treasure.

              I don't doubt Jim's awful experience. For what it's worth, mine differed vastly.

              1. re: Buxbaum

                The only point of yours with which I disagree is the ability of a three star restaurant to serve a $20 luncheon that is up to par with their usual fare.

                I have eaten the $20 lunch repeatedly at such establishments as Gramercy Tavern and Felidia and have been overwhelmed by the value and selection. These were restaurants that were 'giving back'. They knew that they couldn't possibly make money on a $20 meal so they put their best foot forward anyway.

                It is unfortunate when a restaurant feels it is appropriate to treat customers who they don't perceive as up to the standard of their usual clientele with equal respect.

                1. re: JMinNYC

                  I didn't mean to say that a fine restaurant couldn't serve a $20 meal that was up to its highest standards, only that it shouldn't be expected as a right. It's a bonus when it happens and those that do should be well publicized. I did read a post somewhere about someone who was ecstatic about a $20 year 2000 luch that consisted of sandwich and chocolate cake at a restaurant that's had little critical success.

                  1. re: JMinNYC

                    I have to agree with JMinNYC on the $20 lunch. This is a restaurant's opportunity to show folks who might not ordinarily dine there exactly what they can do. I should think they'd want to shine.

                    And the answer to the question, "What do you expect for twenty bucks?" is simple. I expect the same thing I would when paying for any meal: good food, served professionally in pleasant surroundings, The price of the wine is something else again. This year we had lunch for four at Lutece for $160 -- $80 for the four lunches and $80 for a beautiful bottle of wine that raised our meal to a higher level.

                  2. re: Buxbaum

                    I've been trying for days to decide the proper way to handle this, and I've concluded that in order to be fair, I've got to disclose something.

                    Robert Buxbaum is the father of one of Daniel Boulud's full-time employees, and father-in-law of his sous chef.

                    When I first learned this, my first impulse was to delete this entire thread. But there are postings here of interest, from objective people who've had both good and bad experiences at Cafe Boulud. And I didn't want to see those postings go away (picking out Buxbaum's messages for deletion would have left the thread in shambles, because so many replies stem from his postings).

                    So I figured we'd simply let the matter rest, fearing I'd be acting vindictively if I were to blow this particular whistle (since Buxbaum's postings, of course, were critical of me, and I never use my administrative power here to stifle opposing viewpoints).

                    But that's not fair. We have a very strict policy of hunting down posters with undisclosed affiliations, and it'd be inconsistent -- and set a bad precedent -- to let Buxbaum's postings stand without disclosure of his deeper affiliations (for those who don't know, we have an excellent record of hunting down non-objective postings...we work real hard at it).

                    I request that we close this chapter and not stir it into a brouhaha that might compel me to let Buxbaum reply in his own defense. Needless to say, he is poster non grata, and I'd like to move on to sunnier chow topics.

                    I'll add (for whatever it's worth) that Buxbaum has stated that he regrets the whole matter, that he was trying to extricate himself from the thread and had been feeling increasingly embarrassed by its unanticipated length and high profile.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      I think you've just won the improper post of the year award.

                      1. re: Orik

                        (clarified/resolved via email)

                  3. What lunch/post are you referring to?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Dan

                      It's not a posting, it's our fearless leader's article in the latest "What Jim Had For Dinner." You'll find it if you go the home page.

                      1. re: Dan

                        Good question!

                        see the 7/19 entry in my "what jim had for dinner feature" (clearly linked in the "what's new" column on our homepage...which I urge all of you to check periodically!

                        1. re: Jim Leff

                          Thanks for the info. I had been pretty confused about this string as I couldn't figure out where your tale of woe was posted on the site.

                          1. re: Dan

                            Sorry to those I confused. I figured you might have checked Jim's report, seeing that it is featured right there on the Chowhound home page. If you haven't looked at it, I recommend it. It's very good writing, even if you weren't interested in the restaurant at all.