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Jul 27, 2000 01:24 AM

concerning the cafe boulud review

  • x

This message addresses the actual review and not the big B.S. string that hatched a few days ago. I will come clean right away- I work there. Let's follow in the order of your review. The cafe is noisy- especially at lunch time in a packed house in a small room where every lunching lady and suit has diarrhea at the mouth- that could possibly make the radio shack bang & olufsen system seem different than it would at night.
Unfortunetly, the postcards beat the tomato risotto into circulation. In fact the whole summer growing season has been delayed by the cooler than usual weather. I purchase all produce- 90% is brought in local. When local corn is ready- we use it. When local tomatoes are ready(this week by the way) we buy them. We don't buy the gassed heirlooms from california and don't get our produce delivered by the trucks you see hopping around town.
The corn soup issue now--My friend I don't know how to tell you this but there isn't even a hint of turmeric in it. Period. In fact, I don't even know if we have it in house.
I have to dismiss the whole salmon section as totally unthourough as if you lost that page in your pocket notebook. You can't specify anything. First of all if olive oil, salt and pepper, applyed to the fish directly before cooking, constitutes a marinade then we have some deleting to do in cook books. Can you even remember what made it so poor. was it the garnish? If so what was it. And what about the mysterious marinade-what flavor did you not like; wait was it turmeric again? And being fishy--not a chance. Every major fish purveyor will attest to the fact that
we are one of the pickiest restaurants in the city as far as receiving. A description too on awkward point, would be nice; simply doesn't make sense. We cook it to temp. It is not desired temp you send it back- that simple.
skip to the 'single consciousness" sentence. I don't know if you are familiar with team service. But many people are watching you. The captain and his front waiter; the expeditor and his team of runners and the chefs and their cameras. We see a table being cleared we get the next course rolling. Things are tight. Obviously you didn't wait.
Now for the shot about ravioli at a french place. Hello Big Dog--Weren't you drawn to the joint because of the RISOTTO!!!!! Did you notice the chefs name was CARMELLINI- just happens to be Italian. Did you notice the section of the menu labeled Le Voyage-this month being GULF COAST OF AMERICA, featuring smothered pork chops, etc. NOT QUITE FRECH MY BOY Oh but in your next breath the chicken is a flirt with boredom. Maybe you should tell the people the real name of the dish as printed---POULET ROTI FACON GRAND MERE--french enough for you??????
An informal cafe-obviously you didn't do your homework.
Coffee ---caaching ---yup just like at aureole, and every other restaurant offering this DEAL the whole summer.
Also, who picked the bottle of wine may i ask. Glasses would have been smarter, as one wine could not possibly complement both chicken grand mere and the salmon(how again was it prepared-oh you don't know, only that it was poor). There are plenty of wines under 50 on the list. how do you determine wine snobbery if you chose you own wine????????
TURMERIC-where the hell did you come up with that?

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  1. First of all, this was NOT a review. But more on that in a minute.

    The salmon sucked, and I confess that the four (excellent) palates at the table were unable to put our fingers on it. My failure to precisely trace the problem matched the kitchen's failure, so I suppose we'll share blame. Although, as is very clearly stated at the top of my dinner diary (you apparently read through too quickly and angrily to notice), my reports there are not reviews but snapshots. If this was a review, I'd have spent copious time and thought at the table until I'd figured it out. And returned to see if it happened again...several times. But speaking merely as a civilian diner, I can state with confidence that it did not make for appealing eating, and the kitchen was artful enough to cover its tracks.

    "But many people are watching you"

    And every single one of them was nonetheless ignoring us. As I described. Team sullenness. And, to anticipate your snarling reply, our group was a very, very friendly, courteous table. We expected bread, water, timely filling of wine glasses, stuff like that, but I'm afraid our team let us down.

    "An informal cafe-obviously you didn't do your homework"

    The cafe's informality is well-documented in press reports. There was nothing about ambiance, menu, food, or crowd the day I was there to compel me to blow out with an expensive wine. Maybe dinner, I don't know. But not lunch. And again, this was not a review of the restaurant, it was a recounting of one (fairly miserable) lunch there. And, in my opinion, you have a problem, your wine list slants badly toward overpriced snobbiness. It's as hard to find a good inexpensive bottle (you feel chintzier and chintzier as you rifle through the pages) as it is to eat a $20 meal for $20. Or $30. Or $40. Or $50.

    Lunch at Daniel, I'll reach for my wallet and spring for something really good. But not here, no way.

    Speaking of wine, single glasses are ALWAYS preferable (if there's sufficiently high traffic to ensure freshness, as I'm sure there is here), sure. But if all four of us had ordered two separate glasses, at an average of $8 (Karen/Andrew, I haven't checked their web site, but I recall the menu being more eightish than sevenish), our tab would have mushroomed to $264. And $240 was MORE than enough for the pleasures of that particular $80 lunch. And while we certainly were pressing the matching potential of our lowly bottle to its absolute limits, I didn't feel for a second that we were doing injustice to the food. It wasn't food that much deserved vinous justice (the impressive sauce on the chicken DID go with the wine, fortunately).

    Perhaps I was wrong about the turmeric. You see, I was trying like mad to trace down the near-homeopathic ingredient that unpleasantly cloaked the extremely delicate flavor of corn, and thought I'd nailed it. Ah, well.

    As for most of the rest of your vitriol, I haven't seen such intense-yet-inexplicable use of all-caps since the postings of Julie ID (sorry, inside joke). You really lost me on your pasta/risotto rant. But I'm delighted to give you space to air your feelings. Anyone else?


    8 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      woops...of course I mean "one lonely" bottle, not "one lowly" bottle!

      1. re: Jim Leff

        i am glad that a member of the staff spoke's not angry, its fact. Its so easy for the diners to tell each other what they dont like. why not the staff/ mgmt etc... it does bring an equalnes to this whole process---and no, not everyone has to agree!

        1. re: bry

          I disagree re: the anger, but agree on the desirability of balance.

          As far as complaining to management, everyone (including the maitre d') in the joint exhibited the same spirit of hospitality and courtesy that we've just enjoyed from poster "X". There was simply no one to complain to.


          1. re: bry

            What strikes me is that members of the staff, from the departed poster who shall remain nameless to the this individual, are very defensive and quick to anger. I am reluctant to try Daniel as well as Cafe Boulud because of the attitude these staff members have shown. I mean, who needs this? Does anyone remember the adage "The customer is always right"? A restaurant which becomes too indignant is forgetting that its continued survival depends upon its goodwill toward customers.

            1. re: Michael

              you are hesitant to try a place because the staff was defending it?hmm. i should be so lucky to have a business where the staff takes pride in what they do and to take the time clear the air on sometimes unjustifyable and uninformed opinions.... but , then again most people seem a bit uncomfortable when others are mearly stating facts that disagree w pereception.. i believe that its called the first step towards an understanding....or then again don't eat there. youll show them!

              1. re: bry

                "you are hesitant to try a place because the staff was defending it?"

                If you're not aware of the history behind my remark, I won't go into it; check earlier threads yourself. That's all I want to post in response to you. Except for one thing: I will not eat in an expensive restaurant if I have any reason to believe that there will be problems with the food, or that the service will be lousy or the staff will have a lousy attitude. Bully for you if you choose to view things differently.

                1. re: Michael

                  ok...dont go there...thats all there is to it. :)

                  1. re: bry

                    Thanks, Bry. :-)

      2. I certianly hope the you do not work for the restaurant. Anyone with that much contempt for its customers does not deserve to be in business. While some of the posts may have been off-based, wouldn't a reasoned response been a better approach to use instead of this attack? If Cafe Boulud hires the type of people which could write such an attack, it would give me concern about the manner in which I would be treated if I went to the restaurant. Needless to say, I hope this was a hoax.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HJH

          Yes, I agree. It's funny how the voice of that poster is so uncannily close to the contemptuous sneer one would expect to hear from managment there, re: the description Jim's report. Talk about proving your critics right!

          I'm waiting for a Good Cop to enter the fray, dripping with oily condescension and specious regret...

        2. s
          Steve Drucker

          News for Mr. "x" and the disgruntled luncher: you're both at fault.

          What makes me such an authority? Well, for one thing, I used to own two restaurants.

          At truly great restaurants its understood that the real challenge is to make every single customer comfortable. I repeat: Every Single Customer.

          Don't intimidate anyone. Ever. Not boobs, snobs, or nabobs.

          Non-pretension takes a lot of character. Few succeed. Sigh.

          Non-pretension extends to the food: fanatically chosen fresh food, simply and skillfully prepared is the absolute zenith of the chef's profession.

          Everything else is the golden calf. Unfortunately, calf worship seems the rule these days, not the exception.

          (Hint: if anyone is squeezing stuff onto your plate from what used to called a catsup diner squeeze bottle, you're probably in for a long night.)

          So if you had a problem at Cafe Boulud, you got snagged by one of the problems with owning more than one place. Personally, I rarely go anywhere new where the Chef isn't the owner, and owns only one place. The alternative greatly lowers the odds of getting a good meal.

          The essence of a real restauranteur is absolutely fanatical attention to every detail. That includes your frown at your salmon, the water level in your glasses, and your price sensitivity about wine.

          Speaking of wine: what makes you think the sommelier knows what he/she is doing? The sommelier's job is to assume nothing. They need to ask what price range, and what specific wines you like or enjoy. And be dipolmatic while doing it. If they don't ask, you need to tell them. This way you will have half a chance of getting what you want.

          As for Mr. "x", who buys Cafe Boulud's produce, well I'm willing to bet that he's short on experience. Team wait-staffs always provide superior service, but when they do break down, the results are truly disasterous.

          Also, Mr. "x" buys produce. Uh, duh, this is an important job, but it isn't brain surgery, especially when your sources of supply are as superb as they are around NYC. It is stressful though, a lot of phone calls, checking quality, and dealing with missed deliveries and truck drivers with various personal and professional agendas.

          That Mr "x", and not the Chef, buys the produce sets off major alarms. Chef's love to pick through fish, meat and produce. It's not that you can't delegate it.
          Its that the sensual pleasure of seeing what's fresh and what could be made from it is something no true chef would excise from his day.

          And sorry Mr. "x", but the same chef's palate that delivers superb taste to your mouth is also necessary to select the raw ingredients that are allowed through the kitchen door.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Steve Drucker

            Very interesting message. I hope you'll post elsewhere, we'd love to hear a restaurant owner's perspective, especially a rare one like you who doesn't just think about moolah.

            One correction...Cafe Boulud's chef actually has a reputation in and of himself (I believe he was voted best up-and-coming chef by the Beard House last year). The cafe is not just a satellite to Daniel.

            But I definitely do agree with you that in situations where that's not the case, the concept of a chef's mere "imprimatur" is absolutely ridiculous; a scam. One appreciates a great chef by eating food he/she has cooked. Not by basking in the reflected gastronomic glory.

            1. re: Jim Leff
              Steve Drucker

              We're all bozos on this bus, so this applies to all of us when it comes to eating:

              The most personal thing you can sell people is sex.

              Next comes food.

              People eat three times a day.

              They think they know what they want and like.

              According to a National Restaurant Association Survey, the most important thing in a restaurant are the decor and cleanliness of the bathrooms, followed by ambience and service, trailed finally by the food.

              So if food is the most important thing to you (it is to me), you are in the minority. This is why I'm so grateful for this wonderful board you run.

              I travel a lot now (go to our website at if you are curious why) and have had poor luck with Beard Foundation rated chefs. In the older cities, we fare much better out in the neighborhoods than at the in-town "hot" spots. There are exceptions, thank goodness. But cruising the neighborhood places works great in Chicago, Boston , NYC, Barcelona and Paris.

              The hot spots tend to have formally schooled chefs. Don't get me wrong, chef education is great. The problem is that it still takes in-born talent (or in a chef's case, taste).

              You can teach someone to make a genoa sponge, or a souffle, or even how to saute. But just like a musician, you have to start off with talent. I think the best example is playing the piano. Like a lot of kids, I took piano lessons. I learned to play lots of the simpler classical pieces by rote, but really, I had no talent whatsoever. Think of school trained chefs in the same way.

              So many of the trained chef meals I've eaten consist of superb preparation but poor judgement in composing the ingredients in the dish. The mish-mosh of flavors shouts "look at me, I'm so talented".

              With chef schools, we can take preparation skills as a given. That still leaves conception, composition and presentation which requires that rare talent--taste.

              Think of Michael Jordan. As great as he was, the greatest thing ever said about him was that he made everyone around him better.

              True talent is to stand aside, and let the quality and freshness of the ingredients be the star.

              1. re: Steve Drucker

                very well said ... except i'd disagree rather strongly with

                "True talent is to stand aside, and let the quality and freshness of the ingredients be the star."

                there are geniuses creating masterpieces with everyday, boringly normal, averagely fresh ingredients, and they do this by investing everything they do with a particle of their souls. would you deny them 'true talent'?

                1. re: howler

                  Interesting thread started by Steve. This is exactly the kind of stuff I think a lot of here enjoy reading and learning about. I do think that you are off the mark a bit when you critique those that own more than one restaurant, however. Jim was certainly correct when mentioning that Cafe boulud is more than just a Daniel satellite and an opportunity for Daniel Boulud to cash in on name recognition. I think the cafe could certainly stand on it's own even without the existence of Restaurant Daniel and I know that Daniel himself shuttles between the restaurants daily to make his presence felt.

                  Even someone like Jean-George who seems to have has his name everywhere except on a sports stadium, seems to know how to get good people to run his places for him since they are too numerous and widespread for personal attention. These guys are exceptional, obviously. It really seems that once a chef has gotten to a certain level of success, that they seem to eventually morph into restauranteurs and their business and delegation skills are more important than their prowess at the stove. If you go to most touted restaurants with well-known chefs, I would think that in most of them, the star chef is not doing any cooking himself. Nice if you have business acumen and get top flight people in the kitchen, but I agree that not everybody can pull it off.

                  Feel free to comment or to correct me. It's nice to get the opinion of an insider.

                  1. re: jbergman

                    This thread is really long and is starting to hog the index we drift toward other subects, can I ask everyone to start creating new threads (you can reply to this thread to inform those reading along as to where the new threads are and what they're called).

                    I've addressed some of Howler's comments on the General Topics board...see the thread "The Primacy of Ingredients"

                  2. re: howler
                    steve drucker


                    Its the dividing line between a foodie and a chowhound. Uh, maybe I don't really know...words are failing me here.

                    So I'll write a lot of words and try to make up.

                    Cooking is performance. Because food is so personal, the satisfaction of the audience is in direct proportion to what it brings to the meal, in addition to the performance that night. And just like sex partners, all audiences are different

                    Damn. I can't explain it better.