Autumn Tasting Menu at Bouley - Report
Went to Bouley last night for the first time and had their Autumn Tasting Menu. My first CH report follows...
Even as we walked in, the autumn theme struck us. The entraceway was filled with apples -- there were 3 baskets full of the fruit lining the entrance as well as a large floor-to-ceiling display along one wall that was filled with apples as well. The smell of apples washed over us as we walked in, giving the place a homey, almost casual feel. This, of course, changed when we sat down in the beautiful lamp- and candle-lit room, with it's romantic red walls and luxurious seating. The room was warm and comfortable and immediately inviting -- it made you feel both regal and pampered without being stuffy or formal.
We ordered the 5 course tasting menu, and for everything but the main course (where we both ordered the lamb), my DC and I ordered different things. Of note, the menu was somewhat different that what is listed on the website (and was priced slightly higher as well). Here goes:
Chef's Canape -- a lovely tomato sorbet served with tomato chunks, tomato-flavored broth, and a tomato gelatin. Several interesting and very complementary textures with intense tomato flavor that was both fresh and refreshing -- and an excellent way to start the meal
Phylo crusted shrimp, Cape Cod baby squid, and scuba dived sea scallop in an ocean herbal broth -- I think this is one of Bouley's signature dishes, and I can understand why. Simply a wonderful combination of seafood. The scallop was the standout -- sweet, tender, extremely fresh, perfectly complemented by the broth
Sashimi Quality Tuna with Shaved Fennel Dressed in Herb Oils and a Spicy Marinade -- a bit standard and boring, but very fresh and delicious nonetheless. The dressed fennel was the best part.
Potato Crusted Rouget -- I can't quite remember how this was plated, but it was simple and somewhat plain, though again very fresh and quite tasty
Wild King Salmon with mung beans and morels -- one of the standout dishes of the night. The fish melted in your mouth, the skin was perfectly crispy, the mushrooms were tender and very flavorful, and the beans and foam added a perfect amount of character to the dish. Delicious!
Colorado Rack of Lamb with fresh ricotta gnocci -- tender lamb served medium rare with some green beans and deliciously soft, light gnocci. The lamb was wonderful, but the ricotta gnocci was the standout in this dish. Of note, they accidentally brought me the lobster by mistake, which I immediately pointed out (though it looked so good I almost asked them to leave it instead). Within one minute, the correct dish was in front of me (making me think they just mixed up tables or something). I'm not sure if this was because of the mixup, but two minutes later, they brought out some fresh whipped potatoes for us to share -- sweet, buttery, and piping hot, they were absolutely delicious. The delivery of the potatos was so subtle and seamless, that if it was to make up for the mistake, it was very classy indeed.
Concord Grape soup - technically to cleanse the palate, but was good enough to have been the dessert course
Hot Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé, Vermont Maple Ice Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Chocolate Sorbet- very choclately, decadent, and delicious, though almost a bit too rich and also somewhat standard
Bluberry Meringue -- this, on the other hand, was not standard, and possibly the single best thing we ate (and this is coming from someone who doesn't like desserts!). I can't remember the details of the dish, but it was unbelievably soft and light, filled with fresh blueberries and accompanied by a delicious ice cream.
The service was incredibly attentive, friendly, and not the slightist overbearing. We also received periodic visits from the bread cart, serving such delicious varieties as apple, pistacchio, black olive, garlic, raisin, and walnut/saffron (we tried many)
All in all, it was a wonderful dining experience. My only complaint, if any, would be that it was not the most *interesting* of meals, with several dishes that were somewhat traditional or even tired, but the food was executed exceptionally well and we enjoyed every minute of it.
My brief trip from Boston also included a visit to Yasuda the night before for the Omakase, which was incredible, but I'll save that for another report...
Just thought I'd add to the opinions:
Having earned the only 29 out of a possible 30 food-rating in the New York Zagat Survey to date, I arrived at Bouley expecting nothing short of perfection. Setting expecations is always a dangerous thing, but with the likes of David Bouley comandeering my meal for this evening, I felt I had license to do so.
I did not know there was such thing as a friendly Frenchman until we were greeted by the host, who was polite and very forgiving at the fact that we mixed up Broadway with West Broadway and showed up for our reservation nearly 30 minutes late on what looked like yet another packed dinner service. Very surprising, since I was just waiting to get slammed by a dose of French snobbery.
I think the best way to pass judgement on a restaurant's full calibre is through it's tasting menu. It's like giving the chef a blank canvas to work with and telling the chef to throw his best shot at you. In spite of the 2-course a la carte orders my eating partners for the evening placed, I opted for the $95 6-course tasting menu curious to see what Bouley would come up with, and slightly interested to see how they would time the dishes with my partners'.
My feelings for what came out of the kitchen are mixed. The crusted Florida shrimp with baby squid and sea scallops was really quite wonderful (my amateur food photography skills does not do the dish justice). Beautifully battered, drizzled with a tasty truffle infused herbal broth. I found the chilled maine lobster, though, to be sub-par and on the chewy side. Presentation-wise, it looked like I was eating some type of organ. The gelee glazing's resemblance to a mucus-like film did not exactly help.
Also, I felt the chocolate molten souffle that was featured on the tasting menu was much too cliche for a restaurant of Bouley's standard. Give me something more interesting, please (same goes with the sashimi-grade tuna starter that is offered as an option--thank goodness it wasn't chopped up and renamed to a tuna tartare of sorts). The complimentary dessert platter that featured a selection of traditional macaroons, tarts, and truffles was a nice touch, but nothing compared to the likes of Ladurée, or even Tartine for that matter. Props for being inventive with the passionfruit rice pudding, though I had Rice to Riches earlier in the day so was not too thrilled at the prospect of eating more pudding.
By New York City fine dining standards, service (while friendly) was a little rough around the edges. Elementary mistakes, such as mixing up our orders, should never really happen. And it did, more than once. Personally, it didn't really bother me and these are just observations (and it's fun to bitch).
A business once considered the pinnacle of New York haute cuisine lends itself to even the pettiest of scrutinies, and I may have sounded like a whiny little bitch. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, Bouley is a fine restaurant that serves very tasty food. Definitely go and experience it for yourself, just be prepared to lower your expectations a little and understand that Bouley has probably lost a lot of its sparkle since its high-flying mid-to-late 90's days which earned its 29 Zagat food-rating.
Pictures of dishes mentioned above accessible at: http://www.gobbl.com/blog/417
Great to have two such wonderfully detailed reviews of a place within a small time frame. I've still not been. BTW - I think the 29 rating is an annual one right, so it's not as if it's not being re-rated every year. I just checked the 2008 ratings - Bouley now has a 28 for food, which I guess is down from last year.
I also had the tasting menu about 3 weeks ago, and the dishes I ordered were very similar to yours. The only dish that I didn't quite enjoy as much was the chilled lobster. I didn't like it mainly because I didn't find the lobster to be fresh or sweet enough, but I would disagree with druz99 that the gelee was like mucus film.
I had the squab and foie gras for main and I was surprised by how much foie gras they used in the dish (though I though there was not enough squab to complement the foie gras; in other words, the balance was off for me. I would rather have more squab and less foie gras (something I normally would prefer in opposite direction)
My companion had the lamb and we both agreed that it was great.
The desserts were delicious, but I wasn't wow'ed as I have been to Bouley many times and they were not far from anything that they normally offered.
The service was super attentive and I could not find any flaw about it.
The best part of the meal, I found, was still the potato puree!