Boule Atelier: Not Bad, But Not Boule
There's been a lot of bad buzz about Boule Atelier on the board, so I waited to visit until they'd hopefully gotten their bearings. I had a doctor's appointment today, and those days are usually when I pay a visit to Boule, hoping they had things together.
The first thing I noticed was the smell of bleach. It was overwhelming. It's always nice to know that an eatery is clean, but not to the point that the air inside is saturated in chlorine fumes. Many things seemed to be present from the old Boule - I did notice the éclairs were not offered, nor were the chocolate canelés - but everything seemed skimpier. They have switched their presentation from the pretty-verging-on-precious jewelry case-style displays for big bakery cases. Everything from the pastries to some of the stubbier loaves of bread to the chocolates are laid out on giant baking sheets. As there is often not a large selection of the items, it makes the four canelés or that solitary tigre look pretty sad in their cavernous bakery cases on the enormous baking sheets. Moreover, the downgrading in display does not do much to help the upgrading in prices. In the former Boule, one felt as if one were almost in a chic jewelry store, only it was beautiful pastry on sale in the vitrines in place of bracelets and rings. Now, it just seems like just another bakery, albeit a really, really pricey one.
The ice cream is back, and it is excellent, although, as with the macaron flavors, they are clearly being less experimental. I fear the days of Boule's thyme or pineapple-pink peppercorn ice cream are long gone; apricot lavender is likely as crazy as it will get from now on. I got the large, with Sicilian pistachio, wild honey, and a Belgian ginger cookie whose name escapes me at the moment. The pistachio was okay (Scoops does pistachio better than anyone), and the ginger cookie was quite good. But the wild honey was amazing. I've always loved Boule's ice creams, and they are still great; I just miss the more daring flavors.
As for the kouign amann, it has not returned as it was, I don't think. I don't recall its having a crispy candy shell, nor do I remember its being so petite. It is now served upside-down and glazed instead of having the sugar folded into the layers, though the creamy, buttery interior pocket is still there. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as it was. It's no longer the object of desire it once was. Their almond croissant is a strange rendition, much too leaden and solid, weighed down by too much almond paste. It lacks the flaky, airy beauty of, say, Breadbar's croissants. Breadbar's almond croissant is a visual mess, but it tastes distinctly of butter and flour and air. Boule's almond croissant seems to have an odd, almost eggy taste. It's strange.
The macarons are still good, but there are no wild flavor experiments. The ginger or licorice macarons of days past are gone. The special flavors this time were egg nog, strawberry, and blueberry. The egg nog is decent, with a very subtle nutmeg flavor. The blueberry and strawberry... I did not care for them. They tasted like cheap Smuckers jam. I expected better. The pistachio macarons are back, but, well, Paulette's pistachio macarons are better. In fact, on the whole, I enjoyed my dozen macarons from Paulette last time more than these. At $1.25 each, or $15 a dozen, Boule's macarons are still cheaper than Paulette's and the same price as the inferior and much smaller ones at Jin. The one macaron that Boule continues to excel at is their chocolate version, which still has that marvelously dense, almost brownie-like texture.
Michelle Myers was visible baking in the kitchen through the windows, while David Myers was out front talking with what looked like potential clients or investors. The much-maligned steel bucket seats from Comme Ça have made their way to the long communal tables along the front of the bakery, where a few people were having their late breakfasts of croissants and coffee. Boule seems to be up and running. The servers are friendly, although having them cross between cases caused some confusion with customers. All told, I think I miss the more "bijou" old store. The new Boule Atelier is not awful by a long stretch, but it's just not like the old Boule.
Funny you mention this because I was thinking the same thing. The new Boule's cavernous space has sucked out the warmth and coziness that you felt with the old store. And the bigger bakery cases do make their offerings feel skimpy.
I stopped in yesterday and also had some ice cream (the wild honey and the raspberry rose sorbet) which was very tasty. I brought home four truffles, three of which were terrible, especially the banyuls truffle, of which the wine content had turned to vinegar. Yikes. I won't be going back there for chocolate again, ice cream maybe.....
re: L nrs
Even before the move, I was never wild about Boule's chocolates, so they weren't a temptation this time. I feel the chocolates at Boule (and Jin Pâtisserie, too) look much better than they taste; they're the epitome of show chocolates, really, and they have an appropriately exorbitant mark-up.