Bouley Lunch (Review - long)
A friend and I went to lunch at Bouley last week – we’d not been before – to try the $48 prix fixe menu. I arrived a little early, had my coat taken and was kindly escorted to the ladies room when I asked where it was. The lit Glade candle was a bit off putting in there, as was the flowerless Amaryllis with matches in the pot from lighting said candle. I returned to the entry area to wait for my friend and when she arrived we were shown to the table.
We were offered our choice of waters, including tap water, which is what we chose. Since this was not meant to be an over the top meal, I perused the wine list for an inexpensive wine, and settled on a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – around $55 – which was served at the proper temperature. The menu listed five courses, with two choices for the appetizer and dessert, three for the other two, and the “palate cleanser”. We were also served an amuse, and an extra dessert, which we recall as being a pineapple granita with some kind of mousse (ginger maybe?) served in small glasses, and we liked it better than the listed desserts, and a plate of mignardise – we were awfully full at that point, but the several that I tried were lovely. So we actually had nine courses, which was an incredible value for $48.
Overall, the food was excellent – beautifully presented and wonderful flavors, with the exception of the desserts. We shared each of our dishes and agreed that the sauce with the tuna was far too salty - more like a soy sauce marinade than a spicy one, and that the chicken dish was slightly over salted as well. The baby pig was outstanding – the fettucine galette was a favorite of ours, and the onion ginger soubise was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Other highlights for me were the beet gelee amuse and the pink grapefruit soup. We were served a puree of potatoes “compliments of the chef” to accompany the chicken and baby pig (which we were amused to read on the menu was fed on organic apples and “clean” grass). The desserts, frankly, did nothing for us. The passionfruit one just had too many flavors that didn’t work together, and the chocolate soufflé was nothing special – we actually couldn’t figure out what the one ice cream was – we thought it was anise – until seeing on the menu that it was maple.
The service was smooth, professional and unobtrusive throughout the meal – wine glasses were filled and plates removed on cue, and the meal was well paced. All the courses were served with the proper utensils, including sauce spoons. The room, we decided after some rumination, is a bit tired looking – struck me as trying perhaps a bit to look like a rustic La Grenouille but failing (we were in the “red room” – there is a “white room” on the other side). Perhaps at night it looks better. There was a nice mix of what appeared to be business lunches, couples, women lunching as we were, etc. I think the check, with an espresso and a 25% tip, was about $200 – and a well spent $200 at that.
Amuse: Red Beet Gelee with a Horseradish Cream Foam
Sashimi Quality Tuna with shaved Fennel dressed in Herb Oils and a Spicy Marinade
Phyllo crusted Florida Shrimp, Baby Squid, Cape Cod Sea Scallop, and Sweet Maryland Crabmeat in an Ocean Herbal Bouquet
Wild King Salmon with Morels, Crosnes, Morel Puree, Fava Beans grilled a la plancha, Naval Orange Powder, and Clementine Glaze
Organic Connecticut Farm Egg Steamed with Black Truffle, Serrano Ham, Parmesan Reggiano and 25-Year Old Balsamic Vinegar
Pennsylvania All Natural Chicken with a Chicken Confit filled Ravioli, Yellowfoot Chanterelles and Chicken Hazelnut Sauce
Organic Connecticut Farm-Raised Baby Pig with a Galette of Crisp homemade Fettucine, Shitake Mushrooms, Scallion Chiffonade and Onion Ginger Soubise (Organic milk-fed with a diet of organic apples and clean grass only)
Texas Pink Grapefruit Soup infused with Green Cardomom, Star Anise, and Tahitian Vanilla with Campari Sugar and Fromage Blanc Sorbet
Organic Passionfruit and Blueberry Meringue with Passionfrut-Caramel Sauce, Huckelberry Coulis and Provence Lavender Ice Cream
Hot Valrhona Chocolate Souffle with Vermont Maple Ice Cream, Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sorbet
I always love your reviews--beautifully written. Bouley has long been a favorite restaurant of mine, so I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Makes me think I'm long overdue for another visit.
My friend reminded me of two comments of hers that I missed:
1. She thought the room somewhat noisy - I didn't really notice that, but she was sitting a bit closer to a rather ebullient table than I was.
2. The Connecticut Farm Egg was an unusually good take on an Egg McMuffin.
I really appreciate this thorough review, for two reasons: lunch and dinner! I am about to take a group of 8 for lunch next week and dinner the week after.
Wine question: are there many choices in the $40-70 range? I usually don't like to go over $50 a bottle for the groups I take out.
Thanks, and congrats on your report and joie de vivre (ou de manger)!
On the wine - I was looking for something under $60, and there were not a lot of options as I recall - did a lot of page flipping and really chose more on price than anything else. I don't think there was anything under $50, but I could be wrong - I think I stopped when I found the bottle I ordered, which we did enjoy. Don't see the wine list on the website.
In looking on the website - I notice that it also shows a lunch a la carte menu, which we weren't offered (which is fine since we didn't want that) and a more abbreviated lunch prix fixe menu, though no price is shown. When we were there, we were handed the $48 prix fixe menu.
And - I keep forgetting to mention the lovely little loaves of lemon pound cake that we were given on departure - I'm still having little slices with my coffee in the morning.
Thank you for the great review. We have liked Bouley since its old days, in the old location. And, in the old location (and my first time at Bouley) we had one of the best dinners of our lives. Actually, that dinner probably still is THE best dinner we ever enjoyed (even after falling in love with per se and EMP). Sometimes we feel that we have been chasing that "dragon" ever since.