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Bar Boulud - should it even be open yet?

Went to Bar Boulud last night and I was not impressed at all. The room looks like a subway tunnel, arched ceiling, long and narrow with tables in the front, booths on the side and the bar on the left. A "Bar Boulud" sign is taped to the front door.

First off, service was horrendous, from check in to check out. We arrived 30 minutes early for our 8 pm reservation with the intention of getting a drink at the supposed wine bar. The front of the room was practically empty and we were told it would be a while for our table to be ready. Fine, we figured we'd be sitting in the back anyway, away from the freezing front room. Nobody asked if we wanted to wait at the bar they just said, it'll be a while so we took the initiative to walk back to the bar without really being asked to go there. No seats at the bar because everyone is eating there (a topic for another thread but what's the point of having a bar at a restaurant if you can't get a pre-dinner comfortable drink there anymore...I'm thinking Babbo, Lupa, and now Bar Boulud). A waiter asked if we needed help and we said we wanted a drink so he brought over the wine list and I ordered a nice red ($18) and my wife a nice white ($13) (sorry can't remember the names. The red was ice cold but I was told it was the proper temperature. Waiter brought over delicious gougeres but when he did a hostess said our table was ready so we carried them to our table and ate them there (hostess never offerred to carry our drinks over gougeres and had no idea if we could have the tab transferred to the table which we didn't). They gave us a table in the front where there were still a ton of open seats which lead me to believe that they made us wait for no reason. By the way, it's freezing up there now and their space heater is not nearly warm enough. We asked to move but we were told we couldn't. Waiter service was brisk and downright rude when I had to practically send flares to get a second glass of wine. When I finally got his attention, I said I wanted something like the first glass I had but not the same but he brought back the same wine! (I should add that this glass of wine was very sour and old tasting and when I mentioned this, the waiter got snippy and said he had tasted it and it was fine. I told him to get me something different and that he should try it again. I felt like he thought I was lying about it and I didn't like that insinuation).

As for the food, eh, nothing special except the tagine d'agneu, which was a pate of leg of lamb with eggplant and sweet potato. this reminded me of eating my mom's lamb stew the day after it was made (I admit I felt like Anton Ego taking a bite out of ratoutille). As for the rest, unremarkable. The pates au pistou basilic (linguine, cuttlefish, razor clams, and olives and lemon) was a very big portion of linguine with small amounts of cuttlefish and razor clams that weren't even that tasty. I had the navarin au romarin (lamb stew with potatoes and rosemary) which was pretty good but very heavy and the sauce was very greasy and my wife had the poulet roti a l'ail (chicken breast with mashed potatoes) which she didn't finish and didn't look too appetizing, just roasted chicken breast with potatoes. We also had a side of pommes frites which were crisp but cold and sauteed mushrooms. Finally, for dessert we had a phenomenal chocolate coffee tart which for some reason came with strawberry paste thing which didn't seem to go with it at all. This was very good actually but what was strange was that we went to Bar Boulud for my birthday and when my wife called to make reservations she had to choose a dessert in advance. We thought it would be something off the menu but the chocolate-coffee tart is definitely on there.

The one positive: the price. 3 glasses of wine, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 sides, 2 coffees and a dessert was $140 without tip. But, with atrocious service and unimpressive food, I won't be coming back and frankly I'm surprised they would open with the restaurant operating like this.

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  1. I say forward your experience to the GM and see what his response is. Better yet, to the owner himself. Please report back if he does.

    3 Replies
    1. re: DarthEater

      Uh oh! I am not into freezing and as we are only 2 I am afraid we will be seated in the front on Friday.
      I am seriously thinking of canceling my rez.
      From what I am reading so far, it looks like more hype than solid delivery.
      I have to rethink this one. Should we brave it or return in the spring if and when they get their act together? That waiter/wine thing really got me.
      Maybe it is just too darned early and they haven't gotten their act together yet.
      What to do? What to do.....

      1. re: idia

        honestly, i would wait. it looks like the windows near the front will slide open in the spring which will be very nice when the weather is good. right now, the windows are very drafty and when the doors open, it is frigid. plus, because the host does not tell people to wait at the bar, there was a constant bottle neck near the doors which became very annoying.

      2. re: DarthEater

        don't know who the GM is, but I emailed the general info link from the Bar Boulud website. I'll let everyone know if I here anything.

      3. Sorry to hear this. I was really looking forward to trying Bar Boulud after looking at their menu. Guess I'll wait to see how things shake out.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mahalan

          Service is currently being run by experienced Daniel staff who've captained at his other restaurants, so there's really no excuse for that experience. I was surprised the wine program is so under-developed, considering press releases about it were being sent out last Feb/March. but I was even more surprised at how bland the much-touted charcuterie selection turned out to be.

          The hot food was...pretty much okay.

          1. re: Wilfrid

            I second the feelings on the charcuterie. I had been waiting to try it and was pretty disappointed. The rabbit terrine tasted like nothing. I wrote about it in another posting about Bar Boulud. I did like the in house cooked ham but the terrines were just boring.

            1. re: meldrom

              I'm afraid I have to agree. I had the $22 small sampling and was disappointed. The beef cheek (I think that's what it was) terrine was particularly bland.

        2. jon:
          You talked it into me.
          I have just canceled my rez for Friday night and can now be found at Shun Lee West instead (a consistent favorite of mine locally)

          1 Reply
          1. re: idia

            I've bailed, too...not sure where we'll end up Saturday evening instead.

          2. Jon, Have you shared your feedback with the GM and/or owner? Sounds like this was just a disaster. If all else fails, hopefully one of them will read this thread. I live in the nabe and was counting on this place. However, I'm quite sure I don't want to subject myself, nor any of my friends, to this.

            1. My mom and I had a reservation there for next Sunday, and I just booked Market Table instead (we haven't decided which to go to yet.) I know they're quite different, but we figured since it's a Sunday night and we can get in to places easier than usual, it might be worth a try.

              I'd love more opinions on BB - it's in the neighborhood and we'd probably rather not travel downtown, but will if you all have been so disappointed.

              1 Reply
              1. re: selizara

                Go to Market Table for now, it's great and you won't have to worry about service issues as they've been open longer.

              2. We would not go back until they get thing right.

                Here is what we experienced two weeks ago:

                "This cafe/bistro is in fact not a bar. When we were there the front desk will not permit guests to congregate around the so called bar - a strange edict if there ever was one. With the place overflowing with people wanting to taste Daniel's Lyon-style menu, the entrance area including the front seating area has become as crowded as a subway platform at 5:30 pm. And without a drink in hand the waiting crowd became unruly rather rapidly. Clearly the front desk (while quite professional) is currently overwhelmed and quite frazzled. They need to find a quick fix, or it will fix itself as people tire of this inadequate arrangement.

                Part of the current problem appears to be overbooking, waiters struggling with getting checks to customers and credit card receipts back to customers, and the slow clearing and re-setting of tables. Undoubtedly an opening week problem that is hopefully to improve.

                The menu does not disappoint in providing a rather long list of traditional French cafe/bistro fare with a heavy Lyon regional focus. Prices are rather high for what is generally considered simple food and even with the Euro at 1.50 to the US Dollar, one could probably eat the same meal for less in France.

                The food itself is fine - nothing spectacular as one has come to expect at Daniel's dining places. Nothing is really off, but then again nothing seemed to blow us away. The list of pates is interesting and the pates are quite well made. The classic escargots are fine, but nothing out of the ordinary. The "coq a vin" was also acceptable, but we have had better. The "boudin blanc" - a real test of the French Bistro- was moist and tasty, but the singular sausage on a large plate with minimal accompaniments looked lonesome and quite inadequate as a $27 main course.

                The wine list is focused on French moderately priced and middle of the road wines. Like the food, nothing unpleasing but nothing spectacular in selection or pricing.

                We passed on desert as the waiting customers began overwhelming the seating area in front assigned to "twos", and it became uncomfortable to remain seated while hungry people stood hovering over our table waiting to be seated.

                Reviewing any dining place during the first few weeks is always tricky. Even the best places struggle getting out of the starting blocks. However, a place with Boulud in its name that struggles as badly as Bar Boulud did on our first visit is unexpected."

                1. just as a follow up: i got a call from the GM. he was very gracious and apologized for the problems and said they were working on fixing them and that the service issue with the wine has been fixed. honestly, this is the first time someone from a restaurant has contacted me back after i complained and i found that to be very nice. the GM definitely redeemed the restaurant in my eyes and i'm sure we'll try it again after the hoopla has died down (and it gets warmer out!)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jon

                    Eek! We have reservations for tonight.

                    I'm wondering if we should even bother, but I have a friend in from out of town who really wants to try a Boulud restaurant and this was available and in the price range.


                    1. re: geg5150

                      I went the Saturday it opened. Waited maybe 10 minutes and then my table was ready. And, you know, for opening weekend I thought the service was surprisingly good. Was there some confusion and a bit of creakiness, yea. But I was patient and they were polite and I think that always helps. I had a great bottle of reasonably-priced wine and a good meal and that was all. I left very happy. It wasn't a meal that changed my life, but it was a meal I'd certainly eat again and again and again.

                      As for the look of the place. I'll agree that the front area is a bit chilly. But I strongly disagree on the overall look. I guess one person's subway tunnel is another's wine cellar. I'd encourage you to go downstairs and get a good look at the whole place.

                  2. I thought it was quite good. Much of the conversation here concerns the service -- which we found odd at times, but not bad -- while the food is described as adequate or uninspired. With the caveat that Bar Boulud is, in cuisine, a French bistro and nothing more, I disagree. I thought the charcuterie was excellent (we had the duck/pheasant en croute and the beef cheek compote). The mains, too, were well-executed (we ordered the lamb stew and the beef with carrots). One might argue that it's overpriced. Sure. It's across the street from Lincoln Center. But I encourage those who were disappointed with mitigating factors to try again.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Mazzer

                      since it sounds like the GM is aware of the problems (based on jon's post above from yesterday), it may be worth a try. perhaps he is working out the problems. please keep us posted if you go.