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Jul 21, 2008 06:00 PM

Beijing--Maison Boulud

My partner and I had dinner last night at MB in the newly opened Legation Quarter complex just east of Tian'anmen Square. This is of course owned by Daniel Boulud, and has been a much-anticipated addition to the Beijing dining scene. I am very pleased to report that, based on our meal, it should be a smashing success.

First of all the setting--the restaurant is housed in a building that once formed part of the US mission to China under the Qing Dynasty, built in 1903. The renovation looks lovely, and as you enter the restaurant you come into a large reception hall with an impressive double staircase at the back, with the reception desk to the left. Further to the left, through a doorway, is the bar area, with lots of sleek looking tables and chairs and a nice, though smallish, bar. Judging by the cocktails we had, the bartender was trained overseas, since the drinks were both sizable and prepared perfectly (both rare in Beijing, I find).

On the right side of the building is the dining room, with probably around 25 or so tables, decorated so that it would not look out of place in New York or London. We were presented with a drinks menu (this is where we had our cocktails) and then dinner menus, both of which had a very nice selection. The dinner menu includes a prix fixe selection at RMB 428, but we did not pay it much attention, so I do not remember what was on it. The starters on the a la carte menu had a good range of dishes, including foie gras, duck liver, and such, though we opted for an Alaskan King Crab salad with mango and a grilled scallop dish, both of which were excellent. Main courses include several fish options, though we chose cumin-coated lamb ribs and a beef prepared two ways--braised and roasted, and again both were excellent.

It was after our appetizers arrived (while we were still drinking our cocktails) that we realized we had not seen a wine list, so we called the sommelier over. The wine list is extensive, with wines from all over (including some Chinese wines--wonder if anyone will ever order them?), and we chose an Amarone della Valpolicella. Wine prices are a bit steep, I would have to say.

We were not so impressed by the dessert selection, but figured we had to have something, it being a birthday dinner, so we shared a dish of milk chocolate bavaroise served with a puff pastry filled with homemade walnut ice cream--very nice, though nothing I feel like I'd have to order again.

When the bill came, I was a bit surprised by the total, but it turns out that they had charged us for a Tignanello, and not the Amarone we had ordered (which raised our bill by RMB 600, or close to $100). The sommelier fixed it, but I was a bit surprised that they did not offer more of an apology than they did. Still, I was favorably disposed to the place, so did not want to make more of it than it deserved. Our bill in the end was around RMB 2600, or close to $400, half of which was the wine.

The maitre d' is a Belgian who had worked at Boulud's restaurants in NYC and who has been here now for five months. It seems that he has worked successfully to train the wait staff pretty well, though a few kinks remain (such as not delivering the wine list with our menus). We will definitely go back.

Also in the compound, by the way, is a Patek Philippe shop, so if you have money left over after dinner, you can spend it there.

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  1. James G,

    I dined with a colleague at MaisonBoulud two nights before you.
    My lasting impression (of the food) is not as glowing as yours.
    Your description of the building and the lay out is bang on. You did not mention the second level...there are four private rooms, the largest accomodating up to 70 people for a sit-down dinner with the optional use of a large balcony overlooking the courtyard.
    We ordered all eight appetizers: the iced tomato soup with smoked eggplant babaganoush was outstanding; the King crab slad with mango, cucumber, lime and a mint-coriander dressing was quite good; as were the terrine of foie gras and the country pate; sea scallops with cauliflower, orange glaze and capers were very good; but the last three were very weak...chilled shrimp salad with carrot coulis...the tortelline of broccoli et al was overcooked and the pancetta-parmesan emulsion was drab...roasted beet salads have seen better interpretations.
    As for main courses we selected four: the monkfish was overcooked and the lentils were boring; the cumin roasted lambloin with sweet pepper stew, persian-dried figs and summer squash was good; the squab with cherry compote, creamy spinach, glazed turnips and foie gras stuffed legs was very good, finally; the braised short ribs (fantastic) with sweet garlic potatoes and Aussie Sirloin (bloody tough) with carrots,scallion and parsley was a disappointing combination.
    We ordered three desserts, and received a fourth, followed by petit fours and warm-recently prepared madelaines to finish off the evening.
    We loved the cocktails to begin, and as well the wine selected by the Sommelier, Koen, from Belgium that you mentioned. He is a professional. Working 18 hour days every day of the week will test the nerves of even the best! The service was very good for the most part. The ambience even better.
    Now i realize that they are relatively new, have to train locals the Western (French) style of service, and the availability of desired food stuffs may be a challenge at this time. If I am ever back in Beijing, I would go back.
    If you are still in Beijing and wish to experience another French outing go to Le Pre Lenotre in the Wanda Sofitel located on the sixth floor. The maitre d'hotel, Audrey, will treat you very well. Ambience is different. Service is very similar. Prices are similar. The food is very good.
    Avoid the restaurant in the Shangri-La named Blu Lobster if good food is your focus. The room is great, the service is good, the food quality&presentation will appeal to certain palates&mindsets, but the pricing is way over the top!! The wine pairing was 70% cost of the set menu which in itself was pricey!! I will suggest that possibly ordering a la carte may result in a different outcome. If you wish for a detailed recap, simply post your request.
    The best steak that I had was at CRU Steakhouse in the JW Marriott. I had a six ounce Aussie Wagyu Striploin (Grade 4-5) was damn good! Poor apps, and lousy desserts. Uncomfortable old boys club chairs, poor service, and an automatic 15% service charge...not happy.
    Sunday mornings head over to the new Ritz-Carlton (beside the JW) for their amazing buffet for 288 RMB which includes a flute of veuve clicquot (which you'll pay 190 RMB in the lounge) and unlimited average wine. If you don't drink, it is still a bargain. King crab legs, sashimi of four fish, variety of sushi, and seafood based salads. An amazing North African inspired cuisine counter. Your typical omlette area. A Hot Pot station. Your typical baron of beef, leg of lamb, some big-assed bird. Next to that six types of dim sum. Next to that steamed lobsters and crabs. A vegetarian station. Amazing baked goods. And an unlimited supply of desserts. As well as six types of fresh pressed juices. Watermelon with a splash of vodka and fresh mint!
    Don't waste your time (and $$$) at ARIA nor SOUTH BEAUTY.
    Do go to the sixth floor of the Shin Kong Place (beside the 2 hotels) for dumplings and a mushroom salad (no greens) at DIN TAI FUNG.....amazingingly delicate dough and ever-lasting flavours...try the hairy crab filling!
    In the SANLITUN area we dined at 1949-the Hidden City's DUCK DE CHINE. The ambiance was great (music and decor), service hit&miss, the Pekin Duck was a little disappointing, the pig's ear terrine and foie gras terrine were very good. If you prefer noodles, simply walk through the courtyard and put yourself at one of the 16 stools and watch the noodle magic.
    That's all for now!

    3 Replies
    1. re: rackoflamb

      Thanks for the input; I have also been to CRU (for a special dinner organized for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, of which I'm a member) and thought it was good, though not great, but I would like to go back for just a regular steak some day. I have been going to Chef Too for steaks for a little while, but find that they are way overrated and that it is far easier for me to make a steak the way I like at home.

      Blu Lobster holds no appeal for me, but Le Pre Notre sounds interesting. I usually try to avoid hotel restaurants, though, so it may be a while before I get there. Buffets are an exception, and I have been to the Ritz for its buffet (again, as part of an event I was attending) and it was excellent. The Westin is also supposed to have a good buffet, though I have not yet been.

      I have not been to Aria, but used to like South Beauty, though I know very well that good, authentic Sichuan can be had much better and cheaper at a zillion other places. Since I'm a Chinese speaker, that is also not a problem for me, but sometimes SB is a good place to take a squeamish (or snooty) visitor.

      I have been to Duck de Chine, and liked the space, but the menu and the duck left me disappointed. Far better, though far less attractive, is Jin Bai He (Golden Lily) not far from there. And I am not a member of the Din Tai Fung fan club, since I find their dumplings way overpriced for what you get, and I go often enough to Shanghai that I can get my fix at any number of down-and-dirty xiaolongbao-erias there.

      Thanks a lot for the tips!!

      1. re: James G

        Great thread. Pick up a few really good suggestions that I will try over next weeks.


      2. re: rackoflamb

        I second the recommendations for Din Tai Fung and Duck de Chine.

      3. I heard that right after their (very) soft opening in June, they were had tasting menus for 160 or 170 RMB as a way to test out their offerings. Of course, I found out way too late, after their prices tripled or quadrupled.

        1 Reply
        1. re: AppetiteforChina

          A friend dined there last night & loved the place. RMB1600 for two persons.

        2. I finally made it to Maison Boulud this past weekend. There is now a RMB488 three course prix-fix menu and a RMB800 eight course chef's menu with RMB400 additional for wine pairing. I actually found the chef's menu to be of great value as one would tend to order a bunch of appetizers and entrees anyway, and with wine, the total would come out almost the same as just getting the chef's menu. The eight courses also came with an amuse bouche and cookie platter.

          Here is my review of the eight course chef's menu:

          1 Reply
          1. re: toomuchfoodinbeijing

            wow nice to to see so many ppl talking about my favorite restaurant in Beijing, it certainly deserves all the praises that it has been getting. besides the dinner which seems like what more ppl is opting for, I highly recommend its business lunch to anyone who is wishing to spend less but also enjoys a great meal. I went there with my business associate the other day and order their set menu, it is only less than 200 per person for 3 courses, the quality of food and service are equally outstanding as its dinner which tends to be more pricey. If you are looking for a place to impress your clients without breaking the bank, this is the place to go for

          2. Love, love, love Boulud. Excellent food for the price (okay, its not cheap, but compared what you'd get at some of the other expensive spots like Green T, Aria, Courtyard, etc or even above mentioned Duck de Chine, its a great deal) and by far one of the best service staffs in the city.