Bouley- total brilliance
I have, I think, as broad a base of restaurant-going experience as there is. I've been eating out, both for work and pleasure, for a long time, focused in NYC but also in Boston and DC (which I visit frequently) and abroad. Perhaps the only "big" NYC restaurant that I've missed is Per Se-- saving it for a decade birthday coming up soon.
I've eaten at Bouley twice in the past 4 months, (bopth lunches) for the first time since the moves/renovations. And both meals have been as good as any I've had in my life. I think it is the best restaurant in New York right now, and I don't think its particularly close.
This is sort of a shock to me. Like many here, I was aware of big food/service issues at "old" Bouley for most of the last decade. I only ate there over the summer because of a business meal.
But, holy crap, something has changed. The service is gracious and attentive. The food is wildly good- the porcini flan is my dish of the year (and of the decade, and possibly of my life, only rivaled by a sorrel vichyssoise I had at the Inn at Little Washington about 15 years ago, when it was still one of the best restaurants in the country). But everything is terrific. Duck, on the menu during both visits, is tender and flavorful and somehow crispy on the outside with a odd coating. Chicken was served, I think, poached, and as tender and flavorful as any chicken I've had---at least ONE restaurant in NYC isn't serving the same trite roast chicken. The fish course was probably the weakest link, but even here the dishes were creative and interesting and showed an interesting molecular-type influence. Desserts were jaw dropping- at both meals, extra desserts were brought to the table, and what was most amazing is that you might have 3 or 4 desserts in front of you and all had totally different flavors and textures.
Ingredients are rarely seen more than once during a meal (unlike certain other places: I'm looking at you, Corton). Everything is subtle-- more than once I had to call over a waiter to ask what was in a dish, and I'm generally pretty good at teasing out flavors. But when necessary, everything packs a punch--from something as simple as the exceptional chocolate in the chocolate soufflee to more exotic stuff, like the shellfish "stock" that I presume is the base for the porcini flan.
Service is solicitious and polite and excellent. Meals were correctly paced. During my second meal, a lunch, we sat for nearly 3 hours--and we needed nearly every minute of it.
I can count the really exceptional meals I've had in my life on one hand. A great meal in a fine restaurant in San Sebastien, Spain, on my first extended trip to Europe. The Inn at Little Washington, back in the early 90's. Gramercy Tavern, years ago at its peak.
Right now, Bouley is up there with any of them.