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Bouley - Lunch Tasting Menu

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TriBeCa doesn't have much of a fancy lunch crowd, but the lunch tasting menu's price point at Bouley probably seems alluring to many. At $55 for five courses, it isn't quite as head-turning as the $36 listing several months ago, but razor-thin margins are still all-but-guaranteed in the luxe dining room: warmly cosseting if you're a lady that lunches, fussily feminine if you're Frank Bruni.

An amuse-bouche landed on the table prematurely, while the menu and wine list were still splayed out across the flatware. The small dish was described as marinated red and golden beets, cherries, green apple sorbet and horseradish. A side note: do you know those wonderfully rare dishes that read strangely and sound hopelessly discordant yet work instantly upon the very first bite, leading to sparkling eyes and involuntary smiles? This wasn't one of them. In isolation, the pitted half-cherry tasted fine.

The first course was roasted pencil green asparagus with herbs, basil dressing, and Comté "cloud(s)". It couldn't be great because the asparagus quality was middling, but the Comté foam was tasty alone, if rather muted. In combination with the basil, it didn't leave an impression.

The signature porcini flan with Dungeness crab, black truffle, and dashi was next. That must've been a misprint on the menu, because lifting the copper lid of the serving vessel revealed a thick, gloopy dashi soup within. The sweet strands of crabmeat stood no chance against the brackish, darkly flecked deluge: truffle was seen, not tasted.

A comped course of a single seared scallop sitting atop an "ocean essence" was far more successful. I still don't know what ocean essence is, but apparently it has herbs in it. Google reveals that "ocean herbal broth" has been featured in a Bouley dish before, so it's probably that. Nitpick mode: the color of the scallop sear should have been darker, the pan probably wasn't hot enough.

The main course of roasted duckling with truffle honey, date purée, turnips, and beets struck the middle ground. The duck could have been cooked less, as it wavered around medium instead of medium-rare, but it was trumped by the accompanying side dish of silky pomme purée. Not as good as Robuchon's version, but pleasing nonetheless.

A simple pre-dessert of chilled cantaloupe soup and ricotta sorbet was the best dish that afternoon. It had clear, precise flavor with a smooth mouthfeel, which was enhanced as the sorbet slowly melted. The actual dessert, a caramelized Anjou pear and chocolate tart with biscuit Breton, toffee sauce, and quenelles of rosemary and Tahitian vanilla ice creams was competent. Note to the pastry chef: ice cream plated directly on an unchilled plate quickly leads to an unattractive mess. Note to the pass: the tiny red ant trundling the perimeter of the plate was cute, but it should probably be removed next time.

The generous array of mignardises was surprisingly strong, excluding the predictably ordinary chocolates. Most of the cookies were good, especially the sesame tuiles sandwiching burnt caramel. Super-nitpick mode: why were the pâtes de fruits cut so unevenly? It doesn't really matter, but one was ~20% bigger than the other. Ragged corners as well.

I couldn't help but watch the devolving demeanor of one of the waiters (assistant captain?). Midway through lunch service, he must have received some sobering news as he abruptly started stalking around the dining room with agitated strides, nearly shouldercharging a couple poor runners clear off their feet. Yanking plates off tables too sharply, carelessly clanging wine glasses together, slamming the silverware drawer shut - I was wary of a full-on meltdown. It never came.

Mildly entertaining. Except when the bread guy didn't bring butter until the third course.

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Bouley
163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Too bad you had such a negative experience. When I was there for lunch in March it was great. I also very much liked my meal, many of the plates you had in fact.

    1. I was planning to try Bouley for lunch in a few weeks. Should I cancel and go elsewhere?

      I've previously benefitted from your advice regarding the lunch menus at Le Bernardin and Jean Georges, both of which I enjoyed very much.

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      Jean Georges
      1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

      Le Bernardin
      155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

      5 Replies
      1. re: Tommy D.

        Bouley is incredibly inconsistent, but unlike most restaurants of this type the lunch deal is available on the weekends as well. Knowing this, I went with tempered expectations; it still fell short. If weekday vs. weekend isn't a concern, I wouldn't bother.

        I'd look into Eleven Madison Park (recently had a pleasant, if not great lunch there) or The Modern if you don't want to repeat LB or JG.

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        Eleven Madison Park
        11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

        The Modern
        9 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019

        1. re: hcbk0702

          Repeating Le Bernardin actually sounds like a good idea. I'm really curious about the red snapper and some of the other appetizers.

          Would you reccommend Eleven Madison Park or The Modern over La Grenouille or Del Posto? I've never been to Europe, so "authenticity" would not be an issue for me as far as La Grenouille is concerned.

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          Eleven Madison Park
          11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

          Del Posto
          85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

          La Grenouille
          3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

          1. re: Tommy D.

            In general, yeah, I'd take EMP and The Modern over the other two. Still, La Grenouille is a good idea if you're interested in that type of cuisine, and while I'm not fond of Del Posto, the $29 lunch deal is definitely worth trying once. Desserts are especially strong.

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            Del Posto
            85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

            La Grenouille
            3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

        2. re: Tommy D.

          Bouley is just inconsistent on every level. From food to service to decor. If you really notice these things, and will be annoyed by the letdowns, then skip it. I went with friends who didn't noticed it as much, and or were okay with it. It was enjoyable overall. But at the same time, not as good as I expected or wanted.

          1. re: villainx

            I probably would not notice these inconsistencies since I'm not a fine dining expert, but ideally I'd like to experience the same caliber of food and service that I had at Le Bernardin and Jean Georges.

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            Jean Georges
            1 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023

            Le Bernardin
            155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019