From the moment you walk in, wow.
I often preach that a terrific dinner in NYC is more than food.... it's an experience.
With that thought, I give you Bouley.
Bouley, the gift from Chef David Bouley, is just that.... an experience. From the moment you walk through the apple-lined foyer into the "Hobbit" inspired dining room, he's got you. Your senses are now on overload, and your taste buds are anticipating something special. David Bouley then delivers.
Epicureans have a love-hate relationship with David Bouley. While most agree that the food is superb, they look for other cracks in the armor. Service, price, wine, etc..... take your pick. But with an experience like mine, I can't help but think that the critics are really missing the point of this restaurant... a complete experience that serves as a journey to someplace else. A place where the delicate nuance of an herb or palate cleansing sorbet is delivered as a violin would deliver a melody within a symphonic performance. Perfection.
First, the environment.
It's everything you may expect in a restaurant of this caliber... but better. Sure, there are crisp, white tablecloths... but the rooms are warm. Once through the door, the right dining room is cream and white... a brighter contrast to the left dining room. This room, full of sloping arches... is colored in rich crimson, making for an appetizing backdrop. It's charming, magical and romantic... all at the same time.
Even though my large party agreed on a universal tasting menu, make no mistake... any experience here will include special touches from the kitchen. Canapés, sorbets and amazing breads, carved tableside.
The front of the house certainly hold their own. Attentive service. Expert wine advice. Full water glasses. They know the drill.
As the surroundings command attention, the food at Bouley is truly the star. A fusion of French-American cooking, there is simply no heavy-handed anything at Bouley. Delicate flavors are the rule here, and Chef Bouley raises the bar almost laughingly in this area. His amazing tuna appetizer with shaved fennel is perfectly balanced, his Maine lobster with mango, artichoke and Serrano ham dressed with a tamarind dressing... adorned with fresh coconut.
This is just plain fun.
Entrees run the traditional range from fish, to fowl, to lamb and venison. But these selections are far from the norm. Where can you taste Black Sea Bass in a Sea Scallop crust? Or a lamb filet baked in a Black Truffle crust? Well, at Bouley.
There are cheeses to reset the courses if needed, but special effort should be made regarding dessert. As I am not one who usually makes it to dessert, I implore you... make the effort. The Vanilla Rice Pudding is remarkable, as is the Chocolate Banana Tart... but it's the Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé that steals the show.
Note: If you are thinking of proposing to your girlfriend, order one of these and pop the question. Done deal.
My final take?
Bouley is simply on of the best restaurants in NYC. In a land of sterile, often bland dining spots with robotic service, Bouley does something remarkable. He opens the door, welcomes with a smile, and quietly knocks your socks off.
That's worth the price of admission in my book.
French, Wild Game
120 W Broadway, New York 10013
Btwn Duane & Reade St