Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bouchon Bakery... Hauté Mall Cusine?

This Is No Mall, It’s The Time Warner Center

Not long ago, I made my first trip to the Time Warner Center… excited to experience for myself the spectacular space, shops and restaurants that get the pleasure of calling the glamorous building home. I figured I’d shop a while, eat some high class mall grub, browse the book store and sit on a bench. Mall stuff.

Well, I quickly learned the Time Warner Center is no mall. There is no Sbarro, no Orange Julius, no Spencer’s Gifts and no movie theatre. I couldn’t find the lost and found, the arcade, Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick or Wet Seal.

This destination has a gathering of off-the-chart-expensive restaurants... including a Japanese restaurant called Masa ($400 per person), a Coach and Hugo Boss store, a Davidoff Cigar shop and Jazz at Lincoln Center, one of the finest jazz destinations in the United States, if not the world (if you haven’t been inside the Allen Room, you simply won’t believe your eyes). Oh yea, there are rare Botero statues in the lobby, too.

So, finding a light, inexpensive lunch on a visit to this building can be a challenge.

The easy answer lies underneath the chrome and glass structure, inside the Whole Foods Market. This gourmet epiphany has darn near everything you can imagine and more… including a pizza counter, a sushi bar, fresh bakery, sandwich deli, coffee bar and Jamba Juice. It’s a good option, if you don’t mind getting knocked down by an old lady from the Upper West Side pushing a cart as if she‘s on the pole at the Indy 500. There is a cramped space (too many people usually) to eat your pickings as well.

Alas, there is another option.

The gem of affordable eating at the Time Warner Center lies underneath the “Samsung” sign on the 3rd floor, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery.

First, this is not a low budget joint… but you can get in and out for under $15 to $20 without wine… not a bad deal considering your neighbors in this swanky joint.

That said, a nice glass of wine and plate of quality cheese is a nice way to start or end any day of shopping.

The menu at Bouchon is small and focused on mainly gourmet salad and sandwich offerings… which is just fine with me. Who needs a heavy meal when dropping $175 on a pair of shoes?

Salads are carefully picked and light. Don’t look for a four pound Taco Bell tostada salad here, you won’t find it. What you will find is a lovely Hearts of Romaine selection with botarga cheese, a classic watercress salad with candied walnuts and your obligatory beet and goat cheese variety (although done very well).

Sandwiches seem to be the choice… and range from a classic French ham and cheese baguette to a tartine of tuna nicoise to a roast turkey with brie… as well as a roast beef with melted fontina.

The roast beef was pressed crispy and was an excellent choice… especially if you like your beef rare. The garlic aioli sets this sandwich off… and the bread is just like you like it… crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

The turkey is also a great choice… and included a nice slaw on the sandwich. You should note that all of the breads here at Bouchon are exceptional, and are of boutique bakery quality. Each sandwich comes on it’s own signature roll.

One disappointment was the Cashew Butter and Apricot jam on toasted brioche. While this all sounds great, and the cashew butter and jam were terrific, the sandwich is prepared like a grilled cheese sandwich, and is just too greasy for my taste. Perhaps I compared this dish to one of my favorites across town at ‘inoteca… but even as a dessert, I wish I had opted for a pastry instead.

The kitchen does serve a few simple entrée-like selections… a quiche of the day, assorted patés, a cheese plate (overpriced and smallish), smoked salmon and a terrine of foie gras. Additionally, there is quality soup… although for 11.25 a bowl, your money is better spent on pure carbs.

Bouchon Bakery does carry a nice coffee menu as well as a quality wine list of hand picked selections… available by the glass. These are solid wines that may be a notch above what you might expect in a café like this one across town.

So the verdict?

I like it. There was something special about spending a Sunday afternoon perched high above the Time Warner Center atrium, people watching… munching on foie gras… sipping a fruity sauvignon blanc. Yes, it is a hair pretentious, and yes, slightly overpriced.

But at least you are getting quality goods from folks who know their stuff.

For a mall, you can’t do much better. Unless you walk upstairs and drop $300 at Per Sé, that is. Meanwhile, I’ll see you at Bouchon Bakery.

Bouchon Bakery

10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor,
New York 10019

At 60th St

Phone: 212-823-9366