Swank. French. Fantastically Good: Dining at Bouley (NYC)
I have a feeling I’ve used up my yearly quota for dining at baroque and somewhat posh establishments. This is thanks to last weekend’s meal in the swish neighbourhood of TriBeCa. A place that is home to Michelin stars, Zagat rated haunts and trendy pop-up cafés amidst the kind of real estate that would make the average person weak in the knees.
We’re talking $3 million for a two bedroom apartment kind of weak.
At least I had an excuse for my monetary licentiousness (well that’s what I tell myself, though does one ever need a reason to indulge in stupidly good food?): Mr. Intolerant turned a year older a few weeks back and like a vintage Carmenere, he only gets better and better with age. On such occasions I get a bit flustered in finding a place that will appease his finicky and delicate tastebuds. While he’s not at all snobbish when it comes to the physicality of where he dines, Mr. Intolerant puts his foot down regarding the quality of what he eats. He could care less whether it’s a $300 tasting menu or a $7 buffet at the Hare Krishna temple, when Mr. Intolerant shells out greenbacks he expects a clean kitchen and good food/service in return.
How’s that for Economics 101?
Since Gordon Ramsay’s Maze was the locale for my celebration, I figured David Bouley’s Tribeca restaurant (Bouley) would be a fitting place to return the favour. An eccentric – and sometimes controversial – character, American-born Bouley is the restaurateur responsible for the French flagship so aptly named after himself along with the Japanese-inspired Brushstroke. In reading the reviews, it appears both establishments have amassed a following of guests (both New Yorkers and tourists) who can’t seem to get enough of the food and service.
What better place to eat, drink and be merry?
Upon entering Bouley, one is met with a visual of apples lining the entryway along with the sweet and pleasant scent of fresh Granny Smiths. Since we were early for our reservation we were ushered into the waiting area and started the evening with an aperitif, taking in the romantic, slightly kitsch and French-curtained decor around us. We quietly sipped away at our cocktails and admired the food that was being brought to nearby tables.
Once seated under a massive painting of the French countryside in a velvety frame, Mr. Intolerant opted for the six course tasting menu, while I settled for an appetizer and a main. The first thing I noticed about Bouley was the attentive nature of the staff and how in tune the servers were with with my food allergies. I was informed of the dishes that could be modified and/or made dairy free, and I was also cheekily told when to keep my fork to myself, which happened as I was caught eyeing up several of Mr. Intolerant’s courses.
Bouley is all about fresh, in-season and local ingredients and each dish was certainly a testament to the quality of the food along with the talent of the kitchen. I momentarily lost my mind over the Intolerant-friendly version of the North Carolina shrimp and sea scallop appetizer. I savoured the ocean herbal broth and delighted in the taste and consistency of scallops that – quite literally – melted in my mouth.
I could have ended the evening on those scallops alone, but they thankfully preceded my main of New England black sea bass: a dish that was a total dream. I’m not usually a fan of peas as I find they’re often mushy and/or bland, but these were crisp and lightly peppered and went amazingly well with the sea bass. What was also a nice touch was the smattering of roasted pine nuts drizzled in a flavoursome sauce.
Not only did I indulge in wine during the evening, but I threw caution to the wind and went all World War Z over the bread cart. Yes, there is a bread cart at Bouley that boasts a host of locally made loaves including rustic sourdough, hearty rye, sourdough with apricots and a walnut/fig concoction. I think I tried a slice of everything and enjoyed every glutenous (or is that gluttonous?) bite. Surprisingly enough I didn’t encounter any stomach pain or adverse bloating the next day, which just goes to show how locally made breads (read: not highly processed or enriched) can be more aptly tolerated than their refined counterparts.
Mr. Intolerant, on the other hand, casually worked his way through the tasting menu and was surprised at how much he enjoyed the food. He was particularly fond of the sea cucumber and langoustine, and also spent his sweet time working through the organic Long Island duck.
We weren’t want for choice when it came to dessert, and one of the first things that came out was an interesting dairy-laden concoction that screamed molecular gastronomy and looked (and felt actually) hard, but apparently dissipated in your mouth. Mr. Intolerant also took on a chilled rhubarb soup and a pineapple soufflé that, I was told, was the perfect way to end the meal. I, on the other hand, settled for a lychee sorbet on top of a bed of iced melon that was perfectly tangy and slightly sweet. Disclaimer: were we not at some fancy TriBeCa affair I would have surely licked the martini glass clean.
Aside from the food, the wine selection was pretty stellar. The sommelier was attentive and successful in identifying wines that wound up being exactly what we were clamouring for.
I have no doubt the dinner prices will make some balk (I played it cool, but momentarily lost my breath when paying for the bill), but for a once-a-year (or twice or three times…no judgement remember?) treat, it will be worth every hard earned cent.
Aside from dinner, Bouley also offers a $55 five-course tasting menu for lunch that people continue to rave about on Yelp, Trip Advisor and a host of other sites. If the options for lunch are as good as what is available for dinner (and it looks that way by scanning the menu) then you need to make sure to saunter into TriBeCa and treat yourself to a sumptuous dining experience you won’t soon forget.
163 Duane Street
TriBeCa, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 964-2525
Open Monday thru Saturday 11:30 – 22:30.