Bouchon Bakery is part of the Thomas Keller empire of restaurants you can’t afford. You think you can, because from the outside, it appears to be an innocuous bakery, twenty times more casual than Per Se and without the need to make reservations a month in advance. But as soon as you walk in the door of the Rockefeller Center location, you notice the display of peanut butter cups for $3 each. (And those are mini ones; the regular-sized cups are $5+.) The sandwiches are $9, the French macarons $3.25.
What my boyfriend and I ordered was a little hit or miss depending on which one of us you ask. I wish we’d been hungrier so we could’ve sampled more than a sandwich and a cookie apiece (which still set us back a healthy $31), but it gave me a good idea of what I’ll come back for.
ham and cheese
The sandwich selections were paltry on a Sunday night, so I went with a classic belly-warmer to see how Keller’s team could transform it. On paper, it sounds pretty incredible: this sandwich, inspired by the traditional French charcuterie, is prepared with Madrange ham, a slow-cooked, delicately flavored ham. The combination of sweet butter and Dijon mustard complements the subtle nutty flavors of Emmenthaler cheese.
In my mouth, it tasted like a pretty standard ham and white cheese. The one thing this sandwich has going for it is that the bread couldn’t be better-suited to it. It was crunchy on the outside but didn’t flake into a million crumbs with every bite. The buttered interior was chewy and light in contrast. I wish the filling had done it justice.
This was quality beef, cooked tender and sliced thin, but there was unfortunately very little of it on the bread. My boyfriend liked the roasted tomato garnish, but I needed more of the acidity to be cooked out of the tomatoes before they could be sweet enough for me. This tasted like a more complete thought than the ham and cheese because of its bright vegetable filling, but I couldn’t help but think of the $7 sandwich we buy on weekends from Tudor Gourmet, piled high with spicy pastrami and crisp arugula and served with a friendly joke instead of a haughty scowl.
After the disappointing sandwiches, I was prepared to roll my eyes at this $7 peanut butter cookie sandwich, but I walked away from it feeling like a little whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate shavings would make it into a plated dessert I’d willingly pay $12 for. I was expecting–and desiring–a soft, gooey cookie, but what I got was this crispy thing that snapped and crumbled apart. And I loved it.
The pastry chefs must be using a stick of butter per cookie, god bless them, because this thing was greasy as a pig in a wrestling contest and twice as delicious. The peanut butter filling, leaden with sugar but then whipped into a fluffy frosting, spilled out the sides of the cookie with each bite. My last mouthful was nothing but the peanut butter left on my hands, and it was perfection.
Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center
One Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020 (map)
(other locations here)