The Tasting Menu at Bouley
March 13th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

My boyfriend and I have long had Bouley on our radar, but when we wanted to try a David Bouley restaurant, we went for his newer, Japanese kaiseki one, Brushstroke, and had a 4.5-donut experience. We’ve been trying to cover some new ground lately, though, and thought maybe it was time to pay respect to his eponymous restaurant that was so huge in the 80s and recently saw a facelift in the late 00s.

We booked dinner simply because we saw a reservation available on OpenTable, but as we looked into visiting, we wondered if we hadn’t made a very costly mistake. Dinner at Bouley is $175 for six courses, $280 with wine. Lunch is five courses for $55. So the darkness and that one extra course cost you $120. We thought about trying to switch to lunch. We thought about canceling our reservation completely after reading some of the unflattering reviews floating around the Internet. But we ultimately decided to go for the full dinner tasting menu and judge for ourselves, expectations appropriately set.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

Bouley (pronounced “boo-LAY”, just in case you’re like me and assume every name has an American pronunciation) is opulent. It’s like a country home where everything has been coated in gold leaf. Heavy drapes, tall candles, fresh flowers everywhere. Wood, iron, vaulted ceilings. Bathrooms the size of most NYC apartments and laden with enough tapestry to dress every diner for life. Private dining rooms where every inch seems to be covered in red velvet. Even the picture frames are upholstered in purple velvet. And the foyer is lined from floor to ceiling with shelves of apples so that the room smells like an orchard.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
amuse: blue cheese foam, beets, pecans

Very beety, with plenty of blue cheese flavor and nutty sweetness.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
amuse: kuzu, black truffle, aligot

Japanese flatbread, truffle, potato and cheese sauce. Yes.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
fresh Malibu sea urchin terrine

On top of and inside this cold aspic (savory gelatin) was uni made extra sweet by broiling. The complex ocean flavor of this dish was balanced by the cream and caviar underneath.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
forager’s treasure of wild mushrooms, sweet garlic, special spices, grilled toro, black truffle dressing

If you knew me just a few years ago, the idea of my ordering an all-mushroom course would be hilarious to you. I remember being at Cafeteria in Chelsea one night on one of my first dates with my boyfriend and piling millimeter-long chips of mushroom from my risotto on one side of my bowl and hoping he wouldn’t notice. But ever since I had the wild mushroom salad with jalapeno puree at Momofuku Ko forced on me and found it one of the most unforgettable dishes of my life, I’ll give any mushroom a try.

These were sweet, a little spicy with something like cinnamon or nutmeg, and so umami with that Parmesan foam and black truffle. There were so many textures on the plate, including an entirely different one from the grilled tuna.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
bread service

The bread man with his cage full of fresh loaves came to our table and offered us slices of anything we wanted. The flavors were varied and interesting: saffron, sourdough, black currant, French onion. I loved how different and personal the service was.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
porcini flan, Alaska live dungeness crab, black truffle dashi

Our server described this as a chawanmushi, but all of the chawanmushis I’ve had have been thick, broth-less custards. This was more like a creamy crab soup with a broth flavored like yuzu and cardamom. They sure didn’t skimp on the crab, though.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
live Scottish langoustine, bay scallops, some sort of mango sauce

Sweet, with perfectly-cooked langoustine and scallops. The sauce was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it could have been more spicy and salty for my taste, but it really let the natural flavors of the scallops and langoustine shine through.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
pistachio miso marinated fresh black cod

Flaky fish, smoky almond milk, and so much sweet ginger.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
Chatham day boat lobster, turnip, black truffle

Tender, buttery lobster with a crunchy black truffle julienne. I enjoyed the texture contrast between the slice of turnip on top and the puree underneath.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
Japanese true Kobe mille-feuille, toasted garlic, frisée, carrot, turmeric ($50 supplement)

We’ve had a lot of Kobe, a lot of Wagyu, and a lot of Kobe and Wagyu that were probably not actually Kobe and Wagyu, so we wanted to try this “true Kobe”. Just to be sure. We were both entirely underwhelmed. The point of eating a really good piece of beef for me is to cut through it and notice how tender it is, but with the way this was sliced so thin, any cut would have been tender. Although I liked the crunchy texture with the beef, the watery frisée completely diluted the taste of the Kobe. Having just had the much-better calotte de boeuf at Per Se last month, this was an unfortunate let-down, and one that came with a hefty price tag.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
organic Long Island duck, black Nevada dates, Hudson Valley organic hand milled polenta, Washington huckleberry

Delicious crispy skin aside, the star of this was the date “paper” spread on the bottom of the dish. When heated, it became like a sauce, and it formed such an interesting new flavor when eaten with the lima beans. I loved the black pepper chunks in the polenta and the buttery fingerling potatoes served on the side.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
white chocolate cloud, green tea foam

Light and fluffy on top, a little icy on the bottom, and milky throughout. When the server put this down, my boyfriend and I immediately went to work imagining how it was made, and when the woman next to us tried to ask her date the same thing, he said, “Let’s wait for our neighbors to figure it out.” Food nerds!

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
tangerine, clementine, Mandarin parfait, lychee sorbet

This very sweet and lychee-ful sorbet made the accompanying fruits VERY tart. This was a complex dish that I secretly wanted to simplify by just eating a big, ol’ scoop of that delicious sorbet.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
chilled fall rhubarb soup, Santa Barbara organic strawberries, buckwheat gelato

Mmm, grain-flavored gelato. I wasn’t a huge fan of it on its own, but the creamy soup and strawberries (which were such a treat out of season) were so pleasant with it, and my boyfriend actually liked that it was like eating a field.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
tree ripened golden Hawaiian pineapple soufflé, pistachio melting core, 10 exotic flavor sorbet

Not a souffle in the molten cake sort of way but more like a meringue. “Pineapple egg foam”, we called it. So many things were good about this, from the warm pineapple chunks throughout to the sugar granules on the bottom to the unexpected pistachio core. The “10 exotic flavor sorbet” was really just two flavors for us: pineapple and yuzu. But it was very intense and delicious.

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu
hot Valrhona chocolate soufflé, white coffee cloud, coffee ice cream, chocolate mousse

This was the souffle I was expecting, with a liquid center and a little crunch to the exterior. I liked the semi-sweet mousse and the crumbled cookie crisp, but the coffee ice cream really made the dish.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

 Bouley NYC Tasting Menu

Truthfully, the food at Bouley was only okay. It looks like it should have three Michelin stars, but it only has one, and the reviews about it wavering from delicious to just decent were spot-on. Date paper duck? Delicious. Kobe that should be pretty hard to not make amazing? Just decent. For the price, which is well above a lot of the better tasting menus in the city, I would either expect plenty of off-menu courses (think Eleven Madison Park, where you could almost make a meal of all of the amuses they bring you) or at the very least, much more complete courses; two langoustines and three bay scallops does not a complete dish make. This was the same complaint I had about the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin, though, so perhaps the protein with very little else is just the mark of a really French-y restaurant.

And yet, we left Bouley talking about what a great time it was. Despite not loving all of the food, we loved the experience of eating here. The decor is completely different than in any other fine dining room we’ve seen in NYC–not modern and simple but full and almost flamboyant. When I asked the sommelier, who was excellent, if I could take photos of the bottles, he said, “You SHOULD!” The guy on the bread cart joked with us every time he wheeled by, while the more serious servers would slide the food down in front of us, rattle off the ingredients in their French accents, and turn on a dime to go back and stand in their corners. It didn’t feel stuffy here, just professional and special. Maybe I’m not dying to go back for the food, but the overall dinner was something I’ll talk about.

163 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013 (map)

11 Responses  
  • Jessica R. writes:
    March 13th, 201312:10 pmat

    I think I need a bread cage.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      March 13th, 20134:44 pmat

      The bread guy told us things like, “No loaves were harmed in the making of this dinner,” and other caged-bread-associated jokes. You know Sarah would have her head stuck through the bars of your bread cage in no time, and butter would be needed to pry her out, 90s-sitcom-style.

  • Erin writes:
    March 13th, 20133:38 pmat

    Um yeah the bread cage is so weird. Not loving foamy things once again but everything looks delicious. I am starving right now, so maybe that helps. I read an article a while back about Kobe and Wagyu beef and how basically there is no such thing as it in America. Similar breeds are raised here, but importing of such beefs from Japan is illegal, apparently. But this was years ago so who knows.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      March 14th, 201310:30 amat

      The Parm foam was the best part of that mushroom dish, but I’m not sure it couldn’t have been just as good as a sauce. I’ll fight you on the clouds, though. Love a cloud.

      I read an article about the same thing maybe a year ago, but I think I’ve heard since then that the ban has been lifted. I find myself not wanting to look it up just in case I find out we spent an extra $50 on more fake stuff. What’s funny is that years ago, we went to a restaurant here called Kobe Club. The lie was right there in the name.

  • ellenost writes:
    March 14th, 201310:51 amat

    Loved your report and photos. The kobe beef does look disappointing (especially since that is the dish I was planning to order next month on my return to Bouley–will select something else). The calotte doe boeuf at Per Se is without equal; even the beef at the new EMP falls short in comparison. Glad you gave Bouley a try.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      March 15th, 201311:57 amat

      Glad we got to try that Per Se calotte, then! I hate to warn you against the Kobe, because I’d love to see what you think of it, but the duck was definitely the better dish in my mind. You were so right about the beauty of Bouley’s dining room; it was really special.

  • Cassie writes:
    March 15th, 201312:50 pmat

    I seriously love that bread cage. I mean, I make so much freaking bread, you’d think I’d have one.

    I love all the wine.

    And the word beety.

    • Cassie writes:
      March 15th, 201312:51 pmat

      Also – I love that you loved the experience. I think that yes, it’s important to enjoy the food when you’re paying that much BUT the experience is paramount. In my mind at least.

  • Smiling Lion writes:
    March 16th, 201311:04 pmat

    Loved the bit about the mushrooms, I’m sure we all have food which if we were to think back to the past, we would be bewildered as to why there were certain foods we wouldn’t eat.

    As for the ‘True Kobe’, I don’t know but it could be the preparation of the meat (from the looks of it). I’ve had the Kobe in Japan where the chef sliced it thinly and then piled it back together again with chives, garlic and other herbs. As a result the meat tends to be less juicy (because as a thin slice it cooks so much more easily). It feels like a waste of a good cut of meat, and I’d much prefer it uncut, seared lightly or grilled anytime.

  • Kim writes:
    March 20th, 201311:01 amat

    I want to eat all of this apart from the white chocolate cloud, but I mostly want to see what the dude in the second photo’s dinner conversation is like.

  • Mrs. Bachelor Girl writes:
    March 21st, 201310:00 pmat

    What a gorgeous restaurant!

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