Saturday, December 3, 2005

Birthday Lunch at Bouley

Today my roommate, Susana, took me out to Bouley for a lunch tasting. This was the first experience for either of us at any one of David Bouley's establishments in TriBeCa. Bouley is an unassuming place on the corner of West Broadway and Duane St, decorated with a massive wooden-planked door flanked by simple window planters. 

The foyer is a small hallway lined on the left with an amazing wall encasement of flowers. Immediately inside, we were quickly greeted by the Maitre'D who took our coats. To the left was a room painted with a deep, rich red and the right a room of bright, airy cream. We were led into the red room and seated. Bouley had a very elegant,yet homey feel. The low ceilings brought about an intimacy to the dining room, furthered by the throw pillows strewn all over the room and the simple centerpieces of rose tips and pine sprigs.

Bouley offered an a la carte menu, a $35 4-course lunch tasting, and a $45 5-course lunch tasting. Feeling wary about whether or not she could eat 5 courses, Susana went with the 4-course tasting while I opted for the 5-course. 

The service at Bouley was hit or miss. At times it was great, like when we first got there, at other times it was horrendous, like when we ordered sparkling water that never came out. Our server in particular was very forgetful and hardly attentive, but a couple next to us had a spectacular one. Almost immediately after we sat, even before our water was poured, someone served us the canapes, but it turned out to be for the wrong table - not that it mattered anyway since we were going to get them eventually, but someone told the server to just leave it for us as she was taking them away and to get another set for the correct table. 

So our lunch started off a little early with the Chef's canape - I forgot exactly what it was as our server talked a little too fast over a slight accent, but it had beets and mascarpone topped with some sort of foam. The canape had a unique flavor - it was fresh, smokey, sweet, beety, creamy, gelatinous, and refreshing all at the same time.

This picture sucks - as do most of them, because I didn't want to use my flash inside the dining room, but as you can see, all the foam disappeared because I waited too long to snap the shot. The canape was followed by a selection of breads from Bouley Bakery. I really liked the apple roll. There was also a server that carted around a selection of all types of loaves from which slices were cut to order for diners. I got a slice of saffron walnut and Susana got a slice of roasted garlic and a slice of pistachio. The cart reminded me of the "second-helping" cart at House of Prime Rib in San Francisco, which reminds me that I still have yet to find a prime rib place in New York comparable to HOPR.

My first course was an assortment of phyllo-crusted shrimp, baby squid and sea scallops in an herbal broth. All the seafood was cooked perfectly, just barely cooked a second or two after the point which it's still under-cooked leaving it extremely tender and flaky. I think the broth was flavored with shiso leaves, giving it an herbal, oceany taste very different from the kind that saffron gives. This opener clearly shows the subtle Japanese influence on the dishes at Bouley. 

My second fish course was halibut steamed with ginger on roasted artichokes and candy-cane beets (yet another hint of Bouley's Japanese influence). The fish was nice and flaky, but over-powered by the ginger broth, which I thought was a little too spicy.

The following two shots are both my and Susana's meat courses. I had the duckling and Susana had the chicken, they were both accompanied by a potato puree. I wish the skin on the duck had been crisped a little more, but the sides on the plate were awesome - particularly the quince puree and the Pruneau d'Agen, a halved prune filled with a sweet plum paste. I looked up "Pruneau d'Agen" on Google, but all the search results are in French so I still have no idea what it is, but it was sublime - probably the highlight of the whole meal for me. It's kind of hard to see in the picture, but the prune-thing is at the top center of the plate. 

I'm not sure exactly what Susana's dish, I should've taken a copy of her tasting menu, but I only got mine. Basically it was a poached chicken with a soy-based sauce - a fancied French version of the Chinese boiled soy-chicken dish. Her's was OK, I liked mine a lot more. 

With the main courses over, the palate cleanser came out, a chilled pear soup with a vanilla chestnut and Banyuls sorbet. This was really good! It was refreshing and light and really creamy-tasting and from what I can tell, there's no dairy in it. It was followed by a pineapple meringue and pistachio cake with passion fruit sorbet and pistacio ice cream along with a chocolate souffle with maple and vanilla ice cream and chocolate sorbet. 

When we were first deciding on our tasting options, I already knew that I was going to get the pineapple meringue, not because I have a particular liking to pineapple, but because I knew that Susana, being the chocoholic that she is, was going to order the souffle. The pineapple meringue was forgettable - the pistachio cake was rather bland and the pineapple bits gave it a strange crunchy texture. Under the layers of the meringue was a pale green coin-shaped object that was hard. At first I thought it may be something inedible, but it turned out to be a flavored white chocolate medallion (green tea or pistachio maybe?) - a somewhat well-intentioned, but poorly executed surprise. The chocolate souffle was excellent, but nothing out of the ordinary. I liked the maple ice cream a lot. I don't really have much more to say about it cause the two desserts didn't mix very well so I tended to just eat mine and Susana just ate hers.

And so... for the finale, a shot of flan and an assortment of cookies and confections. The flan was simply amazing - a thich vanilla custard with a layer of green tea gel; rich and sweet, crisply cut by the slight bitterness of the green tea. This was a perfect ending to a nearly 3 hr journey through Bouley's lunch tasting. Although it had a couple misses, like our server for one, Bouley is on my short list of tasting menus I'd recommend and I can't wait to try the next one. 

120 W Broadway
Btwn Duane & Reade St 
Phone: 212-964-2525

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