Friday, September 23, 2011

Boulud Is Back

Walking into Boulud Sud on the Upper West Side is like walking into any three or four star establishment of the late 90s and early 2000s. The room is quiet, filled with patterned banquettes, carpeted, and dotted with the oldest dining crowd in recent memory. The only people in my age group were being taken out to eat by their parents.

That didn't bode well for my wallet.

Actually, the menu is conceptually brilliant, divided into seafood, vegetables, and meat dishes. Every category has a series of small plates, appetizers (which might as well be called "slightly larger small plates), and entrees, all priced accordingly. This means that you can skate by without ever ordering a main course, which I took advantage of, instead ordering six small dishes, a side, and two desserts.

But the service left something to be desired. Before our server had even taken our drink order, our first four dishes had arrived at the table. Once I ordered a drink, ten minutes elapsed before the server came back to report that they were, in fact, out of the cocktail. After our final courses were cleared, we waited twenty minutes for dessert menus and another twenty minutes after our menus arrived, waiting for our order to be taken.

Nonetheless, the food was largely impressive. A take on a Greek salad was crisp and clean, speckled with fresh oregano. A plate of hummus, babaghanoush, and falafel came with thin, wafter crisps and a spicy mayonnaise. The bread that came gratis was two kinds of focaccia--one with black olives--and a crispy, fatty flatbread that went perfectly with our harissa marinated mussels, cooked out of the shell in a brunoise of tomato and carrots. Duck legs were wrapped in phyllo pastry and atop a sweet and thick date puree.

A rabbit porchetta, weirdly served cold, lacked flavor (as did the sad, underseasoned market carrots that accompanied it), but the blue prawns, head on, made up for that misstep. The prawns were perfectly cooked and seasoned and the heads were crunchy--I ate all four heads. Broccoli rabe was another disappointment, but dessert, when it finally arrived, was a dinner atonement. A grapefruit sorbet came in a hollowed grapefruit with halvah and segments of the fruit. Our second dish featured sweet and tangy plums over squares of a soft cinnamon cake that resembled, in texture, the fluffy inside of a sourdough loaf. It was a delicate and lovely end to a long meal.

Boulud Sud
20 W. 64th Street
New York, NY 10023

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Before last night, I had never sat down to a full, multi-course, Japanese kaiseki meal. But I landed a reservation at Bouley's new TriBeCa hot spot, brushstroke. Ten courses, three hours (the courses moved a little too fast for my taste, a persistent NYC problem). We ordered an extra course, just to be cute.

Our meal began with outstanding cocktails--muddled red grapes in liqueur for me, and kiwi in green tea foam for my dining companion. Next, our first course, a Hassun, or seasonal appetizer: skewered, gently smoked salmon cube; gooseberry; turkey liver pate; Japanese berry; mushroom in sesame oil. A kabocha squash soup--undersalted, I felt--came next, with maitake mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Then: a sashimi trio that could have come right from the ocean. Perfect, pink tuna. Toothsome fluke. Clean, sweet Spanish mackerel.

A remarkable chawan mushi, or Japanese egg custard, with uni and black truffle broth.

A nearly inedible duo of sardine sushi on rice, so fishy that after one, I pushed my plate away.

For a palate cleanser, a beautiful yin and yang of cold onion puree, beet puree, stewed onions, and onion crisps, which reminded me, in the best way possible, of Lipton's onion soup.

Poached lobster in a clam and edamame broth with a scallop dumpling did not disappoint, and neither did slick and fatty pork belly, marinated in pepper and served with malanga yam puree and ponzu. Our rice courses were a hit and a miss. Stewed wagyu beef over rice was an epic success, redolent of brisket and accompanied by a soothing red miso broth and salty cucumber and cabbage pickles. But a crab and mushroom hot pot was underseasoned, with overcooked crab and nearly nonexistent mushrooms. The pickle side included a dried fish pickle, which I wasn't expecting and which left a horrible fish aftertaste in my wearied palate.

Dessert? Awe inspiring. A quenelle of vanilla-soy ice cream arrived with toasted buckwheat and hit all the necessary notes of savory and sweet. Ditto for the soy milk custard, finished with green tea and a rich, hidden caramel at the bottom of the bowl. Crispy, delicious rice paper candy came as a petit four, along with frothy and warm green tea. It was a remarkable finish to a mostly remarkable meal.

30 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10013