Saturday, April 30, 2005

New York Interlude: Bouley’s

In truth, I am not easily won over by restaurants. I mean, I like a lot of presentations at a lot of eating establishments, but mostly I think they are less splendiferous than the hype around them would suggest.

Still, through odd and fortuitous circumstances, even though I do not run with the crowd that routinely plunks down wads of cash for dinners out, I have been fortunate, through sometimes devious and sometimes insane methods, to eat at some pretty extraordinary places. And I have paid my share of cash to try to get near a chef whose food I have read about. I am willing to take out a second, third, sometimes fourth mortgage to chase down a meal someone tells me is worth the gold needed to pay for it. I have also scraped the bottom far more often than I care to remember, with dishes and dining experiences that are worth writing about because they have been so unbelievably bad.

Mostly, I like the middle range. I like family run places outside metropolitan areas. Places with a regular clientele of locals. Places where waiters complain if you leave something on the plate. Places where the diners’ ages run from 3 to 93. Where people dress up slightly, but not too much. Where the food is good and honest and fresh and flavorful.

But every once in a while I will come across a star that is listed as a superstar and it winds up having enough shine and glimmer to light up a whole galaxy with its radiance. Bouley was it. Truly one of the best ever. Because every dish was a surprise and nothing was less than it could be.

I went for a late lunch and chose the tasting menu – six sampling courses, plus three others thrown in by Chef Bouley, possibly because he likes to be generous, possibly because I was assiduously taking notes and photographing everything. As if I were writing a story. Which I am. Because Ocean is as good as an NYT review, right?

I really cannot list everything -- too tedious and dull to read, especially if you can’t run your fingers across the words and lick them in appreciation. Okay, just a smattering: a tomato gazpacho over shredded grilled shrimp, served in a martini glass; the phyllo crusted Florida shrimp, Cape Cod Bay Squid, Scuba Dived Sea scallop, Sweet Maryland Crabmeat in an Ocean Herbal Broth; the baby skate with capers and baby greens with pineapple vinaigrette; the Nova Scotia Halibut with fresh porcini mushrooms, Georgia corn, Asparagus and a Corn Shoot Sauce; the Venison with poached Bartlett pear, Swiss chard and chocolate sauce (you heard it here); the white chocolate flan with green tea glaze; the fresh chilled Rhubarb soup with cassis sorbet, sour cream ice and Beaujolais granite; the hot Valrhona soufflĂ© with maple, chocolate and vanilla ice cream; the chocolates and cookies and espresso – they were all over the top fabulous.

Complaints? None. Oh, alright: I could have kicked the waiter’s shins a few times for the poised manner with which he delivered wrong info when pressed on some of the dishes. Advice to all the waiters who have pesky diners bugging them with Qs: go back to the kitchen and get it right, from the cooks that know what they’re plating. Please please please don’t bluff it. Cassis and sour cream do not taste, look or smell the same and they cannot be folded together and come out looking white. It just can’t be done.

But the Russian runner was disarming, and Mr. Bouley was awe-inspiring. I wish I could shine his shoes daily, just so the glow of stardom would rub off onto my fingers and everything I thereafter touched in the kitchen would have his magic.

I do fall in love with good cooks and good writers, I admit it.

Okay, a few of the pictures. Apologies for the quality. This was not a place where I could take time, sit still and fiddle with the composition. Surreptitious clicking typically means you’re going to come home, download the photos and hit delete 99% of the time. Still, I promised food – here’s food. And thank you, gorgeous and brilliant daughters, for a magnificent birthday meal.
Bouley Posted by Hello
Apples line the small entryway, giving off a fragrance that puts you in the mood for crisp, fresh flavors. Posted by Hello
What tipped this into the la la land of the extraordinary were the shredded phyllo crust on the shrimp and the deep green herbal broth. Posted by Hello
Breads: I chose the pistachio, the fig, and the sourdough, passing on the garlic, the olive, and the black pepper only because there wasn't room on the plate. Posted by Hello
La vie en rose: note my spying on the two lovers: she was all over him. Did he mind? I'm not sure... Posted by Hello
The detail in the venison dish was amazing. Under the slightly cocoa-flavored venison sauce lay a sprinkilng of pear puree. At the side -- a tear-drop of whipped potato. Chard adds a touch of bitterness and nicely folds the meat back into the blend of sauces. Posted by Hello
When doing one of these, always, always start with the best possible chocolate. They did. The beauty of this lay in its utter simplicity and perfect execution. Posted by Hello
a meal in itself: post dinner nibbles Posted by Hello

New York interlude: setting out for a lunch to whip all lunches off the charts in terms of wonderfulness

This afternoon I am to dine at Bouley.

I should be thinking ahead to the tasting menu. I want to learn, get inspired by the great chefs of the city*. But right now all I keep thinking of is my entrance into this renowned Tribeca eatery: one look at my apparel and I know what table they’ll seat me at. I’ll just have to be careful so that I wont get banged by the door as the runners zip dirty dishes past me on the way to the kitchen.

I really do not love the fact that tasting the best of the best requires dining in opulent surroundings but I am willing to make the sacrifice occasionally.

Still, the dressing up part can dampen my humble cotton-leaning enthusiasm. I do not want the hosting person to immediately sniff financial failure (or at least on the failing side of great affluence) when she or he sees me entering the room. And they can tell, just by looking at my shoes.

Today will be a disaster in the shoe department: I am forced to wear something weather appropriate – not quite snow boots, but something that wont make icicles out of my toes. I have avoided purchasing pointed stilettos thinking – dear God, this style has to pass soon so that sanity can again prevail.

But it hasn’t happened yet. And in the meantime I suffer the indignity of knowing that whatever piece of leather or cloth will be strapped to my soles is inferior and plain wrong for the fine carpets at Bouley.

Ah well, if I wanted to tromp in with kick-ass shoes, I’d have to get some kick-ass dress to go with them and now we’re talking four digit prices, just for lunch.

Between my attire, my chickening out on the
sophisticated hair-cut and my blogging camera, I am going to be like a duckling bobbing in a sea of plumed swans. But the food – oh! the food will be spectacular!

*Chef David Bouley is the city’s top cooking honcho, being the only one to have ever scored a 29 in Zagat’s food ratings.
these should be on my feet Posted by Hello
slick men's counterpart (tell me what guy in Madison has a pair like this?) Posted by Hello