Bouley is the most ambitious of David Bouley’s restaurants, tucked away on a corner in Tribeca (the nearby original site of the restaurant is now where his bakery is based). This has a ground floor and also a basement dining room, of which just the ground floor was used at the lunch meal when I tried it. It is an attractive, cosy dining room with a stone floor, and a line of planted flowers along the main window looking out onto the street. The room is decorated with several large paintings of rural scenes e.g. a vineyard. The menu offers a $45 five course tasting menu for lunch, whereas à la carte offers appetisers around $20 and main courses around $40.
The wine list majors on France and the USA, with some coverage elsewhere. Choices include Rias Baixas Albarino 2008 $65 for a wine that retails at about $18, Chateau Musar 2000 was $125 for a wine that costs $48 retail. Markup levels seem to vary: Ravenau Valmur 2007 was listed at a relatively reasonable $360 compared to a retail price of around $238, but Trimbach Clos St Hune was a hefty $550 for a wine you can buy for $140, while Kistler Sonoma Coast was $235 for a wine that you can pick up (if you can find it) in the shops at about $87. I drank the pleasant Gunderloch Kabinett 2009 for $49, which compares to a shop price of around $18.
A strength of the restaurant is the bread, which comes from the company bakery just yards away, and is baked fresh each morning. Least good were the rolls: apple and raisin roll and a seed roll were pleasant (15/20) but much better were the range of sliced breads, such as pistachio bread, fig bread and olive bread (all comfortably around 17/20).
First was an amuse-bouche of pumpkin soup, ricotta foam and roasted chestnuts. This had plenty of pumpkin sweet flavour and was nicely seasoned (15/20). Then came a nice sea urchin terrine with kombu jelly on a bed of creme fraiche, with Oscietra caviar and basil oil. This worked well, the jelly clear and with good texture, the caviar adding a salty note to balance the richness of the sea urchin (16/20).
This was followed by asparagus from upstate New York in a Comte cheese cloud, with basil dressing and roasted pencil asparagus. This was a technically strong dish, the Comte cloud having distinct but controlled flavour when it could easily have been overwhelming, and the asparagus was nicely cooked (15/20). Next came a range of seafood: North Carolina pink shrimp covered in filo dough, Dungeness crab, diver- caught scallop from Cape Cod, calamari and cuttlefish, in a herbal broth made with clam juice, herbs and lime juice. The shellfish was very carefully cooked and of good quality, while the broth was for me rather dominated by parsley (16/20).
This was followed by porcini “flan” with Dungeness crab meat, and a black truffle and dashi broth. The dashi was by far the strongest flavor and dominated the other flavor elements too much, reducing the crab to just a texture (14/20). Duck from Long island was glazed with a white truffle honey, with almond froth, chanterelles from Vermont, more pencil asparagus and fingerling potato mash. The duck was cooked nicely and the glaze worked well, with vegetables to balance the richness of the duck (16/20).
A pre-dessert was chilled strawberry soup with blood orange granite and organic yoghurt sorbet. The sorbet was well-made, but strawberries in February? (14/20). The main dessert was a plate of chocolate dishes: chocolate creme brûlée, warm chocolate cake, toasted daquoise, frozen chocolate parfait, chocolate sorbet and prune and Armagnac nice cream. This was very good, the chocolate cake rich and unctuous, the ice creams well made, the parfait smooth (17/20). The petit fours were pleasant rather than inspired, with decent tuiles but a rather dried out coconut cookie (15/20).
The bill for one person with a modest wine was $109 at lunch, for more food than I could finish. Service was very pleasant (my waiter from Senegal was friendly and efficient) ,though dishes arrived at a very brisk pace. Initially an extra $7 was added for my second double espresso, which I always find irritating (it is not as if a second plate of petit fours arrived), and when I queried this it was removed without fuss from the bill. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, the cooking using good quality ingredients, executing well both the more classical dishes and the more modern ideas. The charming room had a welcoming atmosphere, and the lunch is a real bargain at $45.