Sometimes, I go to a restaurant, mean to write a review, and, months later, never get around to it. Usually, I just move on. This time, though, even though the visit is almost a year old, I want to share with you my visit to Bouley last December. As frequent readers know, I visited Bouley for lunch while on jury duty last summer. The experience was, I wrote, nearly pitch-perfect. So about a week and a half before Christmas, I went back for dinner. The second time was even better. The food was great, the service was fantastic, and the overall experience was impeccable.
The dinner menu is actually quite similar to the lunch menu, except that the tasting menu is a bit longer and will set you back quite a bit more than just $55. But you will get a lot of the same options, which is actually a good thing, in my view — it makes the lunch menu a (relatively) affordable way to sample the cuisine without having to pay “full freight.”
Dinner started with Bouley’s famous bread cart. I don’t have a picture of the bread, but it wasn’t super-thinly sliced. Let me be clear — I don’t mean this as a “criticism.” I just thought it was odd that the “bread guy” seemed to deviate from his usual routine. I had the pistachio hazelnut bread, which was pretty good, and I also liked the anise currant.
Perhaps I should clarify here that I ordered the tasting menu, vegetarian, but I didn’t really make specific selections (other than dessert, for which my friend and I each got one of the options). Instead, I just asked that the kitchen make a “chef’s choice” for me for the dinner. The amuse was a tomato coulis:
I had the tomato coulis last time as well — with homemade ricotta and black truffle. Unlike last time, the coulis was made with a raspberry vinaigrette. That made it sweeter than before, and the truffle was mild, so it didn’t overpower. I really like Bouley’s ability to take familiar dishes and put a unique spin on them, and this was another example — not just the familiar taste of tomato, but the tomato coulis itself.
For my first course, I had the foraged mushrooms, which were served with coconut foam and micro watercress. Normally, this would be served with tuna; mine came without. It was absolutely spectacular, and the shaved black truffle took it over the top. The mixture of mushrooms (I somehow doubt that they were personally “foraged” by the kitchen, but hey) was served with liquefied asparagus last time; this time the mushrooms took center stage, with the truffle in a supporting role, and were more than able to handle the promotion.
Next up were smoked fingerling potatoes. Once again, something basic (potatoes) were prepared in a variety of ways: pureed; rolled with carrot powder (at “ten o’clock” in the picture), with corn powder (three o’clock), with mint, etc. The powder took me by surprise — I wasn’t expecting the “powdered potatoes” to finish as strong as they did. The mint didn’t do too much for me, but I did like the bit of cracked pepper that was added. I have had an all-potato dish before, and that time, I thought it was too heavy. By contrast, Bouley took the same ingredient and made it almost a light dish. Brilliant!
The next interlude was among the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten. It was a “cuzo crisp” (a type of cracker) with sauce aligot and white truffle. Aligot is essentially potatoes pureed with cheese; it’s a peasant dish in the French countryside and how people survived the winter for years. In other words, nothing fancy. What made it amazing is what’s on top: freshly shaved white truffle. The caption — “OMG.” — basically says it all. The cracker and aligot were simple and allowed the magnificence of the truffle to shine through. I wanted each bite to last forever.
The next intermezzo was a pumpkin-chestnut soup. It was made with several types of pumpkin and — you guessed it — black truffle. My friend had it with foie gras; I didn’t. He actually thought it was too rich with it, so I’m doubly glad to have had it without. Actually, I thought pumpkin-chestnut was a great, creamy combination that, once again, did not come off as too heavy.
My entire dining experience — not just at Bouley, but ever — was building up to this next dish:
Egg soufflé, with polenta, and Swiss chard… and three slices of white truffle. This is described on the menu as involving a $95 supplement when ordering a la carte, which I most definitely did not pay. Maybe they were just feeling generous? In any event, the notes I have say “Wow. Just. Wow.”
The souffle was incredibly light and creamy, and the polenta — which was sort of half-mixed in, half-underneath the egg — gave the dish some depth. The chard added color, but obviously the truffle stole the show. What’s amazing is that the souffle could be (and is) its own standalone dish. The truffle just takes it through the stratosphere. The earthiness of the truffle lingers after each mouthful, a reminder of the awesomeness you just had. I am not sure I could ever bring myself to pay $100 to add truffle to a dish, but this comes pretty darn close to convincing me.
At this point something weird happens: there’s a mystery dish on the menu! I cannot remember what it was; I have no notes on it; I can’t figure it out from the menu. It looks like, perhaps, portabella mushroom cap with beets and black truffle? Any eagle-eyed readers have thoughts?
Then, finally, we transition to dessert. At Bouley, dessert is not a “course” so much as an experience. It started with rhubarb soup, with strawberries and buckwheat gelato. Last time, I had white peach soup with amaretto ice cream; the idea here was the same. I actually liked the rhubarb a little better. Last time, the soup was served with creme brulee…
…this time, it was its own course. I think Bouley’s creme brulee is very good, but in the pantheon of amazing stuff served here, it actually comes off as rather pedestrian. That’s not a knock on the dish; it’s really a testament to how incredible the rest of the meal was.
There were two options for dessert: pineapple souffle (above) and chocolate souffle (below). The pineapple was made with “ten flavors”; I was told what they were but now I forget. As I mentioned, this dinner was around Christmastime — December 15 to be exact. I was surprised that they were coming out with a pineapple dessert at that time, but it worked.
The chocolate souffle was also good, but, like the creme brulee, was pretty “plain”. For some reason I found the mousse (left) a bit off-putting; I had expected it to be lighter, and it wasn’t. But, no matter, this was my friend’s dessert; I had ordered the pineapple! Ha.
All in all, Bouley was absolutely amazing. Once again, the vegetarian tasting menu actually “fit” together. The mushrooms and potatoes were dishes that were interesting and substantial without being overwhelming; they built up to the egg souffle which I cannot say enough good things about. Similarly, truffles played a role in every savory course, from the very light hint of truffle in the tomato coulis to the show-stopping slices perched atop the egg. This is Bouley at its best: familiar ingredients, sometimes even familiar dishes, but presented masterfully and always keeping you on your toes. What more could you ask for? Five stars.
I had the tasting menu, but the full menu is below: