Bouley (NY) – Masterful but Memorable?

Bouley is a maligned restaurant in the upper NY tier of dining. While most everyone recognizes it should be a great place, there are often complaints of amateur mistakes. However, I was assured by some dining friends that the restaurant is among the best in the country. Fair enough, I made a reservation and they (long-time customers) warned the Maitre’D I was on my way.

I asked them to cook for me, negotiated 7 courses, and we were off.

1. Apple bread
This bread was incredible – warm, toasty, & sweet.

2. Tomato Sorbet w/ Parmesan Foam

This dish worked on so many disparate levels – taste, texture, & temperature. The sorbet has a very intense, concentrated tomato flavor that was balanced perfecly w/ the parmesan foam. The sorbet was not fully set; instead, it was half-melted w/ chunks of tomato marmelade; and it proved to be an interesting combo w/ the graininess of the parmesan foam. Finally, the temperature differences worked, unlike a lot of these hot/warm/cold experiments. This was three-dimensional tasting and it was on par w/ Bastide’s dishes of a similar nature.

3. Buffalo Mozarella w/ Tomato Sorbet & Tomato Gelee
This time, the sorbet had just a hint of sweetness and the texture elements shifted slightly. It was a continuation on the above theme and it was a perfect progression.

4. Skate w/ Pineapple Salsa
Never a big skate fan – I was disappointed w/ what seemed like a very simple and cliched dish. The skate was extremely moist, possibly too moist; it seemed a tad mushy to me. (but since i don’t eat this regularly, not sure if this was a good or bad example.) The microgreens in the dish pulled it together and made it worthwhile; they gave it a hint of earthiness and tempered the sweetness of the salsa.

5. Line-caught Haddock w/ Asparagus & Porcini Mushroom

A beautiful piece of fish (the server fetched it from Cape Cod the previous evening w/ much pride) that was as good as Le Bernardin. Top-notch. The asparagus was very mild and lovely (i hate asparagus!) & the mushrooms were also perfect.

6. Line-caught Cod w/ Succotash
Wow – this was a perfect 10 – absolutely stunning. The middle was *exactly* the right temperature – just barely warm. I’ve never had cod this good – its texture reminded me somewhat of sea bass – a phenomenol cooking job.

7. Duck w/ Foie Gras
The foie gras was different than i’ve ever had before – its texture resembled tomago (japanese egg omelet)!! Very light and airy – very strange. It tasted fine, but not nearly as rich as normal… The duck was ok, nothing spectacular…

8. Rack of Loin Colorado Lamb w/ Goat Cheese & Eggplant Puree
The lamb was of extraordinary quality. You won’t find a better tasting lamb in this country. The goat cheese/eggplant puree merely got in the way of this perfect ingredient.

9. Pureed Fingerling Potatoes
They looked good but they were forgetable.

10. Chilled Red Currant Soup w/ Apricot Sorbet
The soup was more of a gelee w/ tart currant berries. Again, it was the sorbet that stole the show – an intense concentration of flavor that reminded me of Bastide & Jean Georges…

11. Chocolate Souffle w/ Blackberry, Chocolate, & Vanilla Ice Creams
Never a huge fan of souffles… but the chocolate & vanilla ice creams were very good. Chocolate must have been made w/ 75-80% dark chocolate – excellent stuff.

12. Fresh Strawberries w/ White Chocolate Mousse & Yogurt Foam
Looks better on paper – very good but it didn’t perfectly balance the tight ropes that the earlier tomato sorbets managed.

Overall, an excellent meal. The more I think about this meal, the better it gets but it somehow didn’t have the immediate impact of a Jean Georges, Manresa, or Bastide. The fish dishes were on par with Le Bernardin (the supreme complement.) The sorbet dishes would go jab for jab with Bastide (again, the supreme complement.) Was it the disparate styles used throughout? Did it lack the cohesiveness of the fore-mentioned restaurants? Regardless, this restaurant will be put in the New York rotation.

Opionated About reviewed Bouley and generally came to the same conclusions – excellent fish on par w/ Le Bernardin and, oh, that succulent lamb.

- chuck