SHORT VERSION: The food was okay but not brilliant, which it should have been at the price. The service was friendly but somewhat eccentric and inept, kind of a Gallic Fawlty Towers.
LONG VERSION: We arrived at Bouley Bakery at 10:00 Saturday night for our 9:30 reservation and discovered that they were for some reason expecting us to be four. They quickly took the extra settings off of our table and seated us at a nice banquette.
I have read a number of comments on Chowhound that diners experienced attitude at Bouley Bakery. We found this not to be the case at all. All of the staff were very warm and friendly. Unfortunately, my problem with Bouley Baker was with the food. It was okay but not brilliant and there were mistakes.
First of all, Ive read about Bouley Bakery being famous for its bread. The bread that we were served was very mediocre and merits absolutely no comment whatsoever. We were very disappointed. We had a mini-baguette, a walnut bread, a black olive bread and roasted sesame bread. All were serviceable at best and not very fresh tasting.
We decided to have two different tasting menus. They somehow managed to get who ordered what confused for every single course. We ordered still water. They initially brought still water but would then refill with sparkling water.
For the first course, I had the (allegedly) Belon oysters in some type of yellow broth. I am mentioning the color because the flavor was subtle to the point of blandness. And the oysters were gritty. Now dont get me wrong; if I were at a neighborhood oyster stand, I wouldnt bitch about gritty oysters but at these prices, its seems just sloppy.
My wife fared much better with the appetizer than I with some kind of shrimp and scallop gratin in phyllo pastry that was very nice. She tasted mine and immediately offered half of hers because mine was just nothing. A plate of gritty oysters in yellow.
The servers, despite being very cordial, made constant mistakes.
Our captain, a very dramatic French-speaking black man was given to saying things like Of course I know him. He is my wifes ex-lover. I once again asked the waiter to choose wines for each course and he did, doing a very nice job on the wines and the descriptions of the wines.
The second course was rouget for me, one of my favorite fish. I was terribly disappointed with how Bouley Bakery prepared this. It was a very tiny piece, even by tasting menu standards and it was basically dusted with flour and sautéed. There was a sauce but once again I couldnt identify a single ingredient. Boring. And to add insult to injury, there were bone fragments in the fish.
Once again, my wifes course lobster claws in the style of a borscht easily trumped mine. Now it wasnt terrible or anything mind you, just not particularly exciting. It was the sort of nouvelle cuisine that you get at five-star hotels that cater to an international business clientele, where they dont want the food to distract from the conversation. The premier cru Chablis that the captain chose was perfect however.
For our main course, I had the lamb and my wife had some kind of moussaka. I remember nothing else about them. The waiter brought a nice pinot noir which complimented the very delicate (if not boring) flavor of the lamb nicely.
The desserts were fantastic and even better than Le Bernardin in our opinion. We had a chocolate soufflé and a pineapple panna cotta citrus tart. The petit fours were fantastic. The coffee was perfect. Our bill was $219 plus a $40 tip. We both felt this was excessive, particularly after our pefect experience at Le Bernardin the night before. On the other hand, we liked the room itself we felt like we were inside a giant pumpkin - and the staff was pleasant enough. If I lived around the corner, Id probably eat there once a month. As we were leaving, the waiter called out to us Did you have fun? and the truthful answer to that question is yes, we did.
One thing we did notice right away was that unlike our previous two dinners (at the totally whitebread Babbo and Le Bernardin) there was a very ethnically mixed staff and clientele at Bouley Bakery. As I was waiting for my coat, I was reading their reservation list and I noticed that every single reservation was from outside of Manhattan. It was a Saturday night so perhaps the kitchen doesnt go out of its way for tourists, but still. We expected more from the enfant terrible of Manhattan. It was like going to a Tarentino film and getting a Sandra Bullock comedy.