Full review and more at my blog here: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...
I had never been to Bouley before but there was a pretty good review recently by the Bloomberg food critic, so I went with a couple of friends to try the $48 5-course lunch. The menu looked really good online.
Atmosphere: The space is lovely. I can see why many think of it as a very romantic setting. From the amazing display of apples with that lovely apple smell even before you go in, to the elegant yet comforting dining room, to the castle-like downstairs area, it exudes charm.
Service: Very disappointing for a place that markets itself as a 3+star restaurant. Maybe I'm spoiled by EMP and SHO, but I just felt like they were fussy while still not getting the details right. For example, my lunch companions were running late and I asked for the menu just to have a look. The server mentioned a couple changes on the menu to me, but didn't mention them to my friends when they arrived. Also, two types of bread were forced onto our breadplates without telling us anything about the breads or giving us a choice. And even though the dining room was about a quarter full while we were there, my water glass was only refilled once, even though I was drinking plenty of it.
Food: While the older menu online looked very exciting, the actual menu was a little different. The oyster/caviar/scallop dish (which Bruni loved in his NYT review a while back) is no longer part of the lunch tasting menu, and there were only 2 dessert options.
Amuse: Tomato coulis with whipped cauliflower, salmon roe, and balsamic. Sounds wonderful but was flat. No burst of freshness and flavor that I would have expected.
First Course: We all chose the signature porcini flan with dungeness crab. If there was truffle in this I didn't taste it. There was a good amount of crab, the porcini sauce was a little goopy, and the flan was ok. I was hoping for the flan itself to be filled with porcini essence but that wasn't the case. It was a good dish, but I expect more from a signature dish.
Second Course: We all chose the baby skate because the rouget listed on the tasting menu had been replaced that day by haddock. I don't remember all the components, but the main gooseberry sauce overpowered the delicate skate.
Third Course: I had the duck and I thought it was brilliantly done with great flavor when all the components were eaten together. However, there were only two pieces of breast, which I thought was a little skimpy portion-wise. My friends had the cod and striploin, and thought they were good also.
Fourth Course: Some purple sorbet with concord grape jelly. Nicely done, but like most pre-desserts you would expect from places like this.
Fifth Course: My friend chose the mango-passion fruit dome and considered it an outright fail. I had a molten chocolate cake type thing with three servings of ice cream. It was quite good, but the fact that it was the biggest portion of food across the 5 courses was disappointing.
Overall, for $48+t/t, the portions were on the small side, one of the courses was essentially a pre-dessert, and I wasn't really wowed by any of the dishes. Add the lackluster service and it was a very disappointing experience.