My friends and I went to Bouley Bakery last night. Since I had heard numerous accounts of atrocious waits and complications despite having reservations, I decided to prepare myself for the worst. I had already rehearsed how I would complain to the host/hostess if we were kept waiting for more than 30 minutes: But I made reservations 3 weeks ahead...But I made reservations 3 weeks AHEAD...BUT I made reservations...
When I arrived, I barely had time to give them my name before the hostess announced, Yes, right this way. Your guests have already arrived. The lighting was much more subdued than I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was lovely.
I arrived having every intention of getting the degustation (a steal at $75), but my companions were not up for the challenge. Remembering numerous accolades for the tasting menu but few endorsements for the a la carte menu, I was afraid that my dining experience would be less than amazing. It was not.
Our amuse bouche was a delicate cucumber dill pudding topped with smoked salmon--a little tricky to eat with the oyster forks that they gave us but worth the effort. To start my companions ordered a simple mesculin salad, the foie gras with green coffee bean sauce, the sesame crusted Atlantic salmon in a lemon thyme broth, and grilled eggplant with goat cheese terrine. I went with the panache of 3 salads consisting of perfectly cooked shrimp wrapped with thin slices of zucchini, a small slab of foie gras, and wonderfully rich baby wild mushrooms that contrasted perfectly with the tart frisse salad underneath.
Our entrees arrived with perfect timing. Two of my companions ordered the Acacia honey-glazed duck breasts while the other two ordered loin and rack of lamb (it was obvious that we were not food critics). One of them claimed that the lamb was better than the lamb at Daniel. I disagreed, but it was indeed at the same level. As for me, I could not resist the description of Atlantic halibut prepared in the style of borscht with horseradish and beets. The perfect crust did not prevent the tarragon from permeating every bit of the luscious halibut. Occasional hints of a horseradish scent kept every bite interesting, as did the tiny cubes of beet. I could see the natural oils of the fish glisten by the flickering candlelight--now thats amore.
Contrary to some reviews, the portions were ample and only three of us felt up to the challenge of ordering dessert: two hot valrhona chocolate souffles and the Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulee. Before our desserts arrived, we were sent a gift of the fruit sorbet soup. It was very refreshing and utterly amazing. When our desserts arrived, we were pretty close to bursting, but each bite of dessert urged us on until every last bit was cleared from our plates. When the petites four arrived, they also proved much too tempting for our weak wills. We could not resist our seduction by Mr. Bouley.
The final bill came out to $90 per person including a $55 bottle of wine, tax, and tip. Expensive, but worth the 2 hours of perfection. Although we were by far the youngest table that night (average age of 22), but we did not feel out of place; and although there were clearly other diners in the restaurant, we felt as if we were alone. I guess that is all part of the magic at Bouley Bakery.