Daniel Boulud is known for his classical French fare, his trendy downtown eatery, and being the man who first put haute burgers on the map. Now, with his latest venture, Boulud Sud, he brings his classical techniques and innovative tastes to the Upper West Side.
Boulud Sud is a Mediterranean restaurant that is upscale without being stuffy. The dining room is small, but with high ceilings, large windows, and a spacious layout that keeps it from feeling cramped.
There is also an open kitchen, where diners can see flatbreads being fired, vegetables being turned, and plates being finished before they eat a bite.
Bread and Olive Oil
The bakery is the sleeper hit at this restaurant. The breads, both an olive sourdough and a tomato foccacia, are some of the best I have had in NYC. Excellent hole structure, well salted, with juicy olives and sweet tomatoes. This is bread that really eats like a meal. The olive oil, served with rosemary and a sliver of garlic, is fruity and sweet. The sliver of raw garlic is ingenious – it adds a spice to the oil without being overly pungent.
Jamon Iberico with olives and grilled ciabatta
Iberico ham has always been one of my favorite foods, and the version served here is as fine as any I have ever had. Served in thin, but not wafer-thin slices, it retains the natural heartiness of pork combined with the sweetness of the fat – you can really taste the nutty, sweet acorns that the pigs ate. The opaque fat starts to melt on the warm, charred ciabatta, the perfect union of crunchy wheat and lush fat. The olives, meaty and briny, add another layer to this decadent appetizer.
Chickpea and Eggplant – Herb Falafel, Spring Pea Hummus, Babaganoush, Lavash
Crispy, greaseless falafel is fragrant with herbs, served steaming and fluffy on the inside. Even so, that is not the star of this dish. The star are the dips – the babaganoush is so creamy that it seems to be whipped with egg yolks, but it lacks any heaviness or greasiness. It is just rich and creamy, with a strong punch of garlic and the citrusy taste of sumac in there. The hummus is also outstanding – smooth, very grassy, and tasting intensely of sweet, fresh peas. The cumin around the edge ups the earthiness of the dish. The lavash is a winner – very thin and crisp, with a heavy dusting of za’atar, that zesty, full flavored middle eastern spice.
Harira Soup with Lamb Merguez meatballs, Lentils, Vermicelli, and Chickpeas
A Moroccan version of minestrone soup – hearty, warming, chock full of goodies. Toothsome chickpeas, al dente vermicelli, tender lentils, and soft lamb meatballs swim in a spicy, harissa scented broth. The carrots, onions, and other vegetables in the sop are all brunoised, resulting in an elegant texture in the otherwise rustic soup. This is not lip-searing, just gently zesty – unmissable for anyone who loves a good soup or tagine.
Za’atar Baked Cod with Mussels, Greek Yogurt, Radishes
Who would mix yogurt with fish? Boulud, that’s who, and the result is astonishing. The cod, often a rather slimy, soft fish, becomes substantial and flaky beneath its assertive za’atar crust. Sitting atop a pool of thick Greek yogurt, it tastes firm and moist without being mushy. Paired with sweet mussels and spicy braised radishes, the cod’s natural salinity comes through, and the result is the best cod dish I have had to date – fish and chips and miso glaze be damned. This is multi layered, tasting sweet and creamy one minute, peppery and bright the next. This is Boulud’s genius – he takes classic ingredients, like cod and white wine, and turns it on its ear with classical technique and a few unexpected ingredients. I can’t wait to try to make this dish at home, though I doubt I can do it so well.
Grapefruit Givre with Sesame Halva, Rose Loukoum, Grapefruit Sorbet
This dessert is a showstopper before you even take a bite. Just look at it – it looks like some psychedelic muppet gone all top chef! The flavor isn’t as good as the presentation – it’s actually better. The halvah has the texture of cotton candy and the sweet, peanutty taste of Butterfinger candy bars. The sorbet inside is smooth and refreshingly tart, interspersed with diced grapefruit supreme, crunchy bits of traditional halvah, and jellied Turkish delight that tastes more like citrus than rose (thankfully). Topped with a caramel crisp, this really couldn’t be more refreshing or delicious.
*Note: the service can either make or break a meal. In this case, though the food was excellent, the service was outstanding. The first dessert I ordered came in a glass that must have had a tiny hairline fracture, because it shattered the moment my spoon clinked gently against it. No sooner had the glass broken than 2 servers and a manager swooped over to my table with apologies, a fresh tablecloth and table setting, and not one, but 2 replacement desserts. Though I assured them that this was not necessary they insisted. The manager stopped over twice more before I finished eating to ensure that I was enjoying my new deser (s). Let it be known that people al over the restaurant were taking photos with their phones – there was not way for them to tell that I was reviewing the place. They just wanted to make sure that I had the most relaxing, high end experience possible. No matter that it was lunch and that I didn’t order wine. No matter that I was taking forever to eat. No matter that most women in the restaurant had handbags that cost more than my college education. There is no snobbishness here, no special treatment to those who seem like they deserve better treatment. The whole idea here is that anyone dining at a Daniel Boulud restaurant deserves the Daniel Boulud experience.*
The Daniel Boulud experience isn’t just elegance. It isn’t just excitement. It isn’t just delicious food prepared in ways that you could never imagine. It is about relaxing into a lovely space and enjoying not just a meal, but an experience, served and prepared by people who want you to have a memorable experience.
And this experience is memorable indeed.