Cafe Boulud – Practically Perfect in Every Way

You know those times when you meet up with a couple of friends for a casual dinner, then one bottle of prosecco later decide to go all out and scrap the relaxed plans to dine at a Michelin starred chef’s intimate bistro?

I didn’t know those times till last weekend.

Now I do know those times. And spontaneity plus foie gras equal my best dining experience in many moons.

In fact…it might have been a perfect meal. 

IMG_20131011_202954_942 When we made a last minute reservation at 8:30 on a Friday night at Cafe Boulud, we didn’t know what to expect. Wouls it be overly stuffy or filled with octogenarians? Would it be super casual and not really deserving of the Boulud name?

It was both and neither. It was casual enough to wear nice jeans but still demanded a button down jacket or an elegant blouse. It was filled with people mostly in their 60s, but the vibe was anything but stoic. It was bustling and humming and all the people there, regardless of age, looked like they were enjoying the best time of their lives.

Just one bite of the food, and you will see why.

Quick note: Use the sommelier. We had an excellent experience, where we were recommended a few excellent wines in a range of prices so we didn’t feel embarrassed or bad about our lack of knowledge or how much we wanted to spend. Bravo! IMG_20131011_203559_471 Truffle arancini

A tasty amuse bouche to start the evening. Piping hot risotto balls, with a thin breadcrumbed crust and a wonderfully al dente risotto interior. Nothing mushy here – individual grains of rice blended with salty cheese and the heady, aromatic flavor of truffles. This is a fantastic way to start the evening because it enlivens all of your senses – you hear the crunch of the breadcrumbs, you see the golden-brown balls, you you smell that unmistakable truffle, you feel the warmth of the ball, and you taste…heaven. These were a touch on the salty side, but if you are like me and like that – you are in for a treat!

IMG_20131011_205754_820 Bread

So worthwhile – don’t take just one slice. The savory, pleasantly briny rosemary olive, the sweet cranberry walnut, and the whimsical pumpkin bread are all winners. The pumpkin bread is a total sleeper hit – who would expect a piece of bread to taste SO MUCH like grandma’s punkin pie? Slather it with the sweet butter on the table and you might just want to order more of this and cancel your first course.

But, please, don’t do that.  IMG_20131011_210648_119 Veloute de champignon with warm barley, wild mushrooms, and parsley cream

After she tasted this, my dining companion actually looked at me dumbfounded and said “I couldn’t believe it when you ordered soup. But now, I get it.”

She ended up almost stabbing me with the butter knife to get the last of the soup.

This is picture perfect. A balance of earthy, creamy, warming, and light enough for a first dish. The barley is nubbly and textured in the smooth, deep,  rustic soup. It tastes wild and out there, but the presentation is totally refined. The parsley cream is cool and airy next to the dense soup,  adding a touch of freshness to the dish. if you thought you liked soup, you have to get this. If you think you don’t like soup, get this.

Then admit you were wrong.

cafe boulud foie via

Seared foie gras with almond beignets, seckel pear, and tonka bean

The best foie gras I have eaten in NYC. No question. Seared with such a thick, caramelized, salty sweet crust that it almost stands apart from the interior. And, oh, that interior. That liquidy, buttery, meaty, delicate, otherworldly interior. The accompaniments are lovely here – sweet and complimentary – but this is all about that seared lobe of foie. Unforgettable. Unimprovable. Literally perfect in every. Single. Way. 

IMG_20131011_213257_815 Duck breast with brussels sprouts

So well cooked. This duck eats like a steak – it’s served in a hearty portion and thick, meaty slices. It’s very mild and tender enough to cut with your butter knife. The skin is crisp and sticky sweet, but not so hard that you can’t bite it. The meat is unbelievably juice and fulfilling – you need to really be a carnivore to love this. The sprouts are crispy and caramelized, but this is really all about the duck.
IMG_20131011_213312_359 Crispy polenta

What the hell have I been making all of these years? These bites are so crispy, creamy, airy, buttery, corny, tasty WONDERFUL that the name polenta just seems disrespectful. Especially when smothered in garlicky, onion-y jam. I mean come on…this is one of the best bites of the night. How come they aren’t called “so tasty that once you take a bite, you will forget about the government shutdown” bites? 

IMG_20131011_221154_322 Chocolate mousse with coffee ice cream

More fudge than mousse, this is a chocolate desert that really makes you sit up and pay attention. It’s halfway between low and high brow. It’s creamy and smooth like the chocolate bars or your youth, but has a pleasant bitter edge and creamy coffee ice cream that keeps it from venturing into saccharin territory. It’s an uncomplicated and comforting end to a luxurious meal.  IMG_20131011_221220_980 Oh no, wait…this is the end.

These warm, lemony madeleines that are just like the ones in Palm Beach.

That is to say, perfect.

How many times did I say the word “perfect” in this review? Too many? No, too few. Too few times to describe the expert, unobtrusive yet always alert service. Too few to explain the depth of flavor in every dish. Too few to relate the way the warm, bubbly atmosphere infected our table and made for a truly fun and delicious time. Too few times to relate how the price is SO fair for the service and food that you get.

It really was a pretty damn perfect meal. 

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  1. That man, Daniel Boulud, is a wonderful chef.

  2. Ttrockwood says:

    This restaurant is such a sleeper hit-thanks for the reminder it isn’t just for lunches when mom is visiting! That soup really sounds delightful- and i’m sure i could take down the bread basket along side and be a very very happy girl 🙂