Café Boulud pays homage to the food chef-owner Daniel Boulud grew up with in France and celebrates the food he loves in America. Café Boulud's dynamic menu, created by Daniel Boulud, Chef de Cuisine Bertrand Chemel, and Pastry Chef Eric Bertoïa, is divided among four headings that reflect Daniel's four culinary muses: La Tradition, the classic dishes of French cooking; La Saison, the seasonal specialties of the market; Le Potager, a celebration of the vegetable garden; and Le Voyage, the exotic flavors of world cuisines.
V's family was in town and specially selected Café Boulud for dinner after drinks at the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar. (I was lucky the reservation was for after my class, though the restaurant was busy when we arrived, and we weren't seated until 30 minutes past our reservation.) The restaurant has an understated elegance, that in my mind was meant to put the focus of the experience on the food, not the room just as is noted on the restaurant website:
The dining room’s rich, wood paneled surfaces and plush upholstery in muted neutral tones pay homage to the elegant modernism of a 1930's Parisian rendez-vous, creating a sleek backdrop for the palate of flavors on Café Boulud’s eclectic menu. ... The space is decorated in subdued earth tones: banquettes in shades of cocoa, walls upholstered in sandy hues, ivory colored curtains, and custom wool carpeting inspired by traditional Tibetan design woven in shades of hazelnut, sage and caramel.
The menu's four different headings, plus an addendum of market specials were all so tempting it took us quite a while to each decide on what to order. There were two preparations of foie gras, lots of mushroom dishes, and plenty of seafood among just the appetizers! I ended up ordering the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from under the "La Tradition" heading. It was served with homemade ginger bread, roasted pear and Swiss chard. The presentation was beautiful, with the pieces of the dish stacked atop one another. The pear went well with the fattiness of the foie gras, which had a bit of a crispiness from the sear. For something I sample so rarely, this was a great execution.
The main courses were equally difficult to choose from: bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, roasted venison, rabbit "schnitzel," roasted glazed duck breast, a beef duo with short ribs and aged strip loin, plus sole, halibut and pastas. Each of the preparations was unique and fit within its respective heading.
I opted for the roasted and glazed duck breast, from under the seasonal heading. This too was served with chard as a greenery, oyster mushrooms and farro, which was kind of like a rice though it is a form of wheat. The duck was very tasty and tender. The glazed had a nice sweetness that wasn't to strong, it was nice to get a little in each bite. I also tried V's bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, which was served with polenta. "It was quite delicious," she commented. "the flavors were distinct in that the bacon didn't overwhelm the veal." I agree, though I actually thought the bacon could have been a little stronger in flavor. We both thought there could have been more polenta as it was just a small dollop under the veal.
I only got a bit or two of the Beef Duo, which V's mom ordered, but it was definitely an amazing dish. The braised short ribs were tender and so flavorful that even the small bite I tried filled my mouth with great, slightly salty, tastes. The strip loin was equally (but differently) flavorful—these flavors are hard to describe but both emphasized the meat's flavor rather than masking it with strong sauces or marinades.
To add to our dinner, the service at Café Boulud is almost too good. With several people serving us there was a little confusion about drink orders at one point, but otherwise the service was spot on. Our server was very attentive through the meal and the sommelier(s) recommended some great wines. When each course was served, a team of servers surrounded our table and on cue all of our plates were placed at once—it made for a nice effect.
Café Boulud is an excellent restaurant. The food and the service are top notch. The formal but calm atmosphere leads to a more mature (less trendy) crowd that befits the restaurant and Chef Boulud's intention of a Parisian rendez-vous. Thanks again to V's parents for inviting me along!