When we first came to New York City about 25 years ago our taste buds were opened to a new world. Certainly we always enjoyed good food and I had even cooked way back then sometimes roasting chicken in a toaster oven ( those were the college days ). But the opportunities to try and experiment with food became endless once we entered NYC.
We weren't exactly raking in the cash but every anniversary and birthday, we'd choose one of the top restaurants in the city to go to. I recall going to Le Bernadin and feeling like I was 12. What were these kids doing here? One of our most memorable experiences was certainly the original Bouley which was located in Tribeca. The restaurant was beautiful. His signature barrel of apples lined the doorway. Plush banquettes inside. Small and intimate. The service was spectacular. Every wine we paired, every mouthful we ate was a culinary experience.
We never returned because we were always trying new places and Bouley was a treat only to be enjoyed on a special occasion. Bouley closed and years passed before he opened new restaurants in Tribeca. The corner on Duane and West Broadway has slowly evolved into Bouley's corner. On one side sits the premier restaurant similar to the original concept and on the other side sits a building where there is a bakery, cooking classes and a small restaurant upstairs where the menu ranges from sushi to Italian to nouveau cuisine. Also, around the corner is Danube which sends you back to Vienna the minute you walk in the door.
We have been to the higher end Bouley and were incredibly disappointed with the food and the decor. Whereas the original was simple and modern this restaurant is heavy and Victorian. Perhaps our first time experience was so special that it could never been created and that is where the disappointment sets in. Or perhaps it just isn't that good. I don't really care for Danube either. Tons of butter, ridiculously expensive and not that interesting. Go for a drink because it is quite beautiful inside and you really do feel as if you have left NYC for a brief moment.
Last night we went with our friends to the Bouley Bakery upstairs which is the tiny restaurant that sits on the top floor of the building where there is the bakery. No reservations. You are literally sitting inside a kitchen. Sometimes smoky, sometimes not but it is fun to watch the kitchen work. There is even a sushi bar on one side of the restaurant.
The wine list is outrageously over priced because they use the same wine list from across the street. There is a smaller list of wine by the glass and you can order those bottles which we did. The menu is eclectic. I couldn't help but wonder how they could create each of these options so easily since supposedly the menu changes on occasion.
I began with a small bowl that had a miso broth and small pieces of Japanese eggplant and sliced duck over the top and microgreens. Came lukewarm and the flavor was pretty bland. It sounded much more interesting when reading the dish on the menu. My friend has the pork belly which was also served in a broth with sliced of daikon and mushrooms. Interesting but again not a knock me over. Someone else had the sushi tuna salad which I didn't get to taste and Fred had the mushroom salad. Warm mushrooms served over greens. Simple and nice. The best by far was the calamari salad. Big bowl with a mixture of greens, seared calamari from the grill and a delicious dressing. I'd order that next time. It was the best thing on the table.
Main courses were also mixed. I had the halibut that was poached and served over a bed of sweet corn, shitake mushrooms and peas. Very buttery and rich. I didn't finish the fish. It was good but not great. Fred had the veal chop which was served over savoy cabbage and glazed carrots. It was a big whatever. Two people had the burgers. When we sat down my friend recommended going simple so she did the burger. She was right. Juicy and delicious. Someone else has the scallops which had an Asian bend and were really rich but tasty.
We did do a few desserts. Mandarin oranges sliced and served in a liquid Asian concoction. Also had one of the pastries of the evening which was chocolate and marzipan. Nothing to write home about.
David Bouley is certainly a culinary star. He was early to the revolution and was revered for his first restaurant in Tribeca. What I am writing is pretty much in line with what I have read over the years in reviews of his restaurants. He has set up a nice shop in Tribeca which is wonderful for the neighborhood but I wouldn't go out of my way to enjoy one of his places. I'd consider taking a cooking class there but I'm just not taken in with the food. I want to be but unfortunately I haven't yet.