A friend from Paris was eager to meet David Bouley. I wanted a farewell meal at Bouley in the old Bouley Bakery space at 120 West Broadway before it moves across Duane to a fussy new space that David has obsessed over forever. I hadn’t eaten his food for a while and everything about the boldly rouge-blush arched room – the stylized welcome, the Bouley signature perfume of apples in the vestibule, the exquisite roses – seemed poised for the Michelin Man’s return. It definitely had that three star feel. At one time, all the grand French survivors of the Pavillon school in midtown had shaded electric lamps on the table plugged into a socket on the floor that you might accidentally disconnect with your foot in a swoon over the quenelles de brochet. Bouley has plug-ins too now (though no quenelles) so you can actually see your food and still hide in the romantic shadows of the room. In the dim I can watch the couple in the corner wrapped up in fork play.
Our lamp goes on and off all by itself.
A parade of "amuses" arrives, delivered one at a time, Per Se style, as if the staff has nothing else to do tonight but indulge our table. Corn tuille with corn and truffles. A mini taco with avocado and tomato. A perfect scallop with yuzu on rosemary-apple puree served in a china spoon. More. Faster than I can scribble in my notebook under the table. Complex food but blissfully free of molecular flaunt. I am not surprised by a trio of couturier breads. After all, the bakery still functions somewhere in this compound. But the arrival with entrées of a two-story bread trolley is impressive, a three-star moment.
There is no sign of Bouley – he’s actually cooking across the street in the open kitchen at Bouley Upstairs, the maître d’ informs us (We will make the pilgrimage after dinner). But the chef has his mark on everything we’re eating tonight. Erratic, elusive and often just plain rude, the man does like to cook. In an era of jet-streaming executive chefs who buy recipes from free lancers, that’s a blessing. At this very moment he is putting together the menu for Secession replacing the former Danube and in every other waking moment, he is feeling out new menu ideas for the about-to-be transported Bouley in his "gut" as he puts it. (I suppose he means in his mind.)
I say come now to West Broadway for the summer menu before the move. Be sure to have the familiar "Return from Chiang Mai" with lobster, mango and Serrano ham. It could get lost in the move and it’s even better than the 24 hour cooked Greenmarket tomato terrine. Try fabulous lamb rack with housemade goat cheese-parsley gnocchi, pickled ramps, wild arugula and zucchini-mint and Landres cheese purée, or the luscious Connecticut farm-raised baby pig (fed only organic apples and clean grass, it says on the menu).
Used by permission from Gael Greene copyright 2008.
Steven Richter photo copyright 2008