It may not be the best fine dining meal in New York City, but the lunch tasting menu at Bouley is definitely the best fine dining deal. I hadn't done the lunch at Bouley since my last visit almost five years ago. I had a disappointing meal then, but I believe that Bouley's restaurants have improved across the board since he came back and retooled his mini-empire, opening Brushstroke and other concepts. In those five years, the lunch deal at Eleven Madison Park has gone from $28 for 2 courses to $54 for 3 courses to being non existent, the lunch deal at Jean Georges has gone from $28 to $38 to $48 for 2 courses, while the lunch deal at Del Posto has gone from $29 to $39 for 3 courses. The 5 course lunch tasting at Bouley, however, has only gone from $48 to $55, while the whole experience has improved since that last disappointing meal there.
Atmosphere: Bouley pretty much looks the same as it always has, giving off a rustic, old school countryside vibe. It's a nice oasis away from the hustle and bustle of NYC, but sometimes it can feel cluttered and clunky.
Service: Service has gone from disappointing to passable, although water refills were still scarce. Don't expect to get much in the way of answers regarding the food. There appears to be a staff tier structure, but if so the captains never asserted themselves. I honestly can't imagine how they would be able handle a full dining room for lunch with the staff they had.
Food: The online menu was representative of the available menu at the restaurant, with at least two options for each course.
AMUSES: LOBSTER WITH FRUIT FOAM, CRACKER WITH TRUFFLE AND KUDZU
I don't remember exactly, but I think the fruit espuma was either blood orange or strawberry. There was also some grain and chia seeds which provided a nice balance of texture, but the overall flavor was one-note of sweetness. The truffled cracker, on the other hand, was extraordinary, with a depth of truffle flavor and a wonderful balance of textures with the crisp toastiness of the cracker and the soft and sticky kudzu starch.
BREAD AND BUTTER
The meal structure felt a bit weird in that they served bread and butter with the first course, but independent of the big bread cart which comes later.
BIG EYE TUNA; GREEN APPLE, BERGAMOT, OSETRA CAVIAR
Both my friend and I chose the tuna for our first course, which was also our server's recommendation. None of the flavor combinations were particularly novel, and I was expecting a stronger smell from the bergamot, especially with the domed presentation. It was a good starter though, as the fish was fresh and there was a sizeable amount of caviar. I wish the fish was seasoned more as a whole, as the dish fell victim to the chef relying solely on the caviar to provide saltiness, a very common occurrence these days.
PORCINI FLAN; DUNGENESS CRAB, TRUFFLE DASHI
FORAGER'S TREASURE; WILD MUSHROOMS, SWEET GARLIC, GRILLED TORO, SPECIAL SPICES AND TRUFFLE DRESSING
The porcini flan is a Bouley signature although I'm not a big fan of it. I had the forager's treasure, which sounded amazing. Overall it was wonderful, with earthy mushrooms and luscious fatty toro. The only thing that seemed out of place was that it was a little too sweet (I vaguely remember hints of either honey or coconut), although I couldn't tell whether it was from the sweet garlic, spices, or dressing. I would have preferred it if they had just focused on the rich earthiness of the ingredients.
An impressive bread cart featuring over 11 different kinds of bread. Some were more traditional (sourdough) while others were chock-full of healthy nuts and grains. I tried a few, and they were all quite good, so I would just suggest being adventurous and going with whichever ingredient base sounds good to you.
SLOW BRAISED KOBE STYLE BEEF CHEEKS; BLUE KALE GNOCCHI
I've never really considered "Kobe-style" beef to be a particularly premium ingredient, but I would imagine putting those words there might help get ladies who lunch to order beef cheeks. Regardless of the provenance of the beef, this was just an absolutely delicious, sizeable mound of rustic, flavorful, tender braised beef and pasta.
ORGANIC LONG ISLAND DUCK; ORGANIC GOLDEN NEVADA DATES, HAND MILLED POLENTA
CHILLED COCONUT SOUP; PINEAPPLE GRANITE, EXOTIC FRUIT SORBET, AMARETTO ICE CREAM
TRISTAR STRAWBERRIES; AMARETTO ICE CREAM
Simple and delicious combinations of flavors, without being overly sweet.
A classic decadent, comforting dessert that reminds you that you've just had a luxurious and rich lunch.
This is fine dining in its classical form, with rich entrees and desserts, generous amounts of luxury ingredients, and an overabundance of choices highlighted by the overindulgent bread cart. Just a tremendous value at $55+t/t. If you have the time to take in this lunch, I highly recommend this (barely a) splurge. However, I felt that the execution and service weren't at a level where I would rush to come back for dinner, when the prices get a huge jump.
163 Duane St (Tribeca)
Manhattan, NY 10013