[Pigging by Wilfrid: January 18, 2008]
You could hardly ask for a better location, on Broadway right across from Lincoln Center
And then there's the Daniel Boulud brand, which still retains some exclusivity.
He has a couple of nice little earners in Vegas and Palm Beach, but this is Daniel Boulud's first extension to his New York portfolio since he started serving fancy burgers at the Bistro Moderne in 2001. And it's been some time in the making: it's nearly a year ago that I puzzled over the implausible proposition that the Bar would offer private wine storage to customers at $15,000 a year.
I am not sure that idea survived close inspection. In any case, the Bar is finally with us, its long, cylindrical sweep leading from the glass wall at the front (chilly in January), past crowded tables, a long bar faced with dining booths, to unexplored territories in the rear. And patrons are clearly gasping for it. Promptly seated for a recent reservation, I watched as a substantial crowd built up around the host desk (the bar being fully seated), and numerous walk-ins were turned away.
This is Manhattan. A wine bar, like a tapas bar, should be a casual, spontaneous option. No: book ahead and still be prepared to cool your heels. In fact, there's little to be said about the wine bar aspect of the business, because although planning was clearly well advanced at the beginning of 2007, the wine for some reason hasn't shown up. Or, at least, there's a surprisingly short list which they plan (and need) to expand.
Happily, it includes Michel and Stéphanie Ogier's "La Rosine", a wine from a great Côte-Rôtie maker which isn't allowed to be called Côte-Rôtie. A fellow Mouthfuls member unearthed the same bottle on the Restaurant Daniel wine list a few years back, and it's still a bargain: a hundred-plus buck wine for $65.
The food angle? It's in the charcuterie - or charcuterie de Gillers Verot as it announces itself, Monsieur Verot being the Paris-based maker of legendary pâtés and bangers. In fact, the fanfare is unnecessarily shrill: the charcuterie here is not imported from Verot in France, but made by a Verot "protégé", Sylvain Gasdon.
The menu lists nine examples of the charcutière's art, plus three hams (from France, Spain and even Iowa). You can share a small or large selection - $22/$46 - but I knew what I wanted to taste, and so ordered three à la carte.
And let's acknowledge the attractive prices currently in place (we'll wait and see if they start to creep up): $8 to $10 will buy big, shareable slices of pâté and terrine, each accompanied by grainy mustard, cornichons and frisée with a pleasantly vinegary dressing. Entrées are priced in the twenties, sides at $6 each.
After warm gougères, the charcuterie service began with a fanfare: Tourte De Gibiers Au Genievre.
The photograph can't do justice to the scale: that is a large slice from what must have been a very large pie indeed, and I'd like to have taken the rest home with me. Layers of pheasant, partridge, duck and foie with sweetbreads, accented with juniper, surrounded by a thin layer of what I think was hot water crust pastry. It take skill to raise and fill a pie like that.
Although I wouldn't have noticed the sweetbreads without reading the menu, the other flavors were distinct and succulent, the seasoning correct, the interface - if I may - of biteable bird and creamy foie very enjoyable. Gold star.
It was only relative blandness of the other charcuterie dishes which reminded me that, fine though the tourte was, it's the kind of elaborate savory pastry which can easily be found in traiteurs, indeed in good street markets, in any French town. Not to mention Spain: I remember an exalted, layered terrine en croute, bought at Llhardy, the traditional restaurant and food store in central Madrid.
The problem with the compote de joue de boeuf - potted braised beef cheek - is that I can imagine making it myself. And I am no charcutière. It was tender enough, nice textured, studded with the odd pistachio, but lacked something; seasoning, certainly; what else it needed I can't really say. It sort of lacked spirit.
It could have been sliced and served warm with a spiky caper sauce: essentially, it was cold boiled beef.
The euphonically named lapin de la Garrigue was rabbit pulled and pressed into shape, in the company of carrots and zucchini. The Garrigue handle suggests the herbs of Provence, but the main flavor notes were simply rabbit and carrots. Like the joue de boeuf, it quite lacked life and complexity.
Not unpleasant, but I can only think that critics already touting these offerings as delicious - perfection, even - may not have spent much time in Europe. Perhaps (I hope) M. Gasdon has some surprises up his sleeve, but I can honestly say that so far you'll find more flavorful terrines, not just in fancy Paris boutiques, but in the average French hypermarché.
Hot food followed, pleasantly enough. If a menu lists both black and white pudding, I drop it and break into spontaneous applause. I didn't try the tempting $19 boudin noir with apple, but ordered the boudin blanc instead - a chubby customer which would probably be the best in town if Grayz weren't serving an especially ethereal version (and "ethereal" is correctly used here, for once). The truffled mash and winey reduction were just dandy.
I did like the look of the regional specialties on the menu, and could easily have ordered the parslied snails, the coq au vin, the salmon marchand de vin. Indeed, I have a rapturous memory of finding saucisse (cervelas) en brioche at Café Boulud years ago: it's present here too. This is by far the most traditionally Gallic of any of Boulud's restaurants.
But take a look at the navarin.
Tender lamb chunks, distinctly rosemary-flavored, with some sharply tasty baby root vegetables. Not a huge portion though, and neither was the boudin, mash and all. Definitely order some of the side dishes - sorry, les garnitures.
Like the Bistro Moderne, Bar B. seems to have a rotating cheese list. My selection encompassed Abbaye de Citeaux, Ossau-Iraty, and some aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Presentation was functional.
The pain d'épices chantilly was, I'm told, very nice: appropriate accompaniments, a gingerbread biscuit, some orange-cinnamon ice cream, very Christmassy.
So, overpopular, borderline overbooked, currently well-priced, and making far too much noise, as yet, about its wine and pâté, Bar Boulud is a place you probably will, and probably should, experience.
Puzzle of the week is this. La Grenouille, L'Absinthe, Le Perigord, even Le Cirque - they've been serving elements of this cuisine for years (I'd like to compare Daniel's boeuf aux carrottes with Bergougnoux's), and yet they're denizens of Manhattan's most unfashionable dining sector. French dinosaurs, they're called.
But put the same dishes, competently prepared, in a modern room with a dining counter (the NYC restaurant accessory for 2008), stamp them with a brand name, and you have beautiful people mauling each other for seats. What have we learned? It isn't just about what's on the plate.