Bar Boulud: DB’s Masses-Friendly Spot
Bar Boulud is Daniel Boulud’s shot at attracting the masses. The food is accessible; the location is tourist-friendly; pre-theatre prix-fixe menus are all the rage; an outdoor patio attracts patrons like bees to honey; and the prices are acceptable, for a Boulud. In all of these ways, Bar Boulud is a successful establishment – a major moneymaker for Daniel Boulud and a crowd-pleaser.
On a bustling block just short of the intersection of Broadway and Amsterdam, Bar Boulud hides amongst cheesy family spots (Cafe Fiorello, I’m looking at you) and chain stores. In clement weather, the outdoor patio is the neighborhood place to be for people-watching and casual noshing; rows upon rows of tables and chairs give you a pretty good shot at nabbing a table before 8. The indoor space is quite striking with an elegant taupe and brown color scheme, a curvaceous tunnel-like main dining room, modern art inspired by the French countryside, and a spacious bar for eating, drinking, and socializing. Downstairs, private dining rooms amongst wine caves add intrigue to an otherwise sophisticated and sparse space.
The food is part simple brasserie-style cuisine and part fancy shmancy Boulud takes on French classics. What this means is that you’ll find steak tartare, steak frites, roast chicken, and frisee salads alongside Atlantic skate filet with endives, rainbow trout with fava beans, radish and lemon marmalade, and Maine peekytoe crab salad with citrus, almond praline, avocado and watercress. Trust me, and stick with the simple stuff – once the kitchen starts finagling with funky flavors and techniques, the quality of the food goes sharply downhill.
The steak tartare was decent; beautifully presented yet lacking in fresh flavors, the dish felt a little tired and lacking inspiration. Compared to some of the other more robust steak tartares I’ve had recently in Manhattan (most notably at Quality Meats), this rather sad version tasted good yet can’t compete. The steak frites were better, served a bloody pink with savory fatty sauce and crisp salted fries. The Boudin Blanc, a white truffle pork sausage, really plays to Boulud’s strengths – fatty fresh sausages (like those found at DBGB Kitchen & Bar) served on a bed of soft and well-seasoned mashed potatoes; if you’re a meat and potatoes kind of person, this is your nirvana.
While neither my father (my night’s dining companion) nor I are huge dessert fiends, we couldn’t say no to the complicated array of sweet treats available. Imagine concoctions such as the Limperatrice, consisting of poached Jasmine rice, champagne mango marmalade, and rice pudding-mango sorbet, or the Nopal, a convuleted tower of prickly pear poached pineapple, almond milk supreme, amaretto sponge cake, and pineapple-coriander ice cream. The real showstopper though was the visually gorgeous Diva Renee, a three-scoop ice cream bonanza with passion fruit and raspberry gelee, raspberry-exotic sorbet, and hazelnut dacquoise. Bar Boulud also offers not only an impressive selection of wines, cheeses and charcuterie, but also a 3-course pre-theatre dinner for those seeking a meal before a show.
Bar Boulud wasn’t spectacular, yet in its charming location (absolutely perfect for pre-Lincoln Center events), friendly and unobstrusive service, and generally relaxed UWS feel, Bar Boulud rises above its averge food to be something rather special. I wouldn’t call it gourmet, and it’s pretty over-priced, but Bar Boulud has a certain je ne sais quoi, particularly on the outdoor patio, that had me enraptured.
Perfect For: outdoor dinners on warm nights, pre-theater, family outings, wine and cheese shenanigans, ladies night out, and bar eats