Here's what you need to know about dining at Bouley Bakery and Market. Come during peak lunch hours (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and you'll have to scramble or wait around for a seat. Arrive in the afternoon and early morning and you can set up your laptop, hold an informal work meeting, or just seek out some peace and quiet.
As you enter, the dining room is to your right and the buffet is to your left. Head left first, pick out your food, and then move to the dining room where you fetch your own water and utensils. The food section is divided into a sandwich bar, a buffet by the pound (hot foods and salad), a sushi, cold sandwiches and cheese case, a raw meats case, a baked goods area, a dessert case, and an ice cream case. There is a lot to take it and it was overwhelming during my first visit (which happened to be prime lunch hour).
A friend recommended the lobster roll to me. "Twelve dollars!!" she declared, with full disclosure that it most certainly was not for "one of those lobster roll purists people." And for $12 I do agree that this is a swell deal, though you must take to not come in with the notion that it is anything like that of Pearl's or the like. It's more of a lobster salad sandwich, consisting of a toasted bun, long thin cuts of cucumber, and lobster mixed in with cabbage and mayo. It could use more seasoning and perhaps a touch of salt, as it was bland. But aside from that, $12 at a Bouley establishment for a lobster (salad) roll? Sign me up.
The cheapest thing here that counts as a "full meal" would be the pre-assembled eggplant sandwich made of layers of marinated eggplant, with tomatoes and lettuce on whole grain. At $5.95, it is delicious (albeit very messy), filling, and a great deal. The bread gets soggy quickly, so if you have your heart set on this, come early. And if you're not a sandwich person there's a wide array of hot foods at the by-the-pound buffet—don't miss out on the mac & cheese.
Pass on the not-so-special housemade drinks (lemonades, berry smoothies, and Arnold Palmers) and dive into desserts. A peek in the ice cream case revealed a basic mix of flavors, gently priced at $2.25 a scoop. Pictured above is the strawberry ice cream and pear sorbet. While lovely and perfectly satisfying, it's no competition to some of the better ice cream spots in town.
There are only two places I know of in New York City that do consistently good cannelés: Balthazar Bakery and Bouley Bakery. I'd say the two are almost on par with each other, but Bouley Bakery has a slighter edge: their cannelés are super moist and eggy, and a touch sweet with vanilla bean-dotted innards. The outside was slightly too burnt, but I've seen much worse. For $2, this is a dessert I shall return for.