Daniel Boulud has long been a star on New York's fine dining landscape, but he's never been known as the chef to turn to when you're looking to enjoy a fine, yet affordable meal. That changed last year when he opened DBGB Kitchen & Bar, down the street from what used to be the legendary venue CBGB. The restaurant is a symbol of the changing Bowery, certainly evidence in the case for gentrification. I wouldn't call the place cheap, but compared to Boulud's flagship Daniel, or even the slightly more casual Bar Boulud, it's a bargain.
DBGB has a bit of a reputation as a crowded bar with long waits, yet we were able to snag a table in the barroom, right when we walked in at 7:30. In keeping with the casual feeling of the restaurant, the bar room is as large as the dining room itself. We found a table and began ogling the menu, which is mostly refined French cuisine with a few curveballs thrown in that nicely reflect the neighborhood—matzoh ball soup, anyone? The centerpiece, however, is the fourteen house-made sausages that run the gamut from pork links to hot dogs. (More on those later.)
We started with the Fried Egg "Bourguignon" ($13), an egg that appeared to have been battered and soft-cooked in a deep fryer, and served over a tender portobello mushroom. I'm not sure what makes this Bourgignon, or how the wizards in the kitchen make this feat of physics come to life, but the tastiness matches the wow factor. The egg comes with a salad of spicy greens in a red wine dressing, mixed with duck confit and more chunks of portobello, and topped off with a bit of cracklins for texture. From an Apps Only perspective, this may not be the best item to order—the serving size was quite modest—but it was a unique sort of decomposed salad, and one of the best things we ate all night.
If you're looking for the maximum bang for your buck, skip that salad business and jump to the aforementioned sausages. They're interesting, wide-ranging, and each one comes with a different accompaniment to make it something more than just a snack. The sausage menu is broken down into Links, Bangers, Saucisses and Wieners—loose categories to be sure, but they give you some idea of the scope of DBGB's wieners. For the adventurous, you have the Boudin Basque, a blood and pig's head number that was a little too out there for my dining companions. (Next time I'm going unilateral, in the name of the readers). For the New York traditionalist, there's the DBGB dog, a homemade beef frank served with relish and fries (nevermind the fact that a real New Yorker would insist on Hebrew National).
Those were both tempting, as was most every other offering, but we decided on the Beaujolaise ($13), a pork saucisson flavored with mushrooms, bacon, and red wine. This was a rich sausage that recalled all my favorite aspects of homestyle French cooking. The mushrooms weren't overpowering, dotting the soft ground pork just enough to add an earthy flavor; the red wine added a richness—and the bacon, well, that was clearly a welcome addition. For my money, this was the best thing we ate all night. The Beaujolaise comes on a bed of soft, creamy lentils du puy. This is a winter's dish if ever there were one.
The heartiness of the Beaujolaise was complimented by the spiciness of the Thai sausage ($14), another pork link that was closer to the hot dog family—I suppose that makes it a wiener. Sausage nomenclature aside, the Thai sausage was an unexpected success. I ordered it on a lark: I knew the kitchen could sling out a traditional French sausage no problem, but what about something outside the comfort zone? DBGB nails it. The meat is tangy and spicy, and the link comes served with a sweet papaya salad to balance the heat. Rounding out the plate is a mound of fried rice topped with a sunny side up quail egg and a squirt of Sriracha. This dish was an unexpected yet welcome departure from the bistro vibe of DBGB, proving how versatile the joint can be.
Finally, a bucket of French Fries ($6), perfectly crispy and golden brown. Whether or not you like ketchup, ask for mustard; you'll get Dijon as well as a whole grain mustard that tasted homemade. Highly recommended—fries fill you up, but when they're done this well, they're not just filler.
Judging from these items, DBGB is exactly what we wanted it to be: casual, if a bit pricey, with top-notch grub that didn't feel fussy or out of place on the Bowery. The sausages would have totaled $27 but were served as a duo for $24. Before tax and tip, that brought the total down to $43 to feed three—less than $15 each. You may want to bring a bit more cash than that, as the bar features almost a dozen beers on tap, to say nothing of the cocktail menu. A splurge, to be sure, but well worth it when each and every bite was worth savoring. And I'll be back soon to see how that matzoh ball soup holds up to Katz's around the corner.