Editor's note: What's the best way to dine at New York's finest restaurants on the cheap? Book a table for lunch. Our man about town, Nick Solares, will be checking out some of the city's finest fine dining lunch deals.
163 Duane Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-693-7480; davidbouley.com
Setting: Plush, serene, effete
Compare To: Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges
Must Haves: Porcini flan, black cod, duckling, chocolate souffle
The Deal: $48 four-course tasting menu
Walking through the doors of the latest incarnation of chef David Bouley's eponymous restaurant, one that has existed in one form or another since 1987, is like taking a step back in time. Back to 1987, in fact. The decor is best described as plush, bordering on effete; it is what one of the odious yuppie characters in American Psycho might call a "chick restaurant."
You will sit on comfy, cushioned chairs, or sink into cloudlike sofas, surrounded by flowers and ivy and draperies and velvet—even the molding around the doors and paintings are wrapped in it. It is a decor that seems, if not exactly dated, then at least a little at odds with the current raw wood and barstool trend in New York restaurants. But regardless of the formality, the dining room at Bouley is pleasant and serene. Eat there at lunch and daylight streams through the windows, accenting the rich tapestry of muted impressionistic colors and creating a calming mood.
The food is a bit of a throwback as well—a type of cuisine that first gained currency in the 1980s, pioneered by none other than Bouley himself, first at Montrachet and then at his own restaurants. The food is beautiful, delicate and delicious, but also decadent and expensive.
Unless you go at lunch—in which case, you will feel like you are paying prices from the 1980s as well. A four course lunch (plus an amuse, a sensational mid-meal palate-cleansing sorbet, and petit fours) will set you back $48. And lest you think that this is some watered down "restaurant week" type menu, you can rest assured that it is not—you will get the full Monty, as they say, and then some.
I wondered, for example, how much of the impeccable breads from Bouley Bakery one could quaff before being "cut off". Would the restaurant actually deny further bread service? I soon had my answer. I overheard a gentleman at a nearby table recount how, on his last visit, he was told that he had too much. I managed two servings without incident. It was more than enough. Each of the four courses come with two choices, perfect if you are dining with someone else—and this is the type of meal that demands company—because if you are willing to share you can make it an eight-course meal.
After an amuse, the first course brought sashimi-quality big eye tuna, or a porcini "flan," stocked with a generous portion of tender Dungeness crab. Second courses? The bizarre, memorable black cod and buckwheat, or a perfectly cooked Spanish mackerel.
All that, before Long Island duckling or a dry-aged New York strip loin. And only then, after a palate-cleansing coconut "soup," is one served a mango and passion fruit dome—or a hot Valrhona chocolate souffle. Ended with petit fours, it's a marathon meal.
$48 is, admittedly, not an insignificant sum to spend on lunch—but it is half the price of what you will spend for dinner at Bouley, and the menus share a number of dishes. You really are getting the full Bouley experience at half the price.
Bear in mind one other expenditure: time. A meal at Bouley is a leisurely affair—expect to spend at least an hour and a half at lunch, two if you take your time. But this is fine dining. The pace is expected and, frankly, required to fully enjoy the experience. Making the commitment will pay dividends.