Boulud Sud, the newest restaurant from esteemed French chef Daniel Boulud, may be getting a great deal of critical attention these days, but I've been finding the attached cafe-boulangerie-patisserie—Epicerie Boulud—just as fascinating. Daniel and crew are doing so much and on so many fronts that I can't fit all my thoughts in one post. So stay tuned for a full review later tonight. Right now? Let's talk about their pastries.
While New York is a great bakery city, I wouldn't say that it has a single French bakery that's excellent across the board. We're huge fans of the baguettes and many of the pastries at Almondine in Dumbo and Park Slope, and of the croissants and more at Ceci-Cela, and of many French pastries at Cannelle Patisserie out in Queens. But is there any single place where you'd want to say to an out of town visitor, "You've gotta go here while you're in New York for a perfect croissant or brioche?" I don't think so.
Spurred by his relentless perfectionism and his instinct for the delicious, Daniel Boulud is clearly trying to create just that sort of bakery, in a space squeezed between Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud. He does not come to this endeavor alone, of course; he's bringing Daniel pastry chef Dominique Ansel and his crew to the breakfast pastry fray.
Epicerie Boulud's closest kin would be Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery—also on this stretch of Broadway, also a high-end café-patisserie, also the work of a four-star chef bringing his exacting mindset to simpler fare. At Bouchon, we've always found the more creative, seasonally rotating baked goods a little better than the classic French pastries (though both are quite fine indeed). At Epicerie Boulud, however, the classics are top-notch.
One of our favorites was an apricot danish ($3), made with fresh apricots; we loved the soft fruit against the crisp pastry, particularly with the added pastry cream. Another winner was the brioche cake bostock ($3.25) with an incredibly light crumb and an almond frangipane top, and a superlatively flaky tarte aux pommes ($4.75)—the best of the bunch, the flakiest, most intensely buttery puff pastry, the sweetness of the apples heightened by butter and sugar.
Croissants are all textbook-delicious, the plain ($2.75) properly golden-brown and shatter-flaky, the pain au chocolat ($3.25) appealingly rich and dark inside that pastry. But the almond croissant ($3.25) is the real winner—the almond element not too sugary or goopy or marzipan-y, just gently sweetened, seeping into some bits of surrounding pastry for sweetly caramelized edges.
We've eaten a lot of sub-par canelés in town, but loved these ($3), with their deeply bronzed exterior and eggy inside chew. A blueberry financier actually tastes like that fruit, not just picking up a purple hue, with a blueberry crumble atop the soft almond cake; if we thought that flavor was strong, the Chamonix ($2) was even stronger, a tiny package with huge star anise flavor.
There's a real ginger hit in the rich, dense chocolate-ginger pound cake, and a real citrus one in the lemon pound cake ($8); the latter was a little dry, but had a nicely tart lemon glaze.
We thought the same of the Brioche Suisse ($3.25) and Brioche Crumble ($3), whose sweet crunch on top we loved. Despite its tender pull and buttery flavor, it was a tiny bit on the dry side; but we really have to look for things to criticize, here. Not every pastry is perfect, but every one is tremendously good.
Stay tuned for a look at their savory options—and at the epic dessert menu.