Bar Boulud

by Susan on March 4, 2008

[Food:2.5/5]

From the moment I read about Bar Boulud I was excited. A restaurant focusing on charcuterie was a relatively novel proposition for NYC and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at Boulud’s other Manhattan establishments. I figured a formula that added Boulud to terrines and pates could only equal something fantastic. There were early reviews about Bar Boulud’s service hiccups but I figured after a couple of months all the kinks would be ironed out. After all, this was a Daniel Boulud place… I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bar Boulud’s long and narrow construct is extremely awkward. Throughout the meal I couldn’t help but wonder if many of the restaurant’s service issues are due in part to the layout. Servers and busboys have to travel significant distances to provide service and there is no vantage point from which a manager can survey the restaurant and see what might be amiss. While the interior design is aesthetically appealing, the light woods, high ceiling, and stark lighting contrasts unfavorably with the bistro fare.   

We were not seated until after 9:30pm despite our 9pm reservation. When someone finally came to tell us our table was ready, neither an apology nor an explanation was offered. When we checked in for our reservation, a hostess escorted us to the designated “bar” located in the middle of the restaurant to wait. The bar is actually a display case where all the charcuterie is housed. There is not a bottle of alcohol or a bartender in sight. (Think sushi bar without a chef behind it.) It would make an alright place for two people to enjoy charcuterie nibbles, but it certainly isn’t the place for people to gather while they wait for tables. Due to the restaurant’s slender design we were constantly bumped and jostled and even worse, no one offered to take a drink order.

We were finally led to our table at the very front of the restaurant. We actually displaced other patrons who were standing around our seats waiting for their own tables. With such a measly bar area, spill over moves to the front. Bar Boulud does not have the typical anterior door system that most NYC restaurants have installed for the winter months and every time the door to the restaurant opened, a cold wind blew over our table. One of my girlfriends didn’t take her coat off for the entire meal. Another girlfriend looked as though she were in a Pantene commercial, her silky hair constantly blowing about her face.

Once seated, we immediately ordered two bottles of wine (we were, after all, thirsty from our drinkless stand at the bar). The sommelier did not return for over fifteen minutes (and I assure you these bottles were not tucked away in the “special reserve” cave). After the initial pour the sommelier disappeared and because the wine needed to be chilled, it disappeared with him. We had to ask our server for refills twice before just asking for the bottle to be brought to the table.

Though our server was very nice, she clearly lacked experience. There was only one entrée special available that evening, but she still had to read its entire description from a piece of paper. Any questions we asked were answered without confidence.

As for the bus boys, I must commend the water service. It was the only aspect of the service that was excellent. Perhaps they were so busy pouring water that their other duties fell by the wayside. Our charcuterie and appetizer plates were never taken away and we watched in dismay as our entrees appeared over our shoulders only to vanish back to the kitchen while the table was cleared.

I’ll take this opportunity to let you know that the bill for six of us was $600 (including tax and tip). At $100 a person, this type of service is inexcusable.

We started with the large Charcuterie Degustation as well as the Escargot and Snapper appetizers. We all really enjoyed the sampling provided on the charcuterie platter and it was fun to share with a group.  The Compote of braised beef cheek and the Pate of pheasant and cherry were standouts. The Terrine of curried chicken had the least flavor. A colorful array of vegetables and mustards accompanied the charcuterie. Deep purple beets and cooked carrots received the rave reviews. Both the piquant and grainy mustards were delicious.

The Escargots were good, but more butter and more herbs would have made them more memorable. The bland, marble-sized potato croquettes they came with looked much better than they tasted. The Snapper preparation was light and asian-inspired, but didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the meal.

Our group was not too diverse in the entrée department – we all gravitated towards the Lamb Stew, Skate, and the Rabbit special. Bites of lamb alternated between tender and chewy and the savory stew felt out of place in this very bright and high ceilinged space. The dense and flavorful Skate, stuffed with mushrooms, was delicious. Rabbit with herbs and bacon was well executed and its crispy skin and juicy meat demonstrated solid preparation. The Skate was unique but there are certainly cozier and cheaper spots to go for good bistro fare in this city.

The complex textures of the Chocolat Noisette were a lovely showcase for chocolate and hazelnut. The Chocolate-Coffee tart tasted as if the two flavors no longer wanted to be in the same dessert together; a fellow diner offered the theory that it had been made the day before. The petit fours were a delightful assortment of fruit and chocolate confections.

If the service is terrible and the atmosphere is poor, food that doesn’t live up to its potential will not be enough to make (or save) a restaurant. Such is the case at Bar Boulud.

Bar Boulud
www.danielnyc.com/barboulud/barboulud.html
1900 Broadway
New York, NY 10023
(212) 595-0303

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