January 23, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
Yin and Yang at Bar Boulud

 Lemony house made linguine with cuttlefish is the evening’s triumph. Photo: Steven Richter
 Lemony house made linguine with cuttlefish is the evening’s triumph. Photo: Steven Richter

        Of course our bi-continental pals Thea and George were raring to join us at just-hatched Bar Boulud but, Thea warns me, “I’m on my usual just back from Paris diet.  Hope you won’t mind.  I gained three pounds.”  Thea is tiny, a negative 2, I imagine, so three pounds on her is like a third leg on anyone else.

        Watching Daniel Boulud somersaulting through the lead-up to this newest outpost, I can see the chef has tied up a lot of emotion in bringing great charcuterie to New York in this soaring tunnel across from Lincoln Center. Clearly he has heard wails from our town’s calorie-pinching quarter, from fatphobes, anorexics and compulsive x-rays. (I certainly hope the tofu-heads left him alone.) At parties where he’d set up buffets groaning with terrine and pâtés and glistening piggy parts, guests had been seen to pale and turn away in horreur.  Well, the boy from Lyon did not win the Upper East Side stubbornly trying to convert the bourgeoisie to the Lyonnaise church.  I suspected Thea would not starve, though I knew fish and chips (even when listed as beignets de mérou) and mushroom-stuffed skate drifting on buttery meunière would never do.

 Tasters eye the chorus of charcuterie at the bar. Photo: Steven Richter

        The wind races into the restaurant like a wolf.  New Yorkers thrilled to rate a seat in the ballyhooed bistro so early don’t seem to mind the Siberia up front (in both senses).  But by now, the house will have thrown up a velvet curtain or something for protection (even though it doesn’t suit the pale and modest wood infrastructure).

        I am stunned watching Thea nibble a third of a delicate cheese puff. She even savors a tiny crust of the sensational bread while focusing on the perfect choice for ascetics: mâche with shaved mushrooms and toasted shallots and wading into it as if it was a gateau of blond livers by the late Alain Chapel.  And she is giggling, lapping up the loup de mer with preserved lemon, cauliflower and capers with the same joy she brings to her measured overindulgence at Michel Bras.  The Road Food Warrior is off meat too, I notice. His lemon linguine with slivers of cuttlefish, bits of olive, pine nuts and razor clams is astonishingly delicious.  The best dish of the night, I must say.

        As for the devil in me…I am going whole hog. I’m having charcuterie to start and
 Thea’s Spartan greens. Photo: Steven Richter
cheese an as entrée.  It’s still January. Unlike Thea, I never even think about three pounds till they’re ten. I crave the house’s blood sausage too and boudin blanc with truffled potatoes, but decide to abstain till next time.  George, a model of moderation, after the catechism of our beloved Julia Child, is passing around generous tastes of his three item $22 charcuterie tasting – luscious foie gras pâté grand père with truffle juice and pork, satiny chicken liver-smoothed pâté grand mère, and pulled rabbit terrine with carrots.   A much better choice than my not-nearly-sinful-enough beef cheek compote, though a side of celery remoulade with apple is fabulous (a day without mayonnaise is like a day without red wine).  My guy’s navarin with rosemary is all you can expect from a navarin – meaty, root vegetables cooked more carefully than most, and discreetly rosemary’d.

        George does penance for his exuberant charcuterie opener with an entrée of grilled scallops, overcooked and unpleasantly sweet from “winter slaw and red cabbage marmalade.” The $44 Lirac the sommelier has described as fruity and full isn’t even close to the Beycheveille the two of them long for. As usual in my frugal critic’s role, I am fishing for something better than merely drinkable for less than $50.
Perfect root vegetables in the navarin of lamb. Photo: Steven Richter
I can see the two of them are scandalized that there are no Bordeaux on the wine list, a roster of Burgundy and the Rhone. Still Thea and George are thrilled to thither and dither in French with the slight and adorable young waiter. I do enjoy hearing French again.  How charming: The waiter hopes that his being from Bordeaux can make up for the lack of a Beychevelle.

        “What cheeses would I like?”
the cheese sommelier asks. I am amazed…am I actually going to get my favorite epoisse and vacherin and a medium-aged goat?  He writes down my fantasies.  It seems the menu is divided into bloomy, earthy, stinky, old and hard, blue, goat and sheep, one cheese for each category. So what I get is the grès des Vosges, a Charollais and a mature St. Marcellin (not on the menu),  pungent and runny, enough like epoisses to bowl me over. I have to eat it with a spoon – it’s a hockey puck round of supernal pleasure, enough for four fromage freaks to share.  But the prissy people at my table demur, just staring as if they have never quite seen me before.

        Thea and George come alive for a sensational ice cream coup glacées layered with baba au rhum, one of three whimsical sundaes by pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira, better than tonight’s tame little tarts, I’m sorry to say  ($10 for a cut as skinny as Thea).

        Now that I’ve shown myself how wildly wanton I can be, I will be back, let’s say, in a month, ready to try measured sanity.

1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th Street. 212 595 0303

For more on Bar Boulud, see Short Order and An Oink, A Squeak And A Quack.


Vermont Looks To A Foodie Future

        Restaurant critic Suzanne Podhaizer of Seven Days, “Vermont’s Independent Voice,” picked up my tongue-in-both-cheeks Predictions for 2008 and sent a link to her own second annual crystal ball visions. Sounds like Vermont is close enough to the beating heart of culinary ambition.  She writes:
        “Chef-Made Furnishings. In the aughts, it's de rigueur for chefs to whip up condiments such as chipotle-scented ketchup and roasted-garlic mayo — or aioli — from scratch. Sometimes these kitchen wizards even concoct their own recipes for crunchy pickled onions or spiced pear preserves.

        “Our prediction: housemade plates, flatware and furniture. After all, can you really call a dish your own when you're serving it on someone else's, well, dish? For those chefs who don't have room to add a kiln or bellows next to the convection oven, there are always local studios that rent out their facilities.

        “Where does the ocean meet the land? In a seaweedtini, of course! Mix nori or wakame-scented gin with a few dashes of vermouth, garnish with an olive and a piece of tuna sashimi, and serve. Want an extra urban touch? Wet the rim of the glass and dip it in a bowlful of rice grains. Having a hot flash? You can get the estrogen-like compounds you crave with a "tofu triple." Mix equal parts silken tofu and sake, season with soy sauce, and garnish with a few edamame speared on a plastic samurai sword.”  Read more at Eat, Drink and Be Wary: Second Edition.