September 19, 2005 | Ask Gael

Am I awake? I see David Bouley cooking

        Across the street at Danube and his three-star Bouley, hundreds will pay hundreds for dinner. But Upstairs at Bouley Bakery, in full view behind a counter in a walk-in closet of a space, the obsessive and brilliant chef himself is flipping burgers and grilling lamb chops for us. We three are stuffed around a tiny two-top in a space so crowded the server has to plop into an empty seat to let the busboy by. Savvy-looking Japanese dominate the sushi bar, where two sushi sensei sliver striped jack. And yes, the food is delicious. How could it be otherwise, with David himself hustling the range? From the East-West mix, we divide a miniature swirl of mountain-potato noodles with freshwater weed - a texture thrill. A tiny bowl of Japanese-style gelée with sea eel, lobster, and sea urchin never was meant for three. But an itsy spoonful is enough to know: Yes. Calamari à la plancha on a toss of summer lettuces comes sized for Western tastes. Scallops - scored, caramelized, and just barely gelled - are ambrosial with wild mushrooms, coconut juice, and ginger. A sweep of silken zucchini-mint purée rings four luscious chops from a very young lamb. (All products on sale in the market below, and why is the bread so wimpy?) I’ll be back for that wonderful burger on a crunchy English muffin and to check out what the ambitious biker-chef will do next.

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