Wow! The word doesn't really do it justice, but last nights dinner at Bouley was just that. The Chef was very definitely "in the house", creating an exciting menu that was perfectly executed by his impressive team both in the kitchen and at the table, great with the wines, and absolutely delicious. At the beginning of the evening one of our guests asked "Why here?" I think the experience that began when we entered through the apple scented foyer and didn't end until the petits fours and coffee were served several hours later put paid to that!
The genesis for tonight's soiree began almost two years ago to the day when Chef Bouley offered us a first glimpse of his restaurants new location. We could have the whole venue, just for us and our guests, a couple of days before it opened to the public. We could bring in our own wine, he'd design a menu to compliment. We got an insiders view and first chance to vet the new digs, and a great dinner, he got to do a run through before opening to the masses: win-win! With the Chef coming out after the dinner and spending quite a bit of time with our guests, it was truly a special evening. We vowed to do it again, and last evening marked our return.
As beautiful as the restaurant was on our preview visit, one can now see that it was not quite completed. The bones were there, but last evening we saw the space in all its glory, so much more detail, all the finishing touches long completed and now showing the comfort and warmth of having been lived in for a couple of years. The attention to detail that went into the space is truly astounding, and Chef Bouley is almost as happy talking about the French doors and hardware from 13th century, the tons and tons of stone from the same quarry that is used for the restoration of the Versailles Palace in France (the first to be sold out of the quarry for several hundred years), the ancient restored beams, and the craftsmen and women who came from all over the world to build it, as he about his incredible cuisine. All that work, he joked, and it will probably be a Citibank branch in 30 years!
While last time we chose the wines and had the Chef create the menu, this time we flipped the order, challenging ourselves to match wines to a menu that Chef would create the day before from whatever fresh, seasonal ingredients inspired him. True to his word he phoned it in at about 4pm the day before - yipes! No chance to order in if we needed something. And what a menu it was, with a lot of moving parts in each of the creations - our immediate reaction was love at first sight, but quite a wine challenge! They were multi faceted dishes, hard to really understand how the subtle flavors and textures would express themselves, and how they would work with wine, especially without seeing or sampling in advance. It occurred to me that wine and food pairing, like cooking and wine making, is a combination of art and science, where creativity and intuition are best supplemented with real measurable knowledge and experimenting if you want to get it right. The simple stuff is easy - red wine with beef, white with fish! But when we are talking about cooking at this level, it's a whole new ballgame. Nevertheless, we asked for it, so onto the wines we went. I think Joe and I spent more time on this one than any other we have done. Looking at each detail in the description, thinking about what the main flavors would be, parsing each element and thinking how its overall weight, acidity, flavor, texture, and richness will react with the wine, and what the same elements in the wine would bring to the dish. I can assure you we went back an forth for quite a while before making our selections.
Results? I should leave that to our fellow diners, but in my humble opinion we hit it pretty well "spot on". It is also fair to say that we had a little help from our friends in the kitchen. Part of the beauty of working with such a talented Chef and staff is that they actually get it! You would be surprised how many times we have worked with a staff, that as talented as they may be in the kitchen, is quite tone deaf to the wine aspect. Not here! Chef Bouley looked at the wines we chose that day and tweaked the menu with a few deft touches to really knit each dish and wine together, nous vous remercier!
Once again at the end of the dinner Chef Bouley spent a considerable amount of time with us, telling a few stories about his wedding and the celebration of wine, food, and friends that he experienced, about his thoughts on food and cooking and ingredients, and his love of this space. When he talks about the restaurant, he tends to be drawn to its physical presence - the stone, the brick, the doors, the detail of the workmanship, tactile and connected, giving them a pat and caress like you would a thoroughbred horse. It almost seems that he draws strength, creativity and inspiration from the structure of the building. Being downstairs where you see the supporting arches, beams and stonework, firmly rooted to the rock of Manhattan underneath Duane Park, accentuates the feeling - and on that note creative, detailed, precise, hands-on, and rock solid is exactly how I would describe my experience last night.
Fresh Malibu Sea Urchin Terrine with Russian Golden Oscetra Caviar, Fresh Kinome Leaf - NV Pascal Paillard Champagne Brut Bouzy Grand Cru
Butter-Sugar Corn Flan with Live Dungeness Crab, Black Truffle Dashi – 2001 Patrick Lesec Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er cru
Organic Connecticut Farm Egg
24 month Prosciutto di Parma, Steamed Polenta, Artichoke,
Coconut and Early Garlic Broth – 2001 Ronchi di Cialla Ciallabianco Colli Orientali del Friuli (MAGNUM)
Chatham Day Boat Lobster
Brown and White Honshimeji Mushrooms, Passion Fruit,
English Peas,Fresh Lychee, Hyssop – 2008 Knoll Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd
Venison Loin Wrapped with a rye and Salt Crust
with Raoster Chestnut Peels, Pruneaux D'Agen, Pennsylvania Chestnut Gnocchi, Baby Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Comté Cloud – 2001 Barbaresco Asili, Bruno Giacosa
Chilled Strawberry Soup with Organic Yogurt Sorbet
Hot Caramelized Anjou Pear
Valrhona Chocolate, Biscuit Breton, Hot Toffee Sauce
Réglisse Sorbet and Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream – 2001 Isole e Olena Vin Santo
Petits Fours and Chocolates