New York's Bar Boulud is a buzzy brasserie with a dedicated charcuterie kitchen...could paté be the next sushi?
Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway, New York, tel: 00 1 212 595 0303
It's New York, so let's get the hot trends out of the way first. The big word is "locavore", to describe one who eats locally produced food. Menus are full of the provenance of ingredients, leading one critic, amazingly, to accuse chefs of "product placement". Street food has been taken in and given a home by the city's top chefs, with the humble burger and southern barbecue reinterpreted from on high. Plates are oblong, Korean food is in, reservations are out, and sushi is a virus.
Trends dispensed with, we can now relax and have a good time. And that's the biggest trend of all, as New York dining goes ever more casual. Even the Lyon-born chef Daniel Boulud, who first opened the grand, high-end Daniel in 1993, has gradually lightened up – first with the chic, contemporary Café Boulud in 1998, then the Franco/American DB Bistro Moderne in 2001, the first to give the burger gourmet status with foie gras and truffles.
Now, with Bar Boulud, he returns to his Lyonnais roots with a charcuterie-strong menu of down-home bistro classics. But don't expect red-checked tablecloths and wobbly tables. This is New York, honey, so designer Thomas Schlesser has turned the long narrow space into a vaulted tunnel of blonde wood, with seating mixed up over long bars and stools and sought-after booths. Wall art is a series of framed red-wine-stained napkins by Vik Muniz that look like a drunkard's Rorschach test, and the wine list makes better reading than a New York Times bestseller. Wines are divided into Discoveries, Classics and Legends, with emphasis on the Rhone and Burgundy. My "discovery" is a smooth and supple 2006 Domaine Olivier and Ann Marie Rion Haute Côtes de Nuits for £26.
The star of the show is the dedicated charcuterie kitchen, overseen by Sylvain Gasdon, a disciple of Parisian master charcutier Gilles Verot. It's piggy heaven, with 10 different patés, terrines and tourtes, a variety of hams, and five house-made sausages. A degustation platter (£12) of miniature helpings is a real tease, making me sorry I didn't order every one of them as a full serve. Paté grand-père is a moist, rustic, chunky pork terrine with foie gras and port; paté Bourguignon is a gutsy guinea fowl, red-wine and mushroom terrine; and the signature fromage de tête is a juicy, jellied, brawny treat. Even the chewy, dense saucisson sec and finely sliced pink, perky cooked ham is good. It all comes with little salads, grain mustard, cornichons, and hot, napkin-wrapped toast. It makes me want to cry, thinking what £12 will get you for dinner in London.
There is more on the menu besides charcuterie (shrimp brochettes, linguine with cuttlefish, beef tartare), but I am in thrall to the charcutier, and move on to the truffled boudin blanc with mashed potatoes (£15). The plump sausage is so creamy and light, it is practically a mousse in a skin, with a delicate, sweet purity of flavour.
By comparison, steak frites (£18.50) is a solid affair, the Black Angus New York cut having bags of flavour but a rigorous chew. Long, spidery fries served in a silver cup are golden, crisp and salty. To finish, a fresh peach tart successfully cobbles fresh fruit in an almondy cake with a berry ripple fromage blanc sorbet (£6), and cheese (£8) brings a buttery pool of epoisses and decent slabs of nutty Ossau Vielle and citrussy Coupole chevre.
Bar Boulud has nailed the way people like to eat, by pairing charcuterie excellence with wine-bar buzz. Handy for the Lincoln Centre and The Met, it is built for a fast turnover, but a smart pace is hampered by the typically too-many-Indians-and-not-enough-chiefs floor staff. I'd go back, though, to cover the table with charcuterie and salads, then cover it again with cheese, dispensing with the yawny main courses altogether. What's a bet that turns into the next hot trend?
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Read 'Eat', Terry Durack's blog, at independent.co.uk/eat
Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway, New York, tel: 00 1 212 595 0303. Lunch Mon-Fri; brunch, Sat-Sun; dinner daily. Around £125 for two incl wine and service
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