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Bux, one additional piece of context on the Bouley/Red-Cross issue: it's true that many, many restaurants and institutions opened up their kitchens to provide food for the relief workers, but that was mostly in the short term. Bouley took on a much more significant and long-term burden of feeding the crews for much of the duration of the cleanup. You can find some of the statistics in the Observer piece.

The thing is, none of this was explored in the Frank Bruni review. There was just that little damning hint of a crisis of morality. It seems to me that, if there is a story to be told that is truly relevant to Bouley today, it has to do with Bouley's relationships with suppliers. All those lawsuits and collections . . . is he currently able to get the best products or not? And for that matter, is he able to attract the best employees? If the answer to each question is yes, it would seem to negate the comments Frank Bruni chose to present. If the answer to either question is no, it would have been important to say so.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The whole review has such an overall negative overtone, that it seems as if Frank Bruni was out for a vengeance. As if he was hell bent on taking a star away from Bouley. And therefore needed to write anything negative to justify taking away a star. I am sure he has eaten some mind blowing food during his 3-5 visits at Bouley, yet there is no mention of this. At Bouley Bakery and the New Bouley my problem has been that the food sometimes does not blow you away so it’s a bit inconsistent. All the reviews on e-gullet seem to indicate the same problem. Frank Bruni make no mention of this problem. Instead he is trying to tell David Bouley how he should cook.

What is wrong with serving raw scallops with citrus dressing, the point is so the citrus sort of cooks the scallops a bit. Or serving Kobe beef with Asian celery puree, does he think restaurants in Japan are serving Kobe beef with roasted potatoes. Or a chicken dish having a light-healthy taste. I doubt it very much that Frank Bruni or anyone for that matter knows more then David Bouley on how is it appropriate to serve a dish. I could see if he said that something was not cooked properly or not flavored properly, but there is no argument on how a dish should be served.

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I didn't detect any sort of vendetta. It struck me more as a bit insecure and defensive. I was turned off right away by the lead-in paragraphs, which amounted to "I've been a few times but I'm missing the point of this place." Well, I think given the historical context if that's your feeling then you should take some more time to try to get the point.

I haven't done a full-on multiple-visits analysis of Bouley since 2001, when I wrote the following for the dearly departed EdificeRex.com site, but here's how I felt about the restaurant then, and how I still feel based on later visits. Actually when I look at some of the indelicate writing in my own review I feel a little worse about being so critical of Frank Bruni, but hey, he's the Times reviewer. He gets no slack.

The Two Faces of Bouley Bakery

Beating the odds at a restaurant of extremes

By Steven A. Shaw

Like that one agonizingly beautiful woman who effortlessly usurps the position of main attraction at every party — her fleeting glance sending shivers down men's spines; the question on everyone's mind being, "Who will be the object of her affection tonight?" — Bouley Bakery is fickle. When the restaurant sets its sights on you, you're made to feel for one evening as though you're at the center of the gastronomic universe, that you could happily live out the rest of your days without so much as tasting any other chef's cuisine, and that surely those places with three Michelin stars in — what country was it again? — are overrated.

But when, as it too often does, Bouley Bakery reveals its mercurial aspect — perhaps turning its back on you, or going through the motions without the appearance of any real (or at least convincing) feeling — the sense of abandonment and disappointment is staggering. For a mediocre meal at a lesser restaurant is to be expected, whereas anything less than an exquisite dining experience at Bouley Bakery is a betrayal.

One recent visit to Bouley Bakery, in the company of my sixth-grade English teacher no less, was an example of the restaurant at its unforgettable best.

 

Our esteemed waiter from Jamaica, George, when asked his opinion of an à la carte strategy versus one of the multicourse tasting menus, sternly declared, "Mistah, don't you think the chef he's gonna make a better menu than you're gonna pick yourself?" (To put that seemingly informal comment in context, Bouley Bakery is by far the most casual and unimposing of the city's top restaurants, the only dress code being "no jeans, no sneakers," and the staff is among the most engaging I've encountered.) As I learned over the course of a five-hour dinner that nearly culminated in my proposing marriage to George, George is always right.

Our degustation was a tour, in tiny portions, through the mind of national treasure David Bouley, America's most Mozartean practitioner of the culinary arts. First the mood was set by the bread waiter, whose cart overflows with nearly ten artisanal baked-on-premises specimens. Next we pondered the selection of wines, small but without an apparent bad bottle on the list. Then the floodgates opened: Teasing with a single Fisher's Island oyster in parsnip-mango soup, moving through the spectrum of increasingly stimulating shellfish (including a mélange of crusty, impossibly juicy shrimp, scallops and crabmeat, all wading in a radiant green herb-and-garlic purée that put any thoughts of winter out of mind) and fin fish (salmon presented nearly naked, the finest possible example of its species, with just a hint of vodka-infused creme fraiche), and ending in a bracing quadruple climax of meat courses — seared foie gras, braised veal, roast suckling pig and mushroom-crusted venison displaying no evidence of having been cooked except by magic — inexorably escalating beyond the expected and onto that rarely achieved higher plane of sensation that can cause an English teacher to use a quantity of superlatives that would earn a student several deductions on an examination. Each dish in a Bouley tasting is a tightly wound composition of deceptive simplicity, with barely any recognizable sauce or seasoning beyond what has been drawn deep inside the food itself (the à la carte menu items are more traditionally organized, with copious protein, sauce and vegetable components, but they're fully as delicious if not as unique). And those were just the savory courses. After a rest, as the discussion turned to whether "none" is singular or plural, there were the desserts, which eschew the typical Bouley delicacy in favor of concentrations of sugar and chocolate per cubic centimeter that seemingly defy the laws of physics. If there is a best molten-center chocolate torte being served in New York today — better even than Jean George's — it is to be found at Bouley Bakery.

I only wish I could guarantee that every customer, every day, would have such an experience at Bouley Bakery. But I must also report that sometimes the pilgrimage is tantamount to waking up the next day and learning that you've been used. When the early evening and Saturday-lunch rushes hit, a customer could get the feeling of being processed rather than fed. Though $35 for a multicourse tasting of Bouley's dishes — however tiny — is one of the nation's great lunch bargains, it doesn't excuse the resulting assembly-line ambience. Even the bread — the central product at any place that bothers to call itself a bakery — is capricious. Sometimes it's the best in town; other times it's hardly worth the effort to chew.

The best insurance policy, at least until such time as you become known to the restaurant, is to use Bouley Bakery only for late-afternoon weekday lunch (1:30 or later) and dinner after 8:30 p.m., when there isn't a full sitting scheduled after yours. But ultimately, if you want to get lucky, it helps to be lucky.

Or just ask for George.

The Restaurant:

Bouley Bakery, 120 West Broadway at Duane Street, (212) 964-2525, www.bouley.net

The Chef/Owner:

David Bouley, formerly of Montrachet and the old Restaurant Bouley, and now (after a hiatus) of Bouley Bakery and Danube

The Design:

The original Bouley Bakery, which was informal to a fault, has been expanded and refined (even darkened a bit) such that it gives more of an impression of seriousness; still, it lacks the airiness and cheer of the first incarnation

The Rules:

No jeans or sneakers allowed; most gentlemen at dinner wear jackets

The List:

A small, careful, international list of excellent bottles in every price range; Bouley Bakery isn't a wine destination, but there are more than enough choices for mortals and the list's brevity makes it manageable

The Crowd:

Despite its Tribeca location, Bouley Bakery is a national destination and therefore draws a crowd similar to what you'd find at a restaurant in Midtown

The Sound:

Average — tables are close and sound carries, but the smallness of the restaurant compensates somewhat

The Schedule:

Open seven days, for lunch (11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 - 11 p.m.)

The Menu:

Whether this is French or New American is probably less important than that it is Bouley; for a representative menu (which evolves so often it's hardly worth getting your heart set on an individual dish) see www.bouley.net

The Rest:

Wheelchair accessible (everything on one level); all major credit cards accepted; no private party facilities

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I wonder if anyone else thinks the review itself, taken on its own without knowing that Bouley had 4 stars and was demoted (which, btw, is not mentioned in the review), reads like less than a 3 star review? Because there is very little specifically praised. Sure, Bruni mentions a waiter deftly intercepting the wine pour...but other than the desserts does Bruni ever really say anything very good about the food? He says, "None of the entrees or appetizers was an out-and-out failure..." What kind of praise is that? How does that describe a 3 star meal?

And lastly, after reading this review, does anyone want to eat there? I don't. And I think the reader should want to eat at a 3 star restaurant after reading the review.

To me, it read like a three star review. Bruni clearly liked many of the dishes very much. As one poster said (who apparently works at Bouley) the major criticisms were 'front of the house' types of things, with some also being food, but I thought the comments regarding the food were pretty positive.

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George was only one of many wonderful waiters we had at Bouley over the years. I wish I remembered all their names. One of our (me and FG that is) first fine restaurant experiences was at Bouley in maybe 1989, we were 20 or 21 years old not that they carded us or anything. Our waiter was, like George, an African-American. I only mention it because it is sadly the case that there are not a whole lot of black waiters in the top New York restaurants, and in 1989 there were far fewer. At Bouley I remember not only George and the guy from 1989 but also the most wildly gay African-American waiter from Arkansas who may have been the best of the three. I'm not sure because we had a lot to drink that night but I think our friend Carl may have gone home with him.

What was I saying? Yes, that Bouley can be amazing. Have been with FG on most of his visits and have been there without him 4 or so times with my mother who is a big fan and does the weekend lunch there with some regularity. Sometimes it's the greatest place to eat, other times it's mediocre. I always kind of dread going there especially with all-eggs-in-one-basket visitors who need to have a great meal because it's going to be their only big-deal meal of the year.

Chefwise, I don't follow this as closely as some others but I get the feeling that many of my favorite chefs are Bouley people. Not all of them are coming to mind right now but Doug Psaltis late of Mix and Brian Bistrong from nee Citarella are both out of that kitchen. William Yosses the pastry chef as well. Just a brilliant pastry chef. If you don't agree you're nuts.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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One other thing that's curious is the length of the review. Less than 1000 words. Usually the four-star reviews and even the four-to-three-star demotions get 1200 -1300 or more words. Not to obsess too much about word count, but 300 extra words would have allowed more commentary on the food and on Bouley's standing in the chef community (and why).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One other thing that's curious is the length of the review. Less than 1000 words. Usually the four-star reviews and even the four-to-three-star demotions get 1200 -1300 or more words. Not to obsess too much about word count, but 300 extra words would have allowed more commentary on the food and on Bouley's standing in the chef community (and why).

Maybe that is an indication that we should be getting on Bruni's editor and not Bruni.

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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Maybe that is an indication that we should be getting on Bruni's editor and not Bruni.

We should have been getting on the editor for the jig in the stomach comment two reviews back.

Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) almost the same expression – a jig in my mouth -- popped up in R.W. Apple's River Café piece today.

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Though I too was puzzled at the lack of attention paid to food qua food, I'm not sure that I agree with (Rich?) that it's problematic that the review is clearly aimed at small subset of the Times readership (those that have some familiarity with high-end cuisine in NY). The set of Times readers who read the main review on Wednesdays is probably relatively small to begin with (I would not be astounded if it was even smaller than the "Under $25" column). The readership with the financial wherewithal (and desire) to frequent 4-star restaurants is a subset of that subset. I'm thinking that it's safe to surmise that most of that final subset are already aware of Bouley and its reputation and have some context to put it in.

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One of our (me and FG that is) first fine restaurant experiences was at Bouley in maybe 1989, we were 20 or 21 years old not that they carded us or anything.

One of my best dining experiences was in February 1989, when my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary at Bouley. Unfortunately we weren't 20 or 21 year olds.

But you remind me of my first fine dining experiences and there are three that stand out. For my sixteenth birthday - Aug. 4, 1966 (interesting that eGullet and I have the same birthday, albeit years apart). My parents took me to Peter Luger - that's when it was truly top notch, not the shadow of itself that it is today.

As a child in the late 50's my parents took me to the Gold Coin - an outstanding Catonese restaurant on Second Avenue (51-52 Sts?). I remember seeing Lucille Ball, Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie) and William B. Williams eating there. I continued to dine there until they closed in the eary 80's. This was and still is my favorite Chinese (Cantonese-style) restaurant. All I had to do was walk into the Gold Coin and there was a glass of Canadian Club on the Rocks placed in my hand.

And the other was taking my first serious girlfriend to Lutece in 1967. (I wasn't 18 yet, the legal drinking age at the time, but ordered a bottle of Chateaneuf Du Pape and they served me.) It was the first truly great meal I had. I know Soltner was the chef then, but I don't think he owned it until 1972.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I have to say that I am not convinced that Bouley is even aiming to be a 4-star restaurant. I see it as a 3-star restaurant that is capable of delivering a 4-star experience. In my estimation Bouley should be compared to Grammercy Tavern or Babbo rather than ADNY, Per Se or Daniel.

Grimes giving Bouley 4-stars was blatant favoritism, IMHO. ADNY and Daniel were held to much higher standards by the same reviewer.

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Though I too was puzzled at the lack of attention paid to food qua food, I'm not sure that I agree with (Rich?) that it's problematic that the review is clearly aimed at small subset of the Times readership (those that have some familiarity with high-end cuisine in NY).  The set of Times readers who read the main review on Wednesdays is probably relatively small to begin with (I would not be astounded if it was even smaller than the "Under $25" column).  The readership with the financial wherewithal (and desire) to frequent 4-star restaurants is a subset of that subset.  I'm thinking that it's safe to surmise that most of that final subset are already aware of Bouley and its reputation and have some context to put it in.

I respectfully disagree. That column is read by people with only a casual interest in food and restaurants. My two brothers read it every week and I would be surprised if they knew that "Bouley" was restaurant. And if they did know, they certainly would not have known any background about the place or that it was a four-star establishment.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I am with Rich on this one. The NY Times food section is read by food-lovers across the country. In fact, I'd bet the Wed Times and Sunday Times are the biggest sellers outside of the NY metropolitan area.

That's why a review this insider-y, to me, reads like a first draft. His editors should've sent it back and asked him to re-think it. You're giving this place 3 stars--do you want it to read this negatively? Do you want to mention the Red Cross? If so, why?

Perhaps the problem is that, unlike Bruni's first 2 reviews, here we see a Bruni who can't seem to make up his mind and seems to be searching. In the end, it just doesn't come across to me as being as difinitive as his other reviews thus far.

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Let me rephrase (I thought I made this clear)...the number of people who actually read the reviews and actually patronize four-star restaurants (at least more than once a year) is a small subset and I surmise most of thus are already familiar with Bouley. my 3 cents

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Let me rephrase (I thought I made this clear)...the number of people who actually read the reviews and actually patronize four-star restaurants (at least more than once a year) is a small subset and I surmise most of thus are already familiar with Bouley.  my 3 cents

I understand your point. But you still can't write a four-star review for a small, select client base and write a one-star review for a wider audience. After all, isn't one of the purposes of the review section to attract new diners and maybe get older diners to try new experiences and broaden their restaurant interest?

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Let me rephrase (I thought I made this clear)...the number of people who actually read the reviews and actually patronize four-star restaurants (at least more than once a year) is a small subset and I surmise most of thus are already familiar with Bouley.  my 3 cents

I understand your point. But you still can't write a four-star review for a small, select client base and write a one-star review for a wider audience. After all, isn't one the the purposes of the review section is to attract new diners and maybe older diners to try new experiences and broaden their restaurant interest?

I agree. But if that was the only point then we would never have re-reviews (which is a different discussion)...if Bruni only writes reviews in this fashion then we have a problem. I'm assuming that say 1 in 4 reviews will be a re-review which in my book would be fine.

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I have to say that I am not convinced that Bouley is even aiming to be a 4-star restaurant.  I see it as a 3-star restaurant that is capable of delivering a 4-star experience.  In my estimation Bouley should be compared to Grammercy Tavern or Babbo rather than ADNY, Per Se or Daniel.

      Grimes giving Bouley 4-stars was blatant favoritism, IMHO.  ADNY and Daniel were held to much higher standards by the same reviewer.

Do you mean to say that Bouley was one of those restaurants that did not seek a four-star rating but achieved one (until today at least)? I asked that question (in general, not about any one particular restaurant) on the NYC Four-Star thread and was told (by a large majority) that you can't be a four-star unless you set out to be a four-star.

Interesting thought - very interesting.

Edited by rich (log)

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Going back to read the review, it seems that Bruni almost assumes his readers have already dined there.

Chop, sorry about the kick to your crew.

I feel for you guys.

Hope everything gets better.

2317/5000

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Let me rephrase (I thought I made this clear)...the number of people who actually read the reviews and actually patronize four-star restaurants (at least more than once a year) is a small subset and I surmise most of thus are already familiar with Bouley.  my 3 cents

I understand your point. But you still can't write a four-star review for a small, select client base and write a one-star review for a wider audience. After all, isn't one the the purposes of the review section is to attract new diners and maybe older diners to try new experiences and broaden their restaurant interest?

I agree. But if that was the only point then we would never have re-reviews (which is a different discussion)...if Bruni only writes reviews in this fashion then we have a problem. I'm assuming that say 1 in 4 reviews will be a re-review which in my book would be fine.

Okay, but I still believe he needs to stress the positive more, so the newer or more casual reader will understand that the negative is included primarily to explain the demotion.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Do you mean to say that Bouley was one of those restaurants that did not seek a four-star rating but achieved one (until today at least)? I asked that question (in general, not about any one particular restaurant) on the NYC Four-Star thread and was told (by a large majority) that you can't be a four-star unless you set out to be a four-star.

Interestng thought - very interesting.

Yes. I do think Bouley aims to serve worldclass food, but I don't think that he is trying to compete directly with the true four stars. I had the impression that he one day intended to open a true 4-star restaurant as part of his empire, and that the current restaurant is a compromise.

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Going back to read the review, it seems that Bruni almost assumes his readers have already dined there.

If true, a totally defenseless position on his part. That too is Journalism 101 - I think my Philadelphia Textile theory is getting stronger. :laugh:

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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My read of the review was not nearly as negative as those complaining about it here purport. While it may not have been the most definitaive review ever written, I do believe he made his point credibly. He didn't pan the food, he just didn't rave about it in the way one would expect from a four star. In essence, he gave it three rather than four stars because of the inconsistencies that kept cropping up, both in the kitchen and in the FOH. He didn't dwell on the recommended dishes, because that was not the thrust of this article. he made positive comments about the food, but he had to justify and therefore spend more space on the reasons he was less than fully enamored with it.

It seems to me that most of those complaining most vociferously have some investment in Bouley, emotionally or otherwise. I have had an awful meal at the old Bouley and a fine meal at this one, nevertheless, the tenor of this review to me is very close to what I've been reading here on eGullet. As far as the Red Cross issue, I believe those with some knowledge of the situation and the emotional investment in Bouley, the person and the restaurant, have made more out of it than is really there. To those without that investment, I suggest the comment is one of historical perspective only without casting aspersions. at least i did not take it that way.

It is my feeling, as I have stated elsewhere, that a three star restaurant is a great restaurant, though not quite as great for whatever reason as a four star restaurant (IMO nearly perfect in every way). I cmae out of Per Se having spent more money per person than I ever have at a restaurant and still felt that it was a bargain. That , to me bespeaks a four star restaurant. While that could conceivably happen at Bouley and probably occassionally and maybe even often does, the sense I have is that for a variety of reasons it is not often enough to warrant the fourth star - at least not at present.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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Based entirely on the copy used and if I had not known that Bouley had previously had four star status, I would have thought that I was reading the review of a two star restaurant this morning. I would guess that there have probably been two stars that have received more glowing reviews than was given to Bouley by Bruni.

Porkpa

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It is my feeling, as I have stated elsewhere, that a three star restaurant is a great restaurant, though not quite as great for whatever reason as a four star restaurant (IMO nearly perfect in every way). I cmae out of Per Se having spent more money per person than I ever have at a restaurant and still felt that it was a bargain. That , to me bespeaks a four star restaurant. While that could conceivably happen at Bouley and probably occassionally and maybe even often does, the sense I have is that for a variety of reasons it is not often enough to warrant the fourth star - at least not at present.

Well put. I don't believe that an impartial reviewer would grant Bouley more than 3-stars. The standard has been raised considerably since Bouley first came on the scene.

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