Cafe Boulud

We love going to Café Boulud. We actually came late to the party, so to speak, since the restaurant had been open a long time before our first visit near the end of Andrew Carmellini’s tenure as executive chef. Everything about the experience – the cuisine, the wine (for M), the service, and the ambiance – left us shaking our heads in wonderment and asking each other, “Why did we wait this long?!” Since then, we’ve been there too many times to count. We enjoyed all our meals when Carmellini’s replacement, Bertrand Chemel, was in charge of the kitchen. When he left, Daniel Boulud announced that Gavin Kaysen would be the new executive chef.

We had our “meet the parents” brunch at Café Boulud in December 2007.  It was was just after Gavin started, so that menu wasn’t really “his.” In March 2008, when M and I had lunch there with J, Gavin’s own menu was in place. One of the dishes we ordered was composed of a crepinette surrounded by a sea of broth. This dish, especially that crepinette, was so spectacular that we asked our captain if we could meet the new chef to tell him how much we loved it. Towards the end of our meal, Gavin came to our table.  As we rhapsodized over that dish and he thanked us, we were struck by what a really nice, down-to-earth young man he was.

A few months later, we had lunch at C.B. with our friend u.e., and Gavin came out to say hello. Though they knew of each other, this was the first time they’d met in person. During the conversation, Gavin mentioned that he had recently put calves liver on the menu, and it had proved very popular. Liver lover that I am, I told I wished I could have tried it. No problem, he said. Let him know the next time we were coming in, and he’d make it for me. It was a truly generous gesture. But though we dined there several times after he made the offer, I didn’t take him up on it. 

Three weeks ago, we went to see the Hopper exhibit at the Whitney. Having dinner afterwards at Café Boulud was a no-brainer since the museum is located just one short block from the restaurant. Again, I didn’t give Gavin any advance notice that we would be dining there. However, little did I imagine that Destiny would be working its will.

We stopped into Bar Pleiades, M ordered his favorite “Uncle Jack,” (that would be a Jack Daniels), we relaxed for a few minutes, and then headed into the restaurant. Just after we were seated, Gavin came to our table with his usual smile and warm welcome. We spoke for a few minutes, and as he returned to the kitchen, and we opened the menus. I scanned the four menus — La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager, and Le Voyage – and considered a few possibilities. But that all went flying out the proverbial window when I checked the Daily Market Specials which are always printed out on a separate sheet. I could hardly believe my eyes. There it was!! Grilled Liver with White Polenta, Sweet Onions, Sage and White Grain Mustard. Oh, frabjous day!!

After enjoying three very tasty amuses, we both began the meal proper with another dish on the specials menu: House Made Duck Terrine with Red Onion Jam, Pickled Mustard Seed Gelée, and Fines Herbes. I don’t know what other components were added to the duck, but the terrine’s flavor was deliciously complex. The accompaniments provided other flavors and textures: zip from the mustard, sweetness from the onion jam, and smoothness from the gelée. A superb starter!

Then Gavin had a surprise up his culinary sleeve. He sent out two different pastas, which we shared. House Made Fettuccini with Speck Ham, Aged Parmesan, and Sugar Snap Peas also included the yellow of an egg which we were instructed by our captain, Julien, to mix with into the pasta thus creating Fettuccini Alfredo Gavin-style! The fettuccini was perfectly al dente, the sugar snaps added a bit of crunch, the ham provided saltiness, and the cheese with the egg combined into a creamy sauce. Amazing!

Celery Root Agnolotti with Chestnuts, Black Winter Truffles, and Celery Leaves was every bit as terrific as the fettuccini. What toothsome little pockets they were! The celery root filling managed to be sweet yet ever-so-slightly tart, the chestnuts were sweet and crunchy, and the generous sprinkling of black truffles was the crowning touch. A fantastic dish!

M knew what his main course was going to be before arriving. He had looked at the menu on-line, and the moment he saw “Coq au Vin” listed on La Tradition, his decision was made as that is one of his favorites. At Café Boulud, it isn’t any ordinary chicken but a Poulet Rouge, an immensely flavorful bird. And instead of the chicken being rustically piled in a bowl as it’s served at two of Boulud’s other restaurants, dbBistro and Bar Boulud, here it was plated artistically, with baby carrots and fingerling potatoes placed between the breast and the leg, and finished with the tradition wine sauce. The small piece of juicy breast meat coated with sauce I sampled was enough for me to agree with M that this Coq au Vin was terrific.

But, oh my! That liver! It was everything I had imagined it would be and more under Gavin’s sure hand. Grilled to medium rare perfection, it was wonderfully moist with a melt-in-your mouth texture. Finely minced onions had been cooked down to elicit their essential sweetness producing a wonderful marmalade. There were also two very small whole onions deep-fried, their interiors oozing onion-y goodness. I adore polenta and here, it was as smooth and creamy as can be. Binding it all together was a deeply flavorful sauce. What more can I say? I moaned with delight at every bite!

Grilled Calves Liver

Just after we finished our main courses, Gavin reappeared. I asked him if he remembered our conversation about the liver and he replied, “Absolutely! And so I said to myself that when you saw it on the menu, you’d be ordering it.” “Gavin,” I replied, “You hit it out of the park! It was incredible!” We thanked him for his generosity in sending out the pastas and told him that we planned to come back in a few with a friend who also loves fine cuisine but has never been to Café Boulud.

On to dessert! M loves ice cream, so he got a triple: Calvados, Vanilla, and Coffee. I chose the Baba au Rhum with Poached Pineapple, Macadamia Brittle, and Vanilla Ice Cream. The baba, soaked with just the right amount of rum, was perfection; the diced pineapple was wonderfully sweet; and the vanilla ice cream was rich and creamy. A seriously delicious end to a seriously delicious meal!

But wait! Of course, it wasn’t over ’til it was over (to quote one of my favorite Yankees.) There was, as always, the highly anticipated basket of warm, lemon-scented madeleines. Proust would be rapturous.

I’ve said elsewhere that Gavin Kaysen is extremely talented and is serving some of the best food in the city right now. This meal was certainly the latest evidence to back up my contention that he is a four-star chef cooking in a three-star restaurant. We have reservations next week for dinner at Café Boulud with our friend. We’re looking forward to another extraordinary meal, and I have not the slightest doubt that Gavin will deliver.


To see all the photos from this dinner, Click here.


3 Responses to “Deliverance”

  1. ulterior epicure Says:

    Snicker snack, my dear! Callooh! Callay! I now rest by the Tumtum tree and await my own Frabjous Day! 🙂

  2. badrockandroll Says:

    you were very helpful to me at CH when I recently sought advice for my parents’ 50th, but I must say this blog entry clinches it – have you ever had the tasting menu here? thanks again for the help.

  3. thewizardofroz Says:

    Hi badrockandroll,

    It’s so nice to see you here! I’m very pleased that you found my advice helpful with regard to your parents’ 50th anniversary.

    Yes, we have done the tasting menu at Cafe Boulud. In fact, we did it very recently with a friend, and it was stunning! It is isn’t a set printed menu. Instead, Chef Kaysen will want to know your preferences and avoids, and he will then select dishes from the four a la carte menus and daily market specials that he thinks will please you and your parents.

    You can see the photos of our tasting here.

    I hope you and your parents have a memorable evening and, again, my best wishes to them on this very special occasion.

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