The neighborhood of Lincoln Center in Manhattan is full of venues for music, dance and theater, and that means plenty of opportunities for restaurateurs to offer brunch, lunch, dinner and post-performance noshing. And sure enough, the area is teeming with options. One restaurateur with excellent credentials is Daniel Boulud, who first gained major acclaim running the kitchen at Le Cirque. Soon he opened his own restaurant, Daniel, where Joe and I met him one night as we dined with Tim and Nina Zagat. (Apparently, in the kitchen were two guys whose names you might recognize, Jim Fiala and Carey McDowell, who ended up here in St. Louis.)
Daniel Boulud traded his whites for a suit and tie, and now has a group of carefully planned outposts, including three bearing his name across the street from Lincoln Center. One is a bakery/retail/seafood bar, called Epicerie Bolud, flanked to the east by Boulud Sud, which focuses on Mediterranean food, and to the south is Bar Bolud, where I ended up with friends.
In a storefront whose large windows frame the glittering Metropolitan Opera across Dante Park, the arched ceiling somehow manages to hold the noise to a manageable din, notable these days. With only slight effort, we could hear each other across the table. We opted for a series of small bites rather than having entrees, and no one gave us a fish eye over that choice; indeed, service was as good as you'd expect from a high-end New York restaurant that was jumping. And jumping it was; don't try this without a reservation unless you have a secure backup plan.
An amuse of gougeres, still warm, arrived and met with universal acclaim. My pals hadn't come across them before - they're a choux paste dough, what cream puffs are made of, that has cheese beaten into it. No filling required; the interior is soft and slightly chewy, the outside crisp. These were perhaps an inch in diameter, and we could probably have eaten a dozen of them.
The house version of a salade lyonnaise is close to traditional, a lovely tangle of curly, crisp endive, lightly dressed with vinaigrette, thick chunks of bacon, and a perfectly poached egg. What makes it distinctive is not just the sourdough croutons, but quickly sauteed lobes of chicken liver, giving another layer of savory flavor and a creamy texture to the mixture.
Soups should be superb at a restaurant with French bloodlines, and both ours were. The mini-tureens are heavy enough to keep them properly hot, and while a celery and chestnut soup was lush, velvety and as rich as the dress circle across the street at the opera house, its balance of flavors and cream didn't mutter, "Too much, too much." Fish soup featured on the pre-theater menu was a cream version, too, equally smooth and punctuated by brunoise of potato and several mussels barely poached. Brunoise? Beautiful word. It's chef-talk for dice about an eighth of an inch across.
From the charcuterie list came a slice of terrine made with leg of lamb, with some eggplant and sweet potato added in for texture as well as taste, little hits of garlic and pepper and one of the sweet spices singing along. The single letdown in the meal was the beef tartare, good quality beef, to be sure, but topped with what seemed to be a mayonnaise type of sauce, rather than the traditional egg yolk. Who knows if Health Department regulations or a caution in this age of immunodeficiencies and lawsuits helped this come to pass? It seemed to be part of a texture problem that surprised, a gooeyness that was unexpected.
But the dessert....ah, the dessert. Called le lion (and pronounced like the cat, not the city in France), it was held in shape by a shallow cup-shaped chocolate cookie that floated in a cloud of passion fruit- and yuzu-flavored whipped cream. Inside the cup, was a denser chocolate cream, more whipped cream on top, and then a scoop of chocolate-passion fruit ice cream, and yes, those are a few gold flakes on there. Why gild the lily when you can gild chocolate? Sheer bliss. Who knew passion fruit and chocolate could make such wow together?
There's a late-night menu, a pre-theater special, and they do brunch. But call ahead, even if it's only a half-hour's lead time. Restaurants in this neighborhood get very busy, even the so-so ones. And this is far beyond that.
1900 Broadway, New York City
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly, Brunch Sat.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair