Sunday, March 4, 2012

Boulud Sud

Daurade a la Plancha with Romesco Sauce and Arugula
A meal at Boulud Sud, the latest offering from legendary chef Daniel Boulud, is like a luxury cruise along the Mediterranean coast.  Even the dining room, with its rolling ceiling, is vaguely boat-like.  The menu draws influence from the seaside regions of Spain and France, Greece and Italy, Morocco and Tunisia.

The service was formal in style but also chatty.  We learned that our waitress grew up in the north of France, but (she quickly noted, burnishing her credentals) spent time living in the south.  Food was placed on the table in synchronized fashion, two dishes at a time, first before the ladies and next before the men.  The decor was airy, clean and elegant with a semi-open kitchen decorated with Moroccan tagines.  The ambiance was comfortable with soft music, a more mature crowd but not exclusively, and a moderate noise level (easy to converse, but no need for hushed voices).

The dinner menu is divided into three panels, one each dedicated to the sea, garden and farm.  The sections are further divided into small plates to share, appetizers and entrees.  As we considered the options, we grazed on artichokes alla Romana, perfectly crisp and delicious dragged through citrusy aioli with a hint of olive.  A preview of good things to come.

Braised Lamb Shank with Couscous
Some of the most successful dishes were those with North African influence, like silky sweet potato soup fortified with warm spices and the tangy flavor of preserved lemon, topped with creamy fromage blanc.  Braised lamb shank, a special one night, came falling off the bone with whole peeled baby sweet potatoes, caramelized cippolini onions, couscous and a puree that tasted like more sweet potatoes but that our waitress informed us was made from eggplant.  Whatever it was, the puree was a little sweet (it tasted almost like the sweet potatoes you make on Thanksgiving), but it was balanced effectively by the lamb, vegetables and spices.

Lemon-Saffron Linguini with Razor Clams and Bottarga
Another success was an appetizer of fresh lemon-saffron linguini with razor clams and shaved bottarga.  The clams were cooked perfectly, not at all chewy.  The citrus flavor was powerful but not overwhelming, punctuated by nibbles of blood orange that added an extra layer of flavor over the lemon.

There was some inconsistency.  Bread service included fantastic warm flatbread, crispy on the outside and nice and doughy on the inside, and totally ordinary focaccia.  As good as the linguini was, the pappardelle with wild boar ragu, while tasty, was no more tasty than the same dish at a neighborhood Italian restaurant.  Soupe de Poisson, a joyful tribute to Provençal bouillabaisse, had too little fish and overly strong shellfish broth.

Charred Wagyu with Spaghetti Squash
More effective was the charred wagyu beef, which came ash-black around the outside and perfectly tender and rare on the inside.  It was served on a bed of spaghetti squash that did not go with the steak at all, but that was only a minor distraction given the high quality of the meat.  Grilled daurade arrived crispy and tender, served with a romesco sauce that was a little powerful for the fish but went perfectly with the grilled tomatoes and onions that accompanied it.

The wine list was extensive and the cocktails were excellent.  The bloody Mary, although not traditional, was thick, strong and spicy, just how we like it.  The "Scarlet Pom", one of the highlights of the night, was a not-too-sweet, perfectly balanced composition of pomegranate juice, lemon and amaro montenegro (an Italian liquor made from a blend of herbs), spiked with vodka.  The cocktail was poured at the table over a single giant ice cube with pomegranate seeds frozen inside.

Grapefruit Givré
Pomegranate (which our waitress elegantly pronounced "pomme-ghran-naht") reemerged on the dessert menu, richly paired with a chocolate tort that was content to play second-fiddle to the fruit.  The star of the dessert menu, however, is the grapefruit givré, consisting of a hollowed-out frozen grapefruit filled with fresh grapefruit, grapefruit compote, grapefruit sorbet, rose loukoum, and crumbled sesame halvah.  The whole thing is sealed in with a torched tuile and topped with a pile of spun sesame "hair".  A fun video of Chef Boulud and his pastry chef demonstrates how this elaborate dessert is made.

Chef Boulud has carefully expanded his empire into many sectors in the restaurant industry, from his eponymous Michelin 3-star Daniel to the more casual DBGB, with beers on tap and a dozen varieties of sausage. Boulud Sud occupies a place in the middle.  It offers high cuisine without being overly formal (you'll never see a lamb shank at Daniel).  The atmosphere is elegant but not fancy.  Like his other restaurants, it is a terrific success, reminding us again that Mr. Boulud is one of the great chefs of our time.

Boulud Sud
20 West 64th Street
(212) 595-1313
http://www.danielnyc.com/boulud_sud.html

Recommended Dishes:  Artichokes alla Romana ($15), linguini with razor clams ($19), sweet potato soup ($14), daurade ($31), wagyu beef ($35), lamb shank ($40), grapefruit givré ($13); scarlet pom cocktail ($15).


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