Bar Boulud

From the actual oak wine barrel restaurant sign hanging above the entry door to the cavern-like barrel vaulted ceiling, you immediately know Bar Boulud is about wine. Ever since this wine bar and charcuterie haven opened in January across the street from my workplace, I have aimed to eat there. After unsuccessfully trying to make dinner reservations in February, I finally decided that lunch was as good of a time to go. Growing up in a Hungarian household where eating butchery products is second nature, I felt ready to partake of the charcuterie. Both my German coworker and I looked forward to it.

The restaurant decor creates a beautiful play between modernism and symbolism with its unique interior design, where everything is made to remind patrons of a wine cellar, from the vaulted ceilings to the stone floors. On one side of the restaurant the walls are lined like an art gallery with framed wine stains of different types of wine, where each is indicated in a caption. On the other side, the walls appear to be metal, but with closer inspection are in fact made of gray gravel behind stainless-steel scrim—described as symbolic of vineyard terroir by the restaurant’s Web site. Further plays on winemaking include the furniture and bar, which are made of the same white oak as wine barrels. The bright orange napkins and furniture cushions offer the only bursts of color other than the framed wine stains on the gallery wall.

We were seated near the back in the rather straight-backed chairs, the kind that encourage leaning forward with elbows on the table, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the situation. But the booths or benches do have sloped backs. The restaurant was partially full when we arrived but was soon to fill by the time we departed about two hours later—so much for a quick lunch break. There is a circular table at the back of the space called the tasting table, which features an upper shelf that holds wine glasses. For special occasions and parties that table can have a sommelier stand in the center pouring wine and doling information. This table also functions as the dot to the exclamation point that is the shape of the space.

Browsing through our slim parchment-paper-like menus, emulating the slimness of the space, we were astonished by all the wonderful available selections. In the meantime we were served the most crusty and fluffy French bread with creamy butter. Hypnotized by the bread and the many offering of the menu we had difficulty selecting dishes and we ended up sending away the waitress many times. By the time she returned for the third or fourth time, we were ready to order. We began with the small degustation de charcuterie tasting at $22. A large degustation is also available for $46.

The charcuterie tasting was a simple small sampling of one piece each of pulled rabbit terrine with vegetables, chicken liver and pork pate, Guinea hen terrine, and jambon de Paris (country ham) along with marinated mushrooms a la Grecque, carrots with coriander, cornichons, pearl onions, mustard, and a plate of earthy brown bread. All the non-pork charcuterie had nice mellow flavors with the Guinea hen terrine having a more complex flavor with such ingredients as wine, bacon, onions, and mushrooms. In the end, my coworker and I both agreed that the mustard was the best and most distinct.

The wine menu offers a good selection of regional French wine and is printed three times—in the menu, in a separate wine menu, and a specials card. I was between ordering the Beaujolais or the Cabernet Sauvignon, but ended up ordering the Beaujolais, which, due to my apparent indecision, the waitress said she was going to recommend as a good pairing with charcuterie.

Upon ordering our entrees, we were once again in the same position of having to choose from many options. The menu for lunch and dinner is the same except for an additional menu at lunchtime called the Menu Bouchon Lyonnaise, which allows patrons to order any entree with the choice of either an appetizer or a dessert for the same price, or a three-course lunch with a supplement of $7. Going for the pappardelle aux olives from this menu, I was pleased with its heartiness. It was filling and featured freshly-made pasta and sumptuous pieces of braised lamb, cherry tomatoes, and taggiasche olives; garnished with ribbons of parmesan and a chiffanade of basil. The raie forestiere (stuffed skate), ordered by my coworker from the regular menu, was tender with an almost meat-like texture. It was served with earthy mushrooms, placed on a bed of silken sauteed spinach, and drizzled over with a syrah glaze. For dessert we shared the gateau Basque, really a custard pie not a cake, served with three lonesome brandied cherries. It was simple and homely and reminded me of a traditional custard pie served on Easter in many European countries. Though we were left wondering whether the cake was representative of the French or Spanish Basque region.

As I passed by a ham ready to be sliced on the counter bar while leaving the restaurant, I thought of all the charcuterie that I had not tried—definitely for next time. The restaurant’s decor and menu do not let down. The attention to detail carries through from the decor to the menu, including the tall silver breadbasket, the heavy but well-balanced silverware, and the “EST. MMVII” logo plates. The plating of the food is elegant and simple through and through. The only criticism I can make is that there was a manner of friendliness missing from the hostesses, but in general the service was good with our cheerful, polite, and attentive waitress. Bar Boulud indeed met my expectations and I look forward to going back and trying more and more charcuterie.

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway, between 63rd and 64th Streets
New York, NY 10023
Open daily for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and for lunch from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Charcuterie, soups, and salads range in price from $9 to $17 and entrees from $20 to $33.

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