A hundred dollars is a lot of money, until it isn’t. When the regulars at the idyllic West Village restaurant where I once worked used to spend about that much most days, I thought they must have been Condé Nast millionaires. But when I’d finish a day-bar shift with about the same amount, my nightside pals would look on with a little pity.
In the fine(r) dining segment of today’s local hospitality pie, a special occasion and/or otherwise fancy dinner, usually a tasting or prix fixe for under $100 per person is still noteworthy. One of the best in this class, Tribeca’s Bâtard, closed for good in 2023 after its own two, three and four-course menus crept up from $59, $79 and $89 to $79, $95 and $105 in its last five years in operation. But, when market forces close a door, they open a window, this one to the new Café Boulud, where two courses clock in under that critical hundred buck mark.
The original Café Boulud first opened in the neighborhood in 1998; that go-go, pre-smartphone time when you might have seen Martha Stewart among tables topped with foie gras, deconstructed foie gras (duck), sweetbreads and martinis with nary a surreptitious snapshot to show for it. All these years later, the revival, which follows the first’s 2021 finale, offers . . . also all of those things, but still no surreptitious photos, please, it’s just too rude.
All of those menu items are rather nice, once you’re seated. In a creeping recurrence that I hope does not become a trend, a recent wait for a reservation stretched to 15 minutes, after a host invited my party to wait “elsewhere,” as the adjacent bar was still under construction. There’s a not-so-communal table at the front of the dining room to bridge the gap in theory, if not in practice, so we ended up huddled by the doorway while gaggles clamored at coat check. The food that follows mostly covers for the earliest front-of-house encounters.
Tables, while as close together as any in town, are much more peaceful, if a bit brightly lit across its cream colors and jewel tones. The martinis ($22+) are ideal; smooth and frigid. The Manhattans ($19+) are proper, too, both good enough baselines to trust anything from the (existing) bar.
The dinner menu is also more varied than most of Café Boulud’s ~$100 peers, starting at two courses for $95. Four sections are divided into French classics, seasonal plates, vegetarian selections and a rotating quarter recently billed as “cuisine from Thailand” with lemongrass shrimp dumplings and a Chiang Mai pork duo of roasted tenderloin and crispy belly. Passable bread with slightly below-average butter is included, which is still a nice gesture.
Among the “classic” apps, the foie gras is a beautiful rectangle of terrine as pretty as a windowpane on a Northeastern liberal arts college campus. It’s accompanied by a line of lightly sweet kumquat confit and pear two ways, including a pleasantly brittle, paper-thin slice plated upright. It’s a master class in the preparation, as buttery as can be and rich to evoke a flavor and metaphor. It’s the culinary equivalent of, say, bathing in a supersized cocktail glass full of pearls. The sweetbreads, too, are some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, the tender offal approaching creamy inside with a golden exterior crunch. Both would be an excellent introduction to their form, setting an expectation even for meat-seekers in NYC. And there’s plenty more of it here.
The Pennsylvania duck from the seasonal menu—winter at press time—is roasted to a lovely mauve. It’s seasoned with studied restraint, allowing a hint of gaminess without obscuring with its persimmon jam and jus. This, like the apps and most of the plates here, is also decently portioned enough to avoid the hackneyed dad jokes about having to grab a slice of pizza after.
A smattering of veggie sides are listed for $15 a piece, aside from that dedicated column that includes dainty beet ravioli with sheep ricotta among its options. The pomme frites are a so-so outlier of average execution where most else is textbook. Back on the opposite spectrum, the creamy spinach casserole is one of Café Boulud’s best items, delivered as promised and celebrating its titular ingredients with aplomb.
None of this is new. OK, that foie is probably prettier than most at the moment. But the food and drinks are doing what they’re supposed to do: justify the cost of a nicer-than-normal night out with maybe a few threads of what those super-high-ticket reservations run. Just don’t expect to see any of them woven around the coat check.
The Vibe: Tightly packed and a little bright in the dining room with a lowkey energy that’s suitable for somebody’s parents.
The Food: Two courses starting at $95, divided into sections categories like French classics, seasonal, vegetarian and a rotating section billed as “cuisine from Thailand” at press time. The foie gras, sweetbreads, roasted duck and spinach casserole are standouts.
The Drinks: Excellent cocktails, plus wine and beer.
Café Boulud is located at 100 East 63rd Street. It is open for dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm and brunch Saturday-Sunday from 11am-2:30pm.