East Side Elegance – Cafe Boulud

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Walking in to Cafe Boulud, for me, is like walking in to another city. When I am in NYC, I rarely venture into the Upper East Side, generally staying in the Upper West Side and most often shooting down to lower Manhattan to dine. In Cafe Boulud, the clientele appear to be quite comfortable with their wealth and with each other. On this day, the restaurant was packed, filled with lunching ladies sharing holiday gifts, museum goers and people simply out for an enjoyable and relaxing holiday season lunch. Without a reservation, I managed to snare the last open table. While it was not a "desirable" table, as it was located next to the kitchen entrance, it worked well for me.

I enjoyed observing the people and interactions and felt quite relaxed in the lovely, revamped room. It had been some time since I had last been to Cafe Boulud, back when Andrew Carmellini was the chef. It was superb then and now with my friend from the Bocuse D'Or, Chef Gavin Kaysen running the kitchen, my desire to return was stoked so I decided to hoof it across the park for lunch.

I had dinner plans for the evening so I wanted to keep the lunch relatively light. I did not have a cocktail and ordered the two course prix fixe lunch for $28 along with a glass of grand cru Corton Burgundy from the excellent 2000 vintage.

Several amuses were brought out including a Beau Soleil oyster from New Brunswick, served simply without adornment, two small truffled arrancini and the House Cured Atlantic Salmon with Rye-Guiness Purée, pickled red onions, dill fingerling potatoes and lemon zest. Each of these was a delight with the arrancini particularly decadent and lusciously sinful.

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Although I wanted to eat "light" I chose two meat courses, the first being Beef Tartar with cornichons, grilled sourdough bread, quail egg yolk and frisee. This classic presentation was impeccably pepared and absolutely delicious. The level of mustard was spot on – just enough to assert itself, but not so much to overwhelm the beef. Eating this beef spread on the toast was pure pleasure. The flavors mingled while the textures of the tartar and the toast provided welcome contrast. I can't say that I have enjoyed a beef tartar presentation more than I enjoyed this one. The Corton was a wonderful match for it as well.

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My next course was a delicious and perfectly Grilled Leg of Lamb with Navy White Beans, Eggplant, Tarragon and Natural Jus. It wasn't anything particularly fancy, but it was simply delicious.

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I was comped dessert, hazelnut gateaux with gianduja chocolate mousse, caramel fondant,praline feuilletine and vanilla hojicha tea ice cream and also wonderful fresh madeleines and petits fours. Once again, I wound up eating more than I had intended, but it was all so good!

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My over-ri
ding impression of Cafe Boulud is one of class and elegance. The food was beautiful and delicious, but restrained and not over the top. The ambiance was refined, but still comfortable and not in the least stuffy. Being a friend of Chef Kaysen, I was certainly treated very, very well. Being a solo diner, I had the ability to observe the rest of the room. While I received some extra courses and was greeted by the chef, it appeared that the rest of the diners were enjoying their meals as well with much laughter and plenty of smiles brightening the room. When the meal concluded, I definitely needed to walk back across the park.

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