Daniel Boulud meanders through his new DBar and Café Boulud with the affability of a seasoned party host. Shaking hands, meeting the loyal clientele of the old Four Seasons Hotel dining rooms who, like me, have come here on opening day with high expectations. Clear is the hope that the food will fulfill the promise of the Michelin-starred Boulud.
The bright loft-like restaurant, Café Boulud, located on the corner of Yorkville Ave. and Bay St. is suspended above DBar, the street level bar and lounge. To meet for drinks at the DBar, we could enter from the Yorkville door or, as we did, stroll in through the hotel lobby, admiring the spare and clean décor. I see very few familiar faces among the staff who will seat and serve us. But here, as well as in the dining room, the staff is trained to the tips of their shoes in the Boulud/Four Seasons inimitable style of doing things.
There is an excitement in the air – staff know they have been hand picked for these prime jobs. The upholstered chairs are comfortable, the cocktail menu offers the classics as well as an array of fanciful signature cocktails. and here’s a surprise: superior bar snacks. Two silver bowls filled with mixed spiced nuts and an array of cocktail olives. My rule of thumb has always been that you can tell the quality of the bar by its bar snacks. The bar menu entices me to return the next day. They tell me that everything is made in house from scratch, even the burger buns.
Time for dinner. We walk up two flights of marble stairs (there is an elevator from the lobby) to a surprisingly casual/chic dining room. Not a tablecloth or oriental rug in sight. Boulud personally checks table settings, moving a fork, adjusting a serviette. Provocative art adorns the walls and huge pillars seem to be made of rough adobe clay. While the dining room is vast, the designers have been so clever in creating unique areas.
Boulud’s menu is reminiscent of his signature style, the four muses of his cuisine: la tradition (classic French cuisine); la saison (seasonal delicacies); la potager (the vegetable garden); and la voyage (international cuisines). I read and become sad, because I crave every single item on this sophisticated menu, and know I must restrict myself to one appetizer, one main course, and maybe dessert.
From the section called Le Potager, Roasted beet salad is presented on a small china tray and has lots of wow appeal. Sparkling morsels in shades of white, pinks and reds capped by a clutch of mache lettuce makes me want to applaud. Fluke ceviche (usually not my favorite fish, since it seems devoid of flavour) has been marinated in lemon and presented in a bowl that has been painted with avocado.
Deftly pouring a creamy cool sauce over the ceviche and its pretty, crisp vegetable accessories, our server seems pleased to present this dish. Not as pleased as I am to taste it. This is sensational and will be one of my favorites.
A particular menu item calls out to me: lemon-saffron linguine comes twirled into an oval shape on the plate; the perfume of lemon/saffron rises up to kiss my nose. A sprinkling of crispy bottarga adds crunch. Shelled little neck clams and bitter dandelion greens intertwined in the dish give me distinct textures and flavors. No need, really, to mention that the fresh linguine is perfectly cooked to the second – but I will.
Halibut is given royal treatment by the kitchen. But we want it simply grilled. What we want is what we get. This fish, that can be dry if overcooked by a minute, is moist and delectable. An array of fanciful colorful vegetables engage the eye and the palate.
While one would not say that this is a French restaurant, the sophistication and creativity of presentation and flavor pairings is skillfully filtered through the principled and distinctive cooking of the French style. We’ve watched the years of construction with great anticipation. It’s all been worth waiting for!