Dec-a-dence. My gorgeous husband recently had a birthday and decided, in lieu of a gift, he would like me to take him out to a lavish dinner at a fancy New York restaurant. Sweet, right? Now, if you don’t know us well, you might be confused as to why he wouldn’t want some new electronic gadget or a watch or something. See, my husband and I are inexhaustible foodies. Between his degree from the French Culinary Institute and my ability to consume vast amounts of calories in record time, over the years, we’ve concluded that one of our favorite hobbies is . . . eating. And eat we did. Where was his lavish birthday dinner? None other than Bouley, the exclusive and critically acclaimed restaurant of chef David Bouley.
As we know most of the folks in the food industry, we called in a favor and procured not only the best table, but doting service and a few freebies compliments of the chef. But I am getting a little ahead of myself. I must first tell you that the décor alone is reason to visit this establishment. The “front room” where people can wait for their guests and sip cocktails on leather sofas is, quite literally, covered in flowers. Fresh, aromatic, colorful flowers. TONS of them. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but after a moment, the flora only adds to the rich ambience. In fact, the flowers balance the otherwise heavy room, with its dark wood, leather, and large framed paintings. A very polite young lady brought me a cocktail designed particularly to my tastes by the “mixologist” and I leaned back and read a book while I waited on my man. I felt privileged and pampered. As I should be. For my $17 cocktail.
When Victor arrived, we were led to a glittering table in a cozy corner and presented with menus. I perused the menu and realized I had a problem: I wanted everything. Seriously, the selections at Bouley included a fresh Malibu sea urchin terrine with Russian golden oscetra caviar, grilled Colorado rack of lamb with a soubise of chippolini, zucchini mint puree and black truffle sauce, and a hot caramelized Anjou pear with valhrona chocolate and hot toffee sauce. It was virtually impossible to choose. Eventually, as we were compelled to heed our growling stomachs, I ordered a chilled strawberry soup, porcini flan with Alaska live dungeoness crab and black truffle dashi, and an organic Connecticut farm egg with Serrano ham, steamed polenta, artichoke, coconut, and early garlic broth. It was all brilliant. In all honesty, the egg dish was truly a revelation. I had no idea what they had done to it, but it was the best egg dish in the world as far as I was concerned. Delicate and complex at the same time, it was unlike anything else I had ever consumed. The whole meal was, all in all, a brilliant experience.
I must mention one last thing about Bouley. This may sound like an odd thing to be excited about, but I was truly enamored by . . . the restroom. The ladies’ restroom was covered wall to ceiling in red velvet. Gilded gold mirrors hung from the walls and shimmering chandeliers tinkled above me. Plush red velvet armchairs beckoned their curved cherry arms toward me and shiny fixtures stood proudly beside linen hand towels and L’Occitaine soap. I could move in here. (In fact, it was about the size of my first Manhattan apartment). I wanted to run upstairs, grab Victor’s hand and drag him down here. ‘Lookit, Hun!’ But, as I was a cultured, grown-up New York diner with a sophisticated palate and a general knowledge that men are generally not welcomed in the women’s restroom, I composed myself, snuck a picture, and returned to the table to whisper to my dinner date, “Dude! You have got to go down there. It’s freaking awesome!”
We finished our meal and . . . no. Wait. It was not just a meal, people. It was an EXPERIENCE. Recently, folks have been saying that dinner is, of late, taking the place of theatre as evening entertainment. I wholeheartedly agree with this conjecture. Not that theatre should be ignored (I’d be in trouble if it were), but dining as an experience rather than a means of filling your pie hole, is all the rage. And I love it. I will remember some of my more lovely dinners much longer than some of the bad (and mediocre) theatre I’ve seen. Bouley is a fabulous example of dining and food as high art. Everything we had was artfully, lovingly, and complexly made from scratch. It was not prepared in Wisconsin, frozen, packaged, and reheated heaven-knows-how-long later by skill-less ex-cons garnering minimun wage (no thank you, Applebees, O’Charley’s, TGIFridays, Red Lobster, Bennigans, and Olive Garden). Not to get on my soapbox, but that crap is not real food. It tastes okay and makes you not hungry, but it is, by far, not art. It is a page from a child’s coloring book to Bouley’s completed Monet. Yes, our dinner was pricey (a little over $500), but it was an occasion. It was a chance to spend an evening basking in degustory mastery . . . as well as each other’s company. For us, it was well worth it. Happy birthday, Victor!