Expensive tasting menu restaurants come with high expectations. The food should be some of the best you'll have this year, the staff should be as in sync as a Cirque du Soleil troupe, and the wine pairing should burn as much valuable liquid as the original Hummer. When you spend at least a few hundred dollars on a two-hour experience, and those expectations aren’t met, like at Bouley At Home - it doesn’t just make for a forgettable dinner. It makes for a memorable disappointment.
Bouley At Home is a tasting menu restaurant in Flatiron from the chef behind Bouley, an iconic special occasion spot in Tribeca that closed in 2017 after a 30-year run. While jackets were required in Bouley’s palatial dining room, Bouley At Home feels like a friend’s kitchen, assuming you’re friends with George Jetson. The bright space has about 24 seats at three chef’s counters, where drawers of silverware pop out of the marble bar, and the seven courses on the French-leaning menu are prepared in front of you. With big wooden cabinets doubling as refrigerator doors and instructional cooking videos projected on the white walls, the space is casual and amusing. The prices are not.
At $195 before tax, tip, and drinks, Bouley At Home serves some of the least impressive food for that kind of money in the city. Just about all of the dishes include expensive ingredients, but it’s a waste to pay for blue fin toro, French langoustines, and Dungeness crab when they’re all masked by more intense, less interesting components on the plate. Uni and caviar, for example, are served together with a green apple foam that makes the whole thing taste like liquified Jolly Rancher. And the chewy dry-aged steak is drenched in so much thick red wine glaze that it tastes like wedding food when half the budget was used on a Billy Joel cover band.
The service and presentation don’t do anything to help ease the regret of spending a few hundred dollars here. Chefs reach over each other to pull ingredients out of disorganized fridges, each dish seems to be brought out by a new server, and descriptions are delivered at the pace of Eminem lyrics. None of this is a big deal on its own, but when you’re paying these prices, you expect more on display than plastic containers filled with knives and ice buckets packed with half-full bottles of wine.
The most offensive aspect of Bouley At Home is the wine pairing. The long, mostly French wine list is full of high-quality options and classic producers, and yet the five pours you receive for $125 (bringing your bill up to $320, still without tax or tip) are wines you’d bring to a dinner party, and not bother to tell the host that they’re yours. Ask for an explanation of why Muscadet is poured with oysters or French syrah with sauce-heavy red meat, and you’ll hear a rushed, disinterested response about how they’re classic pairings. While that’s true, it doesn’t make you feel any better about paying as much for these five glasses as you would for these five bottles at a wine shop.
If the intention is for dinner here to feel like eating in someone’s home, then it’s a success. They only pour you the cheap stuff, the food is fine at best, and you're ready to leave before dessert arrives. There’s so little fanfare or excitement here that it feels purposeful, like this place might be a retreat for very wealthy people who want to remember what it’s like to be treated with apathy.
These crackers topped with things like jamon iberico and steak tartare are like finger food you’d find at a cocktail party hosted by Bruce Wayne. We like all three bites, especially the one with funky, rich black truffle and aligote cream.
Just as Whistler’s Mother doesn’t need to be displayed under a flashing neon arrow, a dish with sea urchin, caviar, and oysters doesn’t need to be served with extremely tart fruit foam.
Again, instead of letting the key ingredient - langoustine - stand on its own, this is served with hearts of palm, spirulina, and liquified avocado. So it’s more reminiscent of a breakfast bowl at an all-day cafe than something special and luxurious.
This is the best dish here. The tender pieces of toro come with a bunch of intensely earthy mushrooms, making this kind of like a literal take on surf and turf. Make sure to separate the mushrooms and toro, though - otherwise you might not know if you’re eating toro or tilapia.
There’s an unnecessary amount going on in this bowl. The porcini flan, Dungeness crab, and black truffle dashi are all perfectly fine, but instead of complementing each other, you just get obscured versions of each.
This would be fine as a $19 entree at a random American spot near your apartment, but it’s the main course in a $195 tasting menu. The sweet sauce masks the gaminess of the meat, and the highlight of the dish is the carrot puree on the side. It’s disappointing.
This brings to mind skirt steak you’d get at a casino buffet. Not because the meat is low-quality (it’s dry-aged NY strip loin), but because the sauce on top is so thick that it tastes like it’s been sitting under a heating lamp for two hours.
Unless you’re experiencing an insurmountable level of buyer’s remorse at the end of dinner, then you’ll enjoy this rich, gooey chocolate cake with coconut sorbet.