If you’re looking for a culinary escape to the Mediterranean, you need not travel farther than the Upper West Side of Manhattan.Boulud Sud delights its diners with the food of Greece, Gibraltar, Beirut, Sardinia, and Tunisia, all with the finesse you’d expect from a Boulud establishment.
The dining room is divine: light and open with a grand curving ceiling.The noise level is relatively low, but there is an undeniable lively pulse throughout the property.It is connected to Bar Boulud through a downstairs shared restroom.
The wine list is impressive and carries a variety of tastes from the Mediterranean, as well as French offerings.Sommelier Amanda Smeltz was on hand to guide us through the list and graciously answered my many questions.The front of house team as a whole is very strong.It is the same knowledgeable and courteous staff we’ve all come to know and expect from Chef Boulud.
To get the most bang for your buck, diners should turn their attention to the beginning of the menu.I recommend ordering several small plates for the table, and maybe one fewer entrée than you think you would need.Another nice alternative–the one I chose–is to have the chef prepare a tasting menu for you, provided you have participation of the entire table.
We started with a variety of spreads: spicy Moroccan hummus, tzatziki, and walnut romesco all served with fresh crisp crackers.The tzatziki stole the show and I greedily wanted a pint rather than a tasting portion, so I could enjoy it throughout the meal.The house-made “taramasalata” was served with dill potato chips.I wish I could say the dill chips were as amazing as I’d hoped they’d be, but it was the one menu item that was a clear miss in execution.The flavors were on point, accompanying the smoked cod roe nicely, but the chips themselves were soggy; as if they were fried, then placed on a C-fold to steam instead of on a rack where they would have cooled and crisped up beautifully.
Next were the crispy artichokes alla Romana with Nipatella aioli.These were fantastic.I’m not sure what was in the aioli, but I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean.The “cinco jotas” Ibérico ham with pan con tomate and marinated olives was a hit and miss.The ham itself is always unsurprisingly good, but I found the tomatoes mushy and didn’t finish my piece.My companion disagreed and inhaled the Ibérico, tomatoes and all.
The Sicilian sardine escabèche is something special: sardines marinated in pungent vinegar and oil with toasted pine nuts and sweet white raisins.It defines “agrodolce.”The burrata and heirloom tomato salad with pickled apricots, arugula pesto, “panzanella” croutons does not disappoint.It would be a run-of-the-mill burrata/summer salad but for the pickled stone fruit and thick, flavorful pesto.
I want to stress that I don’t laud cuisine for the sake of courtesy.Any inherent food civilities I once possessed were beaten out of me in tough kitchens years ago.That said, the Boulud Sud sweet corn agnolotti is hands down the best agnolotti I have ever had.And I have had an obscene amount of agno in my life.The sweet corn is paired with chanterelles, shishito peppers, and parmesan broth.If I had to teach culinary students the meaning of “balance” in food, I would put this in front of them and walk away.The sweetness of the seasonal corn, the salt and fat from the parm, the umami from the chanterelles, and the acid from the pickled shishitos all come together to create summer in one bite.It is everything you hope food can be: light but filling, salty and sweet, varied in texture and color.I couldn’t get enough.I will continue to be delighted by memories of this dish for years to come.
The Boulud Sud take on paella is innovative, fresh, and downright delicious.The Valencian “paella fideuà” with scallops, shrimp, calamari, baby octo and chorizo was wonderful.It is not a traditional rice/seafood dish in a bowl.The bulk of the dish is black short noodles with puffed black rice as a garnish.The puffed rice is genius: it gives the dish the crunch you want (I found myself seeking out each grain on my plate), and also ties the dish back to its origins.I was fading fast during my marathon meal and this paella gave me my second wind.When I thought I couldn’t have another bite, the fatty saltiness kept internally cheering me on: “One more bite! Don’t give up!Look, more rice!”The pictures do not do this beauty justice.As a chef, I appreciate a dish that is made so thoughtfully.From conceptualization to culinary execution and plating, the paella exceeded expectations and was truly inspiring.I started thinking: what dishes could I reinterpret in such a creative, but not too “out there” way?
The harissa-grilled lamb loin was the finale in our savory journey across the Mediterranean.It is served with M’Hamsa couscous, Algerian eggplant, and the delicious tzatziki I was so cruelly teased with in Act I.It was nothing short of spectacular.The loin was flawlessly cooked to temp.The couscous was seasoned perfectly.The scores on the eggplant were done by a chef whose OCD clearly rivals mine (yes, chefs look at these minute details when dining out).
The dessert tasting started with Boulud Sud’s signature Grapefruit Givré.A treat of grapefruit sorbet, grapefruit compote, sesame mousse, rosewater loukoum, pine nut cookies, and the best part: spun sesame halva.The Executive Pastry Chef, Anna McGorman, runs both Boulud Sud and Bar Boulud pastry departments, and does an excellent job interpreting this Boulud Sud staple, originated by Chef Ghaya Oliveira.
The final note in this gastronomic symphony was the dark chocolate biscotti with manjari crémeux, almond, and pistachio-black cherry gelato. Anything with black cherry and/or pistachio is a good starting point for me, but the lusciousness of the crémeux took it to another level.
Watching Executive Chef, Travis Swikard work in the open kitchen was a delight.Swikard does a commendable job at leading his diners through a journey across the Mediterranean.
Bottom Line: Daniel Boulud does it again.Come for the agnolotti, stay for the grapefruit givre.