My New York itinerary was very much fluid and tentative except for two musts that I have pre-booked waaay in advance – Wicked and a meal from a Michelin-starred restaurant. For a Michelin-virgin, this was a bit tricky because a) there’s so many options to choose from, b) I have my finances to consider, and c) I wanted it to be perfect – after all, it’s my first and most likely, my only for the time being. Let me share with you how I chose my first Michelin-starred restaurant, how much it cost me, and what the experience was like. Hopefully, if you’re a foodie like me, this makes you go “hmmm” and helps you plan your own Michelin encounter. It’s not as painful as it sounds, I promise!
If you’re on a budget, opt for lunch (or early supper). Fine dining restaurants usually offer set meals at comparably lower prices, so obviously, my third-world wallet’s first order of business was to find out which places offered lunch deals. A simple google search led me to this link and since it’s a bit outdated, I went to visit the individual websites of the restaurants listed there. I immediately felt an affinity towards Bouley and Jean-Georges (oui, oui!), so I dug deeper aka: read reviews and Trip Advisor comments. Ultimately though, it was the Zagat ranking that sealed the deal for Bouley. It was in the Top 2 spot, with Le Bernardin ahead of it with an extra point for service. They were both tied with 29/30 for food, whereas Jean Georges had a 28. Bouley comes out more reasonably priced too because you get 5 courses for USD55 as compared to two for USD49 at Jean Georges, three for USD39 at Jean Georges’s “casual sister” Nougatine, and three for USD80 at Le Bernardin. (Side edit: Please note that Bouley has 1 Michelin star, whereas Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin have 3). And guys, let’s not get started on dinner prices. I previously mentioned here that you can save tens of dollars when you avoid dinner, but I was wrong – you can save hundreds of dollars.
On the day of my reservation, I made my way to Duane Street excited for what’s to come. I was rather early so I walked around the area for a bit until it was time to step into the apple-scented waiting area of Bouley. I’m glad I arrived before the other patrons coz I was able to snap some pictures of the gorgeous dining room. But enough of that, let’s go straight to what you really wanted to see – the food. I’ll let the photos do the talking from this point. Don’t scroll with an empty stomach! 😛
I’m a bread person. No, I’m a carb person. Okayyy, I’m a food person in general. But the point is, I love bread. Bouley made the bread lover in me super happy. You will soon find out why…
Started off with a duo of amuse-bouche. It’s a “course” that’s supposed to set the mood of your meal. Impression I got? Luxe, decadent, and indulgent. The rest of the meal was exactly that.
Course #1: Hawaiian Hiramasa & Nantucket Blue Fin. Sure it’s sashimi like, but the sauce, my god, the sauce. You’d expect it to be heavy and ordinary but the Meyer lemon, fresh passion fruit, verbena mixture was a freakin symphony in my mouth.
Le Chariot de Pain – aka: BREAD CART aka: BREAD HEAVEN. It took every ounce of my self-control to heed the internet’s warning not to get too excited because it will fill your tummy up. So instead of sampling all, I chose 2 and requested for thin slices. :_(
Course #2: the famous Porcini Flan – Golden Princess crab, black truffle dashi. This was really worth the hype! You get truffle and chunks of the juiciest fresh tasting crab instead of crabsticks in this chawanmushi-reminiscent dish.
Complimentary course: Organic Connecticut Quail Egg. This is probably the best tasting egg I’ve ever had! You know how Masterchef always tells its contestants to elevate food? David Bouley is like the king of elevated eggs! First the porcini flan and now this!? Wow! It was really light on the mouth, the texture was creamy and the flavors balanced. And the truffle! How can anyone say no to more truffle??
Course #3: Organic Long Island Duck. The duck was beautifully cooked. You know how sometimes duck tastes rubbery or somewhat slimy? This dish was nothing like that. It was moist and tender and went well with the wild rice and wheat berries. It’s also the best duck dish I’ve ever tasted.
Course #4: Chilled Coconut Soup – super refreshing!
Course #5: Hot Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé. The perfect ending, it was rich and flavourful and honestly, at this point, I was already stuffed.
The semi-final treat was a carousel of petits fours. I only tasted one before finally giving up. Good thing they offered to wrap it for me or it would’ve been such a waste! And surprise, surprise, my final treat came on my way out in the form of two complimentary pound cakes.
I have to say that I really enjoyed my meal. The food was delicious, service was superb, and the restaurant was really pretty. And, yes, I dined by myself too! Although it would’ve been nice to enjoy the atmosphere with someone dear, I have no regrets going on my first Michelin-ranked restaurant alone. Instead of it being like “oh shit, what will people think of me?”, for me, it felt like “OMG the food is sooooo good!!!” and “awww yeaaahhh I’m awesome!” #selfconfidence hahaha
And for those people who are scared of eating alone but want to try it, let me be the first to tell you that nobody cares. The groups were all engrossed with each other – or if you’re in a delicious restaurant, THE FOOD – anyway. They are not watching you. In fact, if you’re set in a cozy corner with a full view of the entire dining room like I was, it’s you who gets to watch them. If you want to, and if you’re not too busy admiring your food, at least.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this post even a quarter of as much as I enjoyed my visit to Bouley. You don’t need to drop a fortune to experience dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Sure, for us normal people, it isn’t really peanuts. But if you’re a foodie and it’s a priority for you, with research and preparation, it is POSSIBLE to do so without starving yourself before and after your meal.
Bouley is located at 163 Duane St, New York, NY 10013, United States
To many, many more Michelin-starred experiences,
PS: Please note that the prices mentioned above does not include taxes and tip yet. Best to check their website and contacting them directly should you plan on visiting. 😉