A meal at Upstairs at Bouley is one of the great dining pleasures in New York City, but it’s not necessarily about the food. I’ve eaten there twice now (my write-up of my first meal there seems to have been lost to the capricious whim of the interwebs), and on neither occasion has the food risen above the level of “good” (which is obviously not a bad thing). The real treat at Upstairs is getting a ringside seat to an efficient, busy, high-end kitchen on one side, and the zen-like calm of a sushi bar on the other.
When I first was there, almost two years ago, Bouley was literally upstairs from Bouley Market, occupying the top floor of the building. In the intervening years, the market has moved across the street to the space formerly occupied by Bouley proper, which itself has relocated about a half a block away. The result is that Upstairs now occupies the entire building, with a bar on the ground floor and outdoor seating when the weather is nice. My advice would be to request a table upstairs (they accept no reservations at the restaurant, so you may have to wait a bit) in order to get a view of that kitchen.
I met up with my friends Jeff and Eva on a Friday evening, and we decided to grab a drink at the bar before dinner while we waited. The bartender, the creator of the specialty cocktails, was eager to hear what we thought of them. I can’t speak for Jeff and Eva, but my “Earl Greayhound” (on the right), was excellent. It combined tea-infused vodka with grapefruit and mint in a way that shouldn’t have worked but was dangerously drinkable. We didn’t wait long before we were lead upstairs to our table.
We were seated at a table right next to the open kitchen. Being a sucker for anything with artichokes I started with the warm artichoke salad, with radicchio treviso. The artichokes were fine; they were nicely cooked but nothing special, and they didn’t seem to match particularly well with the sharp, bitter radicchio.
Jeff ordered the miso soup (not pictured) while Eva got the wild mushroom confit. Cooking the mushrooms in this way allows the true flavor of the mushrooms to be the star of the dish, though I thought they could use a touch more salt. Still, they were quite good.
The only vegetarian entree on the menu was the gnocchi with eggplant and tomatoes, so that’s what I ordered. This was my favorite dish of the night — the gnocchi were light and fluffy, the sauce had a great flavor and texture. Jeff and Eva raved about their duck and scallop dishes, respectively.
Despite how full we were at this point, we decided to split a dessert. One of the options on the dessert menu is a choice of pastries from the Bouley Bakery, so we asked to see our choices. Our server brought out a huge platter of options, from which we selected the rosewater macaron with raspberry and lychee. Then our server took the display tray away, only to reappear a few minutes later with the macaron plated like a four-star dessert, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was amazing, and the lychee (unexpectedly) was really what brought everything together by bridging the gap between sweet (the macaron) and tart (the raspberries).
So you see that the food, for me, was hit-or-miss, but I still recommend Upstairs without qualifications. I’d even recommend bringing someone from out of town to show them how fun dining out in New York CIty can be. Just remember: you may have to sit around for a while before a table opens upstairs, but it’s well worth the wait.
Upstairs — 130 W Broadway