It is a fact. I have better taste in food than in clothes. And this is why, the first time we stepped inside Café Boulud I momentarily considered flight. The graciously appointed dining room brimmed with what author Tom Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities, called “social X-rays” and what I call “The Impossibles”: impossibly blonde, impossibly thin, impossibly rich. This is, after all, the sweet spot of the Upper East Side, at the corner of Madison and 76th.
But there we were, “we” being my beloved CE in his rumpled sport coat and me in my way-past-sensible shoes. I think it may have been raining outside, so there was also a whiff of drowned rat about us. Truthfully, we belonged at Five Guys down the block, but instead of re-directing us to the burger joint, the winsome gentleman at the podium (wearing a finer suit than my husband has ever owned) smiled welcomingly and led us to a cozy booth. The waiters and their captains were unfailingly kind, cordial and presciently competent.
And thus, we have returned again and again. The Impossibles give us a wary once-over, dismiss us as tourists and mercifully ignore us. The real question is how do they dine here and remain impossibly thin? The prix-fixe lunch at Café Boulud is the heartiest of the quartet we sampled during this last stay in the city. At $39 for two courses and $45 for three, it is also the most expensive, but you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it is still a good value.
My first course was a salad, which at first glance, was just a salad. Yet somehow it is always memorable at Café Boulud, here for the garden fresh mint leaves and crunch of pistachios strewn amidst the greens. It was the quintessential summer salad:
For our second course, we both ordered the pork loin, which arrived as a generous portion, garnished with arugula and fresh peaches and anchored by a square of polenta:
In a rare moment of discipline, I eschewed a third course, but the CE’s gluten-free request was honored with a cheery trio of sorbets:
There I was, feeling just a little virtuous about declining dessert, when the waiter arrived unbidden and, with a flourish, delivered a small basket of plump, piping-hot and wholly irresistible madeleines. Shades of à la recherche du temps perdu! So much for skipping dessert…
We assuaged the madeleine guilt with a walk across the Park, but you could just as easily stroll from here to The Met and work off a calorie or two. Or not. You could also just leave the hard work of thinness to The Impossibles and head home for a nice nap.
Location: 20 E. 76th Street at between Fifth and Madison, in The Surrey Hotel.
High points: The service here is a cut above, even in NYC. And seriously, those madeleines…
Fun fact: This space was the original location of Daniel Boulud’s eponymous flagship restaurant Daniel, which I fully intend to visit right after I win the lottery.
Dress code: Well, we were there, so clearly they let anyone in. But the general look is Upper East Side sedate. There is no formal dress code, and surely more leeway at lunch, but they do appreciate if gentlemen wear jackets and refrain from wearing shorts, sandals, sleeveless shirts, and baseball caps.
Reservations: Recommended. OpenTable or by calling (212) 772-2600.
The last word: Café Boulud strikes the perfect chord of rarefied but not stuffy. Put on your pearls and enjoy a lunch like the .001%r’s do.
Next up: Saving the best for last…