Bonkers for Bouchon (aka The Samsung Cafeteria)

April 24, 2006 | By | COMMENTS

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I seriously wonder how many people who walk past the newly opened Bouchon Bakery at the Time Warner Center think it’s a restaurant owned by Samsung. As you can see in the picture above, a giant Samsung sign hangs over the large and strangely situated seating area. If you arrive on the third floor from the central escalators, you might not immediately connect this free-standing ambiguous restaurant with the bakery stand a tiny distance away. That bakery stand is the stand of The Bouchon Bakery, the civilian-friendly populist enterprise engineered by that titan of the food world, Thomas Keller.

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One walk past that beautiful display of pastries, tarts and breads is a cause for celebration. And as you can tell by the line of people in that picture, New Yorkers are quickly catching wind of the wonders that await them in the giant glass aquarium on Columbus Circle.

Craig, my lunch companion, and I considered our options. “We can get a sandwich to go from this counter and eat it in the park,” I offered. “Or we can eat at the restaurant.”

“Let’s eat at the restaurant,” Craig answered.

We moved away from the pastry stand towards the floating island restaurant in the middle of the floor. “That Samsung sign is really awful,” said Craig.

“Ya,” I said. “I’m sure it drives Thomas Keller crazy.”

We told the hostess we were two and she said, “It’ll be 25 minutes.” We spent those 25 minutes at Borders, one floor below, and then returned to find there were still a few parties ahead of us. “But most people are on dessert,” said the hostess, “so it shouldn’t be very long.”

Sure enough, five minutes later we were seated.

The menu at Bouchon Bakery is really user friendly and offers a range of options that would gladden even the most hesitant consumer of fancy food.

“There’s PB&J,” I pointed out. “Oooh, and a tuna nicoisse sandwich.”

“I’m having the roast beef,” declared Craig as he quickly closed his menu.

“And I’m having the tuna nicoisse,” I declared and closed mine.

We told this to our waitress who jotted it down, whisked away to the kitchen, and returned not too long after with our sandwiches.

Here’s my tuna nicoisse sandwich or, rather, tartine:

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I took one bite and made a very bold statement. “This is the best tuna I’ve had in my life,” I said. “Seriously it’s the best.”

Craig, incredulous, took a bite. “Oh my God,” he said. “I have to say, I think I agree, that is the best tuna I’ve ever had in my life.”

The balance of tuna–which was creamy and luscious and the furthest thing from diner-prepared tuna you can imagine–with the bread and the aioli on it and the eggs and radishes was divine.

Craig’s roast beef, on the other hand, was just ok.

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“This is just ok,” he said. “I’m not crazy about it.”

Being the kind person that I am, I cut my tartine in half and traded one half for half the roast beef. And I concurred with him: it was just ok. The flavors were quite muted, though I was very impressed at how tender the beef was: it was a pleasure to sink my teeth through it. In fact, when I look back on it now, that sandwich was perfectly composed: every layer was in perfect proportion to the other layers and the bread held the whole thing together brilliantly. So even when it’s not bam-wam-pow delicious, it’s still perfectly executed.

Craig and I passed on dessert—I know, I know, this is the Bouchon Bakery, you have to try dessert, but we wanted to go to this place on 74th for the city’s best chocolate chip cookie (post to follow soon!) so we said no. And yet our kind waitress came to our table, after we paid our check, and announced that a friend of the restaurant had turned away a free dessert of lemon macaroon with vanilla bean ice cream. Would we like it? We would!

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Shocker! The macaroon was incredible. Having sampled severely accomplished macaroons in Paris, this more then held up: it could do battle in any competition. And the vanilla bean ice cream was pure extravagance: so rich, so naughty, so wonderful.

This inaugural trip, then, to the Bouchon Bakery is certainly the precursor to many many more. The 1/9 train, very close to my apartment, goes right there. So I imagine, if I wanted, I could hop on the train, say, tomorrow morning for a Bouchon croissant, come home, do work, hop on again for a Bouchon sandwich and pastry and…well, maybe I’ll just linger until dinner time. And then stay there and live there and start a Bouchon society with little Bouchon children who say “oui oui” when they have to go to the bathroom. Or, rather, I’ll go once in a while so it stays special.

Welcome to New York, Bouchon. We’re happy to have you.

Categories: Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews, Upper West Side

  • Jeff

    New Yorkers are so lucky!

  • LaraD

    Okay amateurgourmet – I am a Nor California foodie but new to this whole food blog world. I find you highly entertaining but after reading this bit about Bouchon, am really thinking I need to start contributing my two sense. I can admit – we Californians are a bit jealous of the glamour and grit and excitement that is NYC – at some point we all contemplate the move. But we are still proud of some things – things you people just can’t have – and that includes our wine country. Its bad enough that TK is gone half the year now manning his urban outpost in a high rise mall – but Bouchon too?? Do you really need it?? I mean – you weren’t even going to have dessert there because of the myriad of options you have!! I guess I am at least happy that you appreciate it – even with that silly Samsung sign. But one thing I have to mention – the whole time I was reading and viewing your pictures – I felt like I was sitting in my local SF Boulangerie – The Boulange de Polk – owned by The Bay Bread Company – and could actually taste that Nicoise Tartine and Lemon Macaron. Thats my typical lunch – its all the same – the best tuna I have ever had – right down to the olives and the cornichons, and the amazing creaminess (not only of the sandwhich but also the macaron). If you ever come out here to my “city”, you got to try it – right here on Polk Street. You wont even need to make the drive to Yountville, and you definitely wont have to wait 25 minutes, or pay those Manhattan prices (well actually?). California is where its at, dude, don’t you ever forget it!!

  • http://www.thedailykirk.blogs.com/ Kirk

    I am a californian living under cover in New York. I can tell you this one piece of info: The NEw Yorkers are scared. All they do all day is talk about how lame California is, but they have this look of fear in their eye, like they are just trying to convince themselves.

  • http://thejinius.blogspot.com/ jinius

    ooh those sandwiches look divine. but everytime i see bouchon all i want to say is “douche on”. tsk tsk.

  • shirin

    ahh, boo-boo bakery (as my friends and i call it) is the best thing that happened to me this year! it is close enough from my work and home that i can get some excellent coffee almost daily from aziza (the sweet indian lady at the counter) and occasionally a sweet snack (the tko cookies are great!) or even the tuna nicoise sandwich. i also hear you can get dog biscuits: http://weblog.deleteyourself.com/06/04/202251foie_gras_dog_b.php

  • http://www.AcmeInstantFood.blogspot.com Kevin

    Well, Howard Stern is at the register in your photo so it should be getting some decent P.R.

  • Rebecca

    I just went for the first time yesterday!

    We got our food to go and sat outside in the Circle by the fountain, which was nice. I had the Veggie sandwich (too oily fo rme but the cheese in it was great) and my friend had the ham and cheese (he thought it was just standard). But then we got to the desserts! They were incredible! I had the lemon macaron too, which was really buttery, wasn’t it? And then I had the berry danish– definitely the winner of the whole meal. It was great- flaky and lots of berries, with this berry goo coming out everywhere. Awesome. My friend had the pecan roll, which was also great and somehow reminded me of french toast. Next time, I think I will skip the overpriced sandwiches and just have pastry.

  • dbdtron

    I was there this morning and had a pecan stickybun. It was great. But not as great as their Nutter Butter cookie.

    Go back and have one. I double-dog dare ya… :)

    Keep up the good eats/writes!