Sunday, March 25, 2012

Appetizers and Dessert @ Boulevard

Friday nights are always weird for eating.  At work, we celebrate with food and drinks starting at 4pm.  Depending on the week, the food ranges from just chips and dip or crudités and dip, to themed extravaganzas, and always includes a few dessert selections.  Often, I'm not up for a full dinner after all this.  This week was a German theme, with hot dogs, brautwursts, bockwursts, soft pretzels, fancy mustards, pickled stuffs, spaetzle, and then the standard crudités and eggplant dip, chips and salsa, fresh fruit, and profiteroles!  I wasn't exactly needing a whole lot of food after all of this, so a couple of us just headed down the street to Boulevard, to sit at the Chef's Counter and have a few appetizers (and dessert!).

I've reviewed Boulevard a few times in the past, so I'll skip all the details about the place this time.  We were seated pretty quickly at the Chef's Counter, one of my favorite places to sit.  I'd like to apologize to my dining companions now, as I get so distracted sitting there that I'm probably horrible company.  I really, really enjoy watching the kitchen work, and in particular, the pastry kitchen.  ZOMG, the desserts just look so amazing.

Dinner tonight was fairly disappointing.  Several of the dishes we tried were the new seasonal preparations of some of their classics (the foie gras duo and the ribbon cut tuna), and I think they need to work on these new preparations some more, as past versions of these have been much more successful.
Amuse bouche: Taro puree, spring radish, pickled mushrooms.
I love that they still include the amuse when you sit at the bar and just order appetizers.  This was an assortment of different varieties of radishes, some sliced thin, some in bigger chunks, atop a puree, with two tiny little mushrooms on the side.  The radishes were crispy and fresh.  Super simple, but really flavorful.  The focus here was on the radishes being fresh and awesome, and they were definitely allowed to just shine.  I'm pretty sure the puree had miso in it, and was rather like a Japanesse miso mayonaise.  It was tasty and I enjoyed dipping the radish into it.  The mushrooms were tiny little flavor bursts as well.  They didn't really pair with the radishes or puree, but they were tasty.  Overall, a nice dish.  I generally really like the amuses served here!  One diner said this was his favorite dish of the evening.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras: Pan Seared and Chilled Torchon with Wild Rosehip and California Strawberry Confit, Negroni Gel, Candied Pecans, Maple Oat Toast.  $29.
It is no secret that eat a lot of foie gras these days.  And yes, I'd just had foie gras the day before.  And I was here for a "light" meal after my evening of sausages already.  But ... this is pretty much why we choose Boulevard (besides convenience of location).  I somehow still had never tried the foie gras at Boulevard, even though one of my frequent dining companions has told me time and time again that this is one of his favorite preparations in the city.  I was so excited!

Unfortunately, this was a total letdown.  Said dining companion agreed that this did not live up to the past preparations he'd had at Boulevard.

There was a ok sized seared lobe of foie gras atop two chunks of toast.  On the side were two piles each containing a few roasted strawberries and pecans, some gel, and a very small chunk of torchon.

The "maple oat toast" did not have any maple nor oat flavor.  It was just toast.  Which is fine, but the maple oat flavors did sound like they'd pair well with the foie and I was looking forward to them.  Had the menu just said "toast", I'd have nothing really to say here.  They were just plain, simple, inoffensive toasts.  It was a little strange to have two chunks like this, as you obviously needed to cut the components all down to size, so it didn't quite make sense to have these already cut, but into sizes that weren't appropriate.

The "candied pecans" were not candied.  They were just pecans, perhaps toasted?  Again, if the menu hadn't said anything about them being candied, I'd just have written them off as boring little pecans on the side, but again, I was looking forward to the sweet candied flavor pairing with the foie gras.  They were fine, but didn't really work with the seared foie gras.

The strawberry confit was fairly tasty, hurray for strawberry season!  However, it did not pair well at all with the seared foie gras.  I was really disappointed with this pairing.  The seared foie gras and the strawberry had a very similar texture, so there was no fun in combining textures, but moreover, the flavors just didn't work.  The sweet strawberry and the rich foie just really clashed, I'm not sure why.  I tried a couple bites like this and really, really did not like them at all.

The seared foie was only ok.  Seared foie gras should NEVER just be "ok".  It was sorta creamy, it was rich, but it wasn't particularly well seared nor did it have much flavor.  Certainly not a great execution.  A week ago, a friend who had never before made seared foie gras seared it better than this.  Sadness.  And as I already said, it didn't go at all with the strawberry.  Execution wise, it was nothing compared to the seared foie gras from Alexander's.  It was an ok portion for the price point, but similar places serve slightly larger pieces for slightly lower prices.

The torchon was decent, nice and creamy consistency.  The portion was very, very small however, particularly compared to the other elements on the plate.  It was barely the size of one of the strawberry chunks!  Why so little of this?  It was definitely the best part of the dish as well, and paired really nicely with the strawberry.  A chunk of the toast, with some torchon, with some strawberry, and with a pecan was pretty good.  Bite of the night for me for sure, although nothing I'd go back for.

Foie gras lover I am, I would not order this again.  I'll give them another try sometime I'm sure, once they change up the pairing, and I'll hope for better execution on the sear.  Such sadness.
American Red Snapper & Thai Lemongrass Bisque, with roasted maitake, abalone, and oyster mushrooms, mint & coriander.  $17.75.
This dish had a lot of potential, but fell short due to some execution and general concept issues, the biggest being that it was incredibly awkward to eat!

The dish arrived without any broth, which was poured in tableside, a fun touch.

The broth was almost amazingly delicious.  I love a good thai lemongrass bisque!  There were some very nice flavors in here, however, it was far, far, far too salty.  The flavors could have been incredible, but were completely overpowered and ruined by the saltiness.  In retrospect, I perhaps should have said something, I really don't think it was intended to be that salty.

The mint and corriander were served in a rather unappealing mangle.  Boulevard usually has such pretty plating, this surprised me.  Also, since they were floating in the broth, it was very hard to separate out just a little of these to eat, you either got none, or a big mass which was overpowering.  These garnishes would have been good flavor components, but did not work in this form.  Good idea conceptually, but didn't work in practice.

The fish was a generous piece of local snapper!  I was pleasantly surprised to see such a large chunk of fish in an appetizer, particularly at this price.  An incredible value!  Rather than being cooked in the broth, it was pan seared as a big chunk, with a nice crispy exterior on one side.  I was actually expecting small chunks of fish throughout the soup rather than a large piece, but I thought this was a fun way to serve it, I generally don't mind cutting up my own fish, and the fish was probably tastier cooked this way too.  But again, this turned into a better idea conceptually.  It was awkward to eat since I was using a spoon to get broth, but I couldn't actually cut through the seared side with the spoon.  So I had to switch over to knife and fork to cut it, and then back to a spoon to get a bite with broth.  It was a constant battle of trying to choose if I just kept the knife and fork in my hand and ate the fish without the broth, switched back and forth, or cut it all up at once and then ate it ... I didn't want to have to make so many decisions!  Also, crispy seared fish is great, but once it is in broth, it quickly loses the crispiness, so it was disappointing to see the sear and know it once was crispy but then have it be mushy.  Speaking of which, the fish was a little on the mushy and not flaky side, but otherwise fairly well cooked and a very nice cut of fish.

The assortment of mushrooms again had great promise, but disappointed.  I adore roasted mushrooms.  I love how roasting brings out such intense woodsy, earthy flavors in them and dries them out slightly to have an awesome texture.  I love how assorted mushrooms have such different flavors.  I was sooo excited for these mushrooms.  But, there were two big problems here.  The first is that they didn't really seem roasted.  Again, if the menu hadn't promised roasted mushrooms, I wouldn't have been expecting lovely roast flavors and consistencies.  Perhaps they were roasted and the crazy salty broth just masked the flavors, and soaking in broth changed the consistency to slimy.  I'm not sure.  But the bigger issue was again, the awkwardness.  They were served as very large chunks of mushrooms and had to be broken down.  This is again not a bad idea, I really don't mind cutting my food, but when I'm trying to eat a soup with a spoon, this just doesn't work.  It seems like the components either need to be cuttable by spoon, or already cut.  I'm really not trying to be lazy, but it was just too overwhelming to be switching my silverware all around constantly, and I felt really rushed because I didn't want everything to cool down too much.  Maybe I should have just cut everything up at once at the start?  But I wanted to get tasting it, not sit there preparing it!

Anyway.  I really liked all of the ideas behind this dish.  The flavor of the broth (minus the insane level of salt) was fantastic.  Seared snapper is delicious.  Roasted mushrooms are delicious.  But this left me flustered and disappointed.
AHI TUNA ITO-ZUKURI: "Ribbon-Cut" Ahi Tuna with miso ginger aioli,  fried Hodo Soy tofu, shichimi pepper, yellow turnip & seaweed salad,  sherry-soy vinaigrette,  and wild rice & shitake furikake. $17.75
This was a pile of the salad, topped with the tuna, garnished with the furikake, with the fried tofu and aioli on the side.

On my last visit to Boulevard, the ribbon-cut tuna was by far my favorite dish, so I was excited to have this and to see the new preparation.

Unfortunately, it was just not very good.

The salad was thinly sliced turnip and seaweed.  The turnip was a little crispy and I think still raw.  A rather strange texture combination, but it did look nice (it looked a lot like yuba however, and I kept wanting it to be yuba strips instead!)  I felt pretty meh about this, it wasn't bad, but I didn't really have any reason to eat it either.

The wild rice and shitake furikake added some fun textures into the mix.  And it is fun to say "shitake furikake"!

The fried tofu really didn't work.  Why do I want fried tofu on the side of my fresh tuna?  The last preparation I had of this dish had a grilled tofu that worked better, but in that case, I still felt like the tofu was superfluous.

The real problem here was the tuna.  It looked good, looked high quality, and the knife cuts were impressive, very uniform.  But there was just no flavor whatsoever.  If blindfolded, I could have never identified what fish I was eating.

Anyway, this just didn't add up to a successful dish.  The components didn't really work together and the flavors didn't pop.  I think that has been my favorite aspect of this dish in the past, how the flavors can really come out, and here this was just bland, which is surprising, given the large list of ingredients. I would not order this again, but again, I do look forward to seeing what their next version of this dish is, as I've enjoyed it before in the past.
WHITE CHOCOLATE RHUBARB ICE BOX CAKE: Graham Cracker Crust, White Chocolate Mousse, Roasted Rhubarb, Coconut Froth, Fresh Raspberries, Meringues.  $10.50.
It is impossible to sit at the Chef's Counter directly overlooking the pastry chefs and NOT order dessert, (even when there is a full size chocolate cake waiting for you at home, and you just had profiteroles at 4pm, egg custard tarts at 3:30pm, house made spicy cherry chocolate bars at 2pm, insanely amazing carrot cake whoppie pies with cream cheese frosting at 1pm, and oreo cream cheese ice cream at 12pm ....).  These desserts just look so incredible!  Beautiful, beautiful!  If they ever want anyone to come help test out their desserts, I'm more than willing :)

This was a cake of many layers: graham cracker crust, white chocolate mousse, vanilla cake, rhubarb, more white chocolate mousse, and then topped with raspberries, coconut froth, and tiny little meringues.

The graham cracker crust was delicious, although hard to break through since the whole thing was frozen.  Awkward to eat, but tasty enough that I didn't care.  Sweet, crunchy, yum!

The mousse wasn't really what I'd describe as a mousse, since it was fairly frozen, so it wasn't fluffy.  Nor did it have white chocolate flavor.  It didn't actually have much flavor at all, just sweet, although not too sweet.  Sorta just inoffensive, sorta cold, sorta ice cream like ... just there.

The cake was also flavorless and pretty much just there.  Again, not offensive, it was fine, but it was just plain cake.

The rhubarb was tasty and a nice texture.

The raspberries weren't particularly noteworthy, just raspberries, not in season locally.

The meringues were too tiny to taste, but cute.

The froth was again flavorless, would not have known it was coconut if the menu didn't say so.

Far prettier than it tasted.  Good thing I had a cake waiting for me at home!
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