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"Without the freedom to criticize, there is no worthy praise." Beaumarchais
Consistently good cuisine, congenial atmosphere and impeccable service. While the menu is undeniably French, drawn from Chef Daniel Boulud's family recipes, regional specialties and haute cuisine, the categories La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager and Le Voyage share the best of world cuisines.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
It's been a year Café Boulud has opened in the attractive and recently renovated Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. It seems to have effortlessly leaped over the hurdle of first steps and growing pains to a delightfully well-established restaurant, close in spirit and style to its New York namesake, prompting The Wall Street Journal to say recently: "The place to eat in Palm Beach is Café Boulud."
We had recently had a glorious dinner at Café Boulud in New York where the menu is a thrilling combination of four mini-menus under the headings: traditional, seasonal, vegetarian and global.
At Café Boulud Palm Beach we found the setting was laid-back and charmingly tropical - maximizing the balmy weather onto an informal outdoor terrace with a courtyard fountain and palm fronds fluttering in a mild breeze. It also offered the same menu headings you find in its New York counterpart, as well as the type of cuisine drawn from family recipes, regional specialties and haute cuisine that comes straight from chef Daniel Boulud's French culinary origins: his family's farm is near Lyon.
"We're trying to be seasonal and the menu reflects it," said Chef Daniel, who periodically leaves the apartment where he lives above one of his restaurants in New York to oversee the Palm Beach restaurant. "But we're in Florida, and Florida provides some of the finest fish available. The menu uses many local ingredients: stone crab claws, lobster and mahi mahi. Besides, we don't want to carbon-copy Café Boulud in New York because it would curtail the creativity of our team, here," he said, eager to credit chef de cuisine Zach Bell and pastry chef Rémy Fünfrock.
La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager, Le Voyage
While the menu is undeniably French, especially under the categories La Tradition and the vegetarian Le Potager, it shares the best of other cuisines.
One can pick appetizers, entrées and desserts from any one of the categories. La Saison, offers jumbo Florida stone crab claws with hearts of palm slaw and mustard sauce, as well as chilled lobster salad with celery rémoulade with black truffle, haricots verts and crispy shallots; and grilled local swordfish with sweet pepper, fennel, green mango, Florida clams in a West Indies curry broth.
We were encouraged to start sharing a dish of chickpea fries with piquillo pepper sauce, seasoned with fennel and a glass of Champagne Cuvée Daniel, which the sommelier said was Boulud's own private label brand produced by Champagne Abel Blondin of Epernay, France. And when we picked a wine, he was quick to point out a better and less expensive choice which would pair well with our choice of dishes. Likewise eager to serve and please, the staff can explain every dish on the menu.
Spices delicately enhance the taste of each dish.
From La Saison, the Sautéed Foie Gras over toasted sweet pumpkin bread was exceptionally good with tart cranberries and cider reduction, and a decoration of fresh mache. From la Tradition, the Tuna "Steak Tartar" is a cake of diced prime tuna prepared in the classic bistro tradition with a delicious citrusy rémoulade and topped with a sunnyside up quail egg over fresh chopped thyme and crunchy cornichons.
Curried cauliflower soup, from Le Potager is served with a dollop of apple kokum - a fermented plum - puree and cilantro. A superb combination of spices delicately enhancing the sweet taste of the vegetable.
We couldn't have enough of the quaint yet rich Delicata Squash Agnolotti. Italian by nature but French in delicacy these are velvety hand made pasta pockets stuffed with squash, in deeply earthy creamy foam and topped with black trumpet mushroom ragoût and broccoli rabe.
For entrées, we mixed and matched: cider-glazed striped bass with ragoût of cauliflower, pancetta, Brussels sprouts and chestnuts; perfectly tender Long Island duck breast is fanned over the plate next to a chartreuse of cabbage stuffed with leg of duck confit and shredded cabbage, topped with a slab of homemade duck sausage, baby carrots, sweet shallots and red wine reduction.
There is Alsatian trio of chicken with winter vegetable choucroute, celery heart-grapefruit salad in foie-gras sauce and an Italian-style lamb shank Milanese or Osso buco with broccoli rabe, lemon zest and saffron risotto.
Desserts in Harmony with the menu
Chef Daniel and pastry chef Rémy Fünfrock create desserts in harmony with the menu's four categories. There are traditional favorites, a beautiful as they are delicious, such as a tart tatin or île flottante. Seasonal desserts focus on lighter offerings like apple trio with apple confit, spiced apple cider and Granny Smith sorbet, or roasted pineapple croustade with piña colada mousseline and rum-raisin ice cream. Chef Fünfrock excels at traditional chocolate desserts such as a progressive chocolate degustation, and a remarkable chestnut crème brûlée, wintery cream of chestnut under a thin sugar icing.
Petits fours and madeleines, Chef Daniel's trade mark in all his restaurants and cafés, end a pleasant evening.
Consistently good profile
Regardless of South Florida's reputation of volatility, Café Boulud Palm Beach manages to keep a profile as consistently good as its northern counterpart and offers to whoever wants to follow Chef Daniel the assurance of a great meal.
Not about to end it there, forever in the process of creating new things, Chef Daniel is designing a new line of pots, pans and knives for the home cook and is about to open a brasserie in Las Vegas. During a recent interview he confided excitedly: "I have a café, a bistro, a gastronomic restaurant and now I'm going to have a brasserie."