Boulud Sud, a Lincoln Center restaurant dedicated to the olive-infused fare of Southern France, serves one of New York’s finest Wagyu steaks, a Japanese-style cut of beef that has nothing to do with le Midi.
Daniel Boulud is one of world’s great technicians of meat. He’s from Lyon, the culinary capital of France, a rustic city famous for charcuterie, for tripe sausage and for Paul Bocuse, who likes to cook chicken in pig bladders. Perhaps that’s why Boulud Sud succeeds best when it highlights the meatier side of the Mediterranean, a region and cuisine more famed for its seafood fare.
Rabbit porchetta is so creamy, tender and rich that it’s a de facto substitute for foie gras; the bunny’s flavor evokes the excellent terrines of his Bar Boulud next door.
Boulud Sud is everything Bar Boulud is not: Quiet and comfortable.
Conversation becomes possible. Tablecloths, curtains and carpets mute noise. Steel-framed banquettes feature yellow-and-gray upholstery. It’s the type of joint that would have looked fashionable in the 1970s, just like the some of the graying crowd here, slurping harira for a spicy kick in the can.
That lamb meatball-studded soup, a national dish of Morocco, is Boulud Sud at its unrestrained best, channeling North Africa with little lost in translation. Just as good is the chicken tagine, the bird’s white flesh sensuously infused with cinnamon, the skin gently crisped.
Wash it down with a bright, structured bottle of “Cuvee Daniel” Champagne. It’s pricey at $99, but better than the one-dimensional wines from Languedoc that the sommeliers push.
Be careful. Sometimes the French subtitles distract. Baked cod delivers none of the promised flavors of za’atar, a traditional Middle Eastern blend of marjoram, thyme and oregano. It’s just a flaky, buttery fish dish, the spices of the Arab world tamed into submission.
Where is the chilied sting in the $10 mussels? Where is the smoky chorizo that comes with charred squid? Indiscernible, yet no matter: The translucent mollusk holds its own against the pow of bitter olive tapenade.
Bottarga is advertised with a plate of (mushy) saffron pasta. But the mullet roe’s expected orange hue, briny chew and metallic finish are non-existent.
The Cote D’Azur is just a short drive from the Italian Riviera. If only Boulud didn’t insist (just like other upstanding Frenchman) on overcooking noodles. Still, texture is a small price to pay for homemade orecchiette; the little ears sop up the rich juices of tomato-braised goat.
Boulud Sud is a lovely restaurant, but this Lyonnaise chef needs to make the flavors of the Mediterranean sing out and pop as they should.
Sea urchin, typically the musty, jiggly pot-de-creme of the sea, is for beginners here, its clean flavors overwhelmed by crab and a Triscuit of sorts.
Soupe de poisson is geared to the entry-level eater too. The dish is often an austere broth of fish stock, saffron, aromatics and Pernod. Boulud whips it into a froth and adds whole cherry tomatoes. The flavor is somewhat subdued and purists will balk, but it’s still a pretty great soup.
Bland ratatouille came with a mealy, overcooked egg. It should never have left the kitchen.
Better than boring rouget is loup de mer ($62 for two), sea bass cooked in salt for impeccable seasoning and wrapped in vine leaves for an intoxicating, almost bitter perfume. Pine nuts and olive oil add sweetness. Outstanding.
Follow up with that Wagyu steak -- American Kobe has come a long way in recent years. It’s an intensely marbled cut of silky steak. The $31 top round (just a few tiny slices) boasts a clean, meaty flavor, like perfectly braised short rib, except with a medium-rare temperature.
Boulud Sud’s desserts wouldn’t be out of place at the $200-per person flagship Daniel. Except these sweets are $14 or less. Grapefruit givre is a frozen shell of the citrus fruit, crammed with juicy segments, sorbet, sesame mousse and rose loukum, a Turkish-style gelee. The complex affair is topped with halvah-flavored cotton candy. It’s a stunning paradigm of France’s South, in all its tasty, multicultural glory.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Affordable; most dishes under $33.
Sound Level: Conducive to talk, under 70 decibels.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Zucchini chips with pesto dip are a must.
Special feature: Take the bread home. It’s that good.
Will I be back? Yes.
Boulud Sud is at 20 West 64th Street, near Broadway. Information: +1-212-595-1313; http://www.danielnyc.com
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)