Vv Magazine’s editor-in-chief Nicki Laborie sat down for lunch with chef Daniel Boulud at the newly re-opened (and reinvented) Café Boulud.
It has arrived. Nicknamed the “new Boulud” by the team who has tirelessly been working on its reinvention, Café Boulud 2.0 opens for full service today and it’s not to be ignored. I had the pleasure of enjoying lunch with the man himself, Daniel Boulud, to discover a little more about the Boulud empire and his vision for Toronto’s new Café Boulud, as well as the opportunity to try some of the many delectable dishes on the new menu.
The ever-charming Frenchman-turned-New Yorker with a penchant for ethnic culture has been working for months on the new menu alongside Chef de Cuisine, Sylvain Assié. As we sit in the most beautiful and comfortable of chairs – a far cry from the corporate seating in the first edition of the restaurant – he immediately starts by saying in his charismatic French accent, “We have been very big in Toronto and we loved the first Café Boulud, but I think we’re going to love this one even more.” He chuckles as he continues, “A little more soul and a little more connection with what Café Boulud here in Toronto should represent. Lively, comfortable, casual, approachable and with a more European and French ambition than before.”
If an elegant yet lively French brasserie is what they were going for: mission accomplished. The room has been transformed, now looking like a comfortable brasserie that is sure to be bustling from morning till night. Designed in a palette of British racing green and burnt orange with gold accents, the feel is that of a true brasserie, but with an element of luxe reflecting that it’s still got the Boulud touch. The walls are decorated in blue herringbone Hermès wallpaper and finished in walnut work. The room is lightly illuminated with a line of 14 bespoke double pendant lights down the middle and accents of emerald green lava stone are found in the corner tables. Designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio (MBDS), the inspiration for the room was taken from mid-century design resulting in simple elegance. A beautiful bar has been added, making dining solo very attractive and offering up a restaurant seat I assume will become very coveted.
As we enjoy samples from the new menu, Chef Boulud describes it as a reflection of his French childhood, his travels and his life in New York. I scour the menu and find many items that remind me of my own childhood but also some that take me by surprise.
“The menu is a reflection of my emotional tie to my life, customers and relationships. Some of the dishes are because of my childhood, some are because of my travels, some because I’ve been in New York longer than I’ve been in France. But you can’t take the French out of me. I’m deeply rooted as a French chef but I’m also deeply passionate by living in this very cosmopolitan and ethnic world.”
As a spicy beef pho comes to the table, the meaning of his words are all too real. Who would’ve thought pho would appear on a French bistro menu? But as I delve into it, the spicy and flavourful broth exceeds my expectations and I think, sitting in a cozy booth and having this on a chilly fall day would be great. We also sample the grilled kale and romaine salad, another unusual yet very tasty dish for a French menu. It is packed full of Middle Eastern spices with hints of cumin, cardamom, lime and a vibrantly spiced yogurt dressing.
We start talking about his love of spices and he refers to Boulud Sud in New York—the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant features flavours from the shores of Southern France to the coast of North Africa and beyond. With Toronto being such a multi-cultural city, adding some ethnic spice to this menu seems like a smart move.
Like the room, the menu is well-designed, appealing to just about everyone. Between the hand-cut tartares, both modern and conventional, the traditional French charcuterie by world-renowned “charcutier” Gilles Verot, and the bistro classics like quenelle and duck confit, I’m already dreaming of what I’ll have at my next meal.
The most impressive aspect remains the rotisserie menu, which includes lamb, chicken, sea bass and lobster all grilled in the Aston Martin of rotisseries. One bite into the beautiful roasted chicken and it’s clear that this was a good investment; it’s juicy and flavourful just like my mama’s. Lunch ends with a classic soufflé, which is perfect, unsurprisingly.
The new Boulud promises to shine with this menu and the great chefs at the helm. However, don’t expect bistro prices. In true Yorkville style, the price point is on the higher side but the dishes are large enough to be completely satisfied.
Fully content and a little less star-struck, I think about how endearing Daniel Boulud is. Libby Roach, our food writer and photographer is with me, and discreetly approaches Boulud before he has to run to his next meeting. She asks him to sign her 71-year old uncle’s cookbook, which he’s had for decades and has used religiously (made obvious by stains throughout). Without hesitation Boulud sits down and writes a full-page dedication to her uncle, ensuring that Libby makes niece of the year.
Daniel Boulud may feel like New York is his home but it’s not only his chef skills that reflect the Frenchman in him – his charm is irrefutable.
Which dish are you most excited to try at the new Café Boulud? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.