Although a bit wary of celebrity chef outposts, we went to Cafe Boulud on a wintry Tuesday evening to celebrate R’s birthday. As it coincided with Winterlicious, diners were drawn out of hibernation and a crowd soon formed in the waiting area. We were finally seated forty five minutes past our reservation time.
Shrimp and Roe Amuse Bouche
Our meal began with a complementary bread basket and pat of butter. While breaking into the slices of sourdough, rye, and salt topped brioche, an amuse bouche was presented to us. We enjoyed the simple dish of shrimp crackers topped with a horseradish crème fraîche and crowned with roe, and were amused at its similarity in taste and texture to shrimp chips.
For appetizers, we opted to try items from both the Winterlicious and regular menu. We started with the venison pâté, a slice of venison terrine accompanied by tiny cubes of gin jelly, daikon, and pickled juniper berries. The terrine went well with the toasted bread served alongside, but was not particularly memorable.
The seared albacore tuna consisted of three thick slices of tuna on a bed of iceberg lettuce, topped with a citrus confit, olive oil, and aioli. The bitter blood orange complemented the flavour of the rich tuna, and combined with the fresh lettuce into a tasty salad. However, we found the slices of tuna to be much softer than the sashimi-style tuna we are more accustomed to eating.
Crispy Duck Egg 18
Originally, I was eager to try the smoked haddock chowder appetizer listed on the Winterlicious site. Sadly, the chowder was replaced with a lentil dal on the menu presented to us. We decided to try the crispy duck egg from Café Boulud’s regular menu in its place. The fried duck egg arrived with it’s top neatly sliced off to reveal a perfectly soft boiled yolk, which combined perfectly with the button mushrooms, onions, parsley, and cubes of bacon it rested upon.
At this point it was getting late in the night, and whether as an apology for the initial wait, from using a camera, or from having abundant stock, we were presented with a small serving of celeriac agnolotti as a gift from the chef. The celery-topped apple and celeriac ravioli basted in brown butter were a delicious surprise, even winning over R, who typically equates celery with misery.
Roasted Lamb Shoulder
For the main course, we both opted for the roasted lamb shoulder. Topped with an adorable slice of thumbelina carrot, the lamb was tender and not gamey at all. While the lamb was excellently prepared, my favourite part of the dish was the slice of pommes boulanger – thin slices of potato baked with layers of caramelized onions, like a cheese-less gratin.
Caramelized Pear Sundae
While everything had been delicious so far, the highlight of the meal was definitely the desserts. R went for the caramelized pear sundae, which consisted of a caramelized pear topped with an excellent calvados ice cream, caramel sauce, an anise tuille, and studded with pine nuts and cubes of pound cake. I found the sundae to be on the sweeter side, but R felt this dessert was an euphoric experience (R: “AMBROSIAL and HEAVENLY and GLORIOUS”), and has been dying to have another since.
The chocolate gateaux was served with a scoop of pecan bourbon ice cream anchored by some chocolate crumbs. The cake itself was a chocolate crèmeux layered with feuilletine, topped with a sliver of praline and candied nuts. The plate was completed with a crushed hazelnut meringue and a stroke of chocolate syrup. As much as I crave for classic chocolate layer cakes (blame Matilda), the different textures and flavours enhanced the cake significantly, elevating the dessert beyond what can be easily created at home.
Overall, the food and service were great, despite the initial wait. However the beige decor, uncreative dishes, and “interesting” service places Café Boulud a step below the fine dining greats such as Auberge du Pommier, and Splendido (in its original form). Regardless, I would definitely return to Cafe Boulud for the desserts, as well as to try their Digby Scallops dish.
Last visited Tuesday Evening, February 4, 2014.
60 Yorkville Ave, Toronto