A Market for All Seasons
Épicerie Boulud fills every niche for the Upper West Side The avenues of the Upper West Side, in spots, can feel like someone dropped the Mall of America in the Grand Canyon, a wide-open valley of enormous glass-fronted chain shops and banks. And while elected officials and community members work to change zoning restrictions to prevent this disorienting trend from spreading, there are many spots where it's already too late. It's a community of local favorites-residents know where to go for the best bread, the quiet drink before dinner, the best burger. But these aren't always obvious to the naked eye. A casual stroller can end up pounding the pavement for hours just to find a non-Starbucks cappuccino, wondering all the while, "This can't be it, can it?" No, it can't. Thankfully, one of the city's most beloved chefs, Daniel Boulud, has taken it upon himself to relieve these huddled masses, opening not one but three of his eponymous establishments as a beacon to the confused, the hungry, the frustrated. If you have no idea what's good around you, just look for the magic word "Boulud," and you know you can stop trying to puzzle it out. Boulud Sud is a Mediterranean take on his classic French training. Bar Boulud is a more casual approach to that classic French food, minus the starched tablecloths. And Épicerie Boulud is...everything else. Going to Lincoln Center but have some time to kill beforehand? Taking a stroll in Central Park and want to take along a picnic? Need to pick up something to make for dinner? Épicerie Boulud has you covered. The market/cafe/bar opened just under a year ago next door to the established Bar Boulud at Broadway and 64th Street, creating a mini-empire on the block. The glass-fronted shop is studded with elbow-height steel tables, with a granite-topped bar along one side and a dazzling array of deli cases stretching the length of the back wall. Baked goods and cashiers take up the other wall, while minimal market shelving separates the shopping and eating zones. At breakfast you can take your pick from a delicate yogurt parfait to a Spanish egg tortilla. Lunchtime will get you anything from a thoughtfully composed cheese plate to a classic Parisian jambon beurre sandwich (with housemade ham, naturally) and lobster bisque. In the evening, choose from a selection of East and West coast oysters shucked to order or pick up a few éclairs for a late-night treat. It's rare that an all-things-to-all-people approach to food is successful, but Épicerie Boulud makes it work. Much of this is thanks to the strength of Boulud's talent and approachable charm. He comes from a now-endangered species of chef who, while armed to the teeth with accolades and training, ultimately wants to make people happy. He is a chef who, if you want a hamburger, will make you a hamburger-not a deconstructed hamburger or his evocation of the memory of a hamburger, just the best possible hamburger he can make. This is why one of his perennial bestsellers, so popular it made the leap from his Lower East Side menu to the bar here, is the DBGB dog. Using his impeccable French charcuterie training and his decades of American service, Boulud created a hot dog so perfectly hot doggish it needs no innovation. Similarly, the banh mi uses those same charcuterie skills to make the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich a thing both Lincoln Center doyennes and Saigon natives would happily call their own. It's a genuine delight to pop into Épicerie Boulud in any state of mind and be able to find just the thing to sate your appetite, but it's at its best around 7 p.m. That's when theatergoers lean against the bar with a glass of wine and a dozen oysters, nannies stop in with their charges for a final treat before handing them back to mom and dad and commuters pick up a loaf of bread for the next morning's breakfast. It's when it feels most like a community-which, after all, the UWS is.
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