Daniel Boulud's Midtown restaurant db Bistro Moderne just got a major facelift and a complete menu revamp from the chef/restaurateur and his new executive chef Jim Burke. Eater recently chatted with the two about the reasons for the renovation, the things that changed, and the things that will always stay the same:
Why did you decide to do this revamp now?
Daniel Boulud: It's part of a cycle of revamp — we redid Daniel at the 10-year mark — and also to take a new path. Of course, it is what it is. It's still db Bistro here. It's still Daniel at Daniel, and when we redid Café Boulud, after 12 years it was still Café Boulud. But restaurants get used and bruised and abused and it's wonderful for everyone; for the customer, for the team, for the restaurant itself, for the maintenance of the restaurant. Rather than buying new chairs all the time and repairing this, we just decided to redo the restaurant all new. It's part of being in business.
[Photo by Daniel Krieger]
What were the biggest things you wanted to change?
DB: If I really wanted to do something very different, I would have changed the name. Nothing was broken except for the fact that it's time. When we opened the bistro in 2001, we called it db Bistro Moderne because it was not a typical Parisian or Lyonnaise bistro. This time I think we wanted to get closer to a blend of the two. It's a New York bistro, but with a stronger French identity. And in the menu as well, we have created a selection of classic cuisine de marché. Cuisine de marché is the base of French cuisine, based on seasonal, market-driven dishes and more classically-inspired dishes. Sometimes it's also dishes that come from classic French restaurants in New York, like the sole véronique or the coulibiac of salmon. They were the dishes that sold when I arrived in the early '80s. It's what all of those old French restaurants were doing and I think I liked that. It's all retro-nouveau.
How did you choose Jim Burke as db Bistro's new chef?
DB: Because we always move towards young talent. Because he fit the criteria. I have been in New York for a while and sometimes chefs are promoted from within and sometimes they bring in a chef from the outside. Andrew Carmellini was a chef from the outside. I liked his background. I liked what he had done before and I wanted to work with him. He came to us without having worked for us. It was the same case with Gavin Kaysen. It was the same for Jim as well — we didn't work together before, but we wanted to work together.
Jim, what has it been like working here so far?
Jim Burke: It's been wonderful. I keep saying this is the kind of opportunity you come to New York for. I came here to open another restaurant [Caffe Storico] for another company, but I never felt like that was the reason to be here.
What has your influence been on the new menu?
DB: Well it's teamwork.
JB: We've worked on everything together. And that's part of it. To be around the best is what every cook wants in order to better themselves. Chef Boulud and the team that he has—it's a dream come true.
DB: We also worked closely with Olivier Muller, our corporate chef. Olivier was the chef here for six years so he knows the DNA of db Bistro. He has worked closely with me and he has worked with Jean-François [Bruel, the chef at Daniel]. So it's not like we asked Jim to take it and run it. We still worked closely with him.
What are you most excited about on the new menu?
DB: I'm excited about everything that we do. We have some wonderful seafood dishes. We have some classic dishes: We kept the coq au vin. This is the home of the original DB Burger and there is nothing to change about that. Sometimes it's not all about change. It's about consistency, and also each season brings new inspiration. There are a lot of new dishes we have done together. I like simple, well executed food. That's how a bistro is supposed to be. We have some classics like the pâté en croute and I love soup, so there will always be a couple of veloutés. We also have the burrata ravioli, that's Jim passion for Italian cuisine.
JB: It's a great time to be open. We're hanging on to some of the last late summer ingredients and working in some of the early fall ingredients. It's interesting to see that reflected on the menu. Heirloom tomatoes are great right now, in fact they are almost at their best right now. And then eggplant and summer beans and celery root and endive and apples are coming in, so we're kind of straddling that line of late summer, early fall.
[Photo by Daniel Krieger]
Is there any dish you're particularly excited about?
JB: I think the celery root is an interesting appetizer. It's salt-roasted celery root. It's a good fall item and it brings a lot those flavors. It's not heavy and it eats well. The collaboration is great. Everything is well thought out. These guys think through everything.
How has this neighborhood changed since you first got here?
DB: There are other restaurants that have come in. A lot of them have closed also. Sad story. We may not always be the trendiest place, but we last a little bit longer. We have been very fortunate to have a very loyal clientele and also a lot of people working around this neighborhood who come at night for dinner.
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[Boulud and Burke Photos courtesy of db Bistro Moderne]