It was a magical evening at Bouley Botanical. As a food writer and restaurant critic I'm often left speechless after a great meal. Truth be told I've had more good meals than great meals, and fewer, thank goodness, lousy meals. What makes a great meal? Excellent food is certainly an important ingredient, but because dining out is such a sensual experience, a great meal is one that involves all the senses - sight, smell, sounds, touch and taste. Often there's a great backstory involved as well. When all these ingredients are perfectly combined, you've got a great meal. And this, in my opinion is what made my experience at Bouley Botanical so memorable.
Our meal at Bouley Botanical would not have been possible without the support of TOTO USA.
The world renown bathroom company, TOTO, was founded in Japan in 1917 by Okura founded Toyo Toki K.K. with a commitment to provide a comfortable living space for people, while always protecting the planet and its water. Japan’s rich artistic heritage in pottery and porcelain is alive in every TOTO created today, and throughout every expansion TOTO has remained true to the Japanese traditions that have shaped the Company Motto and Philosophy, and remains committed to innovating products that benefit people, protect the planet and conserve our precious water supply.
When it comes to bathroom products, while being mindful of the world and environment around us, design is of the utmost importance. We are visual creatures, and take great care to select those products that best reflect our style, lifestyle and vision. The folks at TOTO recognize this. They understand that design is about making beautiful products useful. This includes catering to an aging population and to the disabled. (After all, none of us is getting any younger!)
TOTO perfectly combines art, science and technology in its design. Beautiful product lines combined with new technologies, such as their 3-D Tornado flushing system which gives the option of choosing between 0.9 or 1.28 gallons per flush. This technologically-advanced high-efficiency system is remarkably effective, saving you up to 35% more water than the standard 1.6 GPF. The modern hole-free rim design also means that it performs more consistently and is easy to clean. With lines that feature accessories, baths, showers, toilets and bidets, each piece is carefully crafted and curated to best conserve water while retaining aesthetic excellence.
And so you must be thinking, what on earth do a Chef and a Bathroom products manufacturer have in common?
Chef Bouley is passionate about the environment because it directly impacts our health and the foods we consume to better our health. He is so passionate about this that the restroom is outfitted with TOTO products, a company whose visions are so closely aligned with his own. It would behoove me to write about TOTO and not quickly share the NEOREST. This is like the Tesla of Toilets. Did I just compare a toilet to a car? Youbetcha! This dynamic washlet is stunning, technologically advanced and environmentally-friendly. Using just one gallon per flush, it not only cleans you (eliminating need for paper products) it self cleans (eliminating the need for harsh chemicals), therefore flushing out the competition - Sorry, I just couldn't resist that one. Unlike the Tesla, I did have the opportunity to test drive the NEOREST at Bouley Botanical. It's hard to sing the virtues of a toilet without sounding a bit odd, but if you're in the midst of a home renovation or remodel this is one company that should be at the top of your list. Below TOTO USA's Leonora Campos revs our engines... To learn more about the NEOREST and other products visit TOTO's website. I have the link provided for you at the end of this piece.
And now on to the restaurant....
Chef David Bouley's versatile new venue, Bouley Botanical is a living events space designed to excite all five senses. The restaurant envelopes you in an environ of pure ingredients, featuring 400+ edible species of plants growing in vertical window gardens, supported by the largest bio-dynamic green house in New England. The creation of Bouley Botanical was one that happened organically. After working with nutritionists over many, many years Chef Bouley was simply told what not to cook and never told what to cook. He's been focusing on the benefits of plants and herbs long before it became mainstream. There's still a lot to learn, he says, and he is dedicated to his research. Over the years he's partnered with some of the country's top doctors to study the science (as opposed to the art) of food to discover that food could be used to treat, cure and prevent many illnesses. It wasn't until a decade or so ago that things really started to make sense after a visit to a monastery in Japan where he saw just how they extracted from plants for health and flavor to create a perfect synergy. It should be noted that I am as passionate about nutrition, health and fitness as I am about food and so I was especially transfixed by all that Chef had to share.
This curiosity toward food and nutrition stems from his childhood in France, working on farms there as well as the nouvelle cuisine movement. Even though Chef has been pouring himself into this passionately for decades he still considers himself very much the student. His mission is to learn from the plants techniques and mediums and how he can infuse that learning into his cooking. He told the Wall Street Journal recently that the public is becoming more and more aware of the many properties found in plants for a variety of uses that include building the immune system and detoxing. He has been sensitive to how the plants are processed and how to increase their health potentials. For example a plant in itself might not fully absorb to its potential unless it is paired with other compounds from other vegetables. The interview is fascinating and I invite you to watch the clip here.
As we made our way into the restaurant from the rain we were greeted by waiters with glasses of wine which we gratefully accepted as we explored the beautiful gathering spaced lined in coppers and greenery and a few carefully placed pieces of antique furniture. The space is breathtaking.
Above the chefs and sous chefs start to gather the herbs and greens for our meal.
A longtime fan of the Chef, I'm happy to join in on the photo op fun!
(Yes, I did make some sort of wise-crack!) Our dinner kicks off with the very personable and charismatic Bill Strang, TOTO's President of US Operations sharing his company's mission and dedication to making products that are as environmentally friendly as they are beautiful.
Chef David Bouley then shared his continued study in food sciences and his collaborations with numerous doctors with us. We are all eagerly listening, taking notes (as I am at the bottom left of the image) or photographs. He taught us that the earth must first be pure and healthy before it can produce food that is pure and healthy. We all know that olive oil is extremely beneficial. It is even more so when infused with garlic, ginger, lemon and herbs and even vanilla bean.
And finally... the food! We start off with this beautifully presented petite plate of assorted vegetables that consisted of perfectly plated and seasoned purple and white cauliflower, a Bluefoot mushroom which is spectacularly purple, assorted peppers, a cabbage leaf and topped off with store-grown herbs. The portion was small. The flavor, enormous.
Next we moved on to the Forager's Treasure of Wild Mushrooms. It should be noted that I adore mushrooms, every single one of them, but even the non-funghi lovers at my table were blown away. The presentation was simple yet elegant and was comprised of 7 types of mushrooms including crimini, shiitake, oyster, royal trumpet and truffle with a garlic-infused coconut oil. The vegan friendly dish blew me away. I learned, upon asking the Maitre'D, that the mushroom has purifying properties. It has shown itself to purify the land and our bodies, with the ability to shrink tumors. TIP: Soak some mushrooms (any kind) in olive oil and place in the sun for 30 minutes or so and you've got a day's worth of Vitamin D. How about them apples... er, I mean mushrooms!
Next we were presented with a special treat that was not on the menu. A white asparagus flown in from France and a green variety flown in from Santa Barbara served over a dollop of emulsified olive oil and a sprinkling of Comte cheese which seemed to dance bit on my tongue. The asparagus was divine and just melted on my tongue. It couldn't have been more perfectly cooked. I do have one criticism, however. Asparagus season is happening upon us locally and I question the necessity to fly these vegetables over from such distances when the mission of the meal is of improving our planet and our bodies. I wonder if anyone else thought of such?
We all know that salmon is incredibly good for you and wild salmon even more so. My Wild Alaskan Salmon was served with pineapple, capers and Ginger Aromatic. I left off the pineapple as I thought the sweetness wasn't necessary and overstated its presence, not allowing the mellow flavor of the salmon to shine through. The salmon was perfectly cooked, flaky to the touch. And I loved it with the capers.
Others at my table had the All-Natural Pennsylvania Chicken and the House-made Blue Kale Gnocchi, both received rave reviews.
Making a surprise visit was the amaretto "ice cream" that was accompanied by a pear, pineapple and ginger soup. The flavors, the textures... they had it going on... and I wasn't alone in this... and in fact, we were caught licking our bowls clean on camera!
I question (quietly) the health benefits of desserts, but I am no doctor or nutritionist and so I say bring it on! Our Hot Caramelized Anjour Pear with Valrhona Chocolate, Biscuit Breton, Hot Toffee Sauce and Huckleberry with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream was an intensely decadent treat. As the flavors of the pear and chocolate played off of one another, so did the toffee and then the huckleberry and creme fraiche served as a tart contrast to the sweet of the chocolate and the toffee. My take on the dessert is this - Everything in moderation, even the treats.
The chef did talk to us about friendly creams and butters. Those made from grass-fed beef will produce a sweeter stress-free butter. So not all butters and not all creams are bad for you. The commercial stuff is. And he explained why. Those dairy product made from animals held in captivity are bad for us because their stress and whatever they are fed transcends into their byproducts and we then ingest all that. What sets his butter aside? The purity of the land and the free to roam grass-fed cows. Perhaps we should say that grass-fed cows are happy cows. But I think we all know that. After eating a slice of bread with "real" butter, you'll instantly taste the difference. Chef's teachings really do make sense.