Then in 2003, Daniel opened Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach. He put American-born chef, Jim Leiken at the helm. Daniel personally took Leiken by the neck and fed French food down his gullet like a duck being readied for a future life as foie gras. He relaxed his grasp and left the Florida ship in masterfully creative hands that conduct a marriage of French and American food each night.
It feels good just to approach Cafe Boulud. It's tucked away at the end of a one-way street, past classic stone mansions. Enter Boulud's sexy room and accept the French kiss on both cheeks from the warm, suntanned dining room. The powerful voice of Ziarra, who sings for your supper live every Friday and Saturday night, comes wafting from the lounge into the dining room, along with the aroma from the artisanal bread.
As I cut into what I assume will be rubbery and tough, the knife slides in easily, making me feel heroic. It tastes fantastic -- it's been grilled like a lying witness, and I drag my bite through the tart blood orange sauce, running it brazenly across the dangerous-looking slash of squid ink.
This dish is like falling in love with someone who has substance. It's tender, smooth, full of surprises, and shows you a thrilling side of life that you'd feared. The sweet pepper couscous hops on your fork like pearls being lavishly bestowed on you by this rich undersea creature.
The busboy discreetly looked the other way as I made small yummy sounds. The chef had gingerly deconstructed the ginger-laced d'epices element and left it up to us to spread it onto his soft brioche, placed discreetly on a silver tray nearby. I tried to mimic the heiress and the pool boy, but I am not that limber.
I ordered the trio of heirloom pork with one fear -- that the apple wouldn't fall far enough from the pig's mouth to allow me to discern the subtle roasted differences between the cuts. But each one of Boulud's heirloom pork selections were their own man. The roasted tenderloin was moist and no-knife tender, and I wanted to spread the crispy shoulder confit all over my body. As I ate the yummy, fatty pork belly, I chewed on the very bouncy essence of the fire which drove flavor from the meat straight into the gelatinous fat. I sat in my chair doing mental abdominal crunches.
The maître d’ paused by our table and asked, Are you enjoying your evening? He needn't ask if the food was to our satisfaction, if we liked the room or if the music made us feel like dancing -- he knew the answer to those was always a fast yes, yes, and oh hell yes. I love confidence when it can be backed up.
Strawberries were in season, and looked as luscious as everyone in the room. This sweetly tart lime mousseline and super-bright kaffir lime yogurt sorbet happily puckered my lips into oooooooh.
Photos can't capture bliss. The blueberry and buttermilk sorbet was wrapped into a precise and compact box, like a bride being readied to travel to her new home. The puffed floating islands of Meyer lemon curd were her dowry.
Music often plays at the most unpredictably apropos times of our lives, and we shouldn't stop it. To the tune of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, the check came and went. We walked out and passed the singer; I saw Ziarra's shoes before I heard her.
I was dining with two who had been one for fifteen years, and as we talked near the huge fountain in the palm-stuffed courtyard, one told me that his favorite dessert was still a French one prepared by his beloved. You may stare at an old, gnarled tree and have a hard time imagining it once a young, thin sapling, but a compliment like that from old lovers will make you believe in the timelessness of devotion.
This branch of Daniel's tree bears a different fruit than his New York City joints -- it's a seasonal and rich variety. It honors his true love of French cuisine and adds a dash of classic American boogie.
Cafe Boulud. 301 Australian Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida 33480. (561) 655-6060