Chef Daniel Boulud Bets Big on New York and L.A.

“Café Boulud is first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant with a destination element,” chef Daniel Boulud tells Observer. “I want it to focus on the quality of ingredients, good service and a great wine list."

Chef Daniel Boulud. Eric Vitale Photography

Chef Daniel Boulud has built a verifiable restaurant empire, with eateries in Florida, Canada, the Bahamas, Dubai and Singapore. You can eat his food on Celebrity Cruises ships, and soon you will be able to visit Café Boulud in Beverly Hills. But he wants to make it clear that his unwavering commitment to New York City, where he helms restaurants including his fine-dining flagship Daniel, seafood-centric stunner Le Pavillon and the newly resurrected Café Boulud, has in no way softened.

“Coming out of Covid, it’s a miracle to be able to do this,” Boulud tells Observer. “We lost some restaurants and we gained some new ones. I’m very happy that I have had the chance to remain busy and strong and to have opportunities for our team.”

“I think it’s a good time in New York,” Boulud adds. “We need people like me more and more, because everyone’s saying that New York is done. The last thing I want to believe is that New York is done. And the last thing I want to do is to move to Florida.”

The original Café Boulud in New York (named after a restaurant Boulud’s great-grandparents operated at their family farm outside of Lyon, France, more than a century ago) opened in 1998 and closed in 2021, after the Surrey Hotel went bankrupt. Last month, the storied French-American restaurant reintroduced itself to the Upper East Side, 10 blocks south of the original. The new Café Boulud at 100 E. 63rd Street is a partnership with the hospitality division of Barnes International Realty. A second restaurant, Maison Barnes, will open at the same address in early 2024.

The new Cafe Boulud New York. Bill Milne

The reborn Café Boulud, with Romain Paumier as executive chef, has a four-section menu: French classics (foie gras and braised short ribs), seasonal items (pomegranate-cured yellowtail and roasted Pennsylvania duck), farmers market selections (puntarelle salad and beet ravioli) and rotating international dishes that are currently inspired by Thailand (lemongrass shrimp dumplings and sea bream with chili chutney). 

Despite the high ambitions of the eatery, Boulud says he doesn’t think of this as a grand restaurant.

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Café Boulud is first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant with a destination element,” he says, noting that the restaurant has always had that ambiance. “I want Café Boulud to be comfortable. I want it to focus on the quality of ingredients, good service and a great wine list. But there are options. You can spend the same amount as you would at a bistro if you want, or spend as much as you would at Daniel. It’s just a question of what you’re looking for.”

Chef Daniel Boulud with Cafe Boulud’s executive chef Romain Paumier and pastry sous chef Katalina Diaz. Bill Milne

Boulud constantly thinks about how to blend elegance with modesty. As we speak, he’s enjoying some soup that’s made with mise en place from three stations in his kitchen. He eats soup like this often—today’s version has lobster, kale, white beans, spaetzle and endive.

Boulud is excited about finding fresh ingredients in Los Angeles, where he and Michael Shvo are working to open a location of Café Boulud at the new Mandarin Oriental Residences in Beverly Hills this year. “I’m looking forward to L.A. because there’s a real market-driven opportunity there,” Boulud says. “The farmers markets are fantastic. L.A. has always had every kind of cuisine represented; it has a bit more cross-pollination.”

“Café Boulud [in Los Angeles] will certainly have a strong Mediterranean influence, but there’s also the opportunity to cook some classic French dishes,” he explains. While Boulud is known for his French-American cuisine, he has also experimented with different international influences.

Jōji, a Japanese restaurant that Boulud and chef George Ruan opened at One Vanderbilt, just earned a Michelin star for its omakase. (Boulud has long been enamored with Japanese cuisine, and remembers how he used to go Sushi Seki at 1 a.m. and run into Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who was also eating there after work.) At the previous Café Boulud, the Le Voyage section of the menu was inspired by areas as varied as Louisiana, the Middle East and North Africa.

Black Sea Bass “en Paupiette.” Bill Milne

Boulud excels at weaving together his sensibility with various influences, which is what he’s bringing to his West Coast restaurant.

“When I look at menus in L.A., there’s a little bit of fatigue with using burrata,” he says as he considers what he wants to serve in Beverly Hills. “So I don’t know if I need to do burrata and avocado toast to stay in with the trends. But definitely some great salads. My menu may be French-centric, but we have a sense of health, freshness and lightness.”

Chef Daniel Boulud Bets Big on New York and L.A.