By Daniel Boulud
They say it takes practice, determination, and a whole lot of courage to perform at Lincoln Center. When I recently found myself on stage at Avery Fisher Hall to receive the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Service, I was able to understand how rewarding that culminating moment onstage really can be. Although I wasn’t performing, it was still an honor to be there with the general manager and the maître d’s from DANIEL, and every bit a culmination of practice, determination, and a whole lot of hard work. And like so many great performers who come from less-than-glitzy backgrounds, this farm boy from a small village outside Lyon was truly honored to be on stage. Most of all, it just felt great for my staff and me to be recognized for something that gives us pleasure: taking care of our guests at DANIEL. Those same guests may be surprised to learn I took things down a notch when I opened DBGB Kitchen and Bar. Both the address and the atmosphere are downtown, the Bowery to be precise, and decidedly down-market in vibe. I used to joke that I rarely made it south of 42nd Street-not for work anyway-but now all that has changed.
Even though I’ve opened a few restaurants in my day, each place has its own unique character and always requires its own fine-tuning.
The heart and soul of DBGB’s menu are the draft beers and the house-made sausages. There’s even a homemade hot dog! (If I’m going to eat a hot dog, I want to know exactly what’s in it.) I’ve always been a sausage fanatic; I check out the local varieties wherever I travel. But the affair really started during the years I worked in Denmark, where a sausage from a street vendor was a daily guilty pleasure. Now I’ve created 14 varieties for DBGB. Our sommelier Colin Alevras has chosen 50 international beers to help wash them down. But the pleasure doesn’t stop there. With Chef Jim Leiken we’ve come up with some great seasonal bistro dishes, towering shellfish platters, and even a few burgers. The favorite so far seems to be “The Piggie,” a beef burger topped with BBQ pulled pork. Speaking of indulgences, for dessert there are wonderful hot soufflés and filled crêpes, courtesy of Pastry Chef Miriam “Mimi” Eberhardt, and even an ice cream sundae cart. You can concoct your own combination, but I suggest the coffee-caramel ice cream topped with chocolate cookie, brownies, candied pecans, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. This is useful information to have on hand if you want to pace yourself.
I always start with the food when I’m planning a new place, but the staff training and the service are every bit as essential to me. Even though I’ve opened a few restaurants in my day, each place has its own unique character and always requires its own fine-tuning. It really takes a team, and I’m lucky to have a great one. Did I mention the manager Theresa and the maitre d’ Olivier-both geniuses at their craft? Then there’s the design, which is so essential when it comes to how a place will make people feel. At DBGB, Thomas Schlesser, whom I worked with on Bar Boulud, was happy to join me again. Thomas is definitely a downtowner, and he imparted the pared-down, relaxed look I was aiming for, but with a real soul that reflects the Bowery’s history as New York’s restaurant supply neighborhood. There’s a partially open kitchen that makes you feel like you’re part of the action, without imposing too much. Then the dining room is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves where we store everything from our dishes and glasses to our collection of antique copper cookware, each piece of which was donated by renowned chefs such as Thomas Keller and Paul Bocuse. In fact, I‘m still receiving well-worn pieces from all over the world. In the bar, the mirrored walls are covered with some of my favorite quotes on the subject of food and drink-something to think about while you have a beer. This is definitely a place I’ll feel comfortable hanging out in.
And I hope you will come and hang out with me! See you down on the Bowery.