In a fall that is rife with major restaurant openings -- FT33 in Dallas' Design District, Stephan Pyles' new place Stampede 66, Spoon from chef John Tesar -- Boulevardier did itself a big favor by getting out of the gate early. This French bistro had little competition when it opened in August in the old Cafe Madrid space in Bishop Arts, and it has enjoyed this time as the pick among foodies, restaurant-industry insiders and all-around rich folks.
Boulevardier has an interesting distinction, in that it is not so much "chef-driven" as it is "owner driven." The restaurant comes from a quartet that includes lawyer brothers Brooke and Bradley Anderson, and chef team Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate. Copeland and Tate own Restaurant Ava in Rockwall, and they are both respected chefs; but the more prominent names at Boulevardier are the Anderson brothers. That's partly because they own Veritas Wine Room on Henderson Avenue, but also because the menu at Boulevardier is primarily French classics.
All of the stereotypical French staples are here, from onion soup to steak frites to escargot. An oyster bar greets you nearly as soon as you enter and the entire back wall is a wine rack. For young diners or those who don't leave the loop, Boulevardier could almost serve as a primer on French food, in a fun, charged atmosphere. Vintage brick walls lend a feeling of antiquity, but also make it noisy; on weekend nights, when the place is crazy-packed, it feels boisterous and alive, and they don't take reservations.
If you like meat, this is your place. There is a charcuterie plate ($22, plus an additional $7 for foie gras), with ham, paté and beef tongue on a wooden slab. There is a burger ($14) with house-cured bacon and pickles, and a braised lamb neck ($25) with potatoes, shallot and bacon. Croque monsieur ($13) -- basically, a ham and cheese sandwich -- is a humongous wedge glopped over with melted cheese; like the burger, it comes with a Belgian-esque bucket of french fries. Even the nonmeat dishes stick to your ribs.
What there is not: complimentary bread and butter. Bread is doled out for certain items, such as the roasted bone marrow appetizer ($12), with three medium-size bones that were plenty for two to split. The bread was sliced into diagonal toasts poking out of a paper-lined silver bucket; the restaurant does a nice job here on presentation. We spread the fatty bone marrow onto the toast, then smeared it with sweet, dark onion marmalade and topped it with a spoon of tart pickled shallot to cut the decadent richness.
Crawfish beignets ($10), the other signature starter, came four to a serving on a long narrow plate. They looked wonderful with their golden crusts, drizzled with aioli. Two out of four were good: cooked all the way through, nearly cakey in the middle and a righteous crunch on the outside. There was no shortage of crawfish meat and the flavor had a kick. But the other two were not fully cooked, with the center still gooey, and the outer shell not quite crisp.
Cassoulet ($24) is a Boulevardier trademark and one of its most popular entrees. It was served in an earthenware pot, filled with soft, buttery white beans, potently flavored with ham, and a duck leg propped across the top. If that duck leg were all the duck in the dish, it would be plenty; but buried in the beans was more duck, plus big chunks of ham. We would have enjoyed less duck and ham, and a higher ratio of beans.
Bouillabaisse ($28) was another entree big enough for two. A broad white bowl held lobster-saffron broth with clams and mussels still in their shells, plus a handful of shrimp, baby octopus and whitefish fillets. The broth was impeccable, and a couple of diagonal toasts topped with aioli for sopping it up were provided. But the temperature and cooking were inconsistent. Much of the seafood was overcooked while the broth was cool in some spots. The mussels were especially sad, shriveled into tiny little bites that resembled olive pits.
We waited a long time for the entrees to come; our youthful server filled the time replacing our silverware. If you like your food delivered promptly, the Andersons suggest you visit on a weeknight and avoid the weekends. Or perhaps you'd like to buy a bottle of wine? The pressure to go for a bottle list is high, since the selection is lengthy and distinctive, while the by-the-glass list is paltry. The Andersons insist that bottles are what their customers want. Must be nice to be restaurant of the moment; enjoy it while it lasts.