Boulud Sud: Daniel Boulud's Ode To Modern Mediterranean Cuisine

Over the years, chef Daniel Boulud hasn't expanded his repertoire too significantly from his native French cuisine; aside from the now-shuttered DBGB, which specialized in sausages and other drinking-friendly fare, just about all of his restaurants are strictly French, from high-end (Daniel) to bistro (Bar Boulud) to grab-and-go (Epicerie Boulud). Which makes Boulud Sud, his Mediterranean-trotting restaurant on New York's Upper West Side (there's a second location in Miami) a bit of anomaly for the celebrated chef. Thankfully, it's a welcome one, as a recent meal there at the invitation of the restaurant revealed.

The restaurant has a decidedly upscale vibe, with white tablecloths, a vaulted ceiling, a muted color scheme and an open kitchen. A bar at the front of the restaurant adds a dose of energy (there's some more casual seating in the bar area), but the overall atmosphere strikes a comfortable balance between subdued and bustling. You're not going to overhear the conversation at the table next to you, but you won't have to shout to hear your tablemates, either.

Boulud Sud draws inspiration from all reaches of the Mediterranean coast, including Spain, Italy, France's Côte d'Azur, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey, and executive chef Ulises Olmos' menu is really all over the map, but in a good way. Starters run the gamut from a mezze platter to Lebanese manakeesh, Sicilian sardine escabeche, Spanish jamon ibérico, burrata with prosciutto, Marseille-style fish soup and gambas al ajillo. House-made pastas include quattro formaggi mezzaluna and lemon saffron linguini with sepia and Sicilian bottarga, and mains include za'atar grilled sea bass, Maine dayboat scallops with chorizo vinaigrette, branzino for two, and a couple offerings that veer more towards New American: honey-glazed Long Island duck with poached rhubarb and foie gras, and grilled American wagyu beef. The menu changes regularly according to what's fresh and in-season, however.

There's also a very nice (and equally Med-inspired) cocktail selection: Highlights include the Negroni Darmagi (gin, Lillet Blanc, Campari and a thyme tincture); Mont Blanc G&T (gin, Génépy des Alpes, almond and eucalyptus); and The Mirage (Moroccan mint tea, vodka, pistachio, and pine nut orange blossom water).

To start, we shared the Lebanese manakeesh, a flatbread topped with manouri (a fresh and springy Greek cheese), za'atar, charred scallions, olives, red onion and cilantro; a special of yellowfin tuna crudo with Meyer lemon puree, pickled jalapeño, garlic chips and harissa vinaigrette; and gambas al ajillo.

The manakeesh was fresh from the oven, and all the toppings played nicely with each other (although it would have been nice if the olives were listed on the menu, as we're not big fans of those).

The crudo was fresh and had just the right amount of heat and acid.

And the gambas had plump, Royal Red shrimp in a pool of garlicky high-quality olive oil with dried chiles and parsley adding depth.

For main courses, we opted for the Dover sole amandine and a Moroccan chicken tagine with turnips, cauliflower and couscous.

The Dover sole was expertly prepared, filleted tableside and served simply with toasted almonds in butter sauce and a squeeze of lemon; it's a very luxurious dish and easy to mess up, but this version was spot-on and treated the fish with the respect it deserved.

The chicken was also very nicely cooked, with crisp skin and a juicy interior, and the pool of sauce was robust and brimming with Moroccan warmth, but the dish arrived without any couscous, a strange oversight. A side of patatas bravas, super-crisp fingerlings tossed with Spanish paprika and topped with garlic aioli, were addictively good. The sommelier helped us pick out a wine that nicely complemented the meal, a light and earthy Savigny-les-Beaune from the Côte d'Or.

Boulud Sud hits all the familiar Boulud notes — professional service, elegant dining room, an upscale ambiance and a festive yet relaxed atmosphere — and the menu offers the opportunity to sample many different cuisines, all tied together by proximity to the Mediterranean. The sum total? A great special occasion spot.