In the Legation Quarter just east of Tiananmen Square, Maison Boulud incarnates the culinary spirit that is Daniel Boulud. This, his first restaurant in China, is located within a turn-of-the-century compound that was once home to the United States Embassy. The diplomats have moved out and the diners have moved in.
The stately Maison Boulud sits in the middle of a large courtyard, with a dignified beaux-arts façade of stone balusters and ornamental details. Inside, it is the definition of grandeur and elegance: the main reception is flanked by a dramatic staircase, the entranceway separates the lounge with leather chairs and black-and-white tiled floors. It has an old colonial feel. The main dining room, a cozy parlour of 30 or so tables, is far enough apart to afford a sense of privacy, though close enough for a pleasant buzz of chatter.
But it is the food on the contemporary French menu that is most noteworthy. Boulud oversees the entire culinary implementation of Maison Boulud, creating a gourmand outpost befitting his global food empire. The menu begins with appetizers like terrine of foie gras, rich, simple, and balanced by an apple rosemary coulis and port wine gelée; herb ravioli with compote of tomatoes and black olives nestled in a salad of herbs and Parmigiano emulsion; beet and blue cheese pressé alongside shaved pears and topped with candied walnuts; and king crab and seafood samplers that reflect the local fish market. Entrees include slow-roasted leg of lamb served with couscous and roasted eggplant; crispy suckling pig resting on sauerkraut with a Dijon mustard jus; salmon with bacon-braised Chinese cabbage; and braised short ribs that melt on the tongue. All dishes are delightfully orchestrated by executive chef Brian Rhymer, and the food is complemented by a wonderfully assembled wine list that includes the expected French and Italian options as well as a few Chinese selections. The service is well-intentioned if sometimes misguided, at times overly attentive and extremely polite, but lacking the precise finesse of Daniel’s other establishments.
Canadian pastry chef Jason Pitschke prepares a mille feuille with chiboust and pistachio ice cream that is divine, and it is difficult to imagine a better way to end the meal. Of the petits fours, neatly arranged on a white marble tablet, the chocolate truffles leave a decadent finish, but the real show stoppers are the madeleines, featured at Daniel in New York, and most welcome here. The entire affair is impressive meal.
Beijing is a city of marvels, with the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. But the culinary climax is Maison Boulud, a feast not just for the eyes but all five senses.
Photos: The Dinex Group.