I’ve put off writing a review of Boulevard restaurant in Holladay because the feedback I’d been getting about the place from City Weekly readers and friends was so mixed that I decided to wait for the dust to settle, so to speak. One trusted colleague said to me just the other day, “I love Boulevard.” Another describes it as “a poor man’s La Caille,” whatever that means. Still another compares it to Rivers, “but with better furniture.” Almost all of the comments I’ve heard about the place include a “but.” As in, “The food is good, but the wine list blows.” Anyway, I kept hearing that the chef was tweaking the menu, so I stayed away for quite a while.
It’s probably unfair to compare this Boulevard to the San Francisco Boulevard that is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. The Bay Area Boulevard is co-owned by Aaron Ferrer, who is also a partner in Salt Lake’s Tuscany restaurant, just a mile or two down the road from our Boulevard, where Mike Crosland serves as executive chef. He also worked at Rivers and at Baci, where I first met him nearly a decade ago, and is the force behind Citris Grill and Citris CafÃ©. At any rate, the Boulevard in Holladay is in no way related to San Francisco’s, a fact apparent as soon as you drive up.
There’s not much that could be done to make the ugly brick box of an office building which houses Boulevard into something resembling a restaurant without demolishing the place and starting over. Perhaps that makes what the owners have done with the interior all the more impressive. The dÃ©cor at Boulevard reminds me of nothing quite as much as certain elegant, classic restaurants you’d find in Paris or New York; Taillevent and the recently closed Lutece come to mind. Heavy dark-wood tables, chairs, and armoires fill—well, sort of fill—the dining room, which is hung with expensive-looking oil paintings. And yet, things at Boulevard seem just a little ... off.
On a recent Saturday night, my companion and I walked into Boulevard and found no one to greet us. That gave us plenty of time to take in the unusually large foyer at Boulevard, a largely blank space (despite the attractive inlaid ceramic tiles) that is nearly as large as some small restaurant dining rooms. The feeling is one of walking into the lobby of an office building, rather than a restaurant.
We waited a while, and I was wondering where the elevator to the right of the entrance went, when at last a harried hostess emerged from the kitchen and rushed through the dining room to meet us. Without asking if we had a reservation (we did) or even imparting a friendly greeting of some sort, we were whisked away to a nicely appointed table. The general feeling we had was that our hostess was mildly annoyed at having to deal with customers. It’s as true in restaurants as anywhere else that “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” This was not a good first impression.
We sat perusing the large Boulevard menus—about 18 inches by 2 feet—for quite some time while our server and the hostess replaced tablecloths, glasses and cutlery at a recently vacated table nearby. I was getting antsy but was quickly mollified by a woman named (I think) Jill, who was a terrific, and I mean terrific server. Jill’s knowledge of the menu and wine list—and her overall professional bearing—was nothing short of top-notch. I doubt I’ve ever encountered a better server.
After the initial long wait to get things started, our appetizers and the bottle of Chehalem Pinot Noir ($48) we’d ordered quickly appeared. A large, meaty crab Napoleon ($11) was outstanding, served with a red Thai curry sauce that was unexpected but delicious. The same can’t be said, though, of sweet Vermouth prawns ($8): butterflied prawns served abreast a wild mushroom risotto cake and an accompanying mushroom-flavored Vermouth sauce. The ill-conceived dish arrived at an unappealing room temperature, but even heat couldn’t have saved it. There is a reason you don’t often find seafood and mushrooms or mushroom sauce on the same plate—these icky lukewarm prawns took to that sauce like oil takes to water. Thankfully, there were only three of them on the plate.
Looking around the restaurant between courses, it occurred to me that the place is just too damned big. The large space that is Boulevard is made somewhat smaller by a temporary wall of armoires on one side of the dining room, yet tables seem spaced too far apart, the ceiling is too high, and the overall gestalt is sort of “the end of aristocracy.” Cozy is not a word you’d use to describe the ambiance. It’s also weird in a place this classy to have to ride an elevator and hike down a long hallway to use a restroom shared by the building’s other occupants.
An entrÃ©e of medium-rare sliced duck breast along with confit ($20) served in an unusual but satisfying coconut sauce was quite pleasing, but the roasted pheasant breast with a rich porcini Madeira sauce ($21) missed the mark a bit. The sauce didn’t really do much to elevate the gamey but ultimately bland pheasant; I’d just as soon have had something less exotic like chicken, well-seasoned and served with the porcinis and Madeira.
But for those who enjoy extra elbow room, Boulevard’s fair prices, elegant ambiance, and stellar table service might make it a place worth forming your own opinion about.
BOULEVARD 2335 E. Murray Holladay Road 274-6999 Lunch: Monday through Friday Dinner: Monday through Saturday