Boulevardier has yet to open for the night, but even empty, the energy is palpable. The shelves are lined with an extensive wine selection and the touches of decor, including the three ornate, gold-framed mirrors straight from France, are welcoming. An air of excitement courses through the restaurant as preparations are made for the evening’s sure-to-be-packed house: servers quietly set tables and roll silverware into starched white napkins, wine glasses etched with the letter “B” are carefully inspected for wash spots and set out for use, mainstream indie rock (think Kings of Leon with a little Amos Lee mixed in) plays at an perceptible, but not too audible, volume. Boulevardier surely is a “neighborhood bistro.” It is situated off the main strip of the Bishop Arts District’s booming restaurant scene, but being just a little bit off the beaten path has not stopped diners from showing up in droves to try executive chef Nathan Tate’s food.
In a city where everyone wears a restaurant critic’s cap, Boulevardier has been well received. Not even two months old, the restaurant’s name is thrown around in most conversations as the best new restaurant in the city. Its tables are full on a nightly basis and soon the bistro will be open seven nights a week (currently it is six nights). And Tate appreciates how great things are going, “With such a great reception we’ve had so far, we just have to maintain what we have and keep our quality up and keep good staff.” As Tate explains how appreciative he is for Boulevardier’s warm welcome, a deafening noise pierces through the air, interrupting both Tate and that mellow indie rock. Tate looks around for a second and then chuckles, head shaking with the realization that it is Arthur – the guy with the self-proclaimed “best job in here” – crushing ice for the raw bar.
“Do you know about our raw bar?” Tate asks over Arthur dumping the ice into the display. “You know, we have a raw bar program. There is a big display we’ve packed full of seafood every night. We always try to have gulf oysters, except right now there’s a limited supply of them. We do two or three specialty oysters off the East Coast. We do clams, we do gulf shrimp that we poach.” The raw bar sells. In fact, according to Arthur, they sell about 700-1000 oysters each week. Shellfish lovers will not be disappointed to learn that Tate recognizes the raw bar’s popularity. Boulevardier will expand the raw bar on the next menu to include fruit de mer platters. “We’ll bring in lobster and I am hoping to bring in sea urchin and baby octopus, for specials.” Choices that may scare off a few unadventurous diners. But that is not who eats at Boulevardier, according to Tate.
“I am surprised how many funky things we sell here. Our lamb neck is one of our best sellers. Our braised pork cheek is a good seller. Bone marrow sells.” If diners are looking for a new culinary experience, then perhaps Boulevardier is the place. The charcuterie board is an adventure in and of itself, too. “I am a big fan of the charcuterie board. We do it a little different. Each charcuterie is a small composed dish. So, with a tasting you’ll get six different small composed charcuterie plates in one board.” Charcuterie board items include Boulevardier’s house-made pate wrapped in house-made bacon with pistachios, Bay of Fundy Gravlax with celery root marmalade, pickled mustard seeds and dill creme fraiche, pastrami-cured beef tongue with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and house-made pickles and St. Germaine marinated apples with hot smoked duck ham. The presentation alone is enough to make a diner swoon like a teenage girl listening to Justin Bieber.
It is pretty fancy fare for a self-proclaimed farm boy. “I grew up on a ranch on Rockwall County. I lived there until I went to college at 18. I was kind of like a farm boy.” But that experience helped mold him into the chef he is today. “It definitely gave me a deep respect for what goes into ingredients. What it takes to raise an animal. It gives you a totally different perspective on where food comes from.” It also makes for some good stories. “When I was in high school we had a calf whose mother died. We basically bottle fed it. My mom and I would do it. It was amazing — this calf was like a dog. It would hang around our house, right outside our house. It would lay down, when I came home from school, it would run up to me. So yeah, you see [creating food] from a totally different perspective,” growing up on a ranch.
So how does a farm boy from Rockwall County end up running the kitchen of the city’s most popular restaurant, serving French-inspired food? “All food is rooted in classic French technique. That’s how I learned to cook. I happen to love the reduced sauces and all the richness you find in French food. But the strict French bistro was a little tired so we wanted to put a fresh spin on it.”
Indeed, the Boulevardier menu without a doubt includes a fresh take on old concepts. Lobster-based bouillabaisse and biscuit-based beignets are just a few examples. But with the fickle whims of Dallas diners, Boulevardier aims to keep things interesting. The throngs of Dallasites that insist brunch is the best meal of the week will be thrilled — Boulevardier is adding a Sunday brunch. The menu will showcase classic brunch items with Tate’s stamp of originality on them. The menu is not quite finished, but when pressed for a glimpse of what diners might expect, Tate relents and gives one example: a duck confit with a poached duck egg and a crisp grit cake.
Oh, and there’s a new patio, too. With an ancient-by-Dallas-standards tree providing shade for those unbearably hot summer days (though hopefully those day are gone until next year), the patio is sure to remain crowded. The inside of the restaurant seats about 90 diners, the bar provides seating for a few more and the patio has seating for another 30 people. The first night it was seated in mid-September, and it was busier than expected – so much so that Boulevardier had to increase the number of servers the following night just to make sure they could keep it running. But that’s a problem a new restaurant is just fine with.
Tate may just be a farm boy from Rockwall County, but other than his childhood stories equating calves to puppies, it is not readily apparent – especially when his culinary accomplishments are considered. His food is fresh, innovative and admittedly, funky. And if the rave reviews Boulevardier has been receiving are any indication, it looks like fresh funky food is something Dallas diners are seeking with serious intent.