Brushstroke Paints a Bitter Picture


The lawsuit filed against David Bouley by his TriBeCa landlord may be the most costly headache associated with Brushstroke, the tri-level Japanese restaurant Bouley has been planning since early 2008, but it certainly isn’t the first. Even in a city full of troubled would-be restaurants, Brushstroke’s problems occupy their own miserable realm.

Although Bouley has been in the neighborhood since 1987, when he opened his eponymous restaurant on West Broadway, his relationship with many of his neighbors has been a fraught one. After 9/11, Bouley’s reputation took a hit when he filed a claim for $2.3 million worth of damages the restaurant suffered in the terrorist attack. His insurance company sued him, accusing Bouley of failing to report the $5.8 million in Red Cross money paid to him to feed rescue workers. Although Bouley reached an agreement with the company, some members of the community were not impressed. One of those happened to be Julie Nadel, a local community board member and the co-op president of the building where both Bouley and the chef’s second restaurant, Danube, were located. Bouley’s relationship with the co-op board had been a contentious one, owing in part to a carbon-monoxide leaks at Danube and one five months later at Bouley Bakery.

Meanwhile, Bouley was planning to open Brushstroke, technically his fifth restaurant in the neighborhood, in a former Greek diner, but after closing Secession, his widely panned make-over of Danube, he decided to relocate Brushstroke to the shuttered space. The restaurant was intended as a grand gesture to Japanese cuisine, with a robata grill and Western-influenced Japanese cooking on the ground floor, and high-end kaiseki dining on the second.

Bouley first applied for a liquor license for Brushstroke in February of last year. But the community board wasn’t feeling particularly generous and voted twice to deny the application before it was finally approved in April, thanks in part to the presence of 12 pro-Bouley speakers at the licensing meeting. But the liquor license soon proved to be the least of Bouley’s problems; not even 24 hours after being granted license approval, the Department of Buildings found a crack in the restaurant site’s foundation and issued a stop-work order.

It was yet another inauspicious omen for the restaurant, which Bouley had planned to open with Yoshiki Tsuji, president of Japan’s largest cooking school. Over the better part of the next two years, Brushstroke failed to materialize. And, apparently, so did the rent for the two-story space: Bouley’s landlord claims the chef hasn’t paid it for almost two years, and is suing him for $1.3 million in back rent, as well over $600,000 more for building repairs.

All of which is to say that instead of introducing TriBeCa to the genteel joys of kaiseki, Bouley seems at the moment to be engaged in another traditional Japanese practice: that of seppuku.