235 N Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Thomas Keller is a name that needs no introduction. When he did his series of book signings in Southern California, the average wait was about three hours. So no doubt his culinary return to LA would garner comparable frenzy. The reservation line opened at 11:00 and by the time I got through at 11:08, I was given the last 4-top on opening night. Since then, the restaurant has changed its answering machine, warning customers to call 30-days ahead if they hope to get a seat.
The exterior of the restaurant is subdued, with a single red awning emblazoned with the letters Bouchon. The dining area itself is upstairs and decorated in a traditional bistro style, casual and inviting. When we arrived at the restaurant I could barely take the time to grab a few decor shots. Inside the excitement was palpable, a tangible buzz from all the diners waiting to sample Chef Keller's cuisine.
Pomme De Ciel - Calvados, Cinnamon-Infused Agave Syrup, Fresh Egg White, Lemon, Up
Pisco Sour - Pisco 100, Fresh Lime & Egg White, Angostura Bitters, Rocks
Le Moine Amére - Pimm's No. 1, Green Chartreuse, Tarragon, Angostura & Peychhaud's Bitters, Ginger Ale, Rocks
Bouchon offers a selection of distinctive cocktails. Intrigued by the blend of tarragon and ginger ale, I decided to try the Le Moine Amére and the sharp herbal finish lived up to my expectations. The Pisco sour was a delicious example, perhaps a bit sweeter than those I have tried in the past. While the creamy egg white and cinnamon of the Pomme De Ciel reminded me of Horchata.
Bread - Epi & Toasted Baguette
The Epi bread is a standby of the Bouchon restaurants, simple yet exceptionally satisfying with the soft salted butter.
Chardonnay by Matt Dees, winemaker for Jonata
One of the unique aspects of Bouchon's wine offering is the Vin du Carafe program. Bistros in France often keep a barrel of red and white locally produced wine for guests who request a glass of wine. Legal restrictions prevent restaurants in the US from doing the same however Bouchon purchases wine by the barrel and bottles it under a proprietary label and offer it to diners by the glass, half-carafe, or carafe. I'm not normally a fan of Chardonnay but this lacked the heavy butteriness typically associated with Chardonnay making it well-suited to the lighter appetizers.
Huitres - oysters
Among the fruit de mer selections of the evening, Bouchon was offering five types of oysters, all from the East Coast. The oysters were served with traditional sides of mignionette and cocktail sauce.
Beau Soleil, New Brunswick - My first experience with "Beautiful Sun" oysters was at the legendary Oysters and Pearls at French Laundry. The raw preparation had a much firmer texture and a much stronger brine.
Bagaduce, Maine - Supposedly one of Thomas Keller's favorite oysters, the Bagaduce was more balanced than the Beau Soleil, with equal amounts of sweet and salty flavors.
Umami, Rhode Island - The most distinctive of the five oysters, the initial saltiness gives way to a petrol complexion on the finish.
Island Creek, Massachusetts - My favorite of the night, a meaty body with a moderate saltiness tempered nicely by a light sweetness and hint of seaweed.
Fancy Sweet, New Brunswick - The name suggests this would be one of the sweeter oysters but I found it anything but, the slick soft oyster coating the tongue in a concentrated brine.
Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard - served with toasted baguette
I had what was undoubtedly the best foie gras of my life at French Laundry a single transcendent experience made me fall in love with cold preparations of foie gras. This was the course I was probably looking forward to above all others. Presented simply in a canning jar with absolutely no accompaniments aside from baguette points and salt. Silky smooth and luxuriously decadent, the foie was delicious on its own or slathered on a toast point and topped with a hint of salt.
Quiche du Jour - selection varies
The quiche of the evening was labeled Lorraine, but Bouchon's preparation substituted spinach in place of bacon. I thought the flavor of the egg tended to dominate this dish, though the bitterness of the greens helped to restore the balance.
Beignets de Brandade de Morue - cod brandade with tomato confit & fried sage
Recently upscale restaurants have been referring to gourmet doughnuts as Beignets though technically Beignet is simply French for "fried dough" and can be sweet or savory. In this case the dough is filled with salt cod, olive oil, and milk. The resulting mix is a crisp fried shell around a savory mealy puree that inexplicably reminded me of a type of dim sum.
Forest Mushrooms - à la grecque
The special appetizer for the evening was a mushroom salad prepared Greek style, meaning with wine, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, spices, and served cold. The subtle textural differences of the mixed mushrooms was superbly demonstrated though the tang of the seasonings overpowered the essence of the mushrooms.
Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche - frisee salad with lardons, poached egg, bacon vinaigrette & toasted brioche
I was initially dismissive of this course, salad with eggs and bacon sure it would be good but it seemed so pedestrian. This course is a reminder that no matter how humble the ingredients; in the right combination the results can be brilliant.
Rillettes aux Deux Saumons - fresh & smoked salmon rillettes with toasted croutons
Rilletes is a preparation of meat similar to paté, chopped meat is cooked in fat then shredded and packed with the fat to form a paste. The salmon came in a canning jar, covered with a layer of butter which our server removed and set aside on a plate. One of my friends jokingly asked if the butter was edible and got an odd look and concerned "I wouldn't recommend it." The server also cleared the butter from the table immediately perhaps worried that one of us would try it despite his warning. As expected the paste tasted strongly of salmon first and foremost with the fat providing a tang that reminded me of deviled ham.
Paté de Campagne - country style pate with watercress, cornichons & radishes
In addition to the salmon paté, Bouchon also offers a more traditional pork paté. The pate formed a thick meaty spread, the richness of the meat was finished with an iron tang. The vegetables add a tangible juiciness while the mustard and pickle provided a contrasting sourness.
White Apron Ale - Pilsner, Russian River Brewing Co
In addition to offering unique wine options, Bouchon also serves beer made exclusively for Thomas Keller and his restaurants. The first of these was labeled White Apron and had a spicy bitterness that reminded me of an IPA.
Thon Confit a la Nicoise - confit of big eye tuna, pole beans, fingerling potatoes, arugula, hard boiled egg & radish
I found the tuna to be the least enjoyable of the three fishes, dry and lightly flavored, the fish relied on the accouterments which tasted heavily of olives, effectively a variant of Salad Nicoise
Pan-Seared Alaskan Halibut - sunchokes, fennel, confit of grapefruit, tarragon
The entree special of the night was a pan seared halibut. The fish itself was unevenly cooked, I found my first bite dry though the second was both flavorful and tender. However, the sides were all on the sweet side and quite distracting.
Truite aux Amandes - pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette
A simple trout almondine, I had a fantastic preparation of this course at the Bouchon in Las Vegas. This time the fish was cooked nicely but severely under seasoned, though with the lightness of the other two fish courses, I wondered if it was intentional. When I asked Chef Keller about the lack of seasoning, he attributed it the kitchen still learning the courses. .
Blue Apron Ale - Belgian Ale, Brooklyn Brewery
The second of two beers brewed especially for Thomas Keller, the Blue Apron tasted heavily of ripe fruit, dark bread, and spice. Quite sweet, we felt this might be better suited to the dessert courses.
Pinot Noir by Sashi Moorman (Stolpman Winery)
We thought the red Vin Du Carafe, a spicy pinot noir would be an excellent accompaniment to the meat courses, particularly the lamb. Thanks to Kevin for the photo.
Plats des Cotes de Boeuf - red wine braised beef short rib with caramelized Savoy cabbage, glazed sweet carrots, parsnips & jus de Boeuf
A nicely prepared braised beef, the well-marbled meat was tender and had absorbed the rich sauce. The addition of vegetables added a rustic sweetness and after 11 courses was a welcome counterpoint to the heaviness of the beef.
Gigot d'Agneau - roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangere, Swiss chard ribs & lamb jus
The lamb itself was cooked to tender perfection with enough game to make things interesting, though a bit more salt would have been a welcome addition, though the bitter chard and salty potato remedied that to a degree.
Boudin Noir - blood sausage with potato puree & caramelized apples
The last savory of the night was the most adventurous. The blood sausage had a mealy consistency with a light spice and faint iron complexion, complimented by the creamy potato and soft sweet apple. Something about this course reminded me of a TV dinner, perhaps it was the texture of the sausage slightly grainy and nondescript. The smooth potatoes would be perfectly at home on a frozen dinner as would the apples which could serve as a ready dessert.
Valrhona Chocolate Bouchons
Fittingly the dessert special for the night were Bouchons, mini-chocolate cakes, served with ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Profiteroles - vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce
The second dessert was a puff pastry stuffed with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Incredibly simple sounding but the pure note of vanilla was complimented by the simple pastry and bitter chocolate sauce. Amazing how these basic ingredients, readily available at home can be combined to form something so satisfying.
Ile Flottante - meringue with vanilla creme anglaise, almond & caramel
My favorite dessert of the night, a light airy sweetness touched with an ephemeral hint of caramel.
At the end of the night our server took us back to see the kitchen which was quite large, with around 15 staff members which still to be in the full swing of things when we arrived. As with all the other Keller-run kitchens I have seen, there is a monitor showing another kitchen. These enable the kitchens to communicate real-time during dinner service though I have never really seen it in action. Chef Keller was kind enough to answer a few of our questions and pose for a photo before we left
I have to say I was a little let down by my experience at Bouchon Beverly Hills, though looking back for the most part the food was quite good. Perhaps it is a testament to Chef Keller's reputation that anything less than perfection is a disappointment. Chef Keller admitted the food isn't up to his exacting standards and the only way to get there is through practice. For those who want a reservation, the long wait could be a blessing in disguise. Thirty fully booked days practically guarantees the kitchen will be a finely tuned machine by the time you get a table. I expect that were I to return in two months, my experience would be totally different.
Friday, November 20, 2009
235 N Canon Drive