Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bouchon Bistro, Yountville CA

On December 17th my mother managed to secure me February 17th reservations at The French Laundry – without overstating too much, my entire trip to San Francisco was prefaced by this event. Knowing that we would be in Napa/Yountville/Sonoma on the 17th and knowing that my mother and aunt would not be joining me at The Laundry, I decided it would be nice to share Keller’s glorious cooking concepts with them with lunch at Bouchon. Having already dined at Bouchon New York in June and at Bouchon Vegas twice in September I knew what to expect – unfortunately, whether it was an effect of all the great meals I’d had or the anticipation of TFL that evening, this Bouchon fell just a little short of the “wow factor” I had at the other locations.

Arriving at 11:30am I was amazed at how quickly a quaint bistro in a small town like Yountville fills up on a nondescript rainy Tuesday afternoon. Seated immediately our waiter Chris B. poured our water and left us with our menus. After a seemingly long wait, Chris returned and offered wine (declined,) explained the specials, and took drink orders – iced tea for the two ladies and the wonderfully thick/syrupy/woodsy Equator Estates Coffee for me. Returning a short while later, Chris delivered the drinks and take orders. While Chris certainly wasn’t a bad waiter by any means, there was an air of arrogance/curtness to his demeanor that struck me as odd and aside from delivering dishes he was rarely seen – perhaps he was having a bad day, but compared to the amazing service at the other Bouchon’s I found this unfortunate at the original. Thankfully the ancillary servers were on the ball and tea/coffee/water were never empty.

After about 6-7 minutes one of the ancillary servers returned with the first of 2 orders of Bouchon’s famed epi-baguettes. As good as remembered, it was unfortunate in my opinion that they came with only the sweet butter while the versions in Vegas and NYC both came with jellies (raspberry and apricot, respectively.) None the less, in a trip that contained tons of wonderful breads, this one was my mother’s absolute favorite.

After a few more minutes and some talk about the day’s plans our first course arrived – for myself the Beignets de Brandade de Morue - Cod brandade with tomato confit and fried sage, for my mother the Salade de Cresson et d'Endives au Roqefort et Noix - Watercress and endive salad with Roquefort, toasted walnuts and walnut vinaigrette, and for my aunt the Soupe à l'Oignon with thick melted swiss.

To describe the Beignets is somewhat tricky, yet somehow easy – imagine the best “fish stick” you have ever had – with ketchup. Alright, now, take away the fakeness/fishiness and replace it with the flavor of perfectly cooked salted cod, incredibly sweet and fresh tomatoes, and the zip of crispy fresh sage. Beautiful in presentation and delicious in flavor with the lightest breading you can imagine – excellent.

My mother’s salad, like the Cod, utilized many commonly used ingredients in great portions with flawless execution to create a dish better than the sum of its parts. Fresh endive, tangy Roquefort, crisp walnuts, and a vinaigrette that tasted like a combination of wine and walnuts with minimal acidity and plenty of bite – wonderful. With regard to my aunt’s soup – I don’t consume beef and as such did not taste the broth, but the cheese was incredibly thick and bubbly. Both my mother and aunt enjoyed the soup very much.

For our mains, both my mother and aunt selected the Quiche du Jour - Lorraine with bacon, comté cheese, and spinach due to my sister’s glowing recommendation from our trip to Bouchon New York. Once again perfect, although not a Quiche fan I can definitely appreciate the light and airy texture despite the heavy and comforting ingredients – both the ladies loved the dish and its impossibly buttery crust. Served with a large salad and my mother quite full of vegetables from the Salade de Cresson, I indulged and very much enjoyed the simple vinegar and oil dressing with cracked pepper over flawless fresh greens.

In addition to the Quiche my aunt ordered a side of the Macaroni Gratin with Macaroni, nutmeg, thyme, Comte cheese, and panko breadcrumbs. Clearly underestimating the amount of cheese in the soup and quiche and overestimating the size of her stomach the Gratin was shared around and was very tasty with strong hints of nutmeg serving as a wonderful counterpart to the rich Comte. The Panko crumbs were a great addition for texture and although not as good as Michael Mina’s Mac n’ Cheese, it was definitely a solid preparation.

For my lunch, I opted for the Croque Madame with toasted ham and cheese on buttered brioche with fried egg, mornay sauce and served with pomme frites. First of all, did someone say “Supersize?” The portion of fries was insane and while delicious – bested only by Mina’s Duck Fat Fries – I had to send 75% back in order to not fill up. With regard to the Croque – yum! Talk about comfort food – the Brioche was as good as that at The French Laundry, the egg perfectly prepared, the Mornay salty and savory without being too heavy, and the ham every bit as good as one would hope. Though not quite as incredible as the Croque at The Butler and The Chef, the egg addition put this dish over the top as a “must order” and the price was well in line with the quality of the ingredients and preparation.

With a relatively standard dessert menu and Bouchon Bakery next door we deferred on dessert and I consumed another cup of coffee before departure. All told we all enjoyed the meal a great deal and it was nice to let my family experience some of Chef Keller’s work (aside from those I’d prepared in the past from the Bouchon cookbook) but neither the experience nor the setting were quite as impressive as Bouchon Las Vegas and the service simply left something to be desired attitude-wise. While I’d certainly go back on future visits, I’ll take a Bouchon Vegas breakfast over a Bouchon Yountville lunch anytime.

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