Only 11 months prior to this post my sister and I had a lovely meal at the Bouchon Café in Time Warner Center and since that time I’ve visited the Bouchon in Las Vegas twice, Bouchon Bakery in Vegas thrice, Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and Bouchon Bakery in Yountville – and had the best meal of my life at an extended tasting of the French Laundry. I’m not going to lie – I am a Keller fan-boy. His approach, his personality, his food, and his cookbooks all strike a good chord with me and the service I’ve received at each of his restaurants has been near-perfection. Returning to New York I’d originally considered Per Se, but instead opted to save this for a later special occasion (a year from now, on completion of residency.) That said, I certainly wasn’t going to leave New York without my fix – Bouchon Bakery for breakfast would suffice. Getting on the train from Queens at 7:05 and hoofing it quickly from Penn Station I managed to make it to Bouchon by 8:15 while products were still coming fresh from the oven.
While rumor has it that a Bouchon Bakery cookbook is in the works, for the time it must be noted that aside from some items such as the TKO, Macaron, Nutter Butter, Chocolate Bouchons and a few others the variety of goods at each Bouchon bakery is different and seasonal – as such each experience is different and each season is different at each place. Quickly browsing the selections in the case I was surprised by some of the selections and knew that I’d have to select carefully in order to get a good mix and not regret missing out on a flavor – clearly that was impossible, but I tried. Not making the cut – yogurt raisin croissant, pistachio cherry brioche, ricotta cherry pound cake, carrot muffins, lemon tartes, the list goes on and on – but I’m only one man.
Selections made and knowing I’d have to return to buy my mother some Macarons prior to leaving town I made my way to the seating area after grabbing a handful of Equal packets – this alone is a bonus point for me! Uncrowded as none of the stores had yet opened I must admit I absolutely loved the serenity of the café area looking out onto Lincoln Center and the south end of Central Park – the view alone makes me look forward to per se.
Starting off, my first taste was the seasonal macaron – Blueberry Cheesecake. A source of complaint from some, I personally quite like Keller’s large-style macarons and find the crumb to usually be quite nice while the fillings are always quite sweet yet not “sugary.” Soft and delicate within, the crisp shell of the Macaron gave way to my bite quite appropriately and I was immediately surprised by the potency of the blueberry flavor and the creaminess of the filling – quite literally like a handheld blueberry cheesecake and quite excellent. For what it is worth, my early birthday gift to my mother was a selection of Macarons from around New York (Jean Georges, La Maison du Chocolat, Payard, Bouley, and Bouchon) and she ranked the versions from Bouchon #2 behind those of La Maison – having tasted a sampling of each I would agree, though for mom it was “close” while for myself the choices from La Maison simply blew everything else out of the water. – also purchased for my mother and not tasted by myself was a “peppermint patty with spearmint fresh from the TFL gardens” – she said it was amazingly creamy and better than the mint chocolates from La Maison.
My second selection, quite literally 2 minutes post-placement in the bakery case, was the Maple Bacon Brioche. In a weekend that featured fantastic breads at a number of New York’s best restaurants, this one was undoubtedly my favorite – having had Keller’s toasted brioche with the foie gras at TFL and the Citrus Brioche at Bouchon Bakery Yountville I thought I had some idea what to expect – but I was wrong. More buttery, more flaky, more airy – the bread itself was perfect. Coupling this wonder with the thick cut bacon brought forth memories of my amazing meal of Providence while the additional maple glaze harkened to Charlie Trotter’s Maple Bacon Roll – the best of both worlds and an absolutely sublime bread that despite its great flavor didn’t weigh too heavily on the stomach.
Next up, always amused by Keller’s “Showdown” style desserts – taking on the concepts of famous desserts such as oreos, nutter butters, etc I simply had to taste Bouchon’s take on the classic Ho-Ho – an absolute favorite snack of my childhood (and likely largely contributing to my 285lb frame at age 21.) While I’ve likely not had a Hostess cake in 8 years this wonderful chocolate roll instantly rekindled my love at a whole new level. Featuring Valrhona’s wonderful dark chocolate and the same incredibly intense whipped cream that topped the bread pudding at Ad Hoc this chilled dessert’s shell literally melted in the mouth as the cake’s spongy texture held up beautifully (not collapsing feebly like a classic Ho-Ho) to each bite. Approximately three bites large, another excellent choice.
The final choice – well, I love cupcakes and Keller’s Red Velvet in Vegas is the best cupcake I’ve ever tasted – as good as all the other options appeared I really didn’t have a choice. Called “Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcake” and carrying a hefty $4 price tag I needed to be amazed – and amazed I was. Per the server this cupcake was cocoa, Sharffen-Berger, and Crème Fraiche with Hazelnut reduction – per me, it was like a cupcake formed out of Cream, Nutella, and Spongy Devil’s Food Cake. Intense, rich, hefty, filling and worth every penny – like the ho-ho the cake stood up on its own and while melting in the mouth retained perfect texture throughout chewing – the mouth-feel alone of this cupcake justifies its price.
Although there were 10+ items I wanted to taste, plans for the day still included a Michelin 3-starred lunch, museum and gallery hopping, Ssam, and a Yankees game so I had to pace myself – no worries, I’ll be back in Vegas in September.