Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bouchon Bistro Beverly Hills, Los Angeles CA

Perhaps the greatest American Chef of his time (or any other) I’m not ashamed to admit I have a bit of an epicurean fascination with Thomas Keller, his philosophy, and his long list of disciples…and it seems as though every time I think I’ve experienced all Keller has to offer a new opportunity presents itself. Having finally ticked Per Se off my list in December of 2009 I was made aware that yet another Bouchon had opened its doors all the way across the country in Beverly Hills - with my passion for Kings hockey and yearly pilgrimages to the city of Angels I knew I’d invariably land in a seat at Bouchon eventually – even if it was almost a year to the day later. Having survived the much hyped opening and now a well established brunch, lunch, and dinner favorite for business folk, tourists, and gourmands alike we decided to take advantage of the expansive lunch menu and booked a table for four with ease.

Arriving early at the Rory Herrmann helmed spaced parking was easily obtained via valet and after making our way through the Beverly Hills Garden area, through Bar Bouchon, and past the disappointing Bouchon Bakery “pop-up” we found our way up the stairs past a beautifully lit Christmas Tree and to the hostess podium where we collected on our reservations – a good thing as the restaurant was filled. A thoughtful space clearly influenced by the Salons of France the room was quite familiar to those who’ve been to the Yountville or Vegas outposts – it looks every bit the bistro it strives to be. Seated promptly at a four-top overlooking the rainy gardens we were presented menus and water was filled promptly.

True to form of the other Bouchons, the Beverly Hills iteration features a menu of familiar dishes served at each Bouchon while also highlighting a few site specific menu specials and a chalkboard of daily specials. Greeted by our server, Ponte, we declined wine while my mother and aunt opted for iced tea. Sitting and browsing the menu I will note that this Bouchon was by far the most crowded and loudest I’ve been to – not in a bad way, but in a bustling bistro way that felt very comfortable and accessible. Returning with our beverages our orders were placed, all of us neglecting the daily L’express menu despite its bargain price.

Within moments of our orders being placed the first item to arrive would be a familiar one – the house made epi-baguette. As good as ever and paired with that impressive creamy and grassy butter we went through two branches (7 and 4) during our meal.

Opting largely for lighter menu items given our breakfast and dinner plans the first items to arrive would be a soup for my sister and a salad for myself. Erika’s choice, the daily Cauliflower soup with chives and olive oil was exactly what would be expected of the dish – creamy and smooth, a bit like potato soup, but bespeckled with crunchy croutons and mildly sweet. While I personally would not have opted for this soup I will admit that for what it was it was quite good.

My appetizer selection would be the “Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche” – a frisee salad with lardons, poached egg, bacon vinaigrette & toasted brioche. Perhaps my favorite style of salad this dish was one of the better presentations I’ve experienced with salty and textural pork lardons mingling with the creamy poached egg. With a base of slightly bitter and characteristically light frisée topped with just a touch of savory bacon vinaigrette I was additionally happy to see a whole slice of Keller’s famous brioche on hand – just as warm and just as good as that at The French Laundry.

For our main courses there were some predictable choices for all – especially my mother who once again ordered the quiche. Having ordered similarly at Bouchon Yountville and subsequently tackling Keller’s Bouchon cookbook recipe for Thanksgiving, the Beverly Hills quiche would be every bit as good as before. Titled simply “quiche du jour” the daily option was Florentine style pairing the expected egg custard and pastry shell with spinach and gruyere – heavy and savory the dish was served with a light side of greens topped with a mild vinaigrette. Still the best quiche recipe I’ve tasted I’d recommend anyone try this at home – it is simple, rustic, and sure to please both the eye and the mouth.

For my sister’s main course there would be another salad - Salade de Cresson et d'Endives au Roquefort et Noix. Essentially a watercress & endive salad at its heart I actually loved the crisp and bitter greens more than I liked the frisee from my salad. Paired with pungent Roquefort, so strong my sister actually passed it on to me because she felt it overwhelming, and toasted walnuts plus a walnut vinaigrette this was the sort of salad that demanded your attention, not the sort that could be served as a “side.” It was fantastic.

At $21 and served with a plate of frites Le Burger Bouchon with cheddar was large and impressive. Sitting on a brioche bun with plenty of vegetables I’ll note I did not taste my aunt’s selection, but according to her it was the second best burger she has ever had (behind Boulevard San Francisco.)

For my main course selection I opted for a second “Hors d’oeuvres” - the Confit de Canard. Featuring Crispy duck leg confit served over toothsome lentils “du puy,” in “saucisson à l’ail & a matignon of root vegetables” the duck itself was superb – crispy skin, thin layer of fat, supple meat falling off the bone. As good as the duck was, however, the perfectly prepared vegetables in a garlic game stock was perhaps even more impressive – rustic and hearty yet nuanced and elegant. Shredding the duck with my fork and knife before discarding the bones to form a stew of sorts this was the dish that necessitated a second order of epi-baguette – not a drop of the sauce escaped.

Happy as ever with a Keller establishment dessert was mandatory – interestingly the first time I’d ordered dessert at a Bouchon Bistro as my previous meals had been associated with subsequent stops at Bouchon Bakery. With the standard Bouchon dessert menu featuring some seasonal variations our orders were placed along with a coffee – the same Equator Coffee blend served at each of the other Bouchons.

For my aunt the dessert of choice would be the eggnog pot du crème with shortbread. Not particularly a fan of eggnog my lone bite of this dessert displayed the expected creamy custard with ample notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Paired with crispy and sugar encrusted cookies for dunking my aunt and sister enjoyed this immensely.

Less festive but far more tasty from my vantage point, my mother’s option was L’Ile Flottante – a traditional French Floating Island. Featuring a cloudlike vanilla meringue floating atop a glass of smooth vanilla creme anglaise and topped with crunchy almonds, almond cookies, and a boozy caramel the flavor profile was decidedly subtle but the dish was actually all the more impactful for it. A fantastic light closer for otherwise hearty bistro food.

For my dessert selection I went with the restaurant’s signature Bouchons. Featuring the eponymous little cork-shaped chocolate cakes – essentially the same texture as a Valrhona pudding cake – with a seasonal variation this version was simply entitled “S’mores” as the cakes were paired with graham cracker ice cream, burnt marshmallow cream, Valrhona fudge, and a large crunchy house made cinnamon graham. Wonderful ingredients, expert preparations – cake and ice cream is never a bad way to end a meal.

Settling the tab and making our way past myriad towers of seafood from the raw bar and a growing line of folks waiting for seats I realized suddenly how glad I was we’d been sat toward the back – the bar area is quite loud. Quickly browsing the Bouchon Bakery Pop-Up and subsequently the Bar Bouchon menu we collected car from the valet and were on our way to Arclight Hollywood in seconds. Sated and yet again impressed by Keller’s ability to bring that “French” feel to anywhere in America I can only imagine where his next project will appear…and where I’ll find a seat shortly thereafter.

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