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Bouchon Slips

On my first trip to Napa this weekend, I got a chance to eat some great food and drink plenty of good wine. On Friday night, after my parents and I flew in earlier that afternoon, we ate at Bouchon.

Dear Thomas Keller,

Please close Bouchon while you undergo renovations in the kitchen. The starters we ordered were nice - cold pea soup with crab salad had a pleasant smooth, creamy texture, and the cassoulet with duck confit was textbook - pretty good start. Then we waited. And waited. Fifteen minutes go by. At that point, our server said our entrees "should be here in just a couple of minutes". Fifteen minutes after that, our food arrived...lukewarm. Starving, I dug into my Coquille St. Jacques - diver scallops with asparagus, chorizo, and pequillo peppers. The scallops were cooked very nicely but underseasoned, the asparagus was overcooked and underseasoned, and the chorizo was overcooked and chewy. I had a few bites of my mom's bouillabaisse. The fish and shrimp were plated in a bowl, brought to the table, and then the broth was poured in tableside. Well, the seafood was quite cold and devoid of seasoning. What a boring dish. Thinking back, we really should have returned our food and asked for something else, but we were so hungry and tired by the time we got our food that we didn't even want to bother.

I am a big fan of yours Mr. Keller, having enjoyed the best meal on my life at Per Se even though it costed me an arm and a leg. I'm a cook, and The French Laundry cookbook is one of my favorites. So I'm sure you could understand that I was excited to eat at Bouchon. I understand closing for a week or so during renovations costs money, but your reputation is at stake. As I went to the bathroom in the temporary outhouse of a men's room next to Bouchon after the meal, I wondered to myself how customers would react if they had to relieve themselves in an outhouse next to The French Laundry down the street.

Eating at Redd the next night was like night and day. I'll review it later.

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  1. I never understood what the fuss was about with Bouchon. I've had significantly better bistro fare around SF.

    1. Agreed; I stopped by during a Napa/Sonoma trip last weekend, and was surprised that Bouchon tanked for me.

      I didn't include it in my report, which was about the places and experiences that excited me (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/506733), but we also had cold food and slow service.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pane

        A cartoon showing an angel on a cloud with a harp --caption " If I'd realized just how boring it would be I'd brought a magazine to read." If you really know of places this good in SFO well tell all--If you know of places in France this good even better...if the food is cold send it back and slow service--hey in France this is the focus of the day--just chill....
        When I ate here I did think I had died and gone to heaven...

      2. Ironically, the second bathroom at TFL would technically qualify as an outhouse - albeit a rather chicly designed one. ;)

        Sorry to hear about your experience. The complaints seem to be mounting against Bouchon - the negative (or indifferent) posts seem to outweigh the positive ones these days.

        1. link

          Bouchon Bakery
          6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

          1. I absolutely disagree that Bouchon is going downhill. If anything, it is much better than when it first opened. We always go for lunch when we are in Yountville.

            Last meal:
            A dozen oysters – split between the 2 of us – 6 St. Simon oysters from New Brunswick and 6 Tatamagouche Oysters from Nova Scotia.

            Croque Madame – toasted ham and cheese sandwich on brioche with a fried egg and Mornay sauce served with french fries.

            Lamb’s tongue salad with frisee. – absolutely perfect.

            Cheese for dessert from Sally Jackson.

            3 Replies
            1. re: lizziee

              Lamb's tongue salad deconstructed

              1. re: lizziee

                lizziee: sounds like your dishes,with the exception of the Croque, are ones that are served room temp or cold; that may make a difference: perhaps with the renovation they don't have room to keep all of the dishes at the right temperature?

                I was going to say that I'd be leary of eating in a place under reconstruction, but then remembered that I had what might have been the best scallops of my life at Koi Palace when it was being redone (and I had to use the portapotties in the parking lot there too; they did flush but were pretty much like something you would find camping)...so not sure the reconstruction should be blamed. A restaurant of that caliber should be on its game, or should close for duration.

                1. re: lizziee

                  <I absolutely disagree that Bouchon is going downhill. If anything, it is much better than when it first opened. We always go for lunch when we are in Yountville.>

                  Were they in "Renovation Mode" when you were there last? That could have made quite a difference.

                2. Sorry about your disappointment. I'm glad the innkeeper at where we stayed in Yountville last weekend warned us about the construction at Bouchon. We went to Bistro Jeanty and Ad Hoc instead.

                  1. Does anyone know when the renovations shold be completed?

                    1. Some agreement here about this restaurant. I was at Bouchon last week with my missus, and what a puzzling experience.

                      Keller's cookery book full of recipes from Bouchon is very pretty, full of gorgeous pictures of great dishes, but there is something strange about his philosophical musings - slightly pretentious. However, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker, some of my best friends are slightly pretentious, so we turned up for lunch on a blazing hot day last week.

                      On the plus side: good service, though we were passed around a bit between the waiters. A really confident and relaxed maitre d', who handled a contretemps at the next table (busboy poured plate of ice and water into lady diner's grip) with grace and without grovelling. Delicious wine, whisked away to go on ice every time, as we were on a hot terrace. It was no trouble to pop next door and bring in off-menu chocolate bites from the bakery - in fact they deliberately didn't charge us for them, or for the coffee.

                      However.... this place is strange. It has many of the trappings of a french bistro but lacks the spark of the real thing. I finally found it weird - a kind of Disneyfied experience, far too smooth, closely monitored and uptight to be a truly relaxed experience for me. The genius loci could not be more different from an urban European atmosphere - these Napa towns are roomy and slow, and this corner of Yountville in particular lacks any individuality or character (unlike say Calistoga) - it's just a mall. Yet Keller has made a Marie Antoinette place here for him to play at European living.

                      I love cassoulet, so I had to order it, just to see what they'd do. Ok, here's the alarm bells - it was on the appetizer part of the menu. A starter? Of cassoulet? What's that about? Cassoulet's a winter belly-filler dish, and sure ain't dainty. Yet here it was, sitting in a perfectly clean iron crock the size of a cookie, with an immaculate disc of garlic sausage perched on top. Very nice, but too many breadcrumbs so far too dry.

                      There were many inconsistencies and puzzles in what was happening. Coffee was standard american filter stuff of the kind Keller would have surely poured away were he actually in France; glass of (admittedly delicious) dessert wine arrived as we were almost finishing the foie gras that I'd ordered it to accompany.

                      And finally, Salt. It seems that Bouchon has an obsession with it. I love the stuff too - hell, I will always risk upsetting hosts at dinner parties by correctly seasoning my own food to get it right, especially meat. But Keller's Foie Gras was way too salty, period. I'd kind of expected things to have a bit of punch, and I accept it's a matter of taste, but surely this was leaning towards error. Alastair Little of Soho always maintains that professional chefs lose so much salt in sweat as they cook that it warps their tasting in this regard; they pile in the salt till they can really taste it, and it's something they must learn to guard against. I hope it's that rather than just someone overseasoning and imagining that's OK.

                      Do other diners agree about salty dishes here?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tupmanzozzie

                        A noticeable amount of folks complain about the salt at Ad hoc as well. My wife has a higher threshold for salt than I do and she never has a problem. Although I haven't had an unacceptably salty meal at Bouchon or Ad hoc, I've had a few portions that wandered close.

                      2. I've been to Bouchon for oysters, dessert, and cocktails, most recently last night and the service was appalling! A couple of my friends were still chatting when our waitress came to our table to read the specials and she (our waitress) actually said, sharply, "pay attention!"

                        We placed our order and the desserts and oysters were all lovely. However, V ordered the lemon tart which came on the plate as a slice with no garnish. A slice of tart on a plate. Like I would have served to my child at home. Not aesthetically pleasing.

                        Our waitress provided no other service for the duration of our evening. I had to go to the bar to order more oysters and again to get our bill. I think our waitress had left for the night and didn't bother to either tell us or tell another server.

                        We've had great experiences at the French Laundry, but Bouchon's poor service has caused me to take them off my list. It's remarkable how often Bouchon's nonstellar service has received comment in these reviews. In contrast, staff at Bistro Jeanty were sweet and attentive and they'll get my next nod. I also agree that Redd is MUCH better for service and dinner was wonderful!

                        1. Add me to the list of disappointeds. Went there the day after Christmas. One of our party ordered the daily special tartine, which was described as niçoise on a slice of levain. In fact it was a blended tuna salad with slices of hard-boiled egg.

                          The folks in Nice would be apoplectic...there was nothing niçoise about it. $20 for an open-faced tuna salad sandwich is excessive and out of place in a French style bistro.

                          My poached salmon atop an oxtail ragu was better. The truffled frites were boring and barely tasted of truffle.

                          The place is a beautiful stage set and reminds me of my old hangout café in the south of France. The epi bread was wonderful. Don't think I'll return.