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Bouchon-Are you serious?

Splendid Wine Snob Aug 6, 2009 07:02 PM

I returned recently from a two week trip across Northern California. I had absolutely wonderful meals at La Folie, Chez Panisse and Ubuntu, to name a few. But I really had to post about the worst. And-long pause, many gasps, it was at none other than Bouchon.

I had already read mixed reviews on this board about Bouchon, but since my companions and I have never experienced any of Thomas Keller's cuisine, we decided Bouchon would be a good opportunity-especially given we are all French food fanatics. Of course, we did not manage to get a reservation at The French Laundry (our first choice), but now I think that may have been a blessing in disguise.

First off, this is not a bouchon. Not in the traditional sense or otherwise. There may be pretty French pictures on the wall with cliched French music playing but it didn't fool me. And the prices or clear lack of Lyonnais influenced cuisine (with the exception of sausage maybe) certainly don't warrant a bouchon name but I digress. I certainly knew the price point in advance given the information on the website, so that wasn't a shocker. What shocked me was the absolutely atrocious food at such a high price point. It seems that people will flock to this place as a feeling of winning "second prize" in losing the reservation battle for The French Laundry. Well, let me tell you, it ain't.

I had read that any of the raw bar offerings were exceptional. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood for that, nor were any of my companions. We decided to order a round of mains; the boudin blanc, the roasted chicken, the steak frites, and I had the special of the evening, Rabbit two ways, a rillettes and sausage. All of them were so salty that we could not finish what was on our plate. Now, I am sensitive to salt, but two of my companions are not-one person could even be described as a salt lover. Well, even he could not grasp the amount of salt in the food. It was very obvious that the kitchen is not tasting the food before it goes out, otherwise they would have noticed the huge cube of SALT.

We all stared at each other in disbelief. Is this really the quality control that Thomas Keller wants in any of his establishments? Because as far as I could tell, there was none. It could have been excusable if one, or even two mains had been oversalted, but all four??? At least the bread and Merry Edwards Pinot saved our meal-we had that to be thankful for.

With myriad spelling mistakes noted on the wine/aperitif/digestif list, I had had enough. Dessert? No thanks. Service was fine, albeit clinical. And yes, it is loud and cramped, as many people have noted before me.

Its hard to establish a true sense of any restaurant based on one visit alone, but when you are charging those kinds of prices, and have the supposed name behind them to back it up, I have much less patience for slip ups. In the end, it all seemed so contrived to me.

But what did I expect when I heard the answering machine say "Welcome to Bou-SHAWN"?

SWS

  1. SFguy Aug 13, 2009 07:18 PM

    I like Bouchon as a dining option when staying in Napa Valley. I think some posters have a problem with Thomas Keller and rip at his successes. I am glad he is doing what he is doing and will continue to support his establishments.

    2 Replies
    1. re: SFguy
      Splendid Wine Snob Aug 13, 2009 09:39 PM

      Nah. I just have a problem with bad food.

      SWS

      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
        c
        cornflower55 Aug 15, 2009 05:55 PM

        maybe you just had a bad meal. a lot of people really like it there.

    2. maria lorraine Aug 7, 2009 10:32 PM

      There are many warnings about Bouchon. You have to sit at the bar,
      and order what they do well: raw bar, and only a few menu items.
      But then it's very satisfying.

      7 Replies
      1. re: maria lorraine
        Splendid Wine Snob Aug 8, 2009 06:41 AM

        Maria,

        First off, I've been reading your posts for awhile and I respect your opinion. You and so many others on this board helped me make decisions about where to eat-thanks for that. However, this really begs the question; why bother eating there at all if your only option is to eat off the raw bar? Why not just open a raw bar restaurant? And we really didn't have that option-there were four of us and the bar isn't really conducive for that many people.

        Oddly, as many warnings I read, there were almost an equal amount of ardent supporters of the place, which is ultimately why we decided on taking a chance on it. Usually when a place divides people this much though, its more of a warning than a good sign. And I can't help but think the Keller name blinds people to getting bad food.

        SWS

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
          l
          lizziee Aug 8, 2009 07:52 AM

          The food is not horrible. You don't have to sit at the bar, but like many bistros and bouchons you sit close to your neighbors.

          Pictured:
          boudin noir, Croque Madame, lamb's tongue salad and the gorgeous Bouchon bar.

           
           
           
           
          1. re: lizziee
            Splendid Wine Snob Aug 8, 2009 07:59 AM

            With all due respect, did you even read my post? And according to other reviews, I am not in any minority with that opinion.

            SWS

            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
              l
              lizziee Aug 8, 2009 08:07 AM

              I read your post and disagree. We used to love Bistro Jeanty and avoid Bouchon. Currently Jeanty is just a shadow of what it once was and Bouchon has maintained its quality. We were just there in July and other than the brandade, everything was excellent. By the way, the brandade was taken off our bill - no attitude, just a polite "We are so sorry."

              1. re: lizziee
                Splendid Wine Snob Aug 8, 2009 08:14 AM

                Jeanty? Where did I mention Jeanty? I didn't even eat there! I ate at Bouchon, and if you read my post above, it was inedible. That was MY experience, not yours.

                SWS

                1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
                  l
                  lizziee Aug 8, 2009 08:28 AM

                  As David T said:
                  Did you return any of your food to the kitchen, telling them it was too salty? Did you discuss the food with the waitstaff or the manager?

                  I mentioned Jeanty because they are both French bistros, about 2 blocks from each other. I have been to both many, many times and the comparison was meant to suggest that one is better than the other at the moment.

          2. re: Splendid Wine Snob
            maria lorraine Aug 8, 2009 08:47 AM

            SWS,

            <<However, this really begs the question; why bother eating there at all if your only option is to eat off the raw bar? Why not just open a raw bar restaurant? And we really didn't have that option-there were four of us and the bar isn't really conducive for that many people>>

            These are good questions. I'll answer as best I know how.

            Like many, many restaurants, Bouchon only does a few things well. Order those
            few things, and you're fine. Order other than those few things, and your chances
            of being disappointed are high.

            As to why not just open a raw restaurant, I'm not sure, other than restaurants are terribly expensive to open in Napa Valley, the competition is fierce, and more people are not going out to eat these days.

            In terms of seating, and your four-top, I have said *repeatedly* that the dining area at Bouchon is a disaster. The acoustics are crap -- you can't hear your dining companion across the table, but you can hear the person sitting closest to you at the next table. I've had this experience a handful of times. Second, for some reason, the table service is lacking -- perhaps it's the servers themselves, the difficulty of moving between too-close tables, or a combination of things.

            In each of my posts about Bouchon, I've been upfront about the table service problems, and have *always* recommended sitting at the wonderful zinc bar.
            Which means, if you're a party of more than two, Bouchon is not for you. I've also been clear about which menu items are prepared very well.

            All to say, my recs for Bouchon have been *very* specific: order the raw bar and sit at the bar.

            When you do that, it's a fine experience. The barkeep is right there to respond quickly and cordially; the raw bar is right in front of you so you can see the freshness and succulence, even artistry in the raw bar platters.

            Here's another extraneous tidibit: I'm a bit of a Francophile (I'm also an Italophile and a few other -philes), and sitting at the bar does have that French cafe/bistro feel. Not to the point where I'm wearing a beret and smoking Gauloise, but you get my drift. Throw in the moules frites, and the excellent French wines there, and I'm happy. But notice -- I'm sitting at the bar and I'm ordering fish/shellfish. That works for me. I never venture outside of that at Bouchon; I know it won't work from past experience.

            I'm sorry your experience was awful there. If I had had your experience -- hell, I have had your experience -- I, too, would be asking WTF?

        2. rworange Aug 7, 2009 12:41 PM

          There's a Disney-esque quality to Bouchon for me. It is like going to the Orlando Park and eating at a corporate re-creation of a French Restaurant. And,people are often lined up outside Bouchon and the bakery like tourists at Disneyland waiting for a popular ride.

          -----
          Ad Hoc
          6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

          Bouchon Bakery
          6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

          2 Replies
          1. re: rworange
            w
            wally Aug 7, 2009 12:54 PM

            But the potato chips at the bakery are all right.

            1. re: wally
              rworange Aug 7, 2009 01:16 PM

              Oh yeah, forgot about the chips. Those are great too. It is just you have to pick through so much over-priced ordinary stuff there and deal with staff attitude to find the few good things.

              I remember asking if they carried in-season French King's Cake. The woman at the bakery tried to make me unconfortable that I should even ask said rather condescendingly " oh no, we don't do THAT." I doubt she even knew what that was. I felt like responding with the old Saturday Night Live line ... "Jane, you ignorant sl**" ".

              However, I like the donuts and want to get those when I'm up that way, so I didn't make a scene.

          2. d
            DavidT Aug 6, 2009 07:26 PM

            Did you return any of your food to the kitchen, telling them it was too salty? Did you discuss the food with the waitstaff or the manager?

            1 Reply
            1. re: DavidT
              s
              SteveG Aug 7, 2009 11:55 AM

              At Ad Hoc, I found there was no point complaining. All our Strawberry Hill beef roast came out medium well to well done, which is not a valid default in my mind in California. When the waiter finally came by 10 minutes after the food arrived to ask how things were, I pointed to the gray beef on my plate and said it would have been nice for the lean beef to be less thoroughly cooked, and he replied "we cook all our meat medium-rare." I let it drop, but I will not go back; if he cared at all, he could have used his eyes to look at the huge pile of uneaten beef in the serving dish or the chunks of beef on everyone's plates. We had other problems at Bouchon, of equal magnitude, similarly inexcusable at the price point.

              The Ad Hoc thing was particularly ridiculous, because when the food was delivered, the waiter gave us lengthy instructions to make sure to eat the "grilled bread" (carbonized) from underneath the beef, which would be "filled with delicious juices from the strawberry hill beef, which is amazing." The bread was dry, the beef dry, the whole thing frankly a criminal waste of a supposedly good piece of meat, and the service a farce. Saddest of all, perhaps, is that this was a large chunk of roasted meat, which is really easy to cook propperly. It wasn't like it was a seared scallop where the differences between perfection and mediocrity is a matter of seconds; nobody in the kitchen seemed to care to check the meat or use a darned thermometer.

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