Bouchon Bistro Beverly Hills, opening night observations
To all, please remember the portions, even for hors-d’oeuvres, are large. The soupe a l’oignon is portioned for TGIFriday, as is the dessert tarts. There is no reason why two sane people can not share one hors d’eouvres, two plats, one dessert, (or variations thereof) , and be satiated. This strategy keeps the bill under $100, pre-vino, and still allows one to walk, instead of roll, to the waiting valet.
First: onion soup with onions caramelized for 5 hours, roasted beets & poached pear salad
These were just tops. The onion soup had tightly intertwined sweetness (from aforementioned onions caramelized for an agonizing 5 hours) along with saltiness (from cheese, etc.). With the house produced baguette baked in, and some high falutin Comte cheese, this is, with hardly a doubt, one of the most deservingly bombastic onion soup ever consumed by man, at least by an American man. Yes, it was good, but not as good as the marinated beet and poached pear salad to come. The eternal tablemate asked, mid-bite: “how can beets taste like this”? Answer? “Iunno”, “chomp chomp chomp”. There are supposedly black truffles in the vinaigrette, but the typically omnipotent aroma was well masked and well played. Thinking back: that’s how beets taste like ‘this’. And “this” was good.
The confit de canard then came, and was promptly sent back after a bite. After receiving profuse apologies from me, the server visited the kitchen, and advised: “salt is rubbed onto the skin”, etc, “would you like to have another”, with the implication that every serving of duck confit would be stuffed with a ball of salt. No thank you, sir. Duck confit doesn’t have to taste like salt cured fowl. This was a total disappointment, as a few days earlier, a splendid rendition of duck confit claimed as “the best duck confit, ever”, was served to us in a random Seattle bistro.
A few summers ago, Bouchon Yountville’s moule frites set the benchmark. Years later, the little soft mollusks remain fresh on the mind. On November 18th, despite an unkeen environs sans Napa sun, sans oenophile neighbors, Bouchon BevHills delivered huge with the iron boat full of cooked mussels and garlic confit. This time around, I paid attention to every bite and what popped out was the slightly sour garlic confit. Though no vinegar was used in preparation of garlics, one cannot but notice their distinct sourness . This single dish, sharable amongst two, is what beckons every time.
Finally, the Valrhona chocolate bonchon which appeared on the specials blackboard:
completely forgettable. Subpar ice cream, total snore of a dessert. Too dense, too rich, too much of everything. Zero subtlety. The choco brownie-cakes killed every nuance in the accompanying double espresso, which, by the way, at $6.50, is the stingiest in all of LA, even when compared to the droplets served by Tavern.
Good times on opening night? Yes. Great food on opening night? There will always be Yountville. In LA, let us instead give props and support to Church & State, a cooking chef’s restaurant.
The rest of pix: http://bit.ly/zKXUI
Keller likes to name restaurants with Latin phrases: per se -- "in or by (or full of) itself" -- and ad hoc -- "(I drove all the way from San Francisco) for this?" (Translations suggested by the Inkhorn Gazette. ;-) With apologies to one of our most-valued 'hounds, perhaps he should have called Bouchon-Bevery Hills ipse dixit -- "an assertion made but not proved."
I've been to Bouchon in Yountville two or three times and to the Vegas outlet once. I was never at either place on a harried opening night or, as far as I know, during a kitchen fire or similar disaster. My experiences paralleled TonyC's in BH -- one or two excellent dishes and another couple blah, meh, or just plain mediocre.
Interestingly, Wikipedia describes the original Lyonnaise bouchons by saying "the emphasis ... is not on haute cuisine, but rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner." To which I might add: or with the owner's media image. See you at Church & State.
Almost everyone likes the mussels, wilafur.
On one occasion, however, what I hoped would be a refreshing salad (on a hot day in Napa Valley) was overdressed and dull. For many years, I had been eating wonderful fruits and vegetables at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Zuni Café in San Francisco, for example, and expected much more from Thomas Keller than tired produce swimming in an uninteresting sauce.
I just saw in a separate thread on the Beverly Hills place that kevin h described his lamb as having "signature lamb gaminess." Well, the signature on the gamy piece Bouchon once served me was: "Mutton." Either that or the lamb had not been stored properly. Another time, against my better judgment as a lover of Marcella Hazan's feather-light gnocchi, I ordered a plate of these Italian dumplings at Bouchon. They were actually better than at most restaurants -- which usually overflour gnocchi to the point of toughness -- but the dish was completely unmemorable in both taste and texture. Speaking of unmemorable, I can't recall any of the three or four desserts I must have had in these meals.
Sorry -- it's been a long day, and I don't remember other details, but these should give you an idea of how I felt about Bouchon cuisine. I do intend to try the Beverly Hills branch eventually to see if anything has changed in the three years or so since I visited the Las Vegas restaurant. I should add that I have not eaten at either the French Laundry or Per Se and don't know what Thomas Keller can do in those loftier settings. Something splendid, I've read.
In a recent interview on the radio, I heard a singer criticize his own performance at a rehearsal by saying, "I sounded like a session singer," meaning that he had performed capably as a professional but without the inspiration and creativity that distinguishes an artist from a journeyman. That sums up my reaction to Bouchon in Vegas and Yountville over several visits from 2003-2006.