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Bouchon Yountville America's best brasserie?

  • q
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Hi there,

After several visits of this famous restaurant I wrote this article about Bouchon for my blog. Hopefully you like this way of writing.

Bouchon seems chaotic: From the people queuing up to get in, those that are either being picked up or dropped off by limousines, up to the service trying to coordinate it all, this is the usual situation in front of one of the country's most successful restaurants. Here, it is like that every single day of the year, as the doors of Bouchon, Thomas Keller's idealised version of a bistro, hardly ever close.
Yet, Bouchon is by no means a new, trendy restaurant. Opened in 1998, just four years after Thomas Keller had founded the French Laundry, it is supposed to serve classic French bistro food, which Keller so much adores. Judging from the success of the restaurant, and the eponymous book, one can say that he did rather well with it. It seems too perfect to be really true (in France) bistro with the classic zinc bar, mosaics on the floors and the other decorative elements that made the Parisian bistros so famous. Yet it is not absolutely perfect, as the acoustics here for example are quite poor. One has to shout to even be heard by one's dining companions in the small, cramped room. This has a destabilising effect on the staff, which seems a little outnumbered in front of such a horde of guests. Luckily enough, the food makes up for these problems.
And the food too is a little too good for a French bistro, as one can expect with a Thomas Keller restaurant. His perfectionism can be felt in the kitchen of this restaurant, just as with his others. Whilst in France, one has to hope for the chef to have a good day, here it is pretty reasonable to assume that bad ones do not come by all that often. Take a Pâté de Campagne, which is classically served with cornichons, radishes and watercress. It is exactly what it should be, with a smooth texture and a balanced and refined flavour. Very good indeed, as are the salmon rillettes. These are made with both fresh and smoked salmon and are an equally well executed classic. Simple, yet satisfying as technically without errors, these dishes are just what one would hope for in such a restaurant. That the kitchen can do some slightly more elaborate food is shown by the black cod with lobster and vegetables. This is another very well executed dish, where the cooking of the fish is exemplary. Meltingly tender, it contrasts beautifully with the other elements on the plate. A real delight! That desserts are of the highest standard here is not surprising neither. The Ile Flottante for instance is elegant and refined, a beautiful rendition of an iconic dessert.
Thus, one can say that Bouchon is a kind of restaurant, that keeps the tradition of classical French bistro cooking alive. It is a perfect introduction for anyone who wishes to discover some of France's most iconic dishes, albeit in versions that might be better than the originals in some places. This is what the restaurant was created to do, and does supremely well, explaining the chaos in front of it.

If you're interested in the pictures you can have a look on my blog www.qliweb.com

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. Bouchon is petty good. Seems it's on the world's radar but that's the price of poker when the name at the top is Keller and the address is Yountville.

    I like Bouchon for its food, wines, service and cacophony.

    6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

    1. 'It seems too perfect to be really true (in France) bistro with the classic zinc bar, mosaics on the floors and the other decorative elements that made the Parisian bistros so famous. Yet it is not absolutely perfect, as the acoustics here for example are quite poor. "

      In my experience, the acoustics in Parisian bistros are also terrible. Point 1 for authenticity.

      1. bouchon isn't a true brasserie, it's a bistro. brasseries serve breakfast every day. there isn't really a true brasserie in the bay area like baltazar or les halles.

        2 Replies
        1. re: vulber

          Well, a true brasserie would brew beer, right?

          1. re: Tripeler

            @512window you're right that Parisian bistro's are also terrible, but the ones in Paris are much bigger restaurants with a lot of space. Bouchon is relatively small and is in my way far more chaotic than the Parisian ones. The point is that Bouchon has a Michelin star and therefore it has been judged by me more critically. The Parisian ones are less good then Bouchon.

            @Vulber you're right, but Thomas Keller definitely thinks it is a brasserie. So who are we with discussing if it is a brasserie or not?

            6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

        2. I don't know where you're getting brasserie. The Web site is bouchonbistro.com, and Keller's "About" blurb begins, "French bistro food is my favorite ...."

          2 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            You're right. My mistake. I was confusing those two words which each other. To bad I can't change the name of the topic.

            1. re: qli

              The moderators can if you ask them nicely.

          2. One of the many cool things about the Keller trifecta in Yountville (French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc) is the herb and veggie garden across the street from Bouchon and FL. Modest touches that make a difference.