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Jul 5, 2012 01:56 PM

Bouchon [Yountville]

Just had dinner at Bouchon in Yountville Tuesday night. I have to say I wasn't blown away, maybe I was expecting too much?

I had the compressed melon salad with bibb lettuce, house-cured ham and goat-cheese mousse. The melon (with a touch of pepper) was excellent with the ham. But the lettuce and mousse reminded me of a simple salad with a buttermilk ranch dressing...a bit too salty for my tastes I guess. My wife had the heirloom tomato salad with fig and toasted hazelnuts. She liked it, but the portion was quite large - I think she would have preferred a smaller portion more artfully arranged.

For our main course I had sirloin medallions, with sauteed greens and a square of potato (their terminology escapes me) - served with sauce bearnaise on the side. The steak was excellent, tender and flavorful, the greens were good, not overcooked but nothing earth-shattering either, and the potato reminded me of a well-cooked hash brown. I forgot about the sauce until about halfway through the dish, so my impression of the potato improved slightly after a small pour from the serving dish.

My wife had the gnocchi a la Parisienne. Small "gnocchi" made of puff-pastry served with garden vegetables in a brown butter sauce. She enjoyed the textural contrast of the crisp gnocchi exterior to the moist interior which paired well with the perfectly cooked vegetables - but the brown butter sauce seemed a bit lacking, it didn't have the nuttiness one normally associates with this type of sauce.

Dessert for me was the Tarte au Citron - a real disappointment. The crust was bland and had a texture similar to sawdust, while the filling had a sharp one-dimensional citrus bite without any hint of creaminess or richness. My wife had the Bouchons, an off-menu dessert consisting of three small brownie-like rounds topped with strawberry ice cream and garnished with strawberries simmered in port as well as cocoa nibs. Although not revolutionary this was a executed quite well. The ice cream was excellent, tasting of fresh strawberries and pairing nicely with the slight bitterness of the cocoa nibs. The brownies were moist and flavorful and the strawberry garnish was delicious.

I think my biggest let down was the over-all atmosphere of the restaurant. Looking over the michelin star criteria for a one star restaurant I see no mention of anything atmosphere related, so perhaps I'm being too harsh. But I really felt that we should see something a little more polished. The restaurant was full of people in extremely casual dress (shorts were everywhere, some with t-shirts). The Bouchon cookbook was displayed prominently as one walked in the door, right above a table containing a loud parking validation machine, and the service was just a bit erratic for my tastes.

Over-all it was a good meal, but not quite what I expected compared to some of the other one-star restaurants in the bay area.

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  1. My one meal there, quite some time ago, while ok, was one that made me be "in no rush" to return. Service - not good. Meal, ok.

    1. Have gone twice: March 2011 and Nov 2011. March was sublime, mostly due to the occasional special of Columbia River sturgeon rillette. This is a stunning spread, and any time they offer it (supply constraints) it is worth ordering. The quiche was very soft, underbaked in fact, which actually is the way I prefer it. Sole was good, lobster bisque okay if a little light on the lobster butter.

      But Nov visit was a disaster all the way around. Lobster bisque came with pickled cherry pepper! Weird and awful combo - clearly for appearance only. Foie gras terrine was oversalted, a crime which many restaurants are guilty of, and I personally think is heinous. The successive plates of brioche toasts every 15 minutes is pretentious, IMHO. Roast chicken was overcooked. Duck confit was well rinsed (good) but overcooked on one side (bad) with al dente lentils (really bad).

      The cappuccinos were so 'wet' they were drowning, as my spouse sardonically remarked. They tried to make up for it by comping us a dessert, but it was their bouchons, which I disliked intensely. I'm not a sweet dark chocolate fan, and the chocolate sauce tasted as sweet as Hershey's syrup. Since I don't like brownies, and I really don't like them ala mode, it was a nice gesture but wasted on us.

      Bottega, Oenotri, and Brix are much better. We're eager to return to Brix, always liked Chris Jones' cooking at Girl & Fig in Sonoma, and were wowed by his clam-prosciutto croquettes at Brix in May 2012.

      1. I've been eating here for almost a decade and can attest that something has slipped - something I can't exactly put my finger on...

        The food is still good, but nothing ethereal the way it used to be. The service is inconsistent, yes - too often I have to ask to have my waiter sent over. For the price, there are certainly better options in the neighborhood and unless specifically asked, I doubt I'll be returning...

        3 Replies
        1. re: CarrieWas218

          When you build an empire, the serfs don't always perform well, especially when the emperor is frequently not nearby.. That is what has slipped, probably from all of this empire. When a place is always packed, with rising prices that people are willing to pay and lines / waiting lists are "out the door," what could possibly be wrong with the recipe? Just my two centavos.

          1. re: lmnopm

            I really feel like if they paid a little more attention to the ambiance; lighting, rearrange the seating a bit, clean up some of the clutter - and put a little more emphasis on service with a bit of a theatrical touch (we're supposed to feel like we're in france after all) - then I might have a slightly different opinion. I'm sure the kitchen is in some way motivated by what happens up front, if people are wearing shorts and t-shirts they're going to get casually cooked food.

            Hopefully my dinner at Per Se next week will restore my faith a bit. :-)

          2. re: CarrieWas218

            Sadly, I agree. I, too, have eaten at Bouchon since it opened, and it certainly isn't what it used to be . . .

          3. Bouchon used to be a must-go but our last experience: it was Sunday and my sturgeon was obviously getting old. Plus the preparation was just boring. We were asked if we wanted second glasses of wine as our salads were cleared but then weren't served them for at least 10 minutes after arrival of entrees despite trying to flag the waiter. Not the best experience ever. Glad to hear Brix may be back on track- will have to give it another go.

            1. I agre they are not very good not. They were much better several years ago. Wen we've been there last time several dishes we ordered were not as good as expected, they made mistakes in the onion soup (come on!) , it was too cheesy...lamb shank was overcooked and without flavour.

              4 Replies
              1. re: alopatenko

                I am commenting on an old thread because after a meal at Bouchon this past weekend, I was sorely disappointed and wanted to see if anyone else agreed. I love skate and was so excited to go to Bouchon because it's so rare to find it on a menu, at least in Chicago where I live. My skate was so dry it was barely edible. And the service was incredibly, painfully slow. I certainly wasn't looking for an in-and-out experience during my vacation but it just dragged on and on and on and on. The restaurant comped our second round of wine-by-the-glass because we had to ask for it about three times. We didn't want free wine; we just wanted the wine!

                1. re: Allieroseww

                  That's sad to hear. It mirrors our second meal there, too. Napa's starting to get the 'bad touristy restaurant' feel of SF's Fisherman's Wharf.

                  They boast about having such a high concentration of fine dining restaurants, but quite a few of those are not such fine dining, from recent reports here and elsewhere.

                  Hope you have a better experience when you come back again!

                  1. re: jaiko

                    FWIW, I was at the LA outpost (Beverly Hills) a few weeks ago. The room is gorgeous, table spacing generous, noise level moderate, service was both prompt and attentive. The food was quite good in this less-than-frantic environment. It reminded me of the Yountville place before it was ground zero on the tourist map.

                  2. re: Allieroseww

                    Better than sitting around a swarm of flies, one of them ended up taking a swim in my wine, and the waitress seeming disturbed that I had an issue with that. The glass returned with the same amount of unfinished wine in the glass, making me wonder if they just took it out with a spoon.