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Bouchon [Yountville]

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elevate Jul 5, 2012 01:56 PM

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. l
    lmnopm RE: elevate Jul 6, 2012 07:48 PM

    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. t
      tre2012 RE: elevate Jul 8, 2012 10:45 AM

      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. CarrieWas218 RE: elevate Jul 8, 2012 11:12 AM

        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
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          lmnopm RE: CarrieWas218 Jul 8, 2012 11:34 AM

          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
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            elevate RE: lmnopm Jul 9, 2012 10:18 AM

            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
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            zin1953 RE: CarrieWas218 Dec 13, 2012 07:52 PM

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

          3. d
            demitasse04 RE: elevate Jul 9, 2012 10:56 AM

            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.

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              alopatenko RE: elevate Jul 9, 2012 10:52 PM

              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
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                Allieroseww RE: alopatenko Nov 20, 2012 05:36 AM

                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
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                  jaiko RE: Allieroseww Nov 22, 2012 04:29 AM

                  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
                    steve h. RE: jaiko Nov 22, 2012 11:48 AM

                    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
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                    lmnopm RE: Allieroseww Nov 22, 2012 12:55 PM

                    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.

                2. h
                  hungree RE: elevate Nov 22, 2012 01:00 PM

                  It is still awesome in Vegas, though.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hungree
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                    Mike C. Miller RE: hungree Nov 22, 2012 11:48 PM

                    Yeah, I eat at the Bouchon in LV almost every time I'm in LV -- probably twice a year -- and I think it's quite good.

                  2. maria lorraine RE: elevate Nov 22, 2012 04:00 PM

                    Not that it's helpful now, but I've posted plenty of caveats about Bouchon Yountville. The acoustics of the main dining room are terrible; on the long banquette I cannot hear my date across our small table, but I can hear conversations on either side of me. The dining room space is tight, and servers have difficulty navigating between tables. The service lacks polish and professionalism. I've given the dining room plenty of tries (I live in the Napa Valley), and it's never worked, for me.

                    But, but...at the beautiful zinc bar, which has only a few seats, the place is wonderful. The barkeep are top-notch, the stock of liquors and wines is striking (especially rarely found spirits), and the service there -- at the bar -- is exemplary. Plus, at the bar, and can see close-up the splendors being crafted at the raw bar, and say, I'd like that. That is why I only recommend sitting at the bar at Bouchon, but there are so few seats, so it's never a sure thing.

                    My favorites are the mussels and fries (moules frites a la Normande), the pate campagne with some of the excellent rustic red French wine, the frisee and lardon salad with a poached egg, the oysters and other raw bar delights. I've had a fine roast chicken and flatiron steak there also, but those two items are simple good fare, certainly nothing fancy.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: maria lorraine
                      steve h. RE: maria lorraine Nov 22, 2012 04:39 PM

                      The bar is actually pewter from l'Etainier-Tourangeau.
                      They use the same style pewter bar in all of the Bouchon places. The hallmark is plainly visible, just ask the barkeep where it is. The bars really are special.

                      1. re: steve h.
                        maria lorraine RE: steve h. Nov 23, 2012 01:08 AM

                        Pewter it is. Thanks for the catch and the brand name.

                    2. steve h. RE: elevate Dec 12, 2012 11:01 AM

                      Modest update:
                      My wife and I drove to the Yountville Bouchon for lunch on Monday. It was a beautiful day, a "top ten" day. We made the drive from San Francisco's Embarcadero in under 90 minutes. Apple's controversial Map app gave us flawless turn-by-turn directions.

                      We were warmly greeted at the door and promptly escorted to our corner table (my preferred seat, great sight lines to the rest of the restaurant and bar). California sparkling wine (Domaine Chandon) while we discussed the menu and the day's specials.

                      I went with the lobster bisque as a starter followed by the liver and onions. My wife selected the mushroom quiche.

                      The bisque was creamy, rich and full of lobster flavor. The liver and onion dish was superb: perfectly executed onion rings stacked on top of a thick slice of seared liver. The liver was reminiscent of a quality foie gras, the sauce was a masterful reduction with carrot and bacon. Caramelized onions added a touch of sweetness to the mix. This was a powerful dish washed down by a California Cabernet Sauvignon (Von Strasser).

                      Deb's quiche alone, a signature dish, was worth the drive. The tall (two inches?) filling was light and flavorful. The crust was buttery but neither dry nor cloying. She washed it down with a California Pinot Noir (Freeman).

                      Service was friendly, helpful and efficient. This being a Monday in December, the place was less than half full and that's a good thing. We've been here in peak season (July-October) when the place gets absolutely slammed for lunch. I'll take the serenity of a "top ten" day in December every time.

                      One last note. The bread here is quite good and the butter is maybe the best of any restaurant in California.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: steve h.
                        gingershelley RE: steve h. Dec 13, 2012 05:23 PM

                        Sounds like a GREAT Bouchon day!

                        My folks have had one 'very off' experience here this last spring, and I had one great one a couple years ago.

                        Glad yours was stellar, Steve!

                        1. re: gingershelley
                          steve h. RE: gingershelley Dec 13, 2012 05:57 PM

                          Hi gingershelley,
                          I was just thinking about the liver and onion dish. It was pretty special. It's good to go in the off season.

                      2. mariacarmen RE: elevate Dec 12, 2012 10:27 PM

                        steve h., oh jeez, delete. i responded to the OP instead of yours, Steve h.

                        i'm confused about where i'm posting- new design is playing tricks on my eyes.

                        i'm super happy to hear you had a wonderful time there! i love Bouchon. spent many a happy afternoon there, drinking bubbly, nibbling on frites and slurping oysters. glad to hear it has held up.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mariacarmen
                          steve h. RE: mariacarmen Dec 13, 2012 11:14 AM

                          Hi mc,
                          December in northern California is pretty special. Hanging out at a relaxed Bouchon, sipping wine and enjoying good food is intrinsically good.

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