Some say the best restaurants in San Francisco are actually not in San Francisco. The French Laundry, Chez Panisse and Auberge du Soleil, despite the long drive, claim some of the most sought after reservations in the country. Try to get a table at Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant and you’ll know what I mean. Maybe 3 months from today, if you are really, really lucky. What you may not know is that, only a couple of blocks away, you can get a table and try Keller’s celebrated cuisine, probably this weekend.
I’ve been many times to Bouchon, it’s definitely one of my favorite places in the Bay Area. The atmosphere is elegant but friendly and casual. Decorated like a classic French Bistro, the dining room is bright and inviting making the restaurant a popular lunch destination. The staff, classically dressed in white shirt, black vest and bow tie, is friendly and well trained (something you actually don’t find in most Parisian Bistros). The tables are playfully dressed with folded paper menus that double as napkin rings (although they had been replaced by normal menus in my last visit). The white linen tablecloth is covered with butcher paper. A crunchy house-made bread is placed right on it, no basket.
Every detail is carefully planed and orchestrated yet dining at Bouchon feels comfortably casual. But the main reason I always go back is, not surprisingly, the food.
From the rawbar, delicious fresh oysters (kumamotos and sweet waters are to die for), caviar and a beautiful seafood Grand Plateau. Simple salads and appetizing hors-d’oeuvres come next followed by some carefully selected classic French bistro entrées.
On the walls, blackboards feature the day’s specials. You feel like a kid in a candy store, can’t help but want to have a little bit of each.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a huge fan of Thomas Keller. Reading his recipe books makes you appreciate even more his food. The freshest ingredients, meticulously prepared to achieve amazing flavors and presentation.
In my last visit to Bouchon, I had a Salade Maraîchère au Chèvre Chaud. Mixed greens toped with warm goat cheese and dressed in a light red vinaigrette. The simple salad was perfectly prepared, a good start to what came next.
As a main course, I ordered the Plats de Côtes de Boeuf. Slow braised boneless beef short ribs, spring onions, horseradish pain perdu and red wine-beef jus. The beautifully marbled beef was perfectly cooked. Tender and aromatic. The horseradish French toast was a great compliment bringing a spicy and soft contrast to the meat. Like you’re supposed to, some Dijon mustard on the side. It was delicious.
To finish, I had a Mousse au Chocolat Noir. It was rich in flavor and creamy in texture. Served in a small pot de crème container, I found myself scrapping every last dollop and wishing there was more. It was so good, I could have easily ordered another one. Next time I will.
In the many times I’ve been to Bouchon I tried different things like their mussels with peanut oil fries, Bouillabaisse and Pot the Crème. It was always perfectly prepared, incredibly flavorful. I can’t remember one single bad memory.
Bouchon is definitely worth the 1-hour drive from San Francisco. A charming restaurant serving the highest quality cuisine. Even though it’s well known, it feels like a secret place you discover every time you go. If you haven’t been to a Thomas Keller restaurant, you must to go. Then you’ll understand why you will always want to go back.