Thomas Keller has always been cautious about expanding his food empire. Of his three restaurants, The French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Bouchon; only the latter has branched out beyond its original address in Yountville, CA. The casual elegant French bistro brand first made its way to Las Vegas then New York (as Bouchon Bakery) and, after a long period of great expectation, has finally opened its doors in the City of Angels. In great style.
The restaurant is on the first floor of the Beverly Hills Gardens building, accessible through an imposing staircase. On the ground floor a new concept, Bouchon Bar, serves wine and small plates.
The dining room upstairs is one of the most impressive spaces in LA. With stunning high ceilings and tall windows that during the day flood the area with natural light illuminating the playful tile work that carpets the floor.
With a familiar design inspired by the classic French bistros of Lyon, this Bouchon bears resemblance to the original one in Yountville. Yet, in Beverly Hills, it’s rendered with more glamour and grandiosity, without losing a bit of its charm. The restaurant manages to create an atmosphere that is at the same time dramatic and intimate, airy and warm.
Service is welcoming and operates with flawless efficiency, another Keller trademark. For the chef, training for the front of the house staff is as important as the one undergone by his cooks. With its doors open for only a few weeks, the restaurant already flows in total harmony, as if its staff had been working there for years.
Keeping its trademarked presentation, Bouchon’s printed menu is neatly folded around each napkin. Open the tabloid-sized paper to find on the center eleven options for Plats Principaux ($17.95 to $34.50), classic bistro main courses prepared with Keller’s signature attention to detail (more on that later).
On the side columns, a good selection of appetizers can be ordered individually or for the table to share ($6.50 to $110). Fruits the mer include oysters, lobster, crab and clams served singly or in combination platters. Six types of salads and ten Hors d’oeuvres feature house made pâtés, charcuterie and, of course, onion soup. If you are feeling like splurging, California Sterling White Caviar is in order ($135 for 50 grams); this is Beverly Hills after all. The menu also lists side dishes ($7.50), cheeses ($9.75), and desserts ($5.50 to $9.50). Daily specials are featured on blackboards; comme il faut.
Bouchon serves French bistro fare at its best. Classic dishes like Côte de Boeuf and Steak Frites prepared with outstanding ingredients and an attention to detail worthy of a Michelin 3-star chef. And that’s the beauty of eating here. You can get similar dishes in other LA restaurants (Comme ça comes to mind), but nowhere you’ll find the same level of care and quality. Dining at Bouchon gives you a chance to experiment Keller’s unparallel cuisine at a setting that is more relaxed (and affordable) than The French Laundry or Per Se. But most importantly, with no compromises. Many chefs have leveraged their flagship restaurant names to open accessible outposts. But often, the accessibility comes with a price–you get what you pay for.
At Bouchon, even with a more approachable cuisine and informal setting, there’s no compromise. Reductions are aromatic and clear, meats are perfectly trimmed and vegetables are diced into precise brunoises.
Heading the day to day in the kitchen is Chef de cuisine Rory Herrmann, who previously held the position of private dining chef at Per Se in New York.
The meal begins with a loaf of Epi Baguette placed directly on the white butcher paper that covers the table. Another Bouchon trademark.
Then, Toasted baguette with a creamy onion pâté. Next are a few appetizers ordered to share.
Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard served with toasted baguette. This is one of my favorite Bouchon treats, because it combines the luxuriousness of silky foie gras with the simplicity of bread and butter. And that’s what Bouchon is all about. To make the terrine, moulard duck livers go through a 3-day process first being cured, then poached and finally pressed through a tamis sieve and beaten to achieve the decadent, spreadable texture of butter. They are served in glass crocks; 5oz of foie topped with a thin layer of duck fat. At the Bouchon Bakery (there’s one in Yountville and one in NY), you can buy the terrines to go; there’s hardly a better souvenir.
Rillettes aux Deux Saumons. For this rillette, chopped fresh and smoked salmon are mixed with butter, crème fraîche and egg yolks forming a delicious creamy pâté served with toasted croûtons.
From the daily special menu, Beef rillette. Beef short ribs are cooked until impossibly tender, mixed with fat and molded into a terrine. The rillette is then finished on the pan to achieve a crispy texture that contrasts the melt-in-your-mouth meat.
Salade de Betteraves et Poires. Marinated beet and poached pear salad with toasted hazelnuts, garden mâche & sherry vinaigrette.
Beignets de Brandade de Morue. Cod brandade with tomato confit & fried sage. These delicate fritters are made with house-salted cod poached in milk, pureed potatoes and olive oil. The mixture is then battered and deep-fried in peanut oil. A fantastic take on the classic cod brandade. Time for entrées.
Plat de Côtes de Boeuf. Red wine braised beef short ribs with caramelized Savoy cabbage, glazed sweet carrots, parsnips & jus de boeuf. My favorite Bouchon entréé. One that I made many times carefully following each step of Keller’s cookbook. Its preparation is a great example of the discipline and attention to detail advocated by the chef. The beautifully marbled meat is first browned on the stovetop then slowly braised at low temperature with a flavorful broth infused with red wine, vegetables and aromatics. The long process can take up to 2 or 3 days (more pronounced flavors develop as the meat rests in the braising liquid). What make this preparation exceptional are the methodical steps of purification of the broth and the way each accompanying ingredient is cooked individually to achieve perfect results. In the end, its flavor, aroma and presentation are impossible to resist.
As a special main course, slow cooked Pork belly pan seared combines the luscious richness of a generous slab of the fatty meat with a crispy crust. Served with spätzle. Absolutely fantastic.
Truite aux Amandes. Pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette. In this classic Bouchon dish, a fresh trout is served with a fragrant sauce of brown butter, lemon and parsley.
Gigot d’Agneau. Roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangère & lamb jus. In this elegant preparation of a rustic dish, the sliced lamb meat resembles a loin, tender and perfectly cooked.
A word of advice, don’t leave Bouchon without trying the Pommes Frites. The Russet potatoes fried in peanut oil are perfectly crunchy outside and creamy inside. In an episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain (who prided himself for making the best restaurant French fries) admitted defeat at the first bite of Bouchon’s.
For dessert, Profiteroles. Served with house made vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce. Delicate cream puffs filled and topped with delectable richness.
Pot de Crème. Eggnog infused custard served with shortbread cookies. You’ll always find a pot de crème on Bouchon’s menu, and even though its flavor will vary depending on when you go, it will likely be the best you ever had.
Ile Flottante. Meringue with vanilla crème anglaise, almond and caramel. Another elegant take on a classic French dessert.
Bouchons au chocolat. These small cakes are named after the French word for cork (and the restaurant’s name), Bouchon. They are like rich, moist and chocolaty brownie bites. Perfect with ice cream.
As more nationally acclaimed chefs expand their restaurant empires to Los Angeles, the city is quickly becoming an exciting epicurean destination (Craft and Bazaar come to mind). And while Bouchon didn’t kick start this trend, its opening will forever change the LA dining scene. First because local diners will have the opportunity to enjoy Thomas Keller’s outstanding cuisine. But more importantly is what the restaurant will do for the local dining industry. Bouchon raises the standards for casual fine dining in the city pushing local chefs to raise their own bars. I call it “The importance of Thomas Keller”. Angelinos, rejoice.
Bouchon is at 235 N. Canon Drive