So last night, Bouchon was finally graced upon us. Staying true to my form, I just had to go opening night, sampling all that I could. Bouchon really needs no further introduction, so I'll get right into the vittles:
Huîtres [$18.00] | oysters (1/2 doz)
Bouchon was featuring five different types of East Coast oysters, so we just had to get one of each, served with mignonette and cocktail sauce:
• Beau Soleil - Nicely crisp, with an extremely briny finish that belied their mild attack.
• Bagaduce, Maine - Milder yet sweeter, with more flavor up front, leading to a slightly bitter finish.
• Umami, Rhode Island - One of my favorites, with a great interplay of sweet, salty, and even petrol flavors.
• Island Creek, Massachusetts - Very nice; a meaty, salty oyster with a briny finish that seemed to strengthen after about 10 seconds.
• Fanny Swede, New Brunswick - A very focused, concentrated oyster, quite nice. I'm not so sure about the name of this one, so please let me know if I've got it wrong.
Beignets de Brandade de Morue [$14.50] | cod brandade with tomato confit & fried sage
Quite simply, brandade is a fine purée of salt cold (morue), olive oil, milk, garlic, and potato, a specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions of France. Here the brandade is turned into fried fritter form, possessing a light, delicate body as well as a profound cod flavor, balanced beautifully by the sweetness of the tomato and pepperiness of the sage. Very, very good.
Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard [$48.50] | served with toasted baguette (5 oz.)
To this very day, the best cold preparation of foie gras I've ever had is still the Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Terrine" that I consumed on my first French Laundry visit. Thus, expectations were expectedly high. I was a bit surprised at the presentation here, with the liver served simply in a canning jar (à la Church & State), accompanied only by toasted bread. Nevertheless, the terrine was pretty stupendous, superbly capturing the quintessence of foie while still remaining refined and approachable. A bit of salt elevated things even further.
Quiche du Jour [$13.50] | selection varies
Quiche is something that I hadn't had in years prior to this meal. It's basically a dish of egg custard and other ingredients, baked in a pastry crust. Though often associated with French fare, it's actually from Germany originally, specifically from the Lothringen region, which is now known as Lorraine. The word "quiche" even comes from the German kuchen, or cake. The quiche of the day was a take on the original Lorraine. This version had a nice rustic flair, with a fitting interplay between the egg and spinach components. The greens, meanwhile, were a great counter to the heaviness of the quiche.
Pate de Campagne [$13.50] | country style pate with watercress, cornichons & radishes
A pâté de campagne translates to "country terrine," and true to its name, is a more rustic preparation than you'd find with many other pâtés. I appreciated its gritty, coarse texture, nicely moist, with identifiable pieces of pork mixed in (though I would prefer even larger chunks). Its flavor was markedly savory, with a substantial liver-y twang to boot. I liked the contrast of the peppery watercress, sour cornichons, and bitter radishes--all were helpful in balancing out the gravity of the pork.
Rillettes aux Deux Saumons [$16.75] | fresh & smoked salmon rillettes with toasted croutons
Traditionally, rillettes is a preparation of pork whereby the meat is cooked in fat and subsequently shredded into a paste. Bouchon, however, substitutes salmon--fresh and smoked--for pork, which is blended, but not cooked, with fat. The result was stupendous: a luxurious pate, imbued with the pure essence of salmon, but simultaneously rich, dense, and fatty. Excellent.
Forest Mushrooms [$13.50] | à la grecque
One of the specials of the night, this was a mix of mushrooms, done à la grecque, or cooked with vinegar, lemon, herbs, and olive oil, served cold. This resulted in a distinct sweet and sour sapor to the dish, which was light and refreshing. However, I would've preferred a more savory, earthier flavor, to be offset by the frisée.
Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche [$13.50] | frisee salad with lardons, poached egg, bacon vinaigrette & toasted brioche
With lardons, egg, and frisée on hand, it'd be fairly difficult to screw things up. And indeed, the combination of salty lardons, luscious egg, moderating brioche, and light frisée was excellent, an almost faultless commixture of tastes and textures tied together by the overarching creaminess of egg. Superb.
Pan-Seared Alaskan Halibut [$36.50] | sunchokes, fennel, confit of grapefruit, tarragon
Another special was the halibut. Texture-wise, the fish was near-perfect--soft, flaky, superb. By itself, the halibut was supremely mild, delicate even. I enjoyed the contrast provided by the sunchokes and tarragon, but felt that the fruit overwhelmed the fish's natural savor with a pronounced sweetness. The accompaniments needed to be toned down a bit.
Truite aux Amandes [$27.50] | pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette
The most controversial dish of the night, this was Bouchon's take on Truite aux Amandes, or trout amandine, a very classic dish of trout, with roots in French and Creole cookery. It's typically made by cooking trout filets in butter, and topping the fish with beurre noisette (brown butter), parsley, lemon (making trout Meunière), and almonds (turning it to Amandine). The trout alone was very mild, possibly underseasoned. We thought that it might've been intentional, but when we asked Chef Keller about it, even he admitted that it wasn't, and that the kitchen was still learning. Looking past the fish, I appreciated the vegetal tang of the green beans, and surprisingly, the almonds weren't overpowering at all (I expected them to render the fish overly sweet). This needs to get better.
Thon Confit a la Nicoise [$31.50] | confit of big eye tuna, pole beans, fingerling potatoes, arugula, hard boiled egg & radish
The tuna was easily the most successful fish entrée of the night. I could've easily eaten the tuna by itself--mild at first, but with a delightful salty finish. However, I loved it with the various accoutrements, which recalled a Niçoise salad. The earthiness of the potatoes, the tang of the beans and lettuce, the bitterness of the radish, and the weightiness of the egg--all worked beautifully in concert with the lightly-cooked tuna.
Gigot d'Agneau [$31.50] | roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangère & lamb jus
I first tasted the lamb by itself. It was suitably tender, with a surprisingly elegant savor and just a hint of that signature lamb gaminess--quite nice. Given the finespun flavor of the meat, I found its accompaniments heavy-handed, overpowering the lamb if you weren't careful.
Boudin Noir [$26.50] | blood sausage with potato purée & caramelized apples
Ah, the infamous boudin noir, a blood sausage made with pork and its blood. Taken alone, it had a gritty, concentrated taste with just enough of that iron-tinged flavor. It was best when eaten simultaneously with the potato and apple, with the former tempering the power of the sausage, and the latter adding a sweet counterpoint.
Plats des Cotes de Boeuf [$34.50] | red wine braised beef short rib with caramelized Savoy cabbage, glazed sweet carrots, parsnips & jus de Boeuf
And here, our final savory of the night. It's hard to go too wrong with braised beef, and this was no exception. The beef was superbly balanced, both in terms of taste and texture, and I really appreciated the various vegetables used here, which added a rustic, hearty character to the dish, while balancing out the heft of the beef. Very nice.
Profiteroles [$9.50] | vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce
A profiterole is a puffed pastry, made with pâte à choux , formed into small round spheres, and filled with ice cream. Here, the pastry was a keen tempering element to the ice cream, with the chocolate adding a nice accent to the puffs--a classic, but delicious flavor profile. Yum.
Ile Flottante [$9.00] | meringue with vanilla creme anglaise, almond & caramel
Ile Flottante, also known as floating island or œufs à la neige, is a somewhat fascinating dessert comprised of an "island" of meringue, set in a "sea" of vanilla crème anglaise, and topped here with almond and caramel. Here, the meringue was almost panna cotta-like in consistency, with an equally delicate flavor indubitably enhanced by its various sugary accoutrements.
Valrhona Chocolate Bouchons [$11.00]
How could we not end with Bouchon's eponymous dessert pastry? Think of these as miniature cork-shaped chocolate cakes, dusted with powdered sugar. Paired with the ice cream, they were a simple, but delicious way to end the meal.
We walked out of Bouchon full and sated. In terms of food, though most of it was on point, there were certainly misses here and there. This isn't unexpected, given that it was opening night. I'm willing to give Bouchon a pass, with the explicit expectation that the wrinkles will be ironed out given time. Service, handled mostly by our lovely server Songhi, couldn't really be faulted.
In the end, Bouchon is a welcomed addition to the Canon Drive dining scene, and I'm sure it'll become a go-to place to satisfy your beignets de brandade cravings, once the kinks get worked out, of course. Hopefully, Los Angeles hasn't seen the last of Thomas Keller. I don't think we're quite ready for another French Laundry, but wouldn't Culver City be a great place for another Ad Hoc, or even the long-awaited "burgers and bottles" concept? I think so.
Full review with photos: http://www.kevineats.com/2009/11/bouc...
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