(Formatted with All Pictures here:
As one of the most celebrated American chefs, Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry and Per Se fame) brings a certain excitement and dynamism wherever he goes. While the residents of Northern California and New York have been blessed with their taste of Thomas Keller's cooking, Angelenos haven't been so lucky. So when news of Thomas Keller opening up a restaurant in L.A. broke a while back, the hype and excitement started building. Unfortunately, it turned out that the new restaurant was part of his Bouchon lineup, a casual French bistro approach, as opposed to the precision and top-tier excellence of his most famous restaurants. Add to that, the reality that Chef Thomas Keller is not going to be cooking daily at this new Bouchon in Beverly Hills, and it's safe to say that L.A.'s Bouchon represents Thomas Keller as much as the "Wolfgang Puck's" chain represents Chef Wolfgang Puck. While this may seem obvious for some, it's important to note, as even on Opening Night at the new Bouchon, I overheard a table excited to try "Thomas Keller's cooking."
Bouchon Beverly Hills shares a courtyard with the Montage Hotel, a beautiful introduction for visitors to this new eatery.
Upon entering the 1st floor lobby, a receptionist sends us upstairs to Bouchon Bistro's waiting lounge. (There are currently plans to open a Bar Bouchon on the 1st floor sometime in mid-December, with a "simple bar menu" along with drinks, according to our server.)
As we're led to our seats, we encounter a fetching zinc bar, whose oval pattern houses both the alcoholic bar, and the fresh seafood on display. The main dining room itself is immediately accessible and gives off a good ambiance, with high ceilings, soft, but ample lighting, and a safe Pop / Jazz soundtrack.
During the 1st of my 3 visits, for Opening Night, there's a buzz in the air. Chef Thomas Keller made a guest appearance, and various fans of his could be seen running up to him to take pictures, or get his autograph for his cookbooks. Bouchon Beverly Hills is helmed by Chef de Cuisine Rory Herrmann who's worked under Chef Keller at Per Se and the other Bouchon locations.
But for those who still may not understand that Bouchon isn't the second coming of The French Laundry will know the moment they are seated: Your dinner menu is the napkin holder for your napkin, thin parchment paper folded up to hold the cloth. It's a simple, straightforward way to present "casual" to the diner, without words. For Opening Night, my 'dachi Noah of Man Bites World joins me, as we are curious and interested in seeing what Bouchon Beverly Hills would turn out to be.
After placing our order, we're presented with some of their house-baked bread: An Epi, along with White Bean Puree and Toasted Baguette Croutons.
The Epi is fragrant and fresh-tasting, with a soft interior. The White Bean Puree is garlicky, smooth, and a great alternative to the usual Butter / Olive Oil.
The first item to appear are Island Creek Oysters from Massachusetts.
The Island Creeks are salty, moderately briny, and decent, but they lack the brightness of really fresh Oysters.
Confit de Canard is one of the great classic dishes to look for whenever you visit a new French bistro or brasserie. Bouchon's Confit de Canard (Duck Leg Confit) is served with Brussels Sprouts and Whole Grain Mustard.
While the Duck Confit is juicy and moist on Opening Night, it's way too salty. The skin lacks the crispness you hope to have to play off the long-cooked meat itself. Very disappointing. :(
Bouchon's Frisee aux Lardons et Oeuf Poche (Frisee Salad with Lardons, Poached Egg, Bacon Vinaigrette & Toasted Brioche) rebounds nicely.
While the Frisee itself is a bit mild, the Poached Egg is perfectly cooked, and breaking the soft yolk and mixing it together with the Bacon Vinaigrette, Lardons and Frisee creates a delicious Salad.
But it's the next dish that is easily the highlight of Bouchon Beverly Hills: Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard, served with Toasted Baguette.
It looks innocent enough: A simple jar of what could be mistaken for a standard offering Terrine or Rillette of some sort. That is, until you take a bite.
At this point, Noah and I looked up at each other and we both had a stupid grin; the type of facial expression and inner feeling that comes from "This is just so absurdly, stupidly delicious that we might as well stop eating now because nothing else after this can top it"-type of experience. :)
Their Foie Gras Terrine is truly the embodiment of unctuous. Silky, creamy, buttery, pure sultry sexiness, and worth every penny of its $50 price tag. (FYI: It's also enough to feed ~5 people as a starter, easily.)
Our side order of Pommes Frites (French Fries) arrives at this point.
Perhaps our expectations were too high - they were strongly recommended by our server - but these Fries are slightly crispy, with most of them more limp and soggy than crisp. Being twice fried in a blend of five types of oil, including Sunflower, Canola, Sesame and Peanut Oil, you would think they would have more body to them.
It's a huge portion, but overall the limpness, mediocre frying technique and heavy salting of the Fries make it another disappointment. The choice of a Mustard-Mayo, Homemade Aioli and Ketchup is a nice touch, but not enough to save it.
I love Lamb, so I was really looking forward to Bouchon's Gigot d'Agneau (Roasted Leg of Lamb with Swiss Chard, Pommes Boulangere & Lamb Jus).
The Roasted Lamb is presented in thin slices and surprisingly bland. It's very mild, underseasoned and completely lacks the idiosyncratic flavor you would hope to find in a good Lamb dish. :(
The Pommes Boulangere is an interesting layering of thinly sliced Russet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Thyme and Garlic finished in the oven. It is (like many of Bouchon's dishes) heavily salted, too much so. Perhaps the intention of Chef Herrmann is to eat a piece of the undersalted Lamb with the extremely salty Potatoes (which actually works), but this kind of combination is more distracting than inspiring.
Their Choux de Bruxelles (Brussels Sprouts with Beurre Noisette) follows the trend of safe, middle-of-the-road cooking, with overly charred Brussels Sprouts infused with a good butteriness.
As we're leaving, I notice their charming outside dining area. The receptionist confirms that when they receive their heat lamps, they'll be opening up that section for walk-in diners.
On my 2nd visit, the Montage turns on their Christmas lights, which adds a nice, holiday atmosphere to dinner. :)
The restaurant is near capacity again and still energetic (like Opening Night), as my guests and I are being seated.
A note about their wine list: There are very few bottles under $50, with over half the wine list featuring bottles over $100. To help balance things out, they currently offer 22 wines by the glass.
Bouchon also features a rather extensive cocktail menu. We start with two of their signature cocktails, the first being The Promenade (Drambuie, St. Germain Elderflower, Champagne, Muddled Orange & Mint, Rocks). There's a good balance between the ingredients with a light, citrus-y, refreshing taste.
Their Punta Sal (Pisco 100, Basil, Strawberry, Angostura Bitters, Up) lacks a deft touch: While the Strawberry puree is immediately noticeable, the Basil is lost, and the beverage gets overpowered by too much Pisco, turning this into an uncomfortably astringent drink.
On this evening, my guests are big Oyster fans, so we start off with their Umami Oysters from Rhode Island.
The Umami Oysters turn out to be some of the worst Oysters I've had in the past year. There's a strong dirt taste and a very sharp briny aspect. There's also a bit of shell in 3 of our Oysters. Very disappointing.
Their Rillettes aux Deux Saumons (Fresh & Smoked Salmon Rillettes served with Toasted Croutons) continues the letdown.
Bouchon's Salmon Rillette uses Farmed Salmon and the result is an extremely salty, soil-accented pungency that made it inedible for one of my guests. The other guests and I power through a bit more, but in the end, we couldn't bring ourselves to eat more than 2-3 bites (and I hate wasting food). For reference, the Salmon Rillette at Palate Food + Wine (while not the best around) was far more enjoyable.
The next dish helped to partially save the evening: Salade de Betteraves et Poires (Marinated Beet & Poached Pear Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts, Garden Mache & Sherry Vinaigrette), with optional Goat Cheese (which we went with).
The Marinated Beets are stunningly delicious: Tender, earthy with a distinct shine, they're paired nicely with the Poached Pears, which add a fruity, complementary counterpoint. The Goat Cheese used for this dish is a bit too powerful (and I love Goat Cheese :), but it still works. The problem, however, is with the Macadamia Nuts. They apparently ran out of Hazelnuts and used Macadamias instead. Sadly, they are completely stale, with a bad funk to them; they nearly ruined an otherwise glorious salad.
Their Beignets de Brandade de Morue (Cod Brandade with Tomato Confit & Fried Sage) sounds like a winner on the menu, containing some of my favorite ingredients.
But the Salt Cod Beignets stumble, with a heavily oil-soaked creation that tastes like something fried at the wrong temperature, and in reused oil. The Tomato Confit and little sliver of Fried Sage are blown away by the strong oil profile.
Another favorite casual French dish I'm always on the lookout for would be French Onion Soup. Bouchon's Soupe a l'Oignon arrives with an enticing fragrance of melted cheese.
Taking a sip, there's a great savoriness to the soup - not too sweet nor salty - and one of the best broths I've had for French Onion Soup in So Cal in a while. But it's the overcooking of the 2 Cheese blend on top of this dish that falters: Chef Herrmann uses a blend of Emmentaler and Comte Cheeses, both from France, for the topping and it sounds great, except for the soup delivered to our table, where the 2 Cheese Blend has turned into a semi-hard, very rubbery disc of "plastic." Otherwise, the soup itself is wonderful.
Our mains arrive at this point, starting with the Thon Confit a la Nicoise (Confit of Big Eye Tuna with Pole Beans, Fingerling Potatoes, Bibb Lettuce, Hard Boiled Egg & Radish).
The Tuna is overcooked, with the edges of the block of Tuna being dried out and chunky, but the center of this piece of Tuna is thankfully still moist and juicy (and not overcooked). It's presented almost like a deconstructed Nicoise Salad, but the homemade dressing is too heavy-handed on the Cornichons, Capers and Lemon Juice, really overpowering the poor Tuna which is already overcooked and disappointing.
Their Boudin Noir (Blood Sausage with Potato Puree and Caramelized Apples) bounces back nicely.
It's a delicious blend of Pork and Chicken Blood, and the 2 types of Blood really help to give it a surprisingly enjoyable, "pure meat" succulence, as opposed to getting the mineral-y qualities one might expect. It's lightly spicy, fragrant and a perfect pairing with the 2 sides. Bouchon sources their Boudin Noir from a specialty shop in San Francisco, so more credit to the specialist, but I'm glad to have it here in So Cal. :)
The Caramelized Apples are truly spot-on, lending natural, fruity sweetness that's a great foil for the Blood Sausage and the extremely silky, buttery Potato Puree.
Our final savory course of the evening is their Poulet Roti Grand-Mere (Roasted Chicken with Fingerling Potatoes, Button Mushrooms, Lardons, Pearl Onions & Winter Savory Jus).
There seems to be an ongoing trend with the kitchen with oversalting dishes as, sadly, the Roasted Chicken is too salty. :( The Winter Savory Jus is the culprit, but since the kitchen drenches the entire Roasted Chicken in the Jus (turning all the Roasted Chicken Skin into a soggy mess), it's hard to avoid it if you prefer less salt.
The highlight of this dish, however, is the Chicken Breast meat. For a Roasted Chicken at a restaurant, the Breast meat is still extremely juicy and turns out to be the best part of this Chicken. If this Chicken was served with something to help cut through the saltiness, e.g., some type of lightly-seasoned Potato, Haricots Verts, etc., then it might have saved this dish.
For dessert, we decide to try their signature "Bouchons" (Warm Chocolate Brownie with Valrhona Chocolate Chips and Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream).
The Warm Brownies and Valrhona Chocolate Chips are OK, pretty straightforward, and even with the good Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, the dessert underwhelms with a familiar, semi-sweet chocolate + vanilla flavor profile.
Their Mousse au Chocolat Noir (Dark Chocolate Mousse) is much better.
The Valrhona Dark Chocolate gives this Mousse a welcome, slightly bitter, but deep, fragrant chocolaty edge. Wonderful! :)
While there are some miscues during my earlier visits, it's during my 3rd visit that there's a noticeable drop in overall execution of service and food. The first thing I notice is in the bread service: They seem to have run out of the White Bean Puree and Toasted Baguette Croutons as every table (including ours) is being served Pistachio Nuts instead.
I'm fine if they ran out (or meant to serve it only during the first 2 days of their opening), but their Pistachios are stale. Like the Macadamias on my previous visit, these nuts have slight musty smell and taste.
And then our Epi Bread is also stale, tasting as if it was made the day before.
For our 3rd visit, Bouchon is offering up some new varieties of Oysters (which is a good sign that they're getting new stock every day), so we decide to try 2 types: Kumamotos and Shiny Seas.
The Kumamoto Oysters from Washington are a little brighter and more palatable than the disappointing Umami Oysters I had previously, but these are still more pungent than a good Kumamoto should be, and lack the vibrancy of really fresh Oysters. And we find pieces of Oyster shell in all of the Kumamotos.
The Shiny Sea Oyster from British Columbia fares much better, being sweeter and brighter than any of the Oysters we've tried at Bouchon so far, but sadly, there are multiple pieces of shell in all the Shiny Seas we received.
While not as sexy as the Foie Gras Terrine, their Pate de Campagne (Country Style Pate with Watercress, Cornichons & Radishes) is a great starter for Pate fans.
A wonderful blend of Pork, Chicken and Veal ground together, wrapped up by slices of Bacon, the Pate exhibits a fresh, smooth, creamy quality with a light organ meat undertone.
Hoping to continue the success I've had with their salads, we order the Salade de Cresson et d'Endives au Roquefort, Pommes et Noix (Watercress & Endive Salad with Roquefort, Fuji Apples, Toasted Walnuts & Walnut Vinaigrette).
This sounds like a safe winner on paper, but in execution it slips: There's simply too much Endive and not enough Watercress. In addition, the Endive tastes really flat and dull. And to add insult to injury, the Walnuts are... stale (again). I'm not sure who's in charge of quality control, but it's clear the kitchen is taking for granted all of their various nuts and not sampling them. The Walnuts were by far the worst of the various stale nuts I've encountered so far at Bouchon, and for this salad, they're an integral part of the dish and it's ruined because of it.
The Roquefort has the unmistakable, knock-your-socks-off pungency of a good blue cheese and is really tart and tangy, perfect in small quantities with this salad.
Wanting to give the kitchen another chance with one of my favorite French dishes, against better judgment I order another Confit de Canard, hoping my Opening Night disappointment was a fluke.
No such luck. It's hard to believe, but the Duck Confit on my 3rd visit is even saltier and completely inedible (I had to discreetly spit out my mouthful, it was that salty). Anisette and Le Saint Amour's Duck Confit are miles ahead of this version, and both of them could still use improvement compared to my favorite version in Paris.
By this time, the Moules au Safran (Maine Bouchot Mussels Steamed with White Wine, Mustard & Saffron, served with French Fries) arrives.
Besides the Foie Gras Terrine, this is my 2nd favorite dish on the menu, with a just cooked-through Bouchot Mussels, seductively aromatic from the Saffron and White Wine, tender, sweet and totally addictive. :)
While the sauce at the bottom has been reduced to the point that it's too salty by itself, they're well-balanced when dipping in the accompanying Fries. The Fries themselves, though, are lukewarm, salty and mainly soggy (even worse than Opening Night).
Perhaps the dish I've heard the most about (from each of my 3 different servers) is their Plat de Cotes de Boeuf (Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs with Caramelized Savoy Cabbage, Glazed Sweet Carrots, Parsnips & Jus de Boeuf).
Slow cooked for 10 hours, sous vide, I'm expecting meltingly tender, and great flavor infusion. The kitchen achieves the meltingly tender aspect - it's quite tender and falling apart - but the flavors are surprisingly lackluster, being very flat and one-note.
For dessert, we begin with their Profiteroles, Vanilla Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce.
Warmed Valrhona Chocolate is poured tableside onto the Profiteroles (a nice touch), and the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream is wonderful, especially when mixed with the Warm Valrhona Sauce. Unfortunately the Puffs that sandwich the Ice Cream tastes a bit stale, but otherwise, it's a nice finisher.
But if you only get one dessert, it would have to be their Creme Caramel (Caramel Custard). This is easily my favorite creation from Pastry Chef Scott Wheatfill so far: Perfectly cooked Creme Caramel, silky, lightly sweet, and with just the right firmness, yet still being wonderfully pliable.
Service during my 3 visits has been all over the place, but understandably so with it being Bouchon's opening week. But I think this experience alone has really been sobering to note just how skewed an Opening Night is compared to a restaurant's experience any time after that. During my first visit Opening Night, our server (and busboys) were extremely professional, courteous, nervous and always at an arm's length away: Plates were served and cleared without ever reaching across the diner; empty cups were promptly refilled; and a small army of floor managers / captains were checking in to see how each table was doing from time-to-time, periodically throughout the evening.
My 2nd visit yielded the complete opposite experience: Our server was non-chalant, forgetful of multiple requests (e.g., during dessert, he forgot our drink order), and disappeared for long periods of time (we didn't even see him on the floor anywhere).
Our 3rd visit's service was a mix of the previous visits: A warm, cordial server who was great when he was around, but would also disappear for long periods of time. There was no refilling of empty glasses ever, throughout the evening. No one checked in on us once throughout the meal (which is fine, but I'm noting it here for contrast to Opening Night).
Appetizers range from $6.50 - $48.50; Fruits de Mer Seafood from $1.95 per Clam - $110.00 for the Grand Plateau; Main dishes from $17.95 - $34.50; Desserts from $5.50 - $9.50. We averaged about ~$85 per person (including tax and tip).
A Thomas Keller-involved restaurant has finally touched down in Southern California in the form of Bouchon Beverly Hills. However, expectations should be kept in check, as this Bouchon is more about safe, middle-of-the-road, casual French Bistro fare than anything magnificent from Chef Keller himself. It's spectacularly average, both good and bad, with a casual yet upscale ambiance (a loud, festive "Happy Birthday to you!" being sung at a nearby table one night), and a good venue if you want to see celebrities like Ryan Seacrest (an investor in Bouchon Beverly Hills, who was seated next to us on another visit).
Unfortunately, the food at Bouchon Beverly Hills needs some work: The overly seasoned dishes echoes the fiasco Comme Ca faced when it first opened up; they need a better Maitre Ecailler to oversee and ensure quality Oysters and that they're properly shucked for consumption; there should be better quality control efforts so that stale nuts don't get used for a variety of dishes; and more. It's only the first week of operation, so I'm hopeful all of these issues can be resolved and that Bouchon Beverly Hills will be able to finally shine. But after 3 visits (with hardcore foodies, casual food-lovers, and 1 very non-discerning guest), not one of them wanted to return to Bouchon, with everyone generally feeling disappointed. For myself, I'm glad to have their absolutely amazing Foie Gras Terrine, Poached Pear & Marinated Beet Salad (without nuts for now), Moules au Safran and Creme Caramel, until they work out the kinks in their menu.
*** Rating: 5.0 (out of 10.0) ***
Bouchon Bistro (Beverly Hills)
235 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tel: (310) 271-9910
Current Hours: 7 Days A Week, 5:00 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.
They will be open for Lunch soon ("within a week or two" according to the receptionist).
235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210