After three days of great food in Chicago, my one regret is that one night was wasted at Le Bouchon. Sacrilege? Well, maybe, and one anecdotal dining experience shouldn't (and won't) adversely affect such a popular place. But I wouldn't recommend it for people like us (my wife and I). Here are the reasons;
1)The place is out of the way from most popular sections of downtown Chicago and does not have parking so most will be taking a cab ride (no biggie but worth noting).
2)Le Bouchon no longer allows BYOB, and the existing wine list is way over-priced (three times retail) with crappy thick small wine glasses being the only available. There were some good wines on the list, but just not an option to me at those prices. This, to us, is a BIG deal.
3)The "service" was a cold as a discarded mackerel in February. Our "waiter" took our initial order and then never returned. Our appetizers and entrees were then delivered by various assistants/staff who never asked how things were, they just delivered food. Not good, particularly when the item below happens...
4)Lynn ordered the soft shell crabs. Two crabs were delivered looking like they had been run over by a truck. There was no apparent effort at presentation, whatsoever. She took a bite and gave me a look like someone had just shot her in the back. I asked her what was wrong and she whimpered, "I can't swallow this". I tried to cut a piece but crab was so mushy it wouldn't cut. Finally I got some on my fork and tasted-it was putrid-my guess-the crab had been dead for days before cooking (softshells don't last long once eviscerated for cooking). The metallic taste is one that will not go away easily.
5)Thanks to our non-present waiter, I had to flag down the owner who does (to his credit) walk around the small dining room obviously worried about such calamities. I HATE having to get up and "flag down" any staff in any restaurant. To Le Bouchon's credit, he personally asked Lynn what she would rather have and it was delivered immediately. Well done.
6) The crab was $8 more than the hangar steak that replaced it. Was an adjustment made to the check? Nope. I don't expect the institutional "the entree is now on us" approach from such a small restaurant, but to not credit us for the less expensive replacement? Inexcusable. Not worth my aggravation to make a spectacle by saying something since the waiter quickly delivered the check and ran off, I chose not to have it corrected. Another bad taste in my mouth, tho not nearly as bad as the dead putrid crab.
7) My appetizer, the carmelized onion tort was not good. With such a simple dish, there's a fine line between sublime and mediocre. It has to be done right and be done on the same day it's served. My guess is it was at least two, maybe three days old and thrown in a microwave to warm it up. No thanks.
8) My entree, veal kidneys in a mustard sauce, were over-cooked such that each bite was similar to biting into an old fashioned crisp-casing hot dog. The kidneys were swimming in a small bowl of cream. There was a lot of cream and no evident mustard. Boring, badly prepared, no thanks.
9) I was prepared for this-I had read about it-We've dined in Europe and the most crowed little places in Manhattan, but still, it's hard to be prepared for the din and lack of space. We literally could not talk to each other without yelling. The poor woman behind me smacked me in the face with her coat inadvertently while she tried to put her coat on before departing. No problem if everything else is good, but a real jab in the guts when everything else is mediocre to rotten.
So yes, the entree prices are absurdly low. The appetizers are not so low, and no bargain, and the wine prices are out of the question considering the atmosphere and stemware. The service is poor, the place is inconvenient. For the older cocktail set and young "work's over, time to party" set, I can why the place has it's fans (BTW, these two groups made up the vast majority of the clientele we observed on this Friday night). Not for us, though, and probably not for many people visiting and looking for a pleasant dining experience.