We were so excited to go to Bouchon, Beverly Hills we arrived an hour before our 9:30 dinner reservation to spend some time at the bar. First you need to know that there are actually 2 bars, one upstairs in the restaurant, and one on the main level spilling onto the terrace that holds the tables for Bar Bouchon, the more casual member of this pair of restaurants now open on the ground floor of the building that also houses the Montage Hotel. We decided to have our drinks downstairs so we could carry them out to the courtyard.
Joy behind the bar is a delight. Being fond of manhattans we were happy to hear that she was "working on a few recipes" and we asked her to give us her current favorite. Mmm um mmm mmm mmm... One key ingredient was the choice of vermouth; 1789 Carpano Antica Formula.
An extra large twist of lemon topped the whole delicious thing. Oh, I'd love one one my desk right now... She used rye so if you're a bourbon drinker do let her know before you tell her to have at it.
We headed upstairs, ready to eat. When you get upstairs you will meet someone at the desk. Tell her your name ( you know, the usual) and she will direct you back to the second desk where you'll have to do it all over again. This isn't really a problem but, when my friends arrived nobody was at the first desk. So they headed down the hallway, into the restaurant, and up to the second desk where they were promptly directed back to the first desk. The first desk woman was back and a little annoyed, acting like they were being impatient "We're working on your table right now." As if they had been pushy, coming into the restaurant before checking in with her when she had actually been away from her post, in the bathroom or something. The 2 desk thing is a necessity due to the way the restaurant is laid out. I get that. But I'm sure our party were not the first to be sent on a bit of a goose chase. It wasn't the happiest way to start a long anticipated meal.
Finally seated we were glad to see that the place was full at 9:30 with a nice energy.
This greets you just after sitting. The bread is wonderful, the butter exactly as soft and salty as it should be and the pistachio nuts provide a nice contrast should you want something crunchy. This is a personal thing but, much as I appreciate the whole casual bread on white paper on the table thing, I really am happier if I can have a bread plate for myself. I need somewhere to set my buttery knife. At places like this I am always trying to find a way to balance it on my fork or something. I simply hate laying a dirty knife on a table. I know, it's not a big deal. I'm just saying.
We started with a couple of salads. The ingredients were as fresh as could be but, but, and I'm so sad to report this, the goat cheese on my salad maraichere au chevre chaude was not warm. No melting creaminess to smear all over the wonderfully crisp lettuce and I so love doing that that even though the salad was good I was disappointed.
The onion soup was truly great but above you can see the appetizer of the night - rillettes aux deux saumon with croutons. See the cunning jar it comes in? I'm so glad they serve it that way rather than taking it out and plopping it in a big pile on a plate. The server ( the staff was uniformly friendly and prompt) peeled away the top layer of fat and made off with it. I wanted to taste it but I hadn't had enough wine to insist on keeping it. The dish, most often made with pork, is basically a mouse that you spread on the toast. This thing, made with both smoked and fresh salmon was so very, very good. I could eat it with a salad and a light french white and call it the perfect lunch.
On to the entrees -
Traditional french bistro food is why you come here, or why you should anyway, and that's what you get.
Steak frites which I did not taste, except for some of the frites.
They were good but, honestly, a little heavy. The moules au saffran nobody loved. The mussels themselves were good but the broth was not. Maybe if you LOVE saffron but then again, maybe not. I do not recommend this dish. If you are wanting mussels keep calling the Tasting Kitchen in Venice to find out when they will be on the menu and get yourself down there. After a few weeks I am still thinking about that amazing broth.
I had the Salmon with a ragu of mushrooms, fava beans and peppers. It was good, well cooked, its lightly seared top nicely crisp.
Desserts were a high point. As it was a birthday we let the birthday girl decide so we got all things chocolate.
Above is an order of the bouchon, which means cork (now you know.) Little, chocolate, cork shaped cakes, meltingly good in the middle, dusted with powdered sugar and served with vanilla ice cream.
The profiteroles were perfect. I have been having a little trouble with "house made" ice cream in high end restaurants over the last several months. Weird textures, not enough flavor, ice crystals! This vanilla was sublime. Really just absolutely perfect texture, temperature and flavor.
Now here comes the bummer part. The space is not awesome. It's weirdly laid out, as I noted, so you have to adjust yourself after you enter rather than having the wonderful, welcoming feeling you want on first opening the door to a french bistro. And it's a little cold, a little, dare I say it, corporate. Yikes. Not what I wanted to feel but there you are.
But I don't want to end on that note. Go see Joy and have a good drink. Go upstairs and order the onion soup and the saumon rillette and the profiteroles. Have some nice wine from the lovely, ever changing list. Have a beer if you feel like it and tell me what the "White Sail" tastes like. We're lucky to have Thomas Keller in town and if we support him perhaps we'll get something small, intimate and a little more real feeling.