Yay, food porn! It’s been a while, and fortunately a birthday always provides a wealth of obscenely gorgeous food photos as a side effect of what’s usually a fantastic meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the pics are necessarily obscenely gorgeous this time, as for some reason the camera was set at the lowest possible resolution, and that plus extremely low light equals highly mediocre pictures. You’ll get the basic idea, though.

The usual semi-annual routine for Wesly’s and my birthdays is that the birthday boy gets taken out for dinner, and never knows where until the moment the car pulls up in front of the restaurant. We’re big believers in the element of surprise, combined with sometimes absurd levels of misdirection. Usually each of us would conspire with Mary as to where to take the other (although sadly, this was the last time for that), and our conspiracy ended up with my plan to take Wes to Bouchon, Chef Thomas Keller’s French bistro in Beverly Hills, for his mumblety-mumbleth birthday on March 8.

Unfortunately, for a change Wesly was quite forceful in expressing his birthday wishes this year. “I wanna go to Bouchon. And I wanna go see ‘Dreamgirls.’” Well, so much for the element of surprise.

We don’t frequent Beverly Hills, unsurprisingly, but we were familiar with the location as it’s right up the block from Spago (which is one of our favorite occasion restaurants and not nearly as expensive or out-of-reach as you might think). This is the third Bouchon location, after the Michelin-starred original in Yountville in Napa Valley and the glitzier one in Vegas. The building in which Bouchon resides is called Beverly Hills Gardens, and shares a beautiful courtyard with the Montage Hotel. There’s a narrow veranda along the side of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard, which will be a really lovely place to dine once spring has sprung.

Upon passing the intriguing-looking Bar Bouchon on the ground level, which we must explore later, we entered and ascended a rather grand staircase into the restaurant and were seated at a cozy table after passing the rather grand curved zinc bar not unlike ones we’d seen in Paris.

Bouchon's bar

The main dining room is vibrant without being overwhelmingly loud, and we still felt well-connected to the whole space while still being afforded a good bit of privacy at our table. (Ours was the two-top in the lower left corner, below.)

Bouchon's dining room

Around each napkin at the place settings was folded a crisp brown piece of paper that turned out to be our menus, leading immediately to the problem of what to order when everything on the menu looked so good — I imagine the menu is more or less the same at all three branches, and this one has a terrific chef, Rory Herrmann, formerly of Keller’s New York three Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se. Some of the dishes were eye-raisingly pricey (unsurprising, considering the world-famous chef-owner and its posh location) but many were quite reasonable. We saw (and smelled … holy frak) magnificent plates of steak frites go by, Gargantuan steaks accompanied by what looked like a basketball-sized clump of crisp Belgian-style twice-fried frites for $36.50 which we could easily have split. But not tonight.

Bouchon, Beverly Hills

A snake-like loaf of warm, crisp French bread appeared in front of us, rich room-temperature (hooray!) butter alongside, to comfort us as we perused the quite excellent cocktail menu. Given that the seats at the bar might not be too difficult to get, and the presence of Bar Bouchon downstairs, this is also going to be a cocktail destination, where you can accompany your dish with a pot of pork rillettes, also easily split. The cocktail menu is divided into interesting-looking house originals and some excellent choices of classics, the latter including Brandy Crusta, Bronx, Martinez, Pegu Club, Pimm’s Cup, Pisco Sour and Vieux Carré … so wonderful to see that last one on a Los Angeles menu.

On the other side they offer a Gin and Tonic with Old Raj along with their originals. The Bouchon Cocktail is Ciroc vodka, Lillet blanc and crème de pêche (hmm, not really) but I was intrigued by others that included good base spirits, Carpano Antica vermouth, Chartreuses and fresh herbs. I almost went for one called the Pomme de Ciel Calvados, cinnamon-infused agave syrup, egg white and lemon), a cinnamony Calvados sour, but decided that might be more suited for the end of the meal (or at home, where I’d make it with Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup instead). I ended up choosing one called The Gypsy — not the vodka, Bénédictine DOM and bitters version I learned from Dave Wondrich, but a house original.

The Gypsy Cocktail

Port of Barcelona Gin, Aperol, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, muddled cucumber and fresh lemon, with cucumber garnish. I’m a big fan of Aperol with cucumber (the delectable Archangel cocktail immediately coming to mind) and Aperol before meals in general. Port of Barcelona Gin is a wonderful botanical spirit, although I’m actually hesitant to call it a proper gin. Good as it is, the juniper is so far in the background and surrounded by so many other strong botanicals that it doesn’t cry out “Gin!” to me. Besides wild juniper it contains sweet almonds, hazelnuts, lemon zest, star anise, allium cepa (a.k.a., onion!), orange peels, coriander seeds, chebub seeds, black cardamom, orris root, ginger root, nutmeg, and cubeb root. It’s an amazing bouquet, and surprising (in a good way) on the palate. Peppery to start, and you really do get the onion in the flavor, then all the spices begin to assert themselves. It’s not a gin you’d ever want to make a Martini with, as it doesn’t taste like any gin you’re used to; furthermore, with any quantity of vermouth in it the two would pound the crap out of each other like welterweights in the ring.

Using those botanicals carefully with the right other ingredients, though, and you can work magic. The Canton picks up the gingery notes in the spirit, Aperol for more citrus and a little gentle slap of bitterness and the mellowing cucumber to help them play together nicely. This cocktail was refreshing and spicy with an unusual flavor. I didn’t get a chance to talk to the bartender about proportions but I have a good idea, and will certainly want to try this at home.

The Promenade Cocktail

Wesly went for the Promenade, a Champagne-based long drink with Drambuie, St. Germain and muddled orange and mint. Good also, but a bit sweeter than I’d like. I’d want to try this with a Scotch rather than the Drambuie.

Now … dinnertime.

We both really wanted Bouchon’s signature dish, their famous Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard, potted with a layer of fat on top and served with spears of warm, toasted baguette and a bit of sel gris. The price on that is fairly steep at $48.50, but hey, it’s a birthday. According to S. Irene’s review in the Times, though, it’s also enough for four or five people to split (“feast on” were, I believe, the words she used). Did we find that daunting? Hell, no. At the late chef Jean-Louis Palladin’s former restaurant Napa in Las Vegas I ordered his off-menu signature starter, an entire roasted lobe of foie gras, and finished it mostly by myself (and with a bit of help from Wes). When we inquired of our server if it’d be feasible for two, he said yes without too much hesitation, then recommended that it come out first and be consumed throughout the entire meal. Yes, please!

Terrine de Foie Gras

Terrine de Foie Gras

Oh, my. My my my. Thick, unctuous, intensely flavored, rich beyond words, incredibly delicious and worth every penny. The last time I had terrine de foie it was at Café de Flore in Paris, and it wasn’t 1/100th as good as this (at three-quarters the price and a third the size). The toasted baguette spears would, after about six or eight minutes, be whisked away if they weren’t finished and replaced with a whole stack of fresh warm ones. Talk about service. Let’s have a closer look at the pot, and at one of the servings of foie-topped baguette.

Terrine de Foie Gras, nearly gone

Terrine de Foie Gras on a toasted French bread spear

I’m sad to say that although we did eat this throughout the meal up until dessert, we were unable to finish it. It nearly put me under the table — yep, it would have been foie, not booze, that would have done me in. There were a couple of tablespoons left in the pot when it went back, but it’s probably just as well. We resolved to bring more people next time.

Now, on to the rest of dinner! I didn’t want anything too filling to start, naturally. One of the chef’s specials that evening was a Cream of Fennel Soup that sounded lovely, so that’s how I began.

Cream of Fennel Soup

Dotted with aged balsamic vinegar and with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, it was creamy but not heavy, with a lovely flavor and a touch of earthiness to it but, to my surprise, only a very subtle flavor of fennel. I wouldn’t have complained about a dash or two of Herbsaint in it, although that might have gotten me a bad look from the chef. I did enjoy it, though.

Unfortunately the photo of Wesly’s dish didn’t come out (damn low-light autofocus when I’m trying to handhold a photo at arm’s length at f/2.0 and 1/5 second!), but he mightily enjoyed his salad of cooked, very slightly warm asparagus with paloise mousseline sauce and Bayonne ham. The sauce was a béarnaise with mint substituted for the tarragon, and whipped cream folded in. Oh my.

Now, on to the mains. I knew just what I wanted.

Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir with caramelized apples and potato purée. That’s blood sausage, folks! Rich and beautifully seasoned and sweet and moist and crumbly and oh so good. He sources it from a specialty sausage maker in San Francisco, and they do a marvelous job. It easily rivals some of the boudin noir I had in Paris, if not exceeding it in terms of texture and seasoning. The apples were perfect with it, as was the smooth-as-silk, gigabuttery potato purée. You’ve got to try good boudin noir sometime. Don’t fear the blood. Just think about your favorite sexy vampire.

Another look at that gorgeous boudin:

Boudin Noir

Let’s see that sausage, big boy! (Calm down.)

My choice was off the regular menu, but Wes went for one of the specials, a braised lamb shank with Mediterranean spices, caperberries, potato purée and a reduction of the braising liquid.

Braised Lamb Shank

Holy cow. Or rather, holy lamb. (Stream of consciousness kicks in … Luka Bloom‘s song “The Acoustic Motorbike,” in which he sings of “an appetite that would eat the hind leg of the Lamb of God, even though you know I’d never dream of doing such a thing!” … okay, carry on.)

This was a Gargantuan amount of meat — you could grab that bone and use it as a club, but the meat was so tender it’d only go SPLAT. Practically falling off the bone, and massively delicious. Tangy spices and vinegary caperberries helped cut through the fat and the richness of the meat beautifully. Let’s get another look at that bone handle.

Braised Lamb Shank

The thing was massive. As I recall nothing was left but the bone, and I suspect that his well-instilled table manners were the only thing that kept him from gnawing on the bone.

After all that foie gras and blood sausage I needed a light dessert, and this was it — Bouchon’s interpretation of the classic French dessert Île Flotante, the "floating island" of light meringue in a sea of crème anglaise, in this version topped with nuts, nutty tuiles and a really tasty clear caramel sauce.

Île Flotante

This was the most inventive and flavorful interpretation of the Floating Island I’d ever had — it’s generally thought of as an outmoded classic that suffers from blandness. Not this one. It was just as light as I needed while still being a very satisfying dessert.

Bouchons de Chocolat

Wes chose the Bouchons de Chocolat, on the specials menu but apparently frequently offered; S. Irene referred to it as a “signature.” In French “bouchon” means cork or bottle stopper, and these were little cork-shaped brownies/cakes, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and served with caramelized bananas and a chocolate fudge sauce. The brownies were light and rich and intensely chocolatey, and divine.

Was the boy happy?


I think I chose … wisely.

Do yourself a favor and visit Bouchon. You needn’t spend as much as one might spend for a birthday dinner. Have a cocktail and a nummy-looking Croque Madame ($17.50) or a salad or split some rillettes and you’re in Paris for a while.


5 Responses to “Bouchon”

  1. Lauren said:

    Mar 31, 10 at 10:05 am

    Isn’t that foie the best? I can’t believe that the two of you almost finished it! I’d be under the table too. There were 5 of us sharing ours, which was perfect. Happy Birthday Wesly!

  2. Marleigh said:

    Mar 31, 10 at 3:44 pm

    Okay, okay. I give. I can’t stand the jealousy, so let’s just go. ;)

  3. Chuck said:

    Mar 31, 10 at 4:38 pm

    Yay! Okay!

    If you want their Gypsy cocktail, though, you’d better order it soon — I just read that Obsello is discontinuing Port of Barcelona Gin.

  4. eas said:

    Apr 03, 10 at 9:33 pm

    I’m speechless. Happy (belated) birthday Wesly!

  5. Diana said:

    Apr 04, 10 at 9:20 am

    *Glurb* I’m full just reading this, in that leaned back from the table, eyes glazed over, emoticon faced, utterly perfect meal satiated kind of way. Can’t wait to follow in your foisteps (swat).