It is certainly the hardest reservation to score in the city of Los Angeles today, perhaps in the entire country...certainly on a par with its sister restaurant, the legendary French Laundry in Napa. Yet the cool, reserved young woman, Leslie Lopez, and her staff of efficient reservationists, work diligently to accommodate an overwhelming number of eager diners courting the experience of dining at BOUCHON BISTRO (235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310-271-9910).
Opening in mid-November of last year, Chef/Owner Thomas Keller and his remarkable staff under G. M. Greg Rowan have oiled the machinery of the new restaurant into a smooth-running whole, so little glitches have been eliminated and it now appears to have been serving up fabulous bistro food in Beverly Hills forever. About those reservations, I suggest that if you can't plan too far ahead (they take reservations one month out), call for a luncheon reservation....the restaurant is somewhat calmer and even more Parisian French-bistro like at around noon...and then talk to the girls at the front desk about scoring a dinner table sometime in the future. If you can't do that, there is one interesting alternative...which I have used on more than one occasion. At the front of the restaurant is a big pewter bar where meals are served...and reservations are not needed! It's first-come, first-served, the same luscious menu is available...and you will get a great view of the lucky diners scuttling to their tables with eager anticipation.
Yesterday, about 1:20 p.m. I parked in the public lot underneath the building, took the elevator up to the ground level, entered Bouchon and ascended the long staircase to the second floor, told the lovely girl at the desk I would try my chances at the bar...snared a seat and ordered a half dozen oysters ($18), an Assiette de Charcuterie ($15.50), and a glass of draft specialty ale recommended by the bartender. The charcuterie of cured meats came with pickled vegetables, Dijon mustard and a petit baguette. A delicious lunch at the hottest place in town. (No, Spago and Il Pastaio, I am not forsaking you...just widening my horizons.)
I had secured a reservation three weeks earlier for a dinner that week with my friends at Fiji Water, and in the morning I emailed Executive Chef Rory Herrmann to ask if they had any lamb with bones on the menu. (I grew up in Brooklyn where my mother only made the less-expensive shoulder chops, still my favorite lamb cut.) No reply from the chef, but that night, to my delighted amusement, the special was a Braised Lamb Shank ($38) with risotto, providing a succulent dinner and an equally welcome lunch the next day. Recently, after the Memorial Tribute to Variety's Army Archerd, Fred Hayman and I stopped in around 10:30 p.m. and secured an empty table; he had the Steak Frites ($34.50), the pan-seared prime flatiron steak was cooked medium rare as ordered, topped with a knob of maitre d'hôtel butter (white pepper, Italian parsley and minced shallots) and crispy fries. I ate a Boudin Noir (blood sausage, $26.50) with potato puree and carmelized apples. Sourced from a specialty sausage maker in San Francisco, Bruce Aidell, it was just the soft, sweet, crumbling taste I needed before hitting the sack (and dreaming about the food I had eaten.)
I suspect I might have stretched my friendship with the talented chef by questioning their service of the snails, topped with a heavy pastry cap rather than dripping in garlicky sauce, but last night when I checked the brown paper menu (wrapped around the napkin), there were no escargots...so maybe a little objective intercession goes a long way. I do know that in these past few months I have eaten my way through most of the menu, and...can recommend a potpourri of dishes which have enchanted and intrigued me. The Roasted Leg of Lamb ($32.50) is sliced thickly (if requested), served with Swiss Chard and Pommes Boulangerie, drizzled with lamb jus..and is heavenly. Thomas Keller is legendary for his Roast Chicken ($25.75) and after recommending it to more than a dozen readers of my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter, I have savored the accolades I received in return. (It's brined for 12 hours, then roasted at 350 degrees until done brown, served with potatoes, mushrooms and onions.) My beautiful picky ex learned from me about two seafood dishes on the menu, and she now raves about the Sauteed Scottish Salmon ($31) and Trout Amandine ($27.50), the latter a small whole fish pan-roasted and served with haricots verts, almonds, and beurre noisette (flavored brown butter).
I'm saving the best for last....if you are feeling affluent or reckless or in a what-the-hell mood, there is an item on the menu which will impress itself on your brain and in your imagination forever...it's Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard, and it cost $48.50.... five ounces of sheer ecstasy...a jar of rich, unctuous foie gras paté and...oh, my, you will greedily scoop it onto the baguette slivers and try to shield it from others at the table. As you may have gathered, I am utterly besotted by the new Bouchon Bistro...and this from an aging restaurant critic who is jaded, bored, disdainful and unimpressed by almost everything. Thomas Keller (and Laura Cunningham), you have won my heart!
I must conclude with a word to my readers at Beverly Hills' City Hall, city managers and council members and the like. Thomas is aching to open a spectacular small BOUCHON BAKERY in the empty space directly next to the restaurant building. Some bureaucrats are giving him a hard time about the terms of a deal...and so the talks have deadlocked. Having visited the Bouchon Bakery in New York, I can only say that we all are missing one of the great culinary treats of a lifetime by not having the opportunity to drop in early of a morning to pick up a flaky croissant or a cinnamon bun. There is not a greater breakfast treat. So, guys, please settle up and let him fire up the bakery oven! I promise, you won't be sorry.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.