There are Bouchons in Yountville (CA), New York, Las Vegas, and Beverly Hills, though the details differ. All four have a bakery/café that serves (mostly) pastries and sandwiches; New York has only that. The other three have more elaborate sit-down restaurants that take reservations, called Bouchon Bistro. The Beverly Hills branch also includes a no-reservations dining area called Bar Bouchon.
Keller says that French bistro cuisine is his favorite, so it was the natural choice when he decided to open something “more casual than The French Laundry.” It would still come across as a relatively formal restaurant by contemporary standards, with its white tablecloths, soaring ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, and a fairly traditional French service model. Only Keller or someone like him would open such a place today.
I thought about analogues in the New York market. In terms of the atmosphere and the clientele it attracts, the closest would be Café Boulud or The Mark by Jean Georges. In terms of the menu (French bistro classics, lightly tweaked), Benoit in West Midtown is the nearest equivalent.
The Beverly Hills branch opened in late 2009. My sister-in-law says that the reviews have been mixed. S. Irene Virbilia filed a rave in the L. A. Times. Jonathan Gold in LAWeekly seemed to feel that it was over-priced for what it is, though he conceded that a Beverly Hills restaurant could hardly be otherwise.
You won’t find a more rabid partisan for classic French cuisine than I, but they have to nail it, especially with entrées hovering around $30, and Bouchon Bistro didn’t. Among the five of us, we found a mixture of hits and clunkers.
There was no complaint about the bread service, though: a warm, twisting rope ladder of mini-baguettes with soft butter (below left).
Cod Brandade (above right) with tomato confit and fried sage was a hit. The light, crisp batter betrayed not a hint of grease. My brother also raved about a squab special (below left), which was rich, juicy, and much more substantial than we expected. This was the dish of the evening.
A beet salad (above right) was so insubstantial that it was almost insulting. Insubstantial too, was the Bouillabaisse (below left), nor particularly good, said both of my tablemates who tried it. And on “use-once” menus that are tissue-paper thin (wrapped around the napkin when you sit down), why must it be listed as a “market price”? It is not as if they are serving lobster or caviar here.
The so-called “Pekin Duck Breast” (above right) was much more satisfying, and cooked just about perfectly, and my brother had no complaint with Trout Grenobloise (below left). But my sister-in-law felt that a pork belly special (below right) was too heavy, with a gloppy glaze of barbecue-like sauce on an already fat-laden hunk of meat.
Service was attentive, though they were in such a rush to take our order that you almost sensed they wanted the table back. The wine list is presented in two parts, a lengthy reserve list in a leather-bound volume, in which nothing is under three figures; and another printed on card stock that is still fairly expensive. We found a decent 2008 Burgundy for a shade under $50, though there weren’t many like it. Even after we said we were done drinking, the staff returned with another bottle, ready to open if I had not been alert enough to stop them.
It’s a lovely, comfortable room, with tables widely spaced. On the whole, you will be well cared for, and you might even stumble upon their better dishes. Then again, you might not.
Bouchon Bistro (235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA)