Bouchon- Los Angeles

Welcome to Bouchon, the most anticipated restaurant opening in Los Angeles this past year.  Los Angeles is fast becoming the dining capital of the US, and the best chefs in the world have all got their eyes on this City of Angels.  Wolfgang Puck got his start here and José Andrés descended upon our land with mucha energía; Robuchon got rejected but Rick Bayless came through.  When Thomas Keller came up to bat, we all welcomed him with open arms with the grand opening of Bouchon in the heart of Beverly Hills.

As always, I waited a few months to check out the new restaurant, as it takes a while for restaurants to work out their kinks and find their rhythm.  Many of my chef friends have always advised me on this golden rule of a minimum 3 months wait before dining at a new restaurant.  I almost broke the rule with Bouchon, as this wasn’t Keller’s first restaurant, or even his first Bouchon, but the perfect opportunity came this past spring when I found myself at this beautiful and majestic venue with 4 handsome French men in the food and beverage industry.  A chef, a sommelier, a mixologist and a vodka rep, wining and dining me at this lovely bistro that might as well be in the 1er arrondissement overlooking the Jardin de Tuileries.

Bouchon Beverly Hills follows a similar menu to its other restaurants in Yountville and Las Vegas.  Hearty and classic French bistro fare abound on the trademark printed paper menu that comes neatly folded around each napkin, like steak frites, croque madame, soupe à l’oignon and confit de canard.  A raw bar offers freshly shucked oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams, crab and lobster.  Domestic and French cheeses can be had individually or as a tasting plate.  The dessert menu has classic French sweets like profiteroles, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat noir and ile flottante.  Charcuteries and patés made by chef de cuisine Rory Herrmann are there for your ultimate pleasure, bien sur.  So what sets this French bistro apart from the others that have been feeding LA residents with good old comfort food?  Other than the Keller name, it’s the distinctly un-bistro price tag (for $135, you can indulge in a 50 gram sampling of Californian caviar and your croque madame will set you back $17.95) and the astonishing interior of this grand establishment.

There’s a casual café downstairs called Bar Bouchon which is perfect for al fresco terrace dining by the beautiful green park with water fountains, but Bouchon’s allure and beauty rests upstairs in the fine dining area designed by Adam Tihany.  Tile mosaics lay the groundwork of the grand hall where hand-painted murals decorate the walls and classic globe sconces cast soft illumination on the crowded tables.   Stunning high ceilings barely contain the lively sounds of clinking wine glasses, silverware on plates and engaging conversation.  With French speaking dining companions at my table, I sometimes had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Paris, and that it wasn’t a lovely Parisian dream.

What better way to celebrate a bistro dinner than with a terrine de foie gras de canard served with toasted baguette. Bouchon’s version is light and delicate due to a labor intensive process of curing, poaching and whipping, but it’s almost too delicate and fine, as it can’t hold its form for more than a few seconds on the toasted baguette, and melts into liquid.  It’s organ meat after all, and it’s meant to be robust and hearty.  5 oz of fragile and unstable foie gras served in a glass canning jar goes for an unbelievable $48.50, making me appreciate Chef Nyesha Arrington‘s amazing foie gras mason jar with port wine gelée for $12, perhaps the best in LA, even more.

Moules au safran came with a basket of delicious frites with crispy potato skin and a generous sprinkling of salt to pucker my lips.  Maine bouchot mussels steamed in a heavy cast iron dutch oven with white wine, mustard and saffron was good, but a smidgen too watery and diluted in flavor.

Have you ever dreamed of the day when you could have the perfect excuse and enough courage to order a Grand Plateau de fruits de mer at a restaurant, that luxurious and grandiose tower of mollusks and crustaceans at the center of every diner’s desire?  Have you ever wondered what it would even be like to order a miniature version in a Petit Plateau?  French men know how to enjoy life without so much as a grain of guilt, and I was happy to oblige to their order of Bouchon’s Grand Plateau de Mer, a 2 tiered seafood extravaganza for $110- 1 whole lobster, 16 oysters, 8 shrimp, 8 clams, 9 mussels and Dungeness crab came with all of the appropriate fixings for the highlight event of the evening.  Life can be grand, n’est-ce pas?

Truite aux Amandes, a pan-roasted trout fillet with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette was perfectly cooked and elegantly flavored.  The brown butter, lemon and parsley sauce was surprisingly light, making it easy to enjoy and digest this delicate dish that was saturated with a lovely toasted almond fragrance.

Gigot d’Agneau, roasted leg of lamb with Swiss chard, pommes boulangère & lamb jus was a textbook meat dish with perfect execution and delivery although I was hoping for something more exciting.

Boudin noir, blood sausage with potato purée and caramelized apples, was sensational.  This is the type of food that defines bistro fare- hearty, rustic and loud but comforting and flavorful.  The blood sausage was packed with dense savor with a hint of pleasant iron finish unique to this type of charcuterie.  The classic pairing of boudin noir and sweet apples, as always, hit the spot.

There are many accompagnements to choose from at Bouchon, like butternut squash with poached prunes, sautéed spinach, potato purée and brussel sprouts, but we opted for a champignons des bois of fragrant and earthy sautéed forest mushrooms that were plump and fully saturated with French butter.

Bouchon in Beverly Hills is truly a magical and enchanting restaurant, one with the allure and power to make any who step through their entrance believe that they are in Paris.  It’s easy to forget the passage of time in this elegant vortex, especially when you’re engrossed in your glass of champagne with fruits de mer over laughter and engaging conversation with beautiful friends.  Still, many of their dishes can use some tweaking to be worthy of the Keller label, and bistro-friendly prices would entice me to visit more frequently.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Bouchon yet, it’s a must-go for its sophisticated ambiance and charm.  Many may agree that it’s the most beautiful dining room in Los Angeles, set on a pristine block of the infamous Beverly Hills zip code.  Their kitchen, unlike any other, is quite epic too, with floors so clean that you can eat off of it and cookware meticulously and impeccably polished to where it looks like it’s never been used before.  Large heavy doors line a rear hallway, each an entryway into a different Bouchon world of ‘jardin’, ‘poisson’, ‘dairy’ or ‘viande’ with every container clearly labeled and signed.  There’s a separate kitchen just for chocolate and ice cream, and of course a busy boulangerie to churn out his signature epi bread.  A large plasma screen TV in the middle of the busy kitchen broadcasts live stream with Keller’s numerous other Michelin-starred restaurants on both coasts. If they started charging admission for kitchen tours, I would gladly pay to relive the experience of walking through that impressive and mind blowing factory that belongs in the Smithsonian.

Bouchon Beverly Hills

235 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, California 90210
(310) 271-9910

Random trivia: Did you know that almonds are not nuts, but are in fact stone fruits- like peaches, plums and cherries?


Le Saint Amour

In case you haven’t noticed, I love French food- real authentic hearty French food that sings to my heart, purrs in my belly and misshapens my thighs.  Especially after returning from a wonderful trip to France a few months ago, I’ve been daydreaming about re-living, even if but for a fleeting moment, that experience of being in a real French bistro.  I love the bustle of a bistro, the long banquettes and crowded tables, the carafes of wine that go with my escargots and foie gras paté, the old school waiters who aren’t afraid to tell you what to order, the gentlemen drinking their Cognac and the madames enjoying their cafe on the patio as they readjust their stylish scarves to keep their neck warm from the cold Parisian chill.  And I recently had such an experience in the heart of Culver City at Le Saint Amour.

Owners Florence and Bruno Herve-Commereuc closed their downtown restaurant, Angelique Café, and reopened in Culver City a few months ago.  The concept of serving homemade French charcuterie (made by Bruno himself) and authentic French fare is still unchanged, although the space is magnificently upgraded.  This magical brasserie has the power to transport you to Paris in an instant.  Am I in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Rue St. Andrés des Arts?  Or is this in the Marais close to Place des Vosges?  The tall ceilings, tiled floors, long red banquette against the wall, large distressed mirrors on the wall that make the dining room seem larger, small tables narrowly spaced next to one another, specials of the day written in white chalk on the board, large front windows facing the sidewalk framed on the bottom by white lace panels, French waiters scurrying to and from the open kitchen carrying carafes of tap water and plates of mussels…..ah yes, I am in Paris.  The atmosphere is so authentic, that more than half of the customers were also French.  The owner of The Little Door was a few tables down from me, appearing to be very much at home.

I’ve never had a bad experience in Paris, although the city has a bad reputation of having rude waiters.  For those of you who have this opinion or prejudice, rest assured that Le Saint Amour is quite the opposite.  Florence was a most generous and gracious hostess, all of the waiters were attentive and warm, and nobody made me feel rushed.  Everybody was relaxed and happy to be working there.

Thursday night is the best night to go, when oyster sommelier or maitre écailler Christophe Happillon is there with his oyster cart in front of the open kitchen with a big friendly smile on his face.  He gently shucks each oyster himself and shares his vast knowledge with all of the customers.  I’ve never met anybody more passionate about oysters than Christophe.  As he lovingly and tenderly held each oyster in his hands, he told us about how the quality of the seaweed bed and water temperature affected the flavors of the bivalves;  how they originated in one ocean but are now farmed in another, altering the brininess and finish of the oysters; why certain shells are round versus flat and why some are blond versus gray.

The Carlsbad Lunas with the round and blond shells left an acidic kick in the back of my mouth, and had a stronger aftertaste that was complemented by the shallot vinaigrette.  The Endless Summer oysters from Baja California had a light cucumber finish.  The Fanny Bays, my favorite, had a creamy and rich texture with a light lemongrass finish.  All were perfectly shucked and presented.

When Bruno took our order, he gave us a slight frown.  “You’re not getting the boudin noir?  You have to try it, I made it myself.  Let me bring you some!” 15 minutes later he emerged from the kitchen with a plate of boudin noir, a proud smile on his face.  As he set it down on our table, he also pulled up a chair and watched as I took my first bite and gave him my best genuine O-face.  Ahh, exquisite.  This blood sausage was rich in flavor, bursting with complexity, yet light in texture.  The apple compote was a perfect complement to the dense iron-rich sausage.  This was one of the best boudin noirs that I’ve ever had.

The ris de veau veal sweetbreads with frisée was a bit on the dry side, but nicely prepared with a slightly crispy crust and perfect with the acidity of the capers.

The escargots with garlic and parsley butter were just like what I would expect at a Parisian bistro- succulent, juicy and buttery.  These little succulent treasures were simply divine.

The pied de cochon farci, boneless pig’s feet with tartar sauce, was outstanding.  It came out as a small square object, and as I cut through this pig’s skin pillow, cochon heaven came gushing out like a burst pipe.  I could see tender bits of pig skin, collagen, meat, mushrooms and flavorful jus just begging to be slurped up.  This went beautifully with the tartar sauce and the bitter watercress salad.   A truly amazing dish from start to finish.

The terrine de foie gras de canard ‘maison’, house made duck liver terrine, was out of this world.  It rivals some of the best that I’ve ever had in Burgundy.

En fin, we had the entrecote au poivre, the grilled rib eye steak with pepper sauce and fries.  This perfectly medium-rare grilled steak was amazingly tender and flavorful.  It was refreshing to get a steak grilled just the way I ordered it- it’s actually hard to come by these days.  Grilling meat correctly seems to be a lost art.  The foie gras, boudin noir and steak all went beautifully with a bottle of 2006 Savigny-les-Beaune ‘Les Gollardes’ from Jacques Girardin.

Even the dessert was to die for.  The baba au rhum left me speechless.  It tasted exactly like what I envisioned the most perfect baba au rhum to taste like.  Moist and sweet with a hint of rum, with tender candied fruits that were soft and subtle in flavor.  I couldn’t even get good baba au rhum in France, but here I was in a little heavenly bubble in the middle of Culver City, eating French bistro food that rivaled some of my most memorable meals in authentic Parisian bistros.

I could go on and on, as I cannot contain my excitement for Le Saint Amour.  It’s true French bistro food in a true French bistro environment with French staff and true French hospitality.  Le Saint Amour hasn’t seen the last of me.  This place is exceptional and quite simply, c’est magnifique!

Le Saint Amour

9725 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 842-8155

Updates: Maître ecailler Christophe Happillon is now serving his oysters at Church & State Bistro on Tuesday nights and Joe’s in Venice on Friday nights.

Random trivia: Did you know that boudin noir is made from fresh pig’s blood?  When it’s made in the traditional fashion, it takes several people to perform this task.  When bleeding the pig, one of the forelegs has to be constantly moved around to avoid clots from forming in the blood vessels and thus facilitating drainage.

Bistro LQ

IMG_1030 When I first looked at Bistro LQ’s menu online, I got excited.  Really really excited.  A French restaurant in Los Angeles serving frog legs, foie gras, sweetbreads, head cheese, bone marrow, baby eel, duck gizzards, goat tripe and lamb tongue was a dream come true.  I almost cried tears of joy as I double and triple checked the website to make sure these weren’t typos.  Once inside the restaurant, decorated with floating glass globes that illuminated the tall ceilings, the menu read beautifully with a diversity of proteins and creative preparations that I had never seen before.

There was a lot oIMG_0946f thought and creativity infused into the description of each dish, and Chef Quenioux is not afraid to experiment with bold concepts and expensive delicacies.  It was difficult not to order everything on the menu.

The complimentary amuse bouche was a mussel over polenta with veal jus and lemongrass.  The polenta had a wonderful consistency, but the mussel had a slightly musty flavor.

IMG_0952 We started off with the foie gras 3 ways.  The first was a sautéed foie gras on top of roasted unagi with smoked green apple infusion sauce.  The dish looked mouthwateringly delicious, but the foie gras was unfortunately quite firm in consistency and overcooked.  The combination of foie gras with eel and apple sauce was a complex one that I was not able to appreciate in that one dish.

The other 2 preparations of foie gras came on a long rectangular glass plate.  The torchon style foie with violet scented bitter chocolate was divine.  The incredibly flavorful and tender foie paired beautifully with the bitterness of the thin dark chocolate squares, making for one of my favorite bites of the evening.  The Earl Grey tea roll, however, was hard and dry, reminding me of those stale airplane rolls that come in plastic bags on economy class food trays.

IMG_0955The foie gras sandwiched between quince marshmallows was a delight.  The marshmallows had an almost erotic supple pillowy consistency to them, and the foie was just as soft and delicate.  Except for the clear quince gelée, which was overwhelmingly sweet, this was a fairly good dish.


The head cheese filo with watercress bouquet and anchovy emulsion was my other favorite dish of the evening.  As I cut through the middle of the filo packet effortlessly with my fork, the thousands of flaky layers of filo gave way to an incredibly rich and flavorful stew of warm head cheese.  The large chunks of tender head meat and collagenous marvels were well balanced with the tartness of the watercress and the salty anchovy emulsion.  This anchovy sauce, a concentrated version of the best bagna cauda you can ever have, was outstanding.

IMG_0963The frog legs were not so exciting.  The barbecue sauce was like American bbq sauce, and the spicy violet and begonia chutney an overly sweet version of Indian mango chutney.  Given Quenioux’s training in French cuisine, I hoped that he would serve frog legs the classic way- pan fried with garlic, butter and parsley.

The eel roll with fresh herbs was not only overcooked and dry, but also served with a plum sauce that was too sweet.  It was accompanied with chanterelle mushroom and grits, which was actually quite flavorful with a nice texture.  There was a small cIMG_0969rock pot of baby eels grilled with piment d’Espellete.  I was really looking forward to this dish, hoping for a true Basque rendition, but the eels were extremely soggy.  In fact, the oily eels easily broke apart, as if it had been marinating for months.  I was hoping for at least a little bit of texture.



I was really interested in trying the monkfish cheeks.  I’ve had beef, veal and pork cheeks before, all of which have been flavorful and tender.  Why not monkfish cheeks?  After the foie, it’s probably the second most flavorful part of the fish.  I’m surprised other restaurants don’t serve it, considering how cheap the overhead is.  Well, this dish at Bistro LQ was a let down.  The cheek meat was overcooked, tough, dry and stringy.  However, the cipollini onions had a wonderful sweetness which paired well with the pomegranate molasses.  The molasses sauce was perfectly tart and sour, and it would go well on risotto among other things.


The menu item I was most excited about was the lamb composition with medium rare roasted lamb chop, sautéed kidney, sautéed sweetbreads, poached tongue and shoulder confit with swiss chard gratin and jus roti with lemon and star anise.  Lamb is my favorite meat, and I love organs more than meats.  This dish for me was the ultimate extravaganza and dream come true.


The lamb chop was well done, the sweetbreads were overcooked, the tongue was dry and tough, and the kidneys were stale.  I was so disappointed, I felt like crying. The swiss chard gratin didn’t provide any consolation either.  A delicious glass of Joseph Swan ‘Cuvée des Trois’ Pinot Noir from Sonoma saved my sour mood.


The baby goat braised with Guajillo peppers and oregano scented tripes was also a disappointment.  The dry stringy goat meat, made into something that looked and tasted like a deep fried egg roll, was mediocre street food.  The tripe was too gamey and left a bad aftertaste.  I’m not sure if enough proper care went into its preparation.

The first dessert we had was the coconut dacquoise, Italian merinques with Mexican green onions, cilantro, fresh coconut and tartar of fresh mangoes with mastic powder.  It was an interesting dessert- I’ve never seen green onions and cilantro in a dessert dish.  I wasn’t too keen on the combination of flavors.

IMG_1019The composition around dark chocolate was much better.  The mole chocolate mousse with hints of complex Mexican spices was deep and tantalizing, and pouring warm dark chocolate sauce on it made it even more decadent.  The chocolate pancake with mascarpone cheese and chocolate oil was light and soft, and the soufflé style chocolate with szechuan peppercorn was wonderful.



The most exciting part of the evening was the cheese cart.  They pulled out a spectacular rolling wooden cheese cart to the table side that was filled with classic and rare French cheeses.  Our French server was extremely knowledgeable about each cheese, where it came from and what it tasted like. It was so difficult to decide which ones to try, as in a perfect world one should be able to try all of them.


We received 8 small mason jars containing different cheese condiments.  From what I could taste, they included: roasted cumin seeds, blueberry gelée, sweet onion jam, bell pepper mustard, cranberry chutney, green tomato compote and green tomatillo ketchup.  It was really fun to experiment with different taste combinations of cheeses and condiments, though ideally it would have been nice to receive guidance from the restaurant.


IMG_1021As I savored the lemon and raspberry macaroons and wonderful marshmallow that came as our petit fours, I reflected on the Bistro LQ experience.  I wanted to call this my new favorite restaurant.  I envisioned myself going here every other week, feeling torn between the venison tartar and slow cooked scottish hare, or shall it be wild boar shank versus pigeon with gizzards and heart?  But alas, the menu and the vision was too ambitious, and the execution just could not keep up.  However, I support Quenioux’s vision and his willingness to serve bold dishes rich in game and organ meats, so I look forward to revisiting Bistro LQ again.

Bistro LQ

Random trivia:  Did you know that when piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper) was first introduced to Europe in the 17th century, it was considered a cheap and reasonable substitute for black pepper, which was extremely expensive at that time?  Now the roles have reversed.  Piment d’Espelette retails at about $20 per 40 gram jar.

Comme ça

There’s nothing I love more than dining out with fellow foodies.   I love sharing meals with foodie friends, especially when we have the same taste in food and have perfect culinary chemistry.  I love exchanging information and opinions about restaurant history and culture, about which dish we love at what restaurant, which chef left which restaurant to open up his/her own place, who trained with which culinary master, etc.  And that is how I heard of the shocking news yesterday as I dined at Comme ça with one such friend.

Comme ça

Comme ça

Comme ça is a cute and lovely French bistro that chef David Myers opened up a year and a half ago in West Hollywood.  He is most recently famous for the success of his restaurant Sona that he opened up in Los Angeles a few years ago.  Sona was well known for its desserts that were created by his wife and pastry chef Michelle Myers.  Her success led her to open Boule patisserie across the street where I used to buy macaroons and artisanal chocolates.

I drove by Boule the other day and noticed that it was vacant and closed down.  What happened?  Divorce, my friend Shirley told me yesterday, as we nibbled on French bistro-style comfort food in the spacious and beautiful dining room of Comme ça.

Entrance to Comme ça

Entrance to Comme ça

Comme ça bar

Comme ça bar

Gulp….gasp.  Divorce.  Yes, the restaurant world has just as much gossip worthy of being featured in Us magazine as Hollywood does.  I’m sad to see Boule close down.  It was such a charming patisserie and I loved their signature robin’s egg blue and chocolate brown color swatches.    Their chocolate and sweets gift boxes made for wonderful presents.

But no time for lamenting, we must get back to the food.

For starters, Chef Creek oysters and Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia.



The Chef Creek oysters were big and plump, and had a crisp lettuce taste with a briny finish.  The Fanny Bays were smaller and flatter, with a light crisp cucumber finish.  I really liked the Fanny Bays.  They were so fresh, light and pleasant to eat.  I could easily eat a few dozen of them in one sitting.

We ordered very classic French bistro comfort food- moules frites and steak frites.

Moules frites

Moules frites

The moules frites were cooked in a lovely pernod sauce with celery, onions, shallots, thyme and tarragon.  I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, and kept lapping it up with their freshly baked piping hot baguettes.  Pernod is a type of liqueur called pastis, which is produced from licorice plant or anise.  It clouds up with the addition of water, which is what probably gave the sauce a white/yellow opaque color.  Ricard is one of the most famous French brands of pastis.  I had it for the first time, ironically, in the middle of the African bush in Liberia.  When I was doing medical humanitarian work  in 2006 in West Africa, one of the French ex-pats Guillaume brought a bottle of Ricard with him.  He cradled it very carefully in his arms as if holding a baby, and brought it all the way from Paris.  We all have those few comfort items that we just cannot live without.  For him, Ricard was one of them.  The night he arrived, we stayed up all night long talking and laughing while smoking Guinean cigarettes and drinking straight Ricard, in the middle of the West African jungle.  I have such fond memories of those days!

Steak frites

Steak frites

The steak was a prime flat iron center cut, grilled perfectly medium (though I ordered it medium rare) topped with tarragon butter and accompanied by one of my all time favorite foods in the world- pommes frites with aioli.  The pommes frites were done just how I like them- long, thin, and crispy.

Brioche chocolate bread pudding

Brioche chocolate bread pudding

Shirley, being a huge dessert buff, took a really long time deciding which dessert to have.  Strawberry clafoutis?  Chocolate pot de creme?  We followed our waiter’s recommendation and ordered the chocolate brioche bread pudding.  It was really rich, thick and sweet.  I felt like I was biting into a bar of chocolate (but that’s just me, I don’t have a sweet tooth).  The vanilla ice cream was delicious.  Shirley didn’t seem too happy with the waiter’s choice, and was regretting not following her heart and ordering the pot de creme.  There’s always a next time.

I recommend this restaurant not only for the food, but for the ambiance.  The dining room is absolutely beautiful and has such character.  White leather benches with bright red cushions, antique mirrors on one side of the wall, and cookbooks on the other side which is flanked by the liquor bar and the cheese bar.  If you want French comfort food, you will find it here at Comme ça.

Random trivia:  Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, a 40 year old, petite 105 pound Korean-American female competitive eater (that is her actual occupation) holds the current world record for oyster eating.  She ate 46 dozen oysters in 10 minutes.  Her most famous win is for 37 hotdogs in 12 minutes.  She is ranked 5th in the world for competitive eating. She is single.