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?

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Caché Restaurant

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Bar area

Caché, which means ‘hidden’ in French, is a lovely gem that recently opened on Main street in Santa Monica.  After the former restaurant Hidden’s schizophrenic menu failed to keep the crowds coming, Josiah Citrin took over to transform this large space into a rocking joint.  We all know and love Josiah Citrin from his other successful LA projects- Jiraffe, Mélisse and Lemon Moon.  Caché is a different concept, serving straightforward but well executed food in a loungey setting.  Diners can enjoy their meals indoors or outdoors, and late night partiers can congregate for cocktails in the outdoor patio by the enticing oblong fireplace.

Chef Arrington checking the white truffles for dinner service

Chef Arrington checking the white truffles for dinner service

Citrin has chosen a bright young star to lead the Caché kitchen.  Nyesha Arrington, the Chef de Cuisine,  is a SoCal native who was entrusted to take this position after proving her capabilities at Lemon Moon and Mélisse.   Her impressive resume also includes stints at Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier and The Mansion in Las Vegas.  Her appreciation of cultural diversity, stemming from her multi-cultural background, is reflected in the superb balance and integration of different flavors.

We were greeted with a wonderful warm mason jar of assorted olives.  IMG_1269Warm olives are so much more pleasurable than cold or room temperature ones, it makes me wonder why more restaurants don’t serve it this way.  I love the warm olives at Pizzeria Mozza, and what a joy it is to dip my pizza crust into that aromatic warm olive oil.

Caché offers 4 types of mason jar starters, but the ones to get are the duck confit and foie gras parfait.  The rich and creamy foie gras parfait was topped with a luxurious port wine gelée.  The duck confit jar had tender shredded duck meat mixed with herbs and vegetables.  Both were equally satisfying and addictive, and we kept asking for more bread.  The bottle of 2005 St. Émilion Bordeaux from Chateau de Bellevue we ordered was a bit tart before it hit the decanter, but it got better and better through the course of our meal.  The lustrious tannins in this full bodied wine were a wonderful complement to the mason jar delicacies.

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There was no conversation or interaction at the table during the first 10 minutes of our ravenous mason jar frenzy.  IMG_1271These delectable delights had tapped into a part of our brain that had been scientifically thought to be dormant since the caveman era.  Dilated pupils, flushed face, rapid heart rate and incomprehensible gutteral grunting… these incredible edibles almost caused a sympathetic nervous system overload.  Once we calmed down, we started talking about what our ideal ‘last meal’ would be.  The heated debate included stellar candidates like sushi, steak, lamb chops, caviar and truffles.  The one thing we all agreed on was that we would love to have this foie gras parfait mason jar there before we draw our last breath.

The lovely calamari dish with chorizo, confit meyer lemon, cherry tomatoes and parsley came straight from the wood fired oven.  The chorizo slivers imparted a wonderful smokey flavor to the tender calamari, and the citrus kick from the meyer lemons kept the dish fresh and sharp.

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Caché’s version of moules frites was spectacular.  The black mussels were cooked in a delectable white wine, shallots and tomato sauce that we lapped up with the fries.  After the fries were gone we used our spoons to drink it like soup.  I’m normally not a fan of thicker cut fries as they tend to be soggy and overcooked, but these were fried to a perfect outer crisp and moist tender interior.  I could really taste the innate rustic potato flavors in each dazzling morsel.  The farmer who made these potatoes would be proud.

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I was ecstatic to see bone marrow on the menu.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat, so we placed 2 orders.  The fire-roasted bone marrow was silky and rich, oozing with blissful beef essence.   The green parsley foam on top added a perfect amount of saltiness to complement the marrow gelatin.  The wild mushroom tapenade on the toasted baguettes was earthy and aromatic, but it overpowered and competed with the bone marrow.  I had to scrape off the paste in order to indulge in a full-scale unadulterated marrow orgy.

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The crisp and fresh market wedge salad with cherry tomatoes, egg, blue cheese and bacon vinaigrette was the perfect palate cleanser to reset my heavy marrow-saturated taste buds.

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Caché has many delicious flat breads on their menu that are all baked in their special wood fired oven.  Toppings range from spicy sopressata to duck sausage, zucchini to caramelized shallots.  They all sounded amazing, but we decided to go with the evening special:  lardon, caramelized onion, cantal cheese, bechamel sauce and thyme.  A splendid array of caramelized sweetness, fresh herb aromas, lardon saltiness and cantal sharpness on a doughy flatbread canvas baked to perfection.

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The crispy pan-fried loup de mer was served on a bed of marinated eggplant, lemon and rosemary caponata.  The best part of this dish was the loup de mer skin with crispy scales, fried to a light flakiness that crunched and danced on my tongue.  The fragile texture was addictive, and I found myself enjoying the skin more than the flesh.  The hearty caponata was a bit too intense for the fish, and I left it untouched.

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One of my dining companions had already been to Caché and raved about the Kurobuta pork chop.  Even though we offered to order another dish so that he could have the opportunity to try something new, he insisted that we get it.  He wanted to relive the experience- it was that good.  The thick cut of meat was cooked to a perfectly even color, temperature and consistency.  The freshness of the mint ribbons and the subdued sweetness of the pineapple and five spice chutney embellished this juicy pork.  There was nothing really fancy about this dish, and it was a new flavor combination for me, but somehow it hit the spot.  It was comforting, warming and soulful.  Yes, this was a fantastic and solid dish, and I would order it again on my next visit.

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Chef Arrington complemented our entrées with 3 sides of: carrot with passion fruit, thyme and black pepper, asparagus with curry and pistachios, and a yukon potato purée that was whipped up in classic buttery Robuchon style.

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I bumped into Nyesha a couple of weeks ago at the Santa Monica farmers market as we both rummaged through a box of fairytale eggplants.  She had a twinkle in her eye as she enthusiastically told me how she was going to prepare it for the dinner menu that evening.  I could see the wheels of creativity and inspiration cranking at full speed in her brain as she proceeded to sniff, pick, taste and caress all of the fresh produce throughout the market.  It looked like she was having an intimate conversation with each vegetable.  I couldn’t help but feel a twang of jealousy toward the lucky people who would get to enjoy the farmers market inspired menu that evening at Caché.

IMG_1353The food at Caché boasts innovative flavor combinations with simple fresh ingredients.  It’s fine dining in a hip LA setting.  Yet it also has the comfort of soul food and the familiarity of happy childhood memories at the kitchen table.  How is it that in a jar of refined foie gras, on a superbly baked flatbread, on a side of Robuchon-style whipped potatoes, and in a crispy loup de mer skin that is difficult to perfect, I can taste the love and passion of this talented chef?  How is it possible for these plates to satisfy my soul as much as it pleases my belly and my eyes?  It’s something about the essence of the food and the aura of the chef.

Any chef can cook to impress, please, execute, and entertain.  But only a great chef can take that to a higher level and also cook to nourish and nurture.  That’s why the greatest chefs in the world are our mothers and grandmothers.  Young and beautiful Nyesha sure ain’t your grandmother, but she cooks with the same intention and soul.

http://www.cacherestaurant.com/

Random trivia:  Did you know that mussels are gonochoristic?  That means that each individual mussel is born either male or female.

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.

Oysters

Oysters

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.

http://www.commecarestaurant.com/

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.