Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by josephreese, Mar 14, 2006.

  1. josephreese


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    Home Cook
    We had been planning a mid-week wine tasting adventure in Napa with friends. What better way to spend an afternoon away from work than sipping good wine and enjoying good company? On previous Napa trips we had talked about dining at Bouchon for lunch, but for some reason we'd been putting it off, opting instead for whatever cheese, bread, and fruit struck our fancy that morning. When we realized how long ago the subject of Bouchon had been mentioned and that we hadn't yet visited, we decided to leave the picnic basket at home.

    After stops at Mumm Napa and Poetry (Cliff Lede and S. Anderson wines) we drove to Yountville for a tasting at Jessup, which is a short walk to Bouchon.

    The seating area of the restaurant is small, but somehow manages to avoid being cramped. An attitude of polite informality seems at place here. The noise from the diners at nearby tables was quite appropriate amidst the cones of french fries being carried from the kitchen. The flow of these little golden sticks was nearly non-stop.

    Knowing that the good people at Bouchon have attempted to create a French bistro here in California, I did a little reading to discover some of the classic foods one might expect at a bistro. Prepared with a little knowledge (a dangerous thing, I know) I hoped to grab a taste of traditional bistro fare.

    I started with Rillettes aux deux Saumons (fresh and smoked salmon stored in a jar and sealed with clarified butter) served with small slices of toasted bread. Our server popped the top off of the jar, used a knife to cut around the edge of the solid clarified butter, placed it on a small plate and explained that "some people like to spread a little butter on the toast before adding the salmon." The overall effect was rich and creamy. I first imagined that the toast was merely a vehicle for the fish, but I now believe that it was a necessary component. The simple flavor of buttered toast will remain one of my favorites until the day I die. The crunch of the toast also provided an anchor for the soft pink flesh of the salmon. There was something very satisfying about spooning salmon from the jar to the bread, and then eating the delicious little pile with my fingers.

    While I was embarrassing myself with the rillettes, lovely Racquel was enjoying the soup du jour, potato and leek. I don't ordinarily ask for potato-and-anything soup because my experience has been that the potato dominates everything else in the bowl. In this purée however, the leeks were tall and bright. A wonderful soup that I hope is available the next time we dine at Bouchon.

    Placed before me next was a special form the board, Boudin Blanc. The white sausage link was exceptionally tender, and spiced more subtly than I have tasted elsewhere. It was delicious on its own, but really became something special when combined with the puréed potatoes and poached prunes also on the plate. Most of the spice came from the sausage; the sweetness from the prunes; the cream from the potatoes. Taken individually, each was good. But together they harmonized, with none of the trio dominating, and allowing each to be heard above the others at times. (I had a similar experience with squab en brioche served with poached apricots and white beans at Manresa, but that's another story.) The boudin blanc was immediately one of the best things I've ever tasted (along with the afore-mentioned squab and The French Laundry’s oysters and pearls).

    For desert I asked for Crème Caramel, a common desert I had never tried. The custard was cool and very light, the caramel dark and thin. After the wine during the day and the rich flavors presented before the custard, I should have known better than to ask for something so subtle. I enjoyed the desert, but perhaps something a bit bolder was in order for the day. Perhaps the Mousse au Chocolat Noir that Racquel smiled through.

    I hope to return.
  2. txfoodie


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    Cook At Home
    Joseph, my husband and I are big fans and I'm glad to read your positive review. We've been making an annual escape from the Texas heat to the California wine country since 2000 and have dined at Bouchon numerous times.

    Your description of "polite informality" is spot-on. I've always found the servers to be unpretentious and pleasant while being very knowledgable about the menu and wine list. Details like the neatly folded parchment menu, velvet banquettes and antique fixtures add to the restaurant's charm.

    For your next visit, I would like to recommend two of my favorites: the boudin noir and the duck gizzard salad. These dishes are not on the menu but are often featured as daily specials. The boudin is rich and flavorful and is perfectly accompanied by pureed potatoes and caramelized apples. The sweet/tart of the apples matches wonderfully with the salty, hearty flavor of the sausage. The salad is frisee tossed with sauteed duck gizzards in a vinaigrette of lardons and a touch of dijon, absolutely delicious and pairs fantastically with a sparkling wine.

    For classic bistro fare, they do a mean croque madame, probably my favorite brunch dish of all time. The frites are outstanding. Alas, we almost never save room for dessert.

    Mmmmm, I can't wait until we go again in May! :lips: