Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whatever the birthday girl wants, Thomas Keller provides.

After a day of burgers and champagne, what's a girl to do? Well, when she has a 30th birthday to celebrate, she piles into a limo with her closest friends and family (and a few bottles of champagne) and drives from Sonoma to Napa for dinner at Thomas Keller's Bouchon.

In his cookbook of the same name, Keller famously describes Bouchon as the place he likes to eat after a night of cooking at the more formal French Laundry, just down the street in Yountville. It's a traditional French bistro plopped down in the middle of Napa Valley. (You might think it would be lonely, but it's actually just a few doors down from another traditional bistro, Bistro Jeanty.)

The food at Bouchon is traditional, but not boring. In fact, I can safely say that it's among my top ten favorite places to eat in the entire world. The food is beautifully & meticulously executed, made with loving care and the best ingredients available. Case in point? Jeremy's French onion soup, made with a deeply rich beef stock and loads of sweet onions. Topped with a brioche crouton the exact size of the bowl and covered in melted gruyère, it's the most sinful soup you've ever seen. (Except maybe for the butternut squash soup, which Keller finishes with a stick of browned butter.)

For my starter, I ordered a special: an egg poached in red wine (oeuf en meurette), served with another of those inimitable croutons, extra red wine sauce, bacon and frisée. It was essentially a frisée aux lardons salad, minus most of the salad part, and it was delicious. Rich and silky, smoky from the bacon and just slightly dry, thanks to the red wine.

A couple of years ago, I spent a few months having nothing but disappointing steak after disappointing steak. I went to Bouchon and, with great trepidation, ordered the steak frites. And while it broke my losing streak, it ruined me for all other versions, possibly forever. I didn't order the steak frites this time, but Jeremy did. The steak at Bouchon is off-the-charts, thanks in part to the paste of shallots, butter and herbs decorating the top. The steak is cooked on a flattop, spread with the shallot mixture, and then finished under the broiler.

For my main, I had the duck: magret de canard and confit. The sear on the breast and legs was great, but my favorite parts were the huckleberry gastrique and the savoy cabbage. Sweet sauces pair beautifully with duck, and this one was no exception. The cabbage, with its peppery, slightly sour flavor, offered a nice contrast to the rich duck and the sweet fruit.

I somehow missed taking pictures of dessert, but I can assure you that it lived up to the rest of the meal. I ordered the restaurant's signature dessert, the bouchons - little cork-shaped brownies made with bittersweet chocolate. They were supposed to be served with mint ice cream, but since I pretty much hate mint in my desserts, I made a special birthday-girl request for coffee ice cream, and my wish was granted - all before I blew out my candle!


Dolce said...

The entire meal looks fabulous... I am a huge fan of Bouchon's chocolate chip cookie but haven't had the chance to eat an entire meal at Bouchon (yet)

Lorna Yee said...

Aw, what a delicious meal! When you come to Seattle (soon, I hope) we will have to eat at Springhill, and then Café Campagne for their oeufs en meurette, which comes with a big basket of thin-cut fries for dipping in the foie gras red wine sauce.

Meg Blocker said...

@Dolce: Many thanks! You simply must make it to Bouchon for a meal. It's fantastic - and the bakery is right next door. ;-)

@Lorna: Ooooh, yes, please!

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