Friday, December 11, 2009

Around Town - Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills

One of the things that I had been looking forward to in the upcoming week after Christmas, when I will get a little break from the 10-9 schedule
would have been dinner at Thomas Keller's new Beverly Hills Restaurant
Bouchon Bistro
After all Keller is the real "top chef" in the US
and I really like bistro food
and the restaurant is conveniently located about a block and a half away from my office

and food blogger Kevin has written a glowing review about it here

Then...in an email from a friend
I received this very un-glowing review
First the 30 day reservation policy
When we heard through the grapevine that Thomas Keller was coming to town,we agreed that Bouchon would be the location for my birthday dinner in December. As it turned out, the food was good but not memorable and the attitude was bad and quite memorable. It began inauspiciously with the reservation attempt. My first call was deflected because I had called more than 30 days out. The brasserie is following a strict 30-day advance booking rule. So, exactly 30 days out I called at 10:02 am, two minutes past the posted time that reservations line opens and, of course, our desired time – 7:30 on a Monday night – was no longer available. But 7:45was available. This sort of thing is usually not a good sign, because it suggests that the restaurant and the patron will have to jockey for who is serving whom. Nonetheless, the 15-minute difference was certainly no big deal to us and requested a very nice table since this was a birthday dinner. A day out, I received a pleasant reminder call to reconfirm, did so and reiterated the birthday occasion. There was no mistaking not only that we wanted a nice table but why.
then the table wars
Sadly, it took three levels of well-coiffed but inflexible personnel and four tours of the cavernous dining room before table negotiations finally ended, with the restaurant clearly winning the “who serves whom” issue. The first table was a cramped banquette table near the large serving station that takes up the middle of the acoustically-challenged room. The second table was adjacent to the ear-splitting bar area, an unpopular part of the dining room that was empty save for the hustler and his mark, who were stuck up against a pillar under the palm tree and able to eye the action and be eyed as the action. The third table – another banquette - was in restaurant purgatory, which here seems to begin about 2/3 of the way back past the side pillars. There are about four prime four-top tables well spaced against the broad half-curtained windows that look onto the illuminated courtyard. But despite the fact that two of these tables were occupied by couples, this couple was not to be offered the remaining table along the windows despite repeated efforts as we worked our way up the chain of command to the maitre d’. He was polite but firm – we were not getting that table. But a previously unseen window-side table just inside purgatory was finally made available when my wife pulled out her cell phone in front of the maitre d’, called a nearby legendary restaurant and secured a prime table on no notice. Faced with this upping of the ante – our ability to score on the away team’s turf - we were persuaded to stay and took the window – the privacy – and purgatory.
then the good but not earth shattering cuisine
For our inconvenience, we were offered two coupes of champagne and the“best server I have”, who introduced himself and then disappeared for ten minutes. With the pecking order now re-established by management, we were finally able to turn to the meal itself. To begin, we share a nice thick slice of flavorful pate de campagne, with appropriate garnishments. My wife’s main dish was flavorful off-the-bone beef short ribs and I had the crispy skin sea bass, which was an evening special. Both dishes were solid and enjoyable, although my fish dish was perhaps slightly overcooked and yet warm rather than hot. Even though it did not go with either main course, we ordered a side of obligatory pommes frites. Oh, how we miss Benita’s on Third Street Promenade - those were pommes frites. These were tepid – and uninspired - French fries. The eponymous side dish can definitely be skipped without missing anything. On the other hand, both the Vouvray with the fish and the Burgundy with the short ribs paired well. Desert (also shared) was a return to the obvious at Bouchon –bouchons. Again, good but not great, but presented in a portion that was sufficient for us to share.
then does the hype justify the hassle
This is a meal that one can get in any number of brasseries in Paris –Bofinger, Brasserie Flo and Brasserie Lipp come immediately to mind – to say nothing of countless other undiscovered local gems in out lying arrondisements and throughout Alsace. But alas, on a wet and cold early winter night, we were in Beverly Hills and not Paris. The prices here are at least comparable to France – with the aperitifs (had we paid for them), and had we had bigger appetites for two appetizers and two deserts, what is supposed to be a casual dinner would have soared well past $200 a couple. But the memory of those authentic brasserie experiences in their natural settings – the good, the bad and the indifferent – was triggered at Bouchon and, for us, that was enough to make this a pleasant birthday dinner. But next time, we'll wait until we are in France and go for the real thing.

This is what happens when chefs become superstars. Maybe after the restaurant has been around for a year or so and the novelty has worn off, I will venture over to test the snappy wait staff and good but not great food.

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6 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

We ate at Bouchon in Vegas a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. But yeah, who needs that kind of attitide, especially when there are so many other great brasseries in the area (Le Saint Amour in Culver City and Anisette in Santa Monica, for example).

Belle de Ville said...

Pseu, I'm way too old to put up with restaurant scene nonsense.
I haven't tried Le Saint Amour.
After the holidays, when things calm down I'd love to take you to lunch there, since I missed our LA blogger brunch.

Deja Pseu said...

Le Saint Amour is awesome, though they tend to fill up a bit in advance for prime dinner times. Prices are quite reasonable too. Yes, let's definitely have lunch there after the holidays!!

Jill said...

This was really interesting. I'm impressed/wary of your friend's behavior. I don't have the balls to be so demanding. I would have never whipped out the cell phone. I'm probably too scared that something unwanted may end up in my food or the service will proceed to be worse than it already was intended to be. I would just not go back...which is the chicken shit thing to do most likely.

Belle de Ville said...

One thing that is awesome about the internet is that if you don't like a service or product you can get your opinion out there for everyone to read.

I find the whole top chef/ celebrity chef thing tiresome.

The Townhouselady said...

How disenchanting and off-putting.

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