We’re currently experiencing what passes for winter here in Southern California with temperatures dropping to near-freezing (gasp!) and rain on the way this weekend (sigh!). Undoubtedly we are spoiled by the gorgeous weather that we enjoy nearly year-round but such climactic stability isn’t without its drawbacks, particularly for those of us who have spent considerable time in parts of the world that have a think called ‘seasons’ (and though we’ve recently seen the the point debated, ‘award-season’ is not an actual season). The most notable of these is that at the time of year when one should normally be craving the hearty flavors or fall, temperatures can sometimes rise to the upper 80’s – not exactly soup weather. So when we do get a small blast of winter chill, it’s a great time to dive right in and enjoy as many hearty dishes as can reasonably be consumed in what is typically a small time frame.
So it was that Tuesday night we found ourselves sitting at Bouchon Bistro‘s bar here in Beverly Hills. Today we focus so much on the health and sustainability issues that continually swirl around our nation’s dining habits that we sometimes lose site of the fundamental power that food possesses. Yes, the notion of ‘comfort food’ is often taken to perverse and dangerous lengths (point illustrated by Paula Deen) but inherently food, and particularly great food, has a remarkable power to comfort, ground and otherwise make life better in an all-around sense. Such was our experience at Bouchon, where a day that had started roughly and never improved was salvaged and made, in the final analysis, positive by a delicious dinner.
Anyone who has taken the time to read the ‘About’ tab on Ingredient Driven will know full well that we are not impartial when it comes to the restaurants of Chef Thomas Keller, but I would qualify our close association by pointing out that when one truly knows a restaurant – and the people that make it run – it is in fact easier to become a harsh critic. If nothing else, one is familiar with the expectations and potential of a culinary team and thus more likely to find fault, even if only to point these faults out for the long-term betterment of the restaurant. Such is the case with Bouchon and yet, stunningly, it is tremendously rare that we encounter opportunities for the restaurant to improve. Last night’s experience was no different.
Bouchon’s winter menu is newly released and as is often the case presents a range of seasonal ingredients in classic yet elevated fashion. Being pressed for time and intrigued by some of the new additions to the starters, we opted to enjoy a succession of small plates that, not by design, became a tour of the diverse flavors and textures of animal flesh: the delicate, briny, almost ethereal meat of oysters; succulent duck thigh cooked in its own fat for a classic confit; laborious to produce by delightful to enjoy sweetbreads, with their mix of crispy exterior, succulent interior and deeply animal flavor; and finally escargot, whose delightful texture and earthy flavor provide a perfect foil for their classic pairing – puff pastry and garlic butter.
With Chef de Cuisine Rory Herrmann on a well-deserved vacation following the busy holiday season, Sous Chef Katie Hagan-Whelchel was in the kitchen. Katie could very well occupy an entire post herself, but suffice it to say, she was part of the opening team at Bouchon, has worked tirelessly to hone her craft and overcome obstacles including personal injury to become an essential part of the restaurant’s culinary team. As our experience demonstrated, she certainly had the kitchen team on point Tuesday night. Thanks as well to Bouchon’s Sommelier Alex Weil whose by-the-glass wine selections were, as always, a delicious complement to the entire meal.