We were in Yountville, ground zero for extravagant California dining. It was lunch time (early lunch, as part of a marathon day of wine tasting along Highway 29) and not having $300 to spend (nor a reservation) figured that the French Laundry was out of the question. So why not try Keller's casual bastion of Lyonnaise decandence, Bouchon.
Me and Chef Scott.
Efficient and open, banquettes are crammed against two walls, a smattering of tables for four and a few two-tops fill out the central space. Beautiful large glass windows and a few outdoor tables meet up with a beautiful bar and raw bar along the back wall. Beautiful, open, and airy--perfect on this nascently gorgeous day in Napa.
This was lunch on a wine-tasting trip, so buying wine wasn't a top priority. I wasn't overly impressed with Bouchon's list--fairly predictable and fairly pricey. Definitely some great wines, but nothing terribly interesting. I had a draft French beer (Meteor) and Scott had a Mandarin Drop cocktail. Both were tasty.
Figuring we're not going to get up to Yountville that often (or with that much money) we decided to go nuts. Starting off we got the house charcuterie, the beignets de brandade de morue, and the salmon rillettes.
The charcuterie was nice--four different salumi--nothing extraordinary. Two of the meats were quite good, the finocchionna was very nicely spiced and the saucisson sec basquese was the slightest bit spicy. The other two were mild and very very similar. Still, all the charcuterie were nice and well-balanced--nothing too fatty, nice meaty flavors. Basically, it thoroughly cock-slapped the oftentimes oily antipasti I've had at places like Eccolo. The pickles that came with the Bouchon charcuterie were fabulous.
As soon as I heard the combination of beignets AND brandade, I knew that I had to have it. There are few things I love more in the world than these two culinary treasures. In Bouchon's preparation, three envelopes of airy beignet dough are stuffed with creamy, salty, cod-y brandade and fried. Incredibly rich yet surprisingly light, these were fucking phenomenal.
As retarded as the beignets were, the salmon rillettes would end up being the best of Bouchon. They do a traditional preparation with steamed salmon mashed with fat, but then also included small chunks of diced smoked salmon which produced a nice complex flavor with pockets of smokiness jumping out of the rich steamed salmon mixture. The presentation was just as awesome as the flavor--served in a flip-top glass jar and sealed with a disc of clarified butter. Rad
I went for the bourride with monkfish, mussels, clams, baby fennel, and artichoke hearts. Also advertised as having squid, my soup came with no said cephalapod. My waiter apologized and informed that they didn't actually have squid today. I would've ordered it anyway, but it would've been nice to know. It was the only hiccup in what was otherwise stellar service. All of the components of the bourride were fabulous--tender shellfish, juicy monkfish, and baby fennel is now one of my favorite vegetables. The broth, however, was very (very) salty. I'm getting better with salt, but I'm still not the biggest salt fan, but Scott also believed my broth to be salty even for a seafood stew. The broth had a great flavor (the aioli was present but not overpowering). It was just freakin' salty.
Scott's entree was the roasted leg of lamb (medium rare) with seasonal vegetables. Simply a great cut of meat prepared very well and accompanied by great fresh produce. The only criticism here was that the lamb jus was also quite salty (though nowhere near as salty as the bourride).
We got the dark chocolate mousse. This proved to be a mistake--not because it wasn't fabulous, it was, but because it was nothing unexpected. We should've gone for a citrus tart or the profiteroles. Still, it was a rich, creamy, bittersweet chocolate mousse and it was awesome.
Bouchon was a great meal. Not necessarily a place that I'll return to for a full meal (maybe once a season), but with its great bar, eclectic menu with a lot of nice smaller plates, and late hours (serving limited menu until 12:30AM), it'll probably be a regular stop on future Napa outings. Honestly, a cocktail or glass of wine and those rillettes would be the perfect late night bite.
Note: Bouchon serves the same menu all day. Though we had reservations, walk-ups for lunch seemed pretty easy (at least on a Wednesday).
Entrée price range: $15.95-$26.50
HFF's cost for two (three appetizers, two entrees, one dessert, one beer, one cocktail, tax, 20% tip): $140
Reservations: 707-944-8037 or www.opentable.com
6534 Washington St.
Yountville, Ca 94599