Bouchon at the Montage Hotel ― attractive, attentive, classy, smooth, smart, lives in splendor and speaks French too!
For a woman to compare a restaurant to a man is a sign that that woman is obsessed with men. That may be true in my case since I haven’t been on a date in a very long time but, if you’ll indulge me, I might be onto something more than that. Here’s my first case in point:
World renowned Chef Thomas Keller’s Beverly Hills outpost of his French bistro, Bouchon, beautifully ensconced in the Montage Hotel, is like the perfect man (hereinafter referred to as the “PM”) – attractive, attentive, classy but hip, smooth but not sleazy, tastefully decked out, smart with a sense of humor, lives in splendor and speaks French.
You know that exciting sense of anticipation when, after you’ve spent hours painstakingly getting ready for your first date with the PM, you’re walking to the front door to let him in, to begin an evening you hope will never end? Well, that’s how you’ll feel when you enter the north building of the Montage Hotel and begin the trek to Bouchon ― up two flights of cherry wood stairs then down a long corridor with French doors that lead to the dining terrace on the left, and an impressive display of wine on the right, giving way to the inner sanctum of the bar and restaurant. The energy emanating from the cavernous space is captivating, like you’ve just been embraced by the PM.
If you don’t have a reservation (which is highly coveted), don’t fret for the Bouchon dining experience can be enjoyed at the bar, albeit a more jovial one. Picture George Clooney (yes, my PM has a name) at his Cary Grant-suavest, masterfully preparing the best martini of your life without taking his eyes off you. So describes the talent behind the bar, except that the myriad of bartenders are mixing, pouring, shaking and stirring in perfect syncopation, making hundreds of cocktails while keeping an attentive eye on you. Be sure to taste the special wines featured on the chalkboard in the bar. I found the Vin Rouge so irresistible that I had to have it on both of my visits, forgoing Bouchon’s signature cocktail that is a concoction of a high-end gin and Lillette. The wine is a steal at $8 a glass and comes from a private winery in Santa Barbara County that specializes in pinot noirs. When I commented to one of the bartenders how impressive the cocktail condiments were displayed, she returned the compliment in kind by serving me a gratis plate of delectable large green olives that are reserved for the martinis. In the realm of being on the first date with the PM, this was like the icebreaker, allowing me to comfortably settle in for the evening.
For starters, there are a number of enticing choices. The charcuterie, if you like assorted French cold cuts, are appetizingly plated or a terrine of foie gras which may be too rich for the cardiovascular system as well as your wallet ($50 for 5 ounces). Together, the endive salad and the beet salad make each other better. The leaves of the endive are layered into an architectural tower, but there’s not enough watercress, Roquefort cheese, Fuji apples and walnuts (not toasted enough and should have been pralined) for balance. Likewise with the beet salad with its scant components of poached pears, deep green garden mache and hazelnuts (again also not toasted enough). Imperfections aside, at Bouchon, you’re just happy to be there. It’s like seeing the chinks in the armor of the PM but his charm makes you overlook them.
On to the entrees. Since this is a French bistro, the classic Poulet Rôti Grand-Mère ― or roast chicken ― was a must-have. It comes with the breast/wing nestled on top of the thigh/drumstick nicely plated on a bed of pearl onions and fingerling potatoes swimming in au jus. The breast was moist but, alas, the au jus was too salty which permeated the entire dish. Even worse, the meat of the thigh/drumstick was pink at the bone. The duck confit, served on a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts, was salty too. The pomme frittes were greaseless but forgettable. It was time to take the PM off the pedestal.
As the logical side of the brain knows, nobody’s perfect but unfortunately the imperfections at Bouchon extend to the desserts. Ordering the dark chocolate mousse was a mistake. The presentation alone was sorely lacking – like a highly anticipated first kiss that leaves you wanting. The cloyingly sweet mousse, served in a nondescript white porcelain covered bowl, was topped with a thick layer of “skin” which made it seem as though the mousse had been languishing in the fridge way past its prime. Bouchon’s signature dessert, three small cork-shaped Vahlrona chocolate brownies served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, hits the spot but is not extraordinary.
It was a lackluster end to a meal for which I had great expectations, but strangely enough, I knew I would make a return visit. After all, there’s the pan-roasted trout, the braised short ribs and the profiteroles to hopefully savor. Truth be told, it’s the euphoria of being in a Thomas Keller restaurant that will lure me back. Let me put it to you this way: Even though the first date with the PM was far from perfect, you agree to go out with him again ― just because he asked.