Monday, October 10, 2011

Bouchon: Dine L.A.

Beverly Hills has it’s fare share of eateries by famous chefs. First to come to mind is eponymous to the Hills food scene, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Puck practically celebritzed the world of cooking and paved Rodeo with invitations for other celebrity chefs to make their way. The most recent of which to head on down is Thomas Keller.

Keller is known mainly for his work at the ultra-popular and multiple James Beard winner The French Laundry in Napa, and now for his new chain of Bouchon restaurants. The Beverly Hills location is the third outpost of Bouchon’s from the Keller Group which opened late 2009. I had the pleasure of eating at the Bouchon in Las Vegas earlier that same year and was excited to learn upon returning home that he was going to be opening one closer to my local stomping ground.

I’d been waiting for an excuse to finally head to Beverly Hills and now in 2011 that time is here, Dine L.A.. A great event held over the course of two weeks in Los Angeles where hundreds of restaurants in different price tiers offer prix fixe menus. It’s a great opportunity to try that restaurant you’ve always been meaning to, but never got around to making a reservation. For me that was Bouchon.

Bouchon Bistro is secretly located above the newly opened Bouchon Bakery. I say secretly located because it’s confusing to find. When I first arrived I wandered around the courtyard, in and out of Bar Bouchon, which also serves food, and finally into the bakery. I finally gave up and asked for directions. There really isn’t any direct signage to implicate that up the wooden stairs in the bakery is a French bistro.

But once you do find your way your first greeted by, well a greeter, who then directs you down a long hall paralleled by windows facing the courtyard to another greater who will take your name again and finally seat you. We opted to sit on the patio for better photo lighting.

First on the food list is the complimentary braided sourdough with a dish of soft salted butter. I remembered it well from Vegas mostly because I made a mess while eating it. The crust shattered all across the table. Here the bread was warm, unsurprisingly slightly sour, and surprisingly less messy. No shattering crust this time!

For my appetizer I had the mushroom salad. It was an attractive dish light on the palate. The bright pink pickled radishes complimented well with the earthiness of the varietal mushrooms.

My dining companion had the Soup du Jour, today being Butternut Squash. The soup was silky smooth and again looked lovely accented by deep red cranberries. The soup alone I liked, but the tartness of the cranberries was off-putting all in one spoon. Perhaps the cranberries were meant to be treated more like a garnish? They were this soup’s parsley.

My Croque Monsieur came piled high with pomme frites. Some people don’t like the matchstick fries but I loved these. The sandwich itself reminded me of a monte cristo sans frying. It was grilled ham and gruyere cheese sandwiched between house made brioche bread topped with a fried egg. Pooled around the sandwich was a very rich mornay sauce. This sandwich is of the knife-and-fork variety. I liked the sandwich but found it difficult to eat. The bread was thick and dense and it was tough to manage the perfect bite of all the elements. I found it easier to eat the longer I soaked the bread in the sauce and the runny yolk.

The second entree on the table was the Confit de Canard, duck leg confit with green lentils and root vegetables. I only had a small taste since this wasn’t my entree but it did give me enough of an impression. While I found the skin crispy and tasty the meat below was a little on the dry side. The lentils and root vegetables were especially good having spent some time marinating in the duck au jus.

For dessert we split the Pot de Creme, and I paid $2 extra for the supplemental Bouchons off the Dine L.A. menu. Both dishes arrived nicely arranged. The pot de creme was a little lidded porcelain pot with passion fruit infused custard. Supposedly it had a coconut glaze but that didn’t really taste through for me. I like this just fine. It also came with two vanilla shortbread cookies. Now these I did love. I noticed on my way out they sell them in a 6-pack in the bakery downstairs. The bouchons were small verhona chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. If you’re a big fan of chocolate you’ll enjoy these, especially if you like dark chocolate. The brownies had that dark chocolate bitterness which was soothed away with the creamy vanilla ice cream. I wasn’t a huge fan but I didn’t regret the choice. I guess I’m not really a chocolate person.

So thus concludes my Bouchon adventure. Was it worth a two year wait? Maybe not, but I did have a very good meal and I think that given the right circumstances, like Dine L.A., I will return.

Bouchon Bistro
235 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 271-9910

Friday, September 9, 2011

Whale Rally

Five years ago if you told me there would be gourmet food trucks saturating the Los Angeles landscape I probably wouldn't have given the notion much credence. Trucks rolling down the street serving short rib tacos? Vegan burger? Crepes? Nah. That's fiction. But then the economy tanked, people were eating out less, and things changed. Pop goes the food truck! Relatively inexpensive meals rolling into your neighborhood serving restaurant quality food. Sure the portions were smaller, but really portions these days are larger then the American waistband really needs.

For many the hunt for the food truck is like the hunt for a great white whale. Armed with only a tank of gas and a twitter capable phone, people sail the roads trying to find these great mechanic beasts. I don't mind the hunt, but to be honest with gas prices these days I'd rather go someplace where there are several food trucks corralled into a pen. Something like a SeaWorld of trucks.

Luckily for me that idea started to take hold in other people wanting a one stop feed trough, and nowadays you can find a food truck rally in your local neighborhood. One such rally had begun at the beginning of summer at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. I'm not sure how long it plans to be there, but at least for the past month I've seen food trucks like clockwork every Wednesday just as the sun starts to set.

This past Wednesday I finally stopped to purvey the offerings. I pulled into the high school parking lot and wandered into the center of the rodeo. On all sides I was surrounding by a truck featuring a different cuisine. Here is a quick list with appropriate twitter link:

  • The Lobsta Truck - Inspired by Red's Eats in Wiscasset, ME, this truck attempts to bring as authentic a lobster roll as possible to Southern California. Going as far as importing split top rolls from New England. @lobstatruck
  • The Buttermilk Truck - Breakfast for dinner can be had at the Buttermilk Truck. I've seen this truck probably most of all and for some reason have never paid a visit. They make everything from the biscuits to waffles from scratch. @ButtermilkTruck
  • Mandoline Grill - Traditional Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches have gone mobile along with with other non-traditional items like Vietnamese nachos. The owner prides herself on using little oil, fat and absolutely no MSG. @MandolineGrill
  • Ta Bomb Truck - This truck claims to be "the first Brazilian lonchera to hit the streets of Los Angeles." They serve traditional items like coxinhas (croquette filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese) and pastels (crispy shell filled with meat, cheese, or both). @Ta_Bom
  • Egg Slut Truck -This was the least flashy truck of the group and had the least amount of offerings. Their website could do with a bit of work to. Despite their lack of polish they did have some interesting items on their limited menu. Take for example the aptly named "The Slut". Coddled egg and potato puree, cooked in a glass jar, garnished with grey salt and chives. @eggslutLA
  • Steel City Sandwich - Pittsburgh perogies and sammies are served from this truck, minus the attitude. The typical sammi has a base of italian slaw and fresh cut fries. I liked that they sold Utz potato chips. Classy. This was one of the more popular trucks. @SteelCitySndwch
So now you must be wondering with all these offering where did I go? Well it was a hard decision. A very hard decision. I must have stared at the menu of every place at least a handful of times. But ultimately I went with The Lobsta Truck and Mandoline Grill. Lobsta because I had never had a lobster roll before, and Mandoline Grill because I love me some banh mi and have yet to find a local place to replace my love for Westminster's Bánh Mì Chè Cali.

First up is The Lobsta Truck. The truck itself is fire engine red with a large lobster silhouette plastered on the side. There was certainly no confusion as to what crustacean this truck was serving.

From here I ordered the signature lobster roll ($12). The lobster roll is a split top bun filled with lobster meat complimented with either butter or mayo. I went with butter. I contemplated the whoopie pie until the last of the pies went to the person in front of me.

After waiting a few minutes out came my order. For $12 it was smaller then I thought it would be. But then I reminded myself that it was lobster so the pricier tag is understandable. The bun was maybe 6" long and brimming with meat.

The first bite was fabulous. The outer exterior of the bun was slightly toasted, the lobster tasted quality, and the texture of crunch and smooth worked harmoniously. The butter was light and added that little extra somethin'-somethin' to the sandwich. I was glad I didn't go for overpowering mayo. This was $12 well spent. I wish I would have eaten it slower to really savor the moment but it was gone before you could say "Lobster."

As I daintily blotted my chin with a napkin I was off to stop number two, the Mandoline Grill.

The menu looked interesting and not too complicated. The really only odd thing to me were the Vietnamese nachos, which were basically the innards of a sandwich over tortilla chips. But I was here for one thing, the sandwich. For the sandwich meat you can choose between grilled pork, Hawaiian bbq chicken, lemongrass tofu, or grilled steak. I went with the grilled pork.

At $6 this sandwich was half the price and more then double the size of the lobster roll. The sandwich was presented to me in a familiar way. White parchment paper wrapped around a long roll bound to it with a rubber band. Unlike the Westminster version I'm familiar with this bread was thinner and the sandwich was less stuffed. Still it had promise. It looked for the most part the same if only light on ingredients.

What greatly differed this one from my favorite was the taste. The bread doesn't have the same crunch that Bánh Mì Chè Cali does. Chè Cali's has a thin crust that cracks as soon as teeth meets bread and instantly your brought into the softer but dense breading beneath. With this you obliterate the bread in one bite and the bread instantly flattens. At this point it becomes more of a shell then bread. Strike 1. The vegetables, particular the daikon and radish slaw, are also different in that they just didn't have enough flavor. I'm used to tartness. This just tasted bland. The cilantro was also a bit on the transparent side. One other thing I noticed was the mayo, or lack there of. As I was eating it I couldn't taste any so I started to pick through the sandwich. I saw a few traces but it was so light that the taste completely dissipated beneath the rest of the flavors. Strike 2. Now on to the meat. At Chè Cali I always get their BBQ pork. I'm addicted to it. As I said Mandoline has grilled pork. I wasn't sure if I'd like it but actually it turned out to be the best part of the sandwich. The meat was moist with only a few dry ends, and the spicing was spot on. The meat saved this sandwich a strike 3. But two strikes down I still walked away deflated. Chè Cali is still the only place I've found an enjoyable bánh mì.

Belly full of pork and lobster I walked to my car contemplating the last hour. I had gone from New England to Vietnam and all it cost me was less than 20 bucks. Not too shabby. Thus is the reason I love food trucks. It's inexpensive, you can jump from one delicacy to another, and the people who work them clearly love what they do. These people appreciate your business because they know that you had to seek them out. You just showing up is a sign of support.

So go out now and support the food truck movement. Support the businesses on wheels. They'll be happy to see you.

Every Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm
5461 Winnetka Avenue, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are You There World? It's Me, Michael

Prepare for your RSS readers to come alive once more. I will return!

Good food awaits