About half-way through our California Road Trip, we found ourselves in Napa, in Yountville, to be exact. We stayed at the Napa Valley Railway Inn, a charming “hotel” whose rooms are converted railway carraiges. Highly recommend it and it’s very reasonably priced too.
And no, we didn’t eat at The French Laundry. Why? Well apart from the fact that I have a job that won’t permit me to be on the phone at 10am the day bookings open, so pretty much no chance of getting a table, there were five of us. So basically wine and food would have been a couple of mortgage payments. Also, Neil’s mum really eats like a bird, so perhaps not the best choice. I did want us to experience some of the Keller magic whilst in wine country and was lucky enough to score an early dinner reservations at Bouchon Bistro on Rosemary’s 85th birthday.
The early booking meant that the restaurant was fairly low key – definitely humming the whole time we were there but not to the point that we couldn’t have a reasonable conversation (a pet peeve of my dad’s is overly loud restaurants). On arriving, the staff wished Rosemary a happy birthday which she was chuffed about! (I had made a note on the reservation). We took in the lovely authentic French bistro feel of the place…
And were served some pistachios with butter and Bouchon Bakery’s legendary Épi Baguette...
As we perused the menu…
For starters, Dad chose the Pâté de Campagne – country style pâté with watercress, cornichons & radishes ($12.50), thinking it would be a small serving. It was actually more than enough for all five of us to share and was the meaty, rustic kind of pâté I prefer. So tasty with the toast it came with but also great with the baguette.
Neil couldn’t go past two oysters and two clams from the raw bar… This was not on the menu – it only lists half-dozens – but Neil asked and they were fine with it. And it actually came with four oysters and two clams…
Onto main courses. Ever since I read the Bouchon menu online, I knew that I would order the Poulet Rôti - roasted chicken with red rice, pickled grapes, wilted arugula, candied hazelnuts & tarragon chicken jus ($26.00)
This was absolutely spectacular – the nutty rice with the sweet grapes and hazelnut and the perfectly roasted chicken was an inspired flavour match. The serving though was huge – a leg and a breast and I simply couldn’t finish the meat.
Rosemary chose the daily fish special – Seared Black Cod ($33)
For the price, this may have looked like a small portion and indeed, compared to others, it was. But for Rosemary, it was the perfect size and dish in so many ways which, for us, was priceless. Light and fresh, this was a gorgeous summer dinner for a small eater.
Again wanting something “small” for his main course, Dad chose the Croque Madame – toasted ham & cheese sandwich on brioche, fried egg & mornay sauce served with French fries ($16.95)
Of course, this was simply HUGE (well, but great value for the price) and there was an absolute mountain of fries (about half of this amount would have been perfectly adequate). But look at that lovely presentations and I love how the mornay sauce blends in with the egg white for that clean look.
I have to say that I appreciated the inclusion of this dish on an otherwise, not cheap menu. Don’t get me wrong – Bouchon is excellent value but this dish puts it within the realm of those with perhaps less to spend on dinner than many who dine here. Seriously, you could go in for a nice glass of wine and a croque and still have money loft for a macaron next door at Bouchon Bakery!
Mum and Neil chose a dish neither of them would really prepare at home… Canard à la Rouennaise – pan-seared duck breast with duck gizzard sausage, braised field greens & sweet corn with sauce Rouennaise ($33.00)
Again, a huge portion (half that amount of meat would have done) but a simple, well-prepared dish that would not have been out of place in a high quality French bistro. Neither of them thought it was a “wow” dish (mum wasn’t a fan of the sausage, she suspected as much but tired it anyway; and Neil didn’t like the sweet corn but he’s not a fan of that generally either). Again, gorgeous presentation and perfectly cooked duck.
We had a little breather and deliberated dessert. We didn’t really have the room but… well, our arms are easily twisted.
After we had settled on one dessert to share between me, Neil and Mum (dad doesn’t much “do” desserts, especially when he’s had two huge portions like that!), the wait staff brought out a special little something for Rosemary, the birthday girl:
This was perfect as she doesn’t really order dessert in restaurants either but the small shortbread cookie was a light, sweet ending to a delicious meal – “and not too big, just the right size” as the birthday girl herself proclaimed!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table…
I was so overcome with this that I didn’t take notes – but basically three tiny chocolate “bouchons” (meaning ‘cork” in French – you can kind of see the resemblance, huh), with tiny Valrhona chocolate chips inside, topped with mint ice cream and a gorgeous chocolate shape (words fail me here – I have no idea how to describe what looks like plastic but tastes like chocolate) and served with chocolate ganache and what tasted like a mint oil. It was heavenly.
Let’s just say that people who don’t normally eat dessert at restaurants were amongst those who helped us finish it. Ahem.
Apart from the well-prepared and gorgeously presented food, what really made this meal stand out was the service. Not often does service pass muster with all members of my family but this one did, with flying colours. Not only was the service attentive, but also knowledgeable and friendly. Yes, yes, I suppose those might be three standard expectations of service at this type of restaurant, but sadly, it’s not always the case. Being at Bouchon was a pleasure for the food AND the service – a rarity in my book. It reminded me of France where being a waiter is an actual profession, and the night we ate at Bouchon, our waitstaff certainly acted like we were the most important people they had served all night.
6534 Washington Street,