Sunday, June 15, 2008

napa, day 3, bouchon overload

Needless to say, the morning after the wedding was a late start, involving a Starbucks run, and a happy decision to drive up to Yountville for some culinary TLC at Bouchon.

Yountville turned out to be a very small town, but full of big names, thus the touristy feel. We drove down Washington Street and within 2 blocks passed by Ad Hoc, Bistro Jeanty, The French Laundry and Bouchon. It was my first visit to Bouchon, and the original one too, and Mr.S's second time (his first was at the Vegas locale, which I also reviewed). Now, it was midday, the sun streaming in through the open veranda to light the mosaic floor tiling, and our lovely meal to come.

this baguette has handles for me to grab onto

The folded, brown parchment paper menus were set on our plates, like a map waiting to be pressed open, to depict French bistro classics. The trouble was, I wanted to taste everything! Our neat and prim waiter announced the lunch specials to be a salmon tartare with red onion, capers, and hard-boiled egg, a puree of sweet carrot soup, and a lamb tartine sandwich with pickled red onion and watercress. I didn't want to be left eating a half dozen oysters by myself (Mr.S doesn't eat them) especially for my first meal of the day. I was truly tempted by the terrine of foie gras, but at $47, seemed like too much of a lunchtime splurge. The steamed mussels in white wine ($27.50) that came in a lovely covered, earthenware tureen was also an option, as was the salmon tartare ($16.50) with a side of the macaroni au gratin ($6.50).

I chose from the list of fromages to start, a ripe and nutty cow's milk cheese called Sea Stack. Made by Mt. Townsend Creamery in Washington state, Sea Stack is wonderfully mild and creamy that it reminded me of a cross between a ripened brie and good, salted butter. Today it was served with slices of walnut bread, and a spiced peach and pecan chutney. If you don't already know it by now, anything creamy is my weakness, and by the way the slice of cheese was oozing out of its ashen shell, I was in fromage heaven. The peach was nice, but a tarter fruit like apple or pear would have helped to balance out the butteriness too.

Our server expertly de-crumbed our table and brought us our plats principaux- my lamb tartine and Mr.S's Croque Madame. Since his came with a heaping mountain of frites, I substituted mine for a side of ratatouille. (I was curious as to how Keller's version tasted since he was the consultant chef on the set of the namesake movie, Ratatouille.) Though I found it to be somewhat greasy, I still managed to finish it off without difficulty. A good flavoring of fresh herbs here. My lamb was the star of my meal, served chilled over toasted levain and a light shmear of aioli. The meat was tender and had no trace of gaminess, and paired well with the sour pickles and bitter watercress.

At some point during my lamb euphoria, I tasted a bite of Mr.S's cheesy, eggy sandwich. It was sweet and mild, being that the brioche was wonderfully decadent and buttery. The whole thing was moistened with a light, but creamy, Mornay sauce, and topped off with a fried egg. I liked the fries the most, because I remember the first thought I had when tasting them was that it reminded me of McDonald's fries. Is that uncouth of me?? (I don't much care, as they were frickin' awesome.)

mmm eggy

Satiated and content, we wobbled next door to Bouchon Bakery. How clever (and evil) to tempt customers as they walk out of Bouchon with a sweeter, chocolatier version of Bouchon!

The pastries were all a lovely, cohesive shade of crackling, golden brown, some stuffed with chocolate, others fruit, and others still with nuts and pastes. Lining the back wall was a selection of artisan breads; like if you hadn't had enough of their chewy, delicate baguette from lunch, take one home! Or eat it in the car... There was a case full of cookie-like things, another of cakes, and a few pre-made sandwiches. Boxes of truffles and biscotti were also for sale.

At $3 per cookie, I knew I'd be limited in my decision making. I knew I wanted to try certain ones, so that's what I bought- the famous TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo), his version of the Nutter Butter, and the French mararons. Since I've made the TKO at home before, I knew what it'd taste like, and honestly speaking, mine tasted better. This one was too large, and didn't have enough filling for the huge amount of cookie it was sandwiched between.

My favorite was the Nutter Butter. At about 4 inches in diameter, this was a hefty old thing, probably with a whole half stick of butter in each one! No complaints there! There were chunks of peanut in the cookie, which was a nice touch. The best part was the filling- it tasted like a peanut ganache, rich but not overly sweet.

I picked out 3 flavors of macarons- pistachio, caramel and raspberry. There was also chocolate and vanilla to choose from. The texture was perfect, crunchy exterior with a chewy center. However, the I found the taste to be lacking. They were very sugary and I had trouble tasting the pistachio and the caramel flavors. The raspberry, on the other hand, tasted artificial. I think I prefer a smaller, more poppable, size macaron as opposed to these larger ones (about 1.5"). The best macaron I've tasted yet was not in France nor in a French pastry shop, but from an upscale delicatessan in Madrid called Mallorca. (The raspberry tasted like raspberries, and it was buttery and light.)

pistachio macaron

Thank goodness Mr.S offered to drive back to San Francisco, seeing as I was comatose, from good food. All that Bouchon was good, but it seemed like a far way to go when you live in the city to come all the way out to Yountville. Especially when there are numerous French bistros and bakeries equally on par in SF, in terms of taste, service, and menu offerings. It was a tasty experience, and next time I'm out here in Y-ville, it'll be for dinner at the French Laundry!

6534 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599