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The Review: Bouchon in Beverly Hills

Thomas Keller makes a triumphant return to the L.A. area with a contemporary, sophisticated bistro.

January 20, 2010|By S. IRENE VIRBILA | Restaurant Critic

Foie gras terrine is served from a little canning jar, easily enough for four or even five to make a feast, spreading the duck liver on rafts of toast stacked like logs. Unctuous and sticky, delicious pork rillettes are turned out of a cylindrical mold onto the plate. They're some of the best I've had in this country, precisely seasoned with a perfect dose of salt.

Look around. You don't see many plates going back with the food untouched. Even that Twiggy-thin model is polishing off her plate.

It's a joy to find boudin noir on the menu. The fat link of blood sausage flavored with sweet spices is perched on a dreamy potato purée that doesn't stint on the butter, with beautifully caramelized apples alongside. The flavors, so clear and distinct, make beguiling music together.

Roast leg of lamb really tastes like lamb, the deep rose slices fanned out across a layer of deep green chard in a lake of jus reflective as a mirror. Pommesboulangère is a perfect touch with the lamb, thin slices of potato stacked like a deck of cards, and suffused with the taste of a good stock.

But a special of crispy-skinned wild striped bass served in an oval copper pot may be even better, complemented by frilly hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, caramelized salsify and arrowhead spinach slicked with butter. The clean taste of the fish against the deep earthy sweetness is wonderful.

If there's a weak spot, it would be the wine program. Not the selections, which are intelligent and wide-ranging, but the prices. If you have to spend $75 for anything beyond an entry-level wine, something is wrong. Though the wine list from sommelier Alex Weil is filled with bottles I'd like to drink, prices are breathtakingly high.

Either pony up the eminently fair $25 corkage fee or stick with the excellent wines by carafe commissioned by Weil in one- or two-barrel quantities. Right now they're pouring a lean, steely Santa Barbara Chardonnay from Matt Dees, winemaker at the cult winery Jonata and a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir made from organically grown grapes by Central Coast specialist Sashi Moorman, both 2008, at $25 for a half-carafe and $50 for a liter-carafe. It's quite a deal for wines of this quality.

Desserts are simple and satisfying. A wedge of puckery lemon tart on a thin, crisp crust. Profiteroles drizzled with a deep dark chocolate sauce. Vanilla-orange pot de creme in a lidded porcelain pot, served with sugar-dusted shortbread cookies. Or the signature bouchons, fat cork-shaped chocolate cakes, two bites each, with a ball of vanilla ice cream and a puddle of that velvety chocolate sauce.

I'm sure we'd all like to see Keller conceive a startling new restaurant here in L.A. on the order of the French Laundry or Per Se. But that's not happening, at least not soon (though we can look forward to a Bouchon Bakery sometime in the future). For now, I'm just happy he's given us the exquisite simple pleasures of Bouchon's updated bistro fare.

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