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What to Order at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon

The changing menu includes constant staples such as croque madame, roast chicken, steak frites and the signature raw bar

Dining room / Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Gaut

A master chef like Thomas Keller is assertive about his beliefs. As he said of his Bouchon bistro concept: “It was born out of a need to create the perfect place for those looking for something uncomplicated, that served hearty, authentic and well-crafted food and wine that was unpretentious, but of the highest quality. It is more than a bar or restaurant, but like any proper bistro, it can be the hub of a community.”

Poulet rôti with marble potatoes and bacon lardons / Photo: Courtesy of David Escalante

I hold fond memories of the space Bouchon occupies, the original La Palma hotel where Vinton’s—the most romantic French restaurant of ’80s—greeted women with a rose and a pillow to rest their feet. Today, the interior of the 1924 Mediterranean Revival building by architect H. George Fink has been refashioned by Adam Tihany, one of the world’s preeminent hospitality designers. A classic mosaic floor, stunning zinc bar, antique light fixtures and hand-painted murals by French artist Paulin Paris add to the dynamic atmosphere. The changing menu includes constant staples such as croque madame, roast chicken, steak frites and the signature raw bar with a selection of seasonal fruits de mer, complemented by French and American wines and traditional cocktails.

Grand Plateau with lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams and mussels / Photo: Courtesy of David Escalante

Making perfectly prepared simple food is not easy, but Keller was a pioneer of this method decades ago, with recipes created to be followed to a T. A litmus test is the roast chicken, poulet rôti. Keller’s rendition, a moist breast with crackling golden skin, shines on a composition of sweet corn, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, bacon lardons and chicken jus accented with Dijon—consistent perfection. The same goes for the steak frites, a plump pan-seared flat-iron steak generously topped with maître d’hôtel butter and caramelized shallots and served with freshly hand-cut French fries. But I am more adventurous, and my devotion belongs to the earthy oreilles de cochon (crispy pigs’ ears), the pungently garlicky escargots de Bourgogne—snails encased in Bouchon’s multi-layered puff pastry—and the boudin noir, a house-made blood sausage served with poached Fuji apples, potato puree and beurre noisette, a dreamy dish for black-pudding lovers.