It is with great sadness to see a beautiful restaurant like Bouchon Bistro close down in my neighborhood on December 31st last year. Bouchon was part of my life for nearly ten years. I will miss the early morning walks to the bakery for fresh French epi bread or a flaky almond croissant. When Bouchon first arrived in Beverly Hills, the excitement was in the air. Locals and tourists alike filled the restaurant to admire its architecture and dined at Chef Thomas Keller’s newest culinary gem. Bouchon did not disappoint, as described in the article I wrote below about the restaurant and its vibrant ambiance. The beautiful Parisian-style restaurant on the upper level and the bakery on the ground floor became a part of our lives in the city. It was a cozy place where we would meet for breakfast, lunch, or dinner– and any reason to come together. Many happy memories were shared with friends at Bouchon. Now the former space is without life and laughter. Thus, with a heavy heart, I say: Adieu Bouchon! Gone but not forgotten.
IN MEMORY OF BOUCHON BISTRO ~ AN AFTERNOON IN PARIS
Since the restaurant opened in 2009, I’ve often met friends for lunch at Bouchon Bistro on the ground level terrace that looks onto the lush Beverly Cannon Garden and its opulent water fountain centerpiece– a prime spot for Beverly Hills people-watching. On any given afternoon, the atmosphere of the terrace looks like a postcard de la belle du jour in Southern California: casually elegant guests soaking up the breeze and sunshine while happily dining al fresco. Within minutes, Bouchon sets a scene of familiarity that echoes like a pretty chanson and filled my senses with Parisian-tinged nostalgia.
On an invitation to meet at Bouchon’s upstairs dining room, I ascended a grand staircase, passed a magnificent pewter bar and entered a packed dining hall abuzz with waiters dashing about in long, white aprons knotted at the back and worn over black vests. It was an evocation of a Paris bistro that outshines any from New York or Paris that I have visited, from the classic mosaic floor to the antique light fixtures and hand-painted murals by renowned French artist Paulin Paris. The floor-to-ceiling French doors added an aristocratic allure and grandeur to the dining room basked in sunlight. When I was an exchange student in Paris, we dined at many popular bistros and brasseries, though none as elegant as Bouchon. Yet the same esprit of happiness and comfort was at once relived when I entered the dining hall.
The ambiance feels like an urban oasis; hidden upstairs with an open terrace overlooking a garden below, the dining hall embraces guests who come to indulge in the gracious atmosphere. The quiet, yet bustling restaurant also appeals to Hollywood regulars such as bon vivant producer Brian Grazer, who was immersed in conversation with his friend, a man on the Forbes’ billionaire’s list we were told. Locals and tourists mingle comfortably with the A-listers; on a recent afternoon, a young woman celebrated her baby shower with a cake and balloons, while a tourist wearing a baseball cap, tennis shoes and carrying a backpack sat nearby.
My friend remarked at the crowded lunch scene that overflowed onto the terrace. Our waitress acknowledged it was a “typical day” at the bistro. The sumptuous variety of dishes on the traditional lunch menu beckoned our attention. The appetizer list offered a wide selection of fresh oysters, though our choice was shrimp cocktail. We also shared a tasty salmon tartar served on toasted croutons, and a garden salad of leafy greens with delicate vinaigrette dressing. For escargot aficionados, the Burgundy snails braised in red wine with a petite puff pastry was done to perfection—a must try. The food was plated beautifully and artfully presented. My friend chose a deliciously grilled Scottish salmon dish with seasonal vegetables and crispy French fries served in a cone. My favorite comfort dish of roast chicken was tender and rich in flavor.
In between dishes, the servers were constantly busy filling up glasses, changing plates and replacing used silverware for new, heated utensils. Several managers roamed the room sprinkling hellos and checking on each table to ensure that every guest’s needs were met. The fine cuisine and attentive service combined with la joie de vivre ambiance makes Bouchon undeniably the best French bistro in the city.
On the way downstairs, we stopped by the Bouchon Bakery, where rows of fresh baked French baguettes, chocolate éclairs, fruit tarts and macarons decorated the colorful display case. With each step down the grand stairway, pretty French music echoed in the air as I reluctantly slipped back to my day. But for a few hours, it was a memorable experience of being in Paris for the afternoon.