In this year of the grand restaurant, there has been nothing like Bouchon, an enormous, luxurious dining room stretching halfway across town; high ceilings, stenciled walls, gilt and pomp and flowers — even by the standards of its neighborhood, Bouchon is nudging the line. The kitchen is vast enough to feed the entire Court of Versailles. Its opening was opulent enough to warrant two days of ceremony, the first attended by chef aristocracy, the next by the bold-type mandarins. Thomas Keller’s last run in Los Angeles was almost 20 years ago as the chef at the downtown hotel Checkers, where his exquisitely composed creations went largely unremarked. As a conquering master, America’s many-starred contender for the title of Greatest Chef in the World, Keller marches into town like a Caesar.
But Bouchon is not a palace of cuisine like the French Laundry, a crucible for culinary experiment like the nearby Ad Hoc, or a perfected modern restaurant like Per Se in New York — it is a bistro, inspired by Keller’s bistros by the same name in Yountville and Las Vegas. You will not be dining on Oysters and Pearls, evanescently crisp cones of pastry filled with crème fraiche and caviar, or truffled agnelotti, but on onion soup, steak-frites and a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg. Once you have run the gantlet of valets, marched down the colonnade and ascended the grand staircase, it can be disconcerting to be presented with a choice of goat-cheese salad or quiche, last-of-season Alaskan halibut with vegetables or trout with almonds, leg of lamb or blood sausage with sautéed apples and mashed potatoes, white wine or red wine in carafes.
Is this menu familiar? It is meant to be — if it weren’t for the high prices, Bouchon would be a place you were happy to take a nine-year-old. The service is attentive and kind. The kitchen seems happy to accommodate the sauce-on-the-side, fat-phobic or vegan needs of its customers without complaint. A sense of place? Bouchon has it to spare. The place is Beverly Hills.
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Bouchon: 235 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills. (310) 271-9910, bouchonbistro.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking; public garage in building. Dinner appetizers $9-$16.75; main courses $17.95-$34.50; desserts $9-$9.50.