Posts Tagged ‘James Beard Winner’

Hominy Grill ~ Charleston South Carolina

Posted 24 Jun 2012 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Fine dining in major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco has evolved to a point where, aside from certain local ingredients, there’s a common stylistic and technical thread that ties all these cities together. Great chefs are preparing “local foods” with sustainable sensibilities and fantastic technique in a casual and affordable setting in such a manner that it’s hard to distinguish restaurants in one city from the next based on food alone. This is great except for the fact that the advance of American cooking has also resulted in a gradual demise of the classic regional specialties that once defined these venerable cities. However, deep pockets of regional cuisine remain in the U.S. and my recent trip to Charleston in search of classic as well as modern low country cooking proves that both can exist and prosper.

Hominy Grill sits on the other end of the cuisine spectrum from McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina. Chef Robert Stehling is a master of southern cuisine served in a clean and attractive but classic style.  He’s a James Beard Best Chef Award winner (2008) just like Sean Brock and both deliver some of the best cooking in the country. Hominy Grill looks the part and is smack in the center of Charleston on Rutledge Avenue in a restored storefront and adjacent courtyard. Pulling into the parking lot, guests are greeted by a billboard sized “grits are good for you” painting on the side of the building including a 1950’s era waitress with grits in hand.

The interior is bright with large storefront windows and white paint. I reflect for a minute and consider how this cuisine, although similar to some of the foods served in the deep south including New Orleans, is so uniquely its own. The flavors and sensibilities are different, they’re not as complex as New Orleans nor are they so globally influenced. In a sense, they are lighter although the cuisine itself isn’t light at all. Looking around, the dining room is full and people are happy; low country cuisine couldn’t be more popular.  

Each table is adorned with a mason jar perforated on the top, filled with water and used as a bud vase. The lilies in the jar offer a splash of color against the white painted wooden paneling. Across the room, a set of three large black chalk boards listing menu specials sits on a shelf. Right off the bat I notice a fantastic selection of items including grits, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, red rice, mashed sweet potatoes and okra with tomatoes. Enticing items include a pit roasted beef brisket sandwich but the shrimp bog with sautéed shrimp in a low country rice stew with ham, creole vegetables, cream and sherry has my name on it. This is where I get into trouble with my restaurant visits; I always order way too much. In addition to the shrimp bog, orders are placed for shrimp and grits and shrimp creole. Words can’t express how delicious Stehling’s cuisine is or how friendly and comfortable the setting and service are.

Main Dining Room

Hominy Grill Menu

Shrimp and Okra Beignets

Fried Green Tomatoes

Shrimp and Grits

Creole Shrimp

Shrimp Bog with Cream and Sherry

 Hominy Grill

207 Rutledge Avenue

Charleston, SC 29403

(843) 937-0930

McCrady’s ~ Charleston, SC

Posted 12 Jun 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Last month I bumped into Sean Brock twice; once at McCrady’s in Charleston and again just before the start of the James Beard Awards in NYC as he was setting up his station for awards gala celebration. We had a chance to talk for a bit and he reflected on his trip last year to Japan for “Cook it Raw”, what it was like surrounded by the likes of Rene Redzepi, David Chang and ever opinionated and phallicly focused Anthony Bourdain. Brock was awe struck while quietly confident and clearly on the verge of moving to the highest levels of the culinary profession. His ascension remains on his mind, a sense of positive anticipation hanging in the air as we talk.

Sean is a great guy and the critical acclaim and attention couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. His ideals are as indelibly stamped on his core as the vegetable tattoos on his arms. He isn’t full of crap, seeking fame, or engaged in some sort of narcissistic self-promotion.  Instead, he is trying to create fantastic locally sourced, historically based, low country food from his heart, an approach to food he was engaged in long before it became popular. And so it makes sense that a guy like Sean is headed to the highest echelons of the profession.


It has been ten years since I last visited Charleston. Arriving at McCrady’s to catch up with Sean, I nearly walked right past the alley leading to the entrance. Charleston has such a historic southern feel to it and strolling down the brick and cobble stone alley to the restaurant’s front door felt much like walking a back street in eighteenth century London. Once inside I am quickly escorted to the private dining room in the back for a sampling of Sean’s latest inspirations. He joins me at the table to talk and to describe each dish, what inspires him and where he is headed. The influence from his trip to Japan is pronounced and profound.

Crudo of Carolina Striped Bass, Rhubarb, Bullrush, Dill and Ginger

Green Garlic Soup with Fried Oyster

Grilled Local Mussels with Ramps (the mussels were a recent discovery that Sean’s favorite fisherman sourced from local waters)

Salad of Killed Baby Spinach, Pickled Quail Egg, Crispy Potatoes

Duo of Berkshire Pork, Cabbage Roasted in Embers (Brock takes great pride in raising his own hogs)

Laural Aged Carolina Rice Pudding, Citrus, Rooftop Herbs

(the herbs are from the roof top garden and the dish itself the most representative of Sean’s trip to Japan)

Sean’s chioggia beet tatoo and a chioggia beet from my plate too


2 Unity Aly 

Charleston, SC


(843) 577-0025 

Momofuku Saam Bar Revisited

Posted 28 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Saam Bar masters the art of the small plate within a deep rooted yet flexible Asian theme. David Chang and his crew keep the food fresh and delicious even after attaining star status and expanding globally. On this trip I notice a trend for the first time: the menu offers a hint of wild seasonal botanicals that are unusual even for New York.  Sweetflag (a wetland grass with edible leaves and rhizome) is served with Santa Barbara Uni and knotweed is used as a garnish over chicken liver mousse with olive berry and Maitake. The sweet flag probably found its way onto the Saam Bar menu from the Chinese medicine cabinet where its use is common. The knotweed is a large perennial plant considered invasive that is in season in spring. My guess is that the use of knotweed is connected to Japanese Sansai (traditional mountain foraging) although my first thought was Chang riffing on the Scandinavian foraging aesthetic so in vogue right now.

Perhaps Chang has taken the Redzepi foraging movement and turned it eastward to make it his own. His team of thinkers and culinary tinkerers continually earn their stripes by finding vague and obscure ingredients, innovating from broader trends, and drawing in inspiration from global travels all without losing focus on their purpose. These weeds aren’t added for simple effect, they fit a broader theme and philosophy. I am excited to sample!

Like most nights, the bar is packed, people are happy and the food and drink flows in simple rhythm. Elbow to elbow at the bar I am next to a young lady and her chatty sister on one side and a distinguished couple on the other. Seating is tight at the bar and personal space gives way to an intimacy among strangers that is pleasant and engaging if you are ready for it. Everyone is talking about and gawking at the food. With space this tight it’s hard not to hover over each other as servers drop off plates meant for sharing. The mood is expectant, jovial, and electric at the bar yet quieter and more reserved at the tables along the wall. There are more than a couple happy children seated at the tables with their parents.

Like WD50, Momofuku is not an architectural or design gem but it is beautiful. The restaurant is simple and sleek, a rectangle of solid wood walls and ceiling. The service crew is delightfully casual, well informed and attentive and the food arrives promptly and steadily. Everything is delicious.

Out the door now after a great meal headed to the next adventure. Just outside, I pass the graffiti tagged exterior Saam Bar wall along E. 13th street. It’s a splash of creative color (graffiti as high art) that is beautiful but deceptive to the uniformed. Further to the left there’s a huge tank of hissing liquid nitrogen adjacent to the side entrance of Booker and Dax, Chang’s experimental modern bar with mad scientist Dave Arnold. Chang is to be admired for continually sharpening the cutting edge.

Saam Bar Graffiti

Long Island Fluke, Kumquat, Cilantro, Green Peppercorn

 Santa Barbara Uni, Sweetflag, Sea Beans, Chawanmushi

Pickled Vegetables

Steamed Pork Bun, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions

Selection of Country Hams, Finchville Farms, Benton’s Smoky Mountain, Broadbent, Edwards Wigwam Ham

Dry Aged Sirloin Tar Tar, Watermelon Radish, Spinach, Nori

Chicken Liver Mousse, Olive Berry, Knotweed, Maitake

Spicy Honeycomb Tripe, Ginger Scallion, Celery, Pickled Tomato

Corn Ice Cream ,Mango, Thai Basil

Tri-Star Strawberry Sorbet, Celery Root, Ritz Crunch

Momofuku Saam Bar

207 2nd Avenue

New York, NY 10003

(212) 254-3500

Sofra Bakery and Cafe: Cambridge/Boston

Posted 03 Jan 2012 — by S.E.
Category Gourmet Fast Casual/Take Out

This year I will spend more time visiting professional/celebrity chef gourmet casual and take out restaurants in an effort to figure out exactly where this growing segment is headed. It fascinates me that established culinary talent is taking hold of a market category that was left to the big corporate restaurant chains for so many years. Today I am enjoying a sunny winter lunch at Chef Ana Sortun’s Sofra Bakery and Café in Cambridge, MA her gourmet casual alternative to the more refined and upscale Oleana (dinner only) on the other side of the Charles river. This isn’t the first celebrity gourmet casual restaurant that I have visited but it is the first of 2012. In the past year or so I enjoyed a series of great meals at celebrity chef gourmet casual places including a fantastic Pen Cove Clam, house made Pancetta and lemon thyme pizza at Chef Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie in Seattle (I love the loft dining area that looks down on the bakery commissary below), an outstanding brunch duck pastrami sandwich and root beer at Chef Donald Link’s Butcher in New Orleans (great for a hangover cure before walking the WWII museum one block away) and the best Rabbit Strozzapreti pasta I have ever had at Barbara Lynch’s Sportello in Boston (a cure for the lack of quality food after being stuck at the convention center up the street). Sofra caught my eye a couple of years ago. After reading the New York Times on December 22nd I decided to make the trip. The times published “36 hours: Cambridge Mass” that day and made very positive mention of Sofra. My interest peaked.

Stepping in from the cold the first thing I notice is the number of moms with kids lingering along the bench seating on the far side of the miniscule dining area. One pair of women have a three year old boy bouncing between them as they drink coffee and share a pastry, the bright mid-day sun shining warmly through the plate glass storefront. Another has an infant in her arms, an iPad in her lap and a huge cup of coffee. The one table for two along the front wall is occupied by a young woman with a plate of Mezze and a pile of papers. She’s working furiously while eating. This is clearly a local hang-out and it’s comfortable with a Middle Eastern domestic vibe. The setting has a décor leaning casually toward Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean and a culinary crew that includes the usual young hipsters along with some older seasoned chefs and a refreshing dose of diversity.

Chef Sortun, a James Beard Award winner from 2005, is a mom and wife to Chris Kurth owner and farmer at Sienna Farms in Sudbury, MA. Both are passionate about their craft and on December 1st Kurth opened Sienna Farm’s store in South Boston (right next to Barbra Lynch’s Butcher and Stir). The menu at Sofra is loaded with items grown at Sienna Farms and Sortun does a marvelous job preserving, jarring and retailing products grown there.

Sofra opened back in the summer of 2008 and Sortun was an early leader in the contemporary Middle Eastern and farm to table food trends of the day. Since that time others have followed the same flavor path including Tom Douglas with Lola in Seattle and, as mentioned before in my blog, Michael Solomonov’s Zahav in Philadelphia (one of my favorite restaurants). Sortun’s touch in the kitchen is extremely balanced and precise. Each of the items I sampled was well balanced with layers of flavor rather than one predominant punch of flavor (think garlic, tahini paste, lemon) up front. Punching with flavor is easy. Layering flavors this way requires more skill and a greater level of control during production.

I place my order, select my Mezze and bread and head to the banquette to sit. There are usually 8-12 Mezze options to choose from and several that are dairy and wheat free. A few minutes later my name is called and I pick up my vegetable sausage soup and the Lamb Shawarma (an Arab flatbread sandwich usually served with shaved meats). The Mezze are outstanding and the soup is hearty and perfect for a cold clear winter day but the Lamb Shawarma is a stunning favorite. The meat is slow braised, hand shredded and topped with delicious and perfectly paired pickled cabbage and tahini before being wrapped and toasted on a griddle. A smear of Greek yogurt is layered on the cut end of the sandwich just as it is served. All these flavors and textures combine into an absolute winner of an item. It was so good I crave another as I write this. Just prior to heading to the door I gobble down a Kunefe (milk ricotta pudding with shredded phyllo) to top things off. Expect to see more celebrity gourmet casual restaurant that follow a global flavor theme. The combination of quick service, low cost, and quality food aligns nicely with the current economic state and consumer preference. What a winning combination. Next time you are on the Cambridge – Belmont border just west of Boston, you know where to go!

Vegetable Soup with Merguez Sausage, Parsnip, Onion, Celeriac, Red Kuri Squash, Swiss Chard, Carrots, Honey and Garlic

Muhammarra-Red Pepper & Walnut Puree, Bean Plaki, White Bean’s With Green Tahini Sauce, Persian Pea’s with Sienna Farm Carrots, Moroccan Style Carrots

Lamb Shawarma with Pickled Cabbage, Tahini, Yogurt

Kunefe with Spices Syrup


Sofra Pastry

Grab & Go Food Case



One Belmont St (at Mount Auburn)

Cambridge, MA 02138



Zahav: Israeli Cuisine in Philadelphia

Posted 22 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

This time, rather than simply pass through Philadelphia on the way to another destination I decide to take a quick drive from the airport into the heart of the city. Time is on my side and the restaurants, architecture and history in Philly are drawing me in like a magnet. The cab drops me off at Washington Square at the Corner of 7th and Walnut. I am smack in the middle of the historic district and just a block away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center so I begin walking around through the narrow alleys past three storey brick row houses that make me feel like I am in London. After a few minutes I am at Independence Hall, its two storey brick façade capped with scaffolding and protective screening as it undergoes a major renovation. Hunger kicks in and I click of the Zagat NRU app on my phone to see if any nice restaurants are nearby. I am in luck; Zahav is just three blocks away so I head east toward Society Hill to see if I can get a seat.

Zahav has been on a tear since opening in 2008. The restaurant features cuisines of Israel, Eastern Europe, North Africa, Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean. After opening in 2008 Esquire Magazine named Zahav one of the country’s best new restaurants and in May 2009, Philadelphia Magazine named it the best restaurant in the city. Capping off a fantastic first three years Chef Owner Michael Solomonov won the James Beard Award for best chef mid-Atlantic region for 2011.

Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook or Cook and Solo Restaurant Group have a fantastic reputation in the city second only, perhaps, to Jose Garces who seems to have a restaurant on every corner. Cook and Solo’s other restaurants include Percy Street Barbecue, the modern Mexican Xochitl and Federal Street Donuts. I arrive at Zahav hoping to catch up with Solomonov but he isn’t in (it’s a Tuesday night).  Instead, I am greeted by restaurant manager Eilon Gigi.

Eilon, who I have never met before, greets me like a regular and escorts me across the restaurant to one of the two cocktail table deuces set along a large glass window at the end of the bar. I have a perfect view of the restaurant to my right due to the taller height of the cocktail table and a great view of the garden and Society Hill to my left out the window. Eilon floats away and Kailey my server arrives with a menu. She’s has a delightful affect and explains the menu, takes a drink order and disappears for a few minutes.

Following Kailey’s advice, I order the TAY’IM (Taste of Zahev) tasting menu. For $36.00 this five course menu represents an incredible value.  The first course consists of a plentiful portion of Salatim and Hummus followed by two Mezze, one skewer and a dessert.  Five courses for $36.00: I am in! Kailey brings me an ice cold glass of Riesling, takes my order and a few minutes later food starts arriving. The food is everything I expected and more. Eilon sees me soaking in the room with a mouth full of silky smooth hummus on crispy Laffa bread and does a drive by smiling. I smile back…this is good stuff!

Salatim (house selection of eight salads), Hummus & Laffa Bread

Hummus Foul with Warm Fava Beans


Red Cabbage Salatim

Roasted Eggplant Salatim


Grilled Duck Hearts, Carrot Turnip Salad

House Smoked Sablefish, Molten Fried Egg, Poppy Seed


Katafi with Valhrona Chocolate, Labaneh Ice Cream, Kumquat


Pistachio Ice Cream with Coconut Macaroon



237 St. James Place (Society Hill)

Philadelphia, PA


Quince Restaurant, San Francisco

Posted 11 May 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Michael Tusk is an experienced professional chef who, for a multitude of reasons, deserves the James Beard award he won two nights ago (best chef Pacific). Perhaps it’s the Italian inspired menu at Quince or the tremendous wine offerings or the outstanding décor and artwork in the restaurant or the well-heeled staff that gracefully provides service or the cool-cat bartenders who are quick with a joke and loose with a pour. To me all these aspects of Quince make it worthy of the accolades but the key inspiration is chef Tusk and his food.

I am sitting at the very end of the bar at Quince contemplating whether to grab a table and settle in or have a few courses and then head out into the sea of fantastic restaurants that make San Francisco such an outrageous food city. One of the bartenders senses my indecision and suggests that I take on a five course tasting menu and a flight of wines right at the bar. Good idea, I am not in the mood to sit at a table, nor in the mood to wander off into the Jackson Square neighborhood where Quince is located. My bartender is a real pro and our conversation continues comfortably.

The kitchen at Quince is located right up against the street in a two storey glass storefront. At night the kitchen radiates light and bustles with activity. Cooks in dark blue bibbed aprons work facing the street just on the other side of the glass. Chef Tusk stands at the far side of the hot kitchens island suite, back to the street expediting. Work in this kitchen flows smoothly.

My five course menu includes turbot, pasta with sea urchin roe, lobster with sun-choke and Dungeness crab. Tusk is known for his inventive pasta preparations and his heavy Italian influence. His menu is extremely seasonal and local and not overly modernistic in technique. While observing the kitchen from the  curb I noticed lots of old-school copper in use, traditional techniques being executed, and plenty of olive oil and butter being used. Chef Tusk’s time with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse comes through in his cooking. He handles seafood adeptly and my culinary experience is excellent.


Twice Baked Dungeness Crab and Oyster Souffle, Salsify and Red Endive Salad


Caramelle of Lobster and Sunchoke


Mancini Artisan Spaghetti, Sea Urchin, Fennel and Controne Chile


Turbot, Stuffed Artichoke, Artichoke Puree, Carrot and Red Onion


Meyer Lemon Tartlet, Meringue, Confit and Caramel


Financier, Chocolate, Blood Orange Gelee

470 Pacific Ave.

San Francisco, CA 94133

Crush Seattle

Posted 16 Apr 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It’s spring in Seattle and, like so many of my evenings, I have two hours to have dinner before heading to another commitment. For an hour I vacillate between heading out to Crush or staying in to rest. Life is too short to sit around so I head out. It’s early and the sun hasn’t set yet. Before long I am driving west on the Evergreen Point Bridge toward the city, exiting at the Washington Park arboretum. The east side of the city is turning a beautiful spring-time green.  A few minutes later and I’m on East Madison Street heading southwest toward the restaurant.

Crush is located inside a light brown two storey clapboard clad building that looks like it was a private residence before being repurposed as a restaurant by Jason and Nicole Wilson. Chef Jason Wilson has received plenty of press since being recognized in 2006 by Food & Wine Magazine as a “Top Ten New Chef” along with other top names like Mary Dumont, David Chang, Cathal Armstrong, and Jonathan Benno.  My culinary friends in Seattle suggested that Crush had settled into a steady presence of consistent great food with a bit less energy compared to 2006-2008. That Wilson earned the 2010 Best Chef Northwest award from the James Beard foundation may have been lost in the conversation.

When I enter Crush the place is completely empty. As I said, it’s early, around 5:30 and I don’t have a reservation. I am greeted warmly if not a bit awkwardly as I catch a few front-of-the-house staff just finishing up their prep. Without any discomfort I am offered a table for two by the front window facing the street and handed a menu. The staff is warm and the interior design is just a nice as Crush’s website suggested: “Shelley Buurman’s interior design combines the crisp Verner Panton furniture with the warmth of chocolate trim. The room is at once a blank canvas for the kitchen’s creations and a rich enclosure for intimate dining.”

My server asks if I am a local or just visiting town and, after some small talk, recognizes that I am into food and suggests that he have Chef Wilson prepare a multi-course tasting menu. Service is crisp and comforting and the food is progressively outstanding until the dessert which was very good but not on the same level as the prior courses (a problem I am finding more and more these days). Crush has settled into the forefront of the Seattle dining scene and the restaurant is still producing outstanding cuisine on par with the food at any great restaurant in the country. The use of local ingredients and the weaving of flavors from the Northwest like Blackmouth King Salmon and Douglas Fir draw me into the region while providing a tremendous sensory effect. Crush, to me, is inspired and full of steady positive energy. The next time I visit Seattle I am coming back.


“Bacon & Eggs”

Smoked Salmon Roe, Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup, Parsnip Flan


“Crudo of Hamachi”

Hamachi, Trio of Celery, Black Fermented Garlic, Pickled Kumquat


“Potato Gnocchi”

Brown Butter, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Verjus Compressed Apple, Smoked Foie Gras Powder


“Blackmouth King Salmon”

Hear of Palm Puree, Red Endive, Vanilla


“Foie Gras Steak”

Marcona Almond, Rosemary Financier, Endive, Cava Vinegar, Meyer Lemon



Douglas Fir Sorbet, Cranberry Meringue Dust


“Rabbit Roulade”

Rabbit Loin & Mousse, Herbs Confit, Trio of Salsify Root


“Valrhona Chocolate Coulant”

Molten Chocolate Cake with Caramel, Cherries and Salted Caramel Ice Cream



2319 E. Madison Street

Seattle, Washington 98112


Bouchon: Thomas Keller Trifecta

Posted 02 Feb 2011 — by S.E.
Category Full Service


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My three part Thomas Keller Restaurant Group adventure starts at Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center in New York. It’s fall and the city is heading into the holidays. After crashing at a friend’s apartment on the upper west side, a lazy morning lounging, and a quick run through the park before noon, hunger sets in along with curiosity and we head over to Bouchon for a bite.  With a schedule in place that puts me in Las Vegas in a month and Yountville, CA a month or so  after that, I am determined to visit Keller’s cafés and bakeries to get a sense of how they operate, whether they are consistent in food and service, and what the differences are in design and feel. My first stop on this mini tour is Bouchon Bakery at 10 Columbus Circle.

View of Columbus Circle from Bouchon Bakery Dining Room

I enter the lobby of the Time Warner Center and am awed by the enormous colored stars hanging from the ceiling in the expansive three-story lobby. The center is a huge building at 2.8 million square feet. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and cost approximately $1.7 billion to construct. I have always loved the neighborhood around Columbus circle and recall how excited I was when I first heard that the third and fourth floors of the Time Warner Center would house world class restaurants like Per Se, Masa, Café Gray, and (at the time) Charlie Trotter. In prior years, it was tough to fine great food this side of town and our favorite place to dine was just around the corner in at 1 Central Park West, home of restaurant Jean Georges and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  Now, with so many great restaurants this close to my favorite place to crash in the city, Time Warner Center has become one of my favorite destinations  although the energy level in the building was higher when the economy was in better shape.

Bouchon Bakery Bread, Time Warner Center

After a quick escalator ride to the third floor I head straight to a table at the café, have a seat and order a cup of coffee. My server is smiling, offers a menu, makes a few suggestions and floats away. The dining room is open to the main corridor on one side and looks out over the lobby onto Columbus Circle on the other. On the south side of the space there’s a large marble-topped bar serving as a focal point and a large communal table that seats around twenty people in the middle of the room. Although Bouchon radiates the aesthetic and style of Thomas Keller, I feel that the version of Bouchon at the Time Warner Center is something of an adaptive reuse of space that was otherwise unscheduled when the building was designed. Sitting in the dining room, it feels like I am in a lobby not a planned space. Food is expedited from a small closet of a kitchen across the hall from the dining area and I am not overstating when I say they are short of space. But the crew in the kitchen looks ultra professional and the food they produce is excellent for such a small space.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwich: San Marzano tomato soup with grilled fontina & gruyere cheese on pain au lait

I am with a few friends and we order a variety of items. Our two favorite are the delicate and lemon scented open faced Tartine Au Thon (tuna salad) and the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese sandwich. We finish with another cup of coffee, some outstanding macaroons and head toward the door. Although some folks think Bouchon is over rated, aside from the dining area, I love the place and find the food and service consistently good and the prices value oriented for this side of town and for the view we enjoy of Columbus Circle.


Tartine Au Thon:  Tuna salad, Nicoise olives, bibb lettuce and garlic aioli with sliced egg, radish on pain de champagne

Bouchon Bakery Display, Time Warner Center

My next stop is Bouchon at the Venetian Hotel, Resort and Casino. The restaurant is located on the 9th floor of the Venezia tower at the Venetian and is off the beaten path a bit. When I arrive Bouchon is empty but, at 6:00pm, it’s still early by Vegas standards. Rather than sit at a table, I take a seat at the fantastic hardwood and marble bar and order a beer and a half dozen oysters.  The oysters caught my eye after passing a fantastic, perfectly clean iced seafood display in the curved corner of the bar facing the entry to the restaurant.  Next, I enjoy the Poulet Roti; a roasted chicken with glazed celery root, poached apples, herb quenelles, chestnut confit and chicken jus. The chicken is moist, with crisp savory skin and correctly cooked. I like the flavor combination of the celery root and apples and think the dish comes together perfectly. Unfortunately, I forget to grab my camera and lack a photo to post here.

Bouchon Las Vegas is a grand restaurant on a large scale; perhaps too large. After a casual hour of dining I head for the door and see that the restaurant is still slow. At 7:00pm there are half a dozen tables eating and that’s about it. I wonder how the restaurant stays afloat financially. On a positive note, Bouchon feels like it was designed for this location and built with care compared to the afterthought that Bouchon Bakery in New York seems to be. Although hidden away on the 9th floor in a bad location, Bouchon is worth the effort and the food is excellent. Service is great although a bit more casual than in New York in a Vegas sort of way.  


Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville, CA

My trip to Yountville includes seven other chef friends who I assemble with from time to time. Our first meal is at Bouchon and we will follow with dinner at Ad Hoc later in the evening. Although we had reservations for Per Se, we decided to forgo the cost and invest our resources on some fantastic wines and a home cooked meal.

At Bouchon we drag two of the marble top tables together and order a bottle of chilled white wine.  Its 2:30PM and the restaurant is packed but the patio is empty. Bouchon Yountville is located in a historic looking brick building with a bright red awning running along the street side of the restaurant. Just as the tiny Bouchon Bakery in New York and massive Bouchon in Las Vegas fit their locations, Bouchon Yountville fits its setting perfectly and is probably as close to the ideal Keller had in mind when he created his version of such a fine French bistro. We settle in and order a few appetizers.

Bouchon Restaurant Yountville, CA Frog Legs Special

First up is an order of frog’s legs which are featured as a special. The frog’s legs come out piping hot and are tasty but a bit too delicate. I was expecting something with deeper flavor and this dish came up a bit short. However, the Brandade beignets are fantastic and I have to order two more portions to satisfy the table. We also share a rillettes of salmon, another standard menu item, and it is fantastic too. Of all the items we enjoy the side plate of pickled vegetables is the best. They are perfectly blanched, lightly pickled and beautifully arranged on a plate. As I head for the door Chef Keller is just leaving too and we chat for a few minutes. He is surprised that we are there and we let him know that we are on an informal visit, renting a house up in Glen Ellen for a quiet weekend among friends. He smiles and heads on his way and we head over to the bakery to try things out.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue: Cod brandade with tomato confit and fried sage

Rillettes au Deux Saumons: Fresh and Smoke Salmon rillettes with toasted croutons.

My Favorite Bouchon Side Salad

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA

The bakery is in a pastel green stucco building just across the patio from Bouchon itself. My favorite aspect of the bakery is how perfectly executed all the items are. Each item on display is clean, consistent, and outstanding in quality. This was the case at the bakery in New York as well. The display case there was just as stunning and equally consistent. Again, I order a mixed bag of pastel colored macaroons and enjoy them immensely.

Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA, Pastry Display

It is clear to me that Bouchon operates on an entirely different plane than Per Se and French Laundry. However, my experience at Bouchon, whether in New York, Las Vegas,  or Yountville was fairly consistent and the food on the standard menu was excellent. Some of the specials we ordered came up short but the pastry we enjoyed was outstanding and the service consistently good. For Keller, having a mid-scale restaurant concept must be a good thing.  Bouchon helps balance Keller’s restaurant portfolio with an option that is less subject to economic cycles compared to his higher end 3 Michelin star properties. I suspect that Keller will continue to expand Bouchon and know that his next Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Center will be a huge success.  The more successful Bouchon is the more likely Keller will be able balance his portfolio and finances and sustain Per Se and French Laundry. With this in mind, I remain a fan of Bouchon and a huge fan of Bouchon Bakery.

 Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA


For more click:

Bouchon Bakery


No. 9 Park ~ Boston

Posted 24 Oct 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

Chef Barbara Lynch is setting Boston on fire. For the past thirteen years she’s been steadily opening restaurants while pushing the envelope on culinary creativity and service in a city with a history of embracing strong female chefs. Her restaurants (9 as of this writing) are bold, creative, and of clear intent. Although she’s generated tremendous press for her latest venture, Menton, and newer ventures like Drink (best creative cocktails in Boston),  B&G Oysters (best fresh oysters and martinis in Boston), and The Butcher Shop (best burger in the city, hands down), my favorite  Barbara Lynch outlet is good old No. 9 Park. No. 9 Park is a gem. It has old world charm with a contemporary twist and several long-standing menu items that draw me in each time I am in the neighborhood.

No. 9 Park steadily offers several signature menu items.  Lynch’s prune stuffed Gnocchi with foie gras is such a dish and it’s the main reason I love stop over as a “walk-in” and sit at the bar or one of the café tables for a snack. If you arrive right at 5:30 p.m., a table is usually available without reservation and within minutes hot Gnocchi and steaming foie gras can be yours.  With its deep stained wood floors, antique chandeliers, and cushioned seating by the bay window, the bar is incredibly relaxing and comfortable. Designed by Cheryl and Jeffry Katz of C&J Katz Design, the space draws on its colonial surroundings while remaining sleek and refined. In some ways, the interior of No. 9 Park reminds me of what the original Olives in Charlestown was like back in the day. Warm and inviting, refined, packed, loud, comfortable and mouthwatering.

Prune Stuffed Gnocchi with Foie Gras

In the culinary world, there are lineages, both regionally and nationally. Lynch can trace her pedigree back to Todd English when he was cooking at Michela Larson’s Michela’s in Cambridge.  I had a friend that worked at Michela’s at the time and she was a colleague of Lynch’s. Both were running fast and hard in the midst of an emerging Boston restaurant scene. Even then it was clear that Lynch was her own woman with a future ahead. It wasn’t long before Todd took off to open Olives and the rest is history as far as Todd is concerned. Barbara Lynch followed English to Olives and then over to Figs. When I eat the Gnocchi with foie gras I taste an echo of the tremendous, super rich, deeply flavorful, hearty and rustic foods that English used to serve and sense a bit of English’s genetic code in what Lynch is doing. The evolution of a chef and the lineage he or she draws from results in subtle similarities in menu items and techniques between the master and apprentice.  I see this as complimentary to both parties. Don’t get me wrong, Barbara Lynch owns the dining scene in Boston in a way that Todd English never has.  The apprentice is now the master cooking with some similarities.

Today, Barbara Lynch operates nine different restaurant concepts and employs over 200 people. She serves as CEO of Barbara Lynch Gruppo and has a fantastic track record adding new concepts to her portfolio. It was only 13 years ago that Lynch opened her first restaurant! She probably has another new concept in development at this very moment.  As far as I can tell, there is no other female chef in the country with such a high quality restaurant portfolio or the accolades that Lynch has earned over the years. These are the thoughts that fill my head as I take my first bite of Gnocchi, steaming slab of foie gras attached.  You have to try this dish. Go to No. 9 Park and take a seat at the bar. Order a glass of champagne and a plate of the Gnocchi to get you started, and soak in the room. This may be the very dish that launched an empire and it is one that will warm your soul.

Charcuterie Plate

Composed Salad

Black Olive Clafoutis

Chocolate Cremeaux


No. 9 Park

9 Park St.

Boston, MA 02108