Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, Napa Valley

Outside Bouchon Bistro, Yountville.

Outside Bouchon Bistro, Yountville.

The way I see it, Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty are two restaurants trying to fill the exact same niche. Among all of the fine-dining establishments here in the Napa Valley, these two restaurants have the most in common: both places feature a classic line-up of French comfort foods, they each have a Michelin star to their credit, and they are both located on the exact same block in Yountville.

All things considered, I tend to visit Bistro Jeanty much more often than Bouchon, mostly because I feel that Bistro Jeanty is a little more friendly and the restaurant offers a much better value across the board. For instance, I am always struck by the price of a steak frites over at Bouchon, which charges $35 for a flatiron, versus the $28 rib-eye over at Bistro Jeanty. In Bouchon’s favor, however, their kitchen is open until midnight, and the restaurant features a killer oyster bar (something that Bistro Jeanty lacks).

In certain circumstances, these oysters can be the deciding factor, which guarantees that I will still visit Bouchon at least a few times per year. So, with February marking the latter half of oyster season, I made reservations at Bouchon last week, while the briny mollusks are still at their flavorful best. After arriving at the restaurant, it occurred to me that I actually hadn’t set foot in Bouchon for quite some time — at least not since late November — when trying to track down an obligatory glass of Beaujolais Nouveau.

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If Bouchon was just a shade more affordable, I would definitely eat there more often. After slurping back a generous number of oysters on the half shell (alongside a considerable portion of salmon rillette), my first course was the French onion soup, which featured a rich, dark broth that was accented with with deep caramel notes. My only complaint with the soup was that the cheese component was difficult to eat with a spoon; it was almost pasta-like, though difficult to cut, and it didn’t melt very well either, which was perplexing.

My entrée, a braised cube of Duroc pork shoulder, was terrific. I suspect that the pork was cooked sous vide, since Bouchon employs this technique on most of their braises (I once worked a stage at Bouchon years ago, when their beef short rib was a sous vide preparation). The pork was tender, delicious, and cooked to perfection, which is the clear upside to sous vide cookery. The dish was garnished with wilted greens, poached pears and chestnuts.

Folks who keep up with this blog know that I typically look for citrus-based desserts this time of year, since so many other fruits are well out of season. As I had hoped, Bouchon offered a lemon tart, which was both tangy and refreshing (although I did have to take half of it home with me). The yuzu pot du creme was also delicious, and perhaps a bit better than the tart.

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