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Good Times at Bouchon

October 27, 2007

Bouchon is totally happening on a Monday night.  Who knew?  Apparently, a lot of people.  Attempting to book a large table for a birthday party, I called to make a last minute reservation.  I was informed they don’t take reservations.  Okay.  No problem, it’s a Monday evening around 8pm, a rainy, dreary day.  Why would anyone be eating French food on a night like this?  Because it’s all-you-can-eat mussels and $12-a-bottle house wine night, that’s why.   Our party of nine patiently lounged at the hip bar before being seated 45 minutes later.   Here is the one and only one restaurant where I order the rose over the white.  French rose often tastes more like a deep, dry pinot grigio, while their white lingers with sticky sweetness.  So instead of being unpleasantly surprised, if you’re looking for a dry wine, stick to the rose.  (I can’t find the accent button for the e in rose.)

Birthday Girl named Bouchon as her first choice because of the Monday mussels.  Not a huge mussel fan myself, I illegally (no sharing policy) tasted three of their four flavor options.  Most of the diehard mussel fiends preferred the Mediterrean, featuring a thin tomato broth and basil, but I rather liked the lighter Parissiene, that is mussels dunked in white wine and butter.  The crown jewel, in my opinion, were the Thai mussels, bathed in lemongrass/coconut milk combo broth that was pleasantly just a tad spicy.

The bread and butter at Bouchon ranks high above all gratis bread and butter mini-courses at every other Asheville restaurant.   Probably I could go there for nothing more than wine and bread with butter, in all honesty.  Plowing through the complimentary sourdough baguette direct from City Bakery, we pushed on.

I shared the beet, walnut and goat cheese salad.  For me, this is the perfect salad.  They respected my salad color palette diversity rule by offering two distinctly different types of local beets, pink chiogga and a darker red variety.  The goat cheese and walnuts were a simple but delicious combination, and the vinegarette did not overwhelm.

My partner in crime ordered the garlic vegetable soup.  This thick, creamy, hearty soup opened the door for autumn and all of it’s epicurean glory.  As a main course, the garlic vegetable soup was subtantially multi-faceted. 

I went out on a limb and ordered the chicken pot pie crepe.  Hmm.  One fellow diner warned me that while the insides were indeed spot-on, the best thing about chicken pot pie is the thick, flaky crust and a crepe simply doesn’t do the job.  Although I feel the best thing about chicken pot pie is pearl onions, a nice crust comes in as a close second.  I was hungry enough where the crepe worked for me, but I don’t think I would order it again.  Without a decent crust or something to hold it all together, the crepe became a soupy mess all over my plate.  I also feel strongly the chicken should be hand-shredded, not cubed for a chicken pot pie.  But the pearl onions were there in full form, and for that I graciously tip my hat to Bouchon. I have yet to find pearl onions in any other chicken pot pie in town.  If you have, please let me know.  The Birthday girl was very happy with her all-she-could-eat mussels, the pomme frites were outstanding as usual, a savory variation on our American bastardization.  I tasted a friend’s lobster ravioli only to concur with her the sauce was overly rich and made for a difficult game of hide-and-go-seek the lobster. 

The best part- they offered us a glass of free bubbly and a decadent chocolate lava miniature cake for the birthday festivities. 

Honestly, Bouchon arguably offers the most beautiful dining atmosphere in Asheville and I have never had anything less than a marvelous time in their midst. 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Pixiedyke permalink
    October 28, 2007 1:45 pm

    I went with the classics: French onion soup and croque monsieur with pommes frites. The soup was spectacular: just the right amount of sweetness and the creamy broiled cheese and the crusty bread bits floating inside. Mmmmmmm. The sandwich was a combination of ham and cheese, toasted, with more cheese broiled on top. Duuude. The ham was thick cut country ham, salty and rich but the cheese cut the intensity perfectly and the bread made the whole thing a harmonious package of yum.

  2. catma permalink
    October 28, 2007 4:57 pm

    Bouchon keeps bringing me back for more. At a first few tries, I couldn’t bring myself to order more than a cheese plate or crepe special as the entree menu seemed not overly inspirational although pricey. Also, as somebody whose French experience is limited to a few days in Paris on say, $5-10 dollars a day- true Parisian fair consisted of a bagette and sparkling water. So, I thought, pretty restaurant, good cheese & wine- or a well done cocktail to start. On trip #3, If this had happened the first time, I wouldn’t have gone back- a friend and I went in right after 5 PM and ordered salads and pommes frites. There was one other table and an unreasonable wait was made manageable by a wonderful wine suggestion- but to put it plainly- our fries were cold!! I have never gotten over that.
    More recently I tried the mussels after being romanced by a good friend who swears by them. This, and the fact that during an oyster taste test at Lobster Trap found that I love expensive oysters and grin and bear 50 centers. So, I thought the fancy (and, somewhat ironically, all you can eat) mussels might open a door in the ever widening window of my palette. I ordered the Thai, and while I liked the broth and the mussel, after about half of a plate, I less enthusiastically found the next unempty shell. When the waitress asked if I would like another order, it felt remarkably like a offer for punishment with a smile. This, I’m sure is a matter of taste, as I know any true mussel lover would be giving me a blank, unamused stare at this point. I agree with you, GG on the chicken pot pie- maybe chicken dumpling stew on a plate. I don’t normally go through this many trials at a restaurant to find a true winner, but here is my suggestion: Le Steak au Poivre or if Le Poisson du Jour is local trout- both were amazingly done with delicate sauces and elevated Bouchon to more than a place for wine and cheese, for me.
    I think the bread is ok, the butter used to have herbs de Provence, I think- and I just wouldn’t choose sour dough. I also think the both the beet salad and fresh green salad are a beautiful medley of color, taste and texture with an understated dressing.
    Next time… croque monsieur.

  3. October 28, 2007 11:48 pm

    I DO remember the herbs de Provence in the butter. Hey! Where’d it go? Should we ask the jolly french chef with the slight southern accent? I hate when restaurants open with pizzaz to hook you in and then roll back and coast for the remainder of their existence. Bouchon is a huge culprit of this phenomenon. They used to serve glasses of house wine for $4.25 a glass! They used to have yummy horseradishy ketchup! Grr. Now I’m all mad. What other local restaurants have taken advantage of ole’ the bait and hook trap?

  4. October 29, 2007 9:40 am

    Great post on an increasingly fabulous blog. This is the first I’ve heard of mussels-and-wine Mondays at Bouchon. Thanks!

  5. Vonciel permalink
    January 11, 2008 7:05 pm

    Hello, SWE and also, catma—

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog, which I just discovered. It’s a great topic and it is gratifying, as a restaurant owner, to know how much people care about what we do.

    Our family owns Bouchon. My husband, Michel, is the “jolly french chef with the slight southern accent.” I’m pretty much the silent partner after working with my husband side-by-side for many years, and our 17 year old daughter works the door and buses tables on weekends. We love our little restaurant and appreciate every comment, positive or negative, that someone takes the time to make, whether blogging, in person, or in a note nailed to the door. Our idea is that if you didn’t care about Bouchon, you wouldn’t say a thing.

    So, thank you very much for your mostly positive comments on Bouchon. Thanks to pixiedyke, too. And thank you for this forum to address some of the remarks made on the blog.

    First, my husband pretty much agreed with you about the chicken-pot-pie crepe, it does turn into sort of a mess. So why did we have it on the menu? Well, we try different things. Not all are blue ribbon winners, and the ones that aren’t don’t stay around too long. He was very pleased that you credited him for the pearl onions and of course, just thrilled to hear your comments about always having a terrific time at Bouchon.

    I want to, I hope, cast some light on some other things said. What a luxury! When there’s a print review which gets some information mixed up or just plain wrong, it just kills us that we can’t correct or at least point out the reasoning behind why we did what we did. So here are some clarifications for some of the less positive points I read about Bouchon:

    Catma wrote that the menu was not overly inspirational and pricey. I appreciate that she did qualify this remark by relating her Paris food experience, or lack of same. I don’t think you can get a bad baguette in Paris, but if that was indeed, the only thing she ate while in Paris, I can only think, oh, that is sad. Paris is expensive, but like the baguette, it’s hard to get a bad meal. And to deny oneself a meal in Paris, well, what a shame.

    At Bouchon, we plainly state that we serve French comfort food, which is far from cutting edge. To find our menu uninspirational puzzles me, when catma doesn’t offer a clue as to what she would consider to be inspired French comfort food and admits to only eating bread in Paris. For the record, Michel is from a small village near Lyon.

    Regarding the “pricey” comment, that is sort of surprising. We are often complimented on the value we offer our patrons.

    Catma also writes that she and her companion were subjected to an unreasonable wait when they arrived at 5 pm. I apologize for that, even though I am loath to comment on a situation without knowing all the details. At the risk of sounding defensive, and again, because I don’t know the details, I must say that one person’s unreasonable wait could be another’s welcome conversation time. As for the cold fries, I am really sorry about that and want to let anyone who reads this know that while there is really no excuse to serve a dish cold if it’s supposed to be hot, if God forbid, it happens to you, please, please send the cold fries back immediately. We will quickly and gladly replace them. Our fries are fabulous, but when they are cold, not so much. Again, I’m sorry.

    As for the butter with Herbes de Provence, it pains me, since SWE and catma both remembered that the butter once was served this way, butter with Herbes de Provence has never been served at Bouchon. I quizzed my husband at length about this—could it have been a short-term experiment? Did we serve an herbed butter with a steak? Has one of our kitchen guys wanted to do one, and maybe sneaked into the service? He was very firm in his “NO!” I hate that you are missing something that never was!

    And now, here’s a big one from SWE:

    “I hate when restaurants open with pizzaz to hook you in and then roll back and coast for the remainder of their existence. Bouchon is a huge culprit of this phenomenon. They used to serve glasses of house wine for $4.25 a glass! They used to have yummy horseradishy ketchup! Grr. Now I’m all mad. What other local restaurants have taken advantage of ole’ the bait and hook trap?”

    You may certainly call me on this—I agree with you when you say nice things, then get all bowed up when you criticize us—but this paragraph is so unfair and so wrong, I can’t stand it.

    If pizzazz for you consists of horseradishy ketchup and a $4.25 glass of wine, and that we no longer offer these things indicates that we are rolling back and coasting, wow! That’s really harsh! And bait and hook? Could you possibly have meant bait and switch? In either case, NO WAY. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    We have recently invested in new, more versatile tables to increase our indoor seating. The new tables will reduce the wait times that our patrons have been experiencing, even during what are considered to be slow periods for Asheville restaurants. We’ll also have more options to comfortably seat large parties. To accommodate the small increase in the number of seats, the restaurant has undergone expansion/reworking of the kitchen, at our expense, not the landlord’s, to make the food service more efficient and we think this will also translate into reduced waiting times. What you see from the dining room is our entire kitchen—there’s nothing behind the scenes! Why would we make this investment if all we wanted was to put one over on an unsuspecting public?

    The ketchup, which was a holdover from another restaurant we owned, was not as popular as the red bell pepper mayo that currently accompanies the frites. (Have you priced a red bell pepper lately?) As it was labor intensive to produce that ketchup, the decision was made to let it go. I’m sorry that you miss it, SWE, but in no way was the removal of this condiment part of a grand plan to sucker-punch our patrons.

    Our $4.25 glass of house wine has been raised to $4.50. This represents an increase of slightly more than 5% in the two years we’ve been open. As we are a French restaurant, owned and operated by a French-born person, our wine list is entirely French. As such, the wine list prices have been victim to the rise of the euro and fall of the dollar. Over the past two years, the euro’s value in relation to the dollar has risen almost 20%, if I’ve read the info correctly. Again, just NOT a deliberate swindle of our customers. Our goal at Bouchon is not to offer any inexpensive wine for the sake of having a cheap wine on the list—we look for the best quality at the best price. Our house wine, which will undergo a price increase from $15 to $16 a bottle very soon (see previous euro – dollar discussion), is available on Monday nights at $12 a bottle. Why do we do that? Because we can. We wish we could offer it at that price every day, but our business plan includes making a profit. Not a great big one, but nonetheless, a profit.

    Price increases are something Michel really sweats over—he hates a price increase as much as you do. It is never done without a lot of careful consideration and in the face of absolute necessity, not whim. Think about it—menus have to be reprinted, the computers re-programmed and our waiters have to re-learn the prices. Not to mention that it’s pretty unpopular with the people we rely on for a living, our customers.

    As chef/owner, everything in Bouchon is a direct reflection on my husband and his character. It is just not right for you to accuse him of trying to put one over on his customers in the way that you did here.

    SWE and catma, Michel has two guiding philosophies and they are:

    • There is no such thing as a spare customer.

    • If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

    It’s a fine line to walk, and if we sometimes trip and fall, we’ll pick ourselves up and do better next time.

    Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I hope that both of you will return to Bouchon soon. It would be our pleasure to discuss our restaurant with you in person.

    Vonciel Baudouin

  6. January 11, 2008 10:47 pm

    Dear Vonciel,
    THank you so much for your well thought-out response to our criticisms. Obviously, this is all my personal opinion and not the opinion of most people, everyone or anyone but myself.

    I apologize for the comment about the herbs d’ provence in the butter. If they were never there, then I certainly stand corrected.

    Also, I know that I tend to make brash, extreme statements about food. It’s part of my nature, and these strong feelings inform my writing, but I am always open to comment or disagreement. I am know many of the restaurants here try very hard, and I respect and enjoy that.

    I think my memory of the wine is that it has become more expensive than it actually is, so again thank you for correcting me there. I really appreciate the intentionality you and your husband bring to your restaurant. I was just there a few weeks ago, and I had a wonderful meal- perfectly cooked steak, pomme frites, and a couple of glasses of white wine. Bouchon also features arguably the best atmosphere in Asheville.

    I suppose I share the same philosophies when writing critique (although I’m quite new at it)
    -There is no such thing as a spare reader
    -If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

    Wise words from a wonderful chef!

    Thanks again for visiting.

    -Gourmet Grrl

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