Thomas Keller. The man is the God of chefs. Not godfather; I mean he is literally some higher non-human power whose touch makes food turn into something other-worldly. He is known throughout the universe for his perfect attention to detail and is revered by chefs, food journalists, food bloggers and probably even some carrots or cows hoping to make it into one of his famous creations one day. Like I said, the man is GOD. Chefs want to be him, food wants to be cooked by him.
Although I’ve never been to his flagship restaurant, The French Laundry, I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting Mr. Keller after spying him at Church & State one night. My sudden burst of liquid confidence was brought on by several (we don’t need to discuss exact numbers now, do we?) glasses of rosé and I didn’t think twice about grabbing my sister and practically chasing the poor man down the street. I latched onto him, told him I loved him and made him pose for several photos. Do I even need to tell you how profound my “morning after” shame was the next day? I mean, who cares if you wake up in bed next to a stranger, grab your things and sneak out? It hardly compares to making a drunken fool out of yourself in front of ThomasFreakingKeller. Talk about shame spiral.
You’d think a man so obsessed with perfection in the kitchen would have scoffed at two over-eager, inebriated fools; but in fact, he was quite the opposite. Warm and engaging, he laughed at our enthusiasm and posed happily for multiple, blindness-inducing flash photos while thanking us for our compliments. I mean, he was so suave yet so down-to-earth that my sister and I developed chef-crushes on him right away. Damn you Thomas Keller, you ARE perfect!
Well, I recently got my chance to dine at one of Mr. Keller’s restaurants since he finally opened one here in Los Angeles- Bouchon in Beverly Hills. It seemed impossible to get a table when it first hit the dining scene and I guess I just kind of put it out of my mind, so when J suggested we go for brunch, I happily agreed.
After parking the car downstairs, you walk through this beautiful courtyard to the restaurant entrance- I mean, we’re starting off pretty well if this is the first thing you see:
The restaurant was immaculate, and as we were given a table by one of the open French doors overlooking the courtyard, I felt myself getting excited!
J opted to start with a glass of champagne and oysters- I think he was feeling a little celebratory after having done a successful gig at Bass Player Live the night before. I opted for iced coffee, since I’m just one of those people who like the idea of drinking during the day, but simply can’t hang if I do. Me + daytime drinks = bed at 5:00pm. It’s too bad, but I’ve tried it enough to know that they outcome is the same every single time.
The Kumamoto oysters were sweet and briny, and I did manage to steal one.
For his main dish, J ordered the Croque Madam, and boy, it was a thing of beauty. The brioche was perfectly toasted and the proportion of cheese to bread to mornay sauce was just right- you could still get bites of the crisp brioche edges in addition to ones where the nutty (brown butter?) mornay sauce melded with the ham and cheese. Of course the egg was spot on- nice and runny but cooked in all the right places. J wasn’t as psyched about his fries but I thought they were delicious and probably ended up eating more than half.
My Ouef Poché Royale was less successful, and of course it pains me to even say that because well….I mean, it’s Bouchon. It’s Keller. My “house made English muffin” was just flat (Campanile's house made muffins, in comparison, are tall and gorgeous and excellent!) and bogged down with too much butter, and the smoked salmon was both too salty and fishy. By the way, I always get the hollandaise sauce on the side and that’s why my plate doesn’t look as good as I’m sure an order of Ouef Poché Royale usually does. But I just couldn’t get past the fishiness of the salmon (and yes, I do realize fish is fishy, I eat a ton of it but this was oddly fishy) so I left one of the two on my plate. The light, fluffy hollandaise was excellent though!
Our waiter was very pleasant, and upon further thought I realized why he reminded me of someone- his phrasing and intonation when he spoke were exactly like those of actress Christine Branaski! Anyway, sorry that was random. He was a good waiter, but we were a bit confused since some of the patrons got bread service in the form of a Épi de Blé baguette placed directly on their table, while others (like us) did not. I thought maybe it was only for people who ordered more lunch-like items off the menu (?) although that would be odd. While we were waiting for our food, we decided to order a croissant, and it took so long that we didn’t get it until we got the rest of our meal. Although it was flaky and gorgeous to look at, the croissant just didn't have that wonderful, buttery flavor of a good criossant. Strange.
So I guess all-in-all, I don’t have too many complaints. I guess maybe my expectations were ridiculously high after hearing for years about the perfection that is The French Laundry and reading endless blog posts of incredible meals at Bouchon in both Las Vegas and here in L.A. Maybe I thought my brunch would be perfect from start to finish because of Thomas Keller’s reputation. I do wonder if I’d be disappointed had I gotten the same food and service at a non-Keller restaurant….overly fishy-fish aside, of course. I mean, I kind of feel guilty even writing ANY complaints about a place owned by a man who has contributed more to fine dining than I'll ever contribute to, well, anything, but I suppose I just felt I had to be honest. Regardless, there is no questioning the impact that Mr. Keller and his work have had on the culinary world, so I’m not going to let one miss on one dish discourage me from visiting as many of his restaurants as often as I ever get a chance to in my lifetime!