Eat Drink Style San Francisco Good Eats #3: Where's Thomas Keller? - Bouchon, Yountville, Napa Valley

To eat at Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” requires a two-month reservation and an hour drive from San Francisco to the small town of Yountville. For $210, you’re entitled to a fabulous 9-course meal with complementary dishes from Chef Keller. Since my trip to San Francisco was planned with such short notice, I wasn’t able to reserve in time. But, I had to at least see what the place looked like since I was going up to Napa Valley anyway. As I drove up with DY and her friend Mei, I was anxious and excited. Fingers and feet tapping, I wondered if I’d be able to see Thomas Keller at his restaurant. After an hour, we reached the Yountville exit, and my anticipation grew from a slight finger-tapping on the steering wheel, to an accelerated heart-rate. I started to count down the address numbers…

6650… 6648… 6646… 6644… 6642…

and finally, 6640. I stopped the car, made a U-turn and parked the car along the roadside.

Me: “I’ll be right back.”
DY and Mei rolled their eyes.

I approached the complex slowly like a ninja. The gold-plated “French Laundry” sign was tucked neatly on the bottom of the building – quite easy to miss. Being careful not to be spotted as another tourist, itching for a peak into the French Laundry. I tried to take a peek inside the restaurant. Negative. The windows were blocked by shutters. Tightly. I then crept along the left side of the restaurant, and saw two cooks unloading goods. Probably $500 caviar and cases of foie gras fresh from France. Still no sign of my target. I went back around to the backyard of the restaurant. Keep in mind, before Chef Keller took over the house, it was a French Laundromat. I tippy-toed to look over the fence and I saw two young Asian cooks, probably stagiers (interns), chatting away. I wanted to go up the stairs to what I thought was the entrance, but people were guarding the door. And all of a sudden, I felt somewhat disappointed. My glimmer of hope had suddenly dissipated into oblivion and I walked back to my car. DY and Mei gave me puzzled looks.

DY: “Well did you see him?”
Me: “Naw.”
DY: “Who cares. Let’s go eat then.”

She didn’t understand how badly I wanted to meet him. But then again, what would I do if I did see him? Ask him to take a photo with me? Autograph his own cookbooks that I didn’t even own yet? Give me leftovers from last night’s $210 dinner? I then decided, one day before I die, I will forget that I’m Chinese, and actually give Thomas Keller my $210 without gripping onto the dollar bills.

By now, we were hungry from the long drive. I figured the next best thing to do was eat at Thomas Keller’s ‘cheaper’ restaurant, Bouchon, which is also located in the town of Yountville – three blocks away. I think the girls knew that I really wanted to eat at The French Laundry and agreed to eat an expensive lunch to make up for it.

Walking up to Bouchon, I didn’t see any large signs screaming its name. Instead, I found myself stepping on a large Willy-Wonka like rug on the ground that said “Bouchon”. Well not that big. I’m only exaggerating because I’m so fascinated with Thomas Keller. In a sense, it was like the Willy Wonka story. People flock to eat Thomas Keller's food, but do they really ever see him? Upon entering, I saw two cooks working behind the seafood bar. Bouchon was known for its many varieties of oysters and oceanic delicacies. I, of course, would try it some.

Seriously, Bouchon wasn’t as large and elegant as I imagined it to be. A few palm trees were placed inside. The floors wore a black & white checkered look. The walls painted with a French style. The patrons eating there? I think the average age was 103. After 10 minutes, we were brought menus, bread and water. Here’s what we had:

A. Oysters From the Bar
At $15 for 1/2 a dozen, these are quite pricey. Were they good? Yes. I couldn't remember the name of the oysters, but I know that the small and sweet, Kumamotos, were included along with three types of sauces.

B. Crab Salad with Watercress
I didn't get to try this, but the girls seemed to enjoy it. $9.75

C. French Onion Soup
This dish was very good, probably one of the better french onion soups i've tasted. The crust is actually not made of dough, it's ALL CHEESE, with maybe a few croutons in the soup itself. The soup had a balanced taste of sweetness and saltiness. $8.50

D. Roasted Leg of Lamb with Thyme Jus
This was my entree and I enjoyed every bit of it. Although a small portion, the lamb was cooked to a perfect medium doneness and al dente'd beans. I thought that they could use less Thyme Jus because my beans were drowning within. Very good though. $24.50

E. Croque Madame
This was basically a ham and cheese sandwich with a baked egg on top, served with fries. The girls split this and really enjoyed it. The egg cooked perfectly, and beautiful waterfalls of cheese oozing over the side of the sandwich. The fries sucked though - too salty and probably purchased from Sysco Foods.

Overall, I enjoyed the Bouchon, bistro-experience. I don't think I would come back though, because $45 for a lunch is a bit exorbitant. If you're gonna spy on the French Laundry like I have, you should just try this once. Or at least go to the Bouchon Bakery next door.

6534 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-8037

After this, we spent the next 4 hours driving up and down the highway, stopping at a few of the 250 wineries in Napa Valley. I wish I can remember the good ones that we went to... but you can imagine after about 3 hours of drinking, it's quite tough.

Thanks for reading.

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