Bouchon may not be the holy grail of American restaurants, but it’s right next to it. During my weekend trip to Napa, I arrived at Bouchon with my dining companion early enough to explore Yountville’s Washington Street and to my delight, the French Laundry is just a stone’s throw away from Bouchon.

This meant I had plenty of time to take photos and gaze lovingly at the French Laundry’s garden. (Thomas Keller, if you’re reading this, I swear I’m not a stalker. I just really wanted a reservation at the French Laundry!)

Once it was time for our Bouchon reservation, we walked back to the restaurant and to my surprise, Bouchon is far more intimate and casual than I thought it would be, in a good way. The seafood bar was busy and looked like the kind of place I could visit regularly if I lived nearby. As soon as we were seated, our waiter brought us a toasted baguette with white bean puree and butter.

Toasted baguette with white bean puree and butter

The white bean puree was delicately seasoned with the faintest hint of herbs. I couldn’t stop slathering it on my baguette. Who knew the humble bean could be so elevated?

We ordered the boudin de lapin et figue, or rabbit and fig sausage, as an appetizer. The sausage came served atop a bed of polenta cake, sweet corn, mission fig and tarragon jus.

Boudin de Lapin et Figue

The sausage was delicious, and not too sweet. It could have been easy to let the fig’s intense flavor to overwhelm the rest of the dish, but it was all perfectly balanced.

For my entree, I chose the classic moules au pistou, which came served with a massive (and I mean massive) cone of frites. Even though Anthony Bourdain famously quipped about the dangers of eating mussels in restaurants in Kitchen Confidential, Bouchon can get a pass, right?

Moules au Pistou

The Maine bouchot mussels were steamed with white wine, sweet garlic, basil and cherry tomatoes and I sopped up the briny juice with my frites. The mussels were tinier than I would have wished, and the sauce was not as strong as I was expecting, but it was still a good dish.

My dining companion ordered the steak with puree de pomme de terre, a pan-seared prime flatiron, served with maitre d’hotel butter and the most ethereal potato puree ever.

Steak with Puree de Pomme de Terre

I had to stop myself more than once from picking at his potatoes. The steak was incredible too: rare, succulent, and topped with savory minced onions.

I’m happy to say that I’ve crossed one Keller establishment off of my to-eat list (well, two, if you count Bouchon Bakery). But the French Laundry remains, and so I left Yountville with unfinished business. Bouchon felt like a (delicious) taste of things to come, and I can’t wait to return.

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