(To all the readers who are going to call and harangue me for a culturally insensitive sentence, please just stop, breathe, take a sip of whiskey, and remember that we’re an alt-weekly. You love us because we don’t play it safe every week. Or maybe you hate us, and that’s OK, too.)
Anyway, I’m trying to lose weight. And as everyone knows, French cuisine and losing weight are diametrically opposed. But, also, I’ve been longing for months to sample the wares at Bouche, the classic French bistro and latest venture of former Rancho Encantado (before its Four Seasons era began) chef Charles Dale.
I loved Aqua Santa, Bouche’s homey yet sophisticated predecessor in the West Alameda Street space, and was eager to see what all that construction had done for the interior. Oh, and I really wanted some crusty French bread with creamy, unsalted butter.
So I dragged the man-friend with me—he doesn’t normally go in for fancified fare—and, on a recent weeknight, we stepped onto Bouche’s magical patio. Sure enough, everything’s been modernized, but the space—small as it is—still manages to evoke warmth and comfort. We settled at a corner table, took in the evening breeze, and ordered drinks.
The wine, a delightfully crisp and refreshing Whispering Angel rosé, came quickly (they know me!), along with a generous basket of that perfectly moist, tender, crusty bread I’d been dreaming about. One bite, I told myself. I ended up eating two pieces.
Bouche offers a simple bistro menu that includes a “small plates” category and offers several entrées in appetizer portions. We ordered indiscriminately—a fresh take on a Niçoise salad ($16), escargots ($14), tenderloin steak tartare ($14) and an entrée special of monkfish with wild mushrooms ($29). Each menu item is made with Dale’s meticulous attention to detail, from the lonesome raw egg yolk atop the steak tartare to the tender yet vividly springy mushrooms served alongside the perfectly seared monkfish. The escargots were reassuringly typical, sumptuously bathed in garlic butter yet still retaining their own earthy flavors.
Portions are neither tiny nor abundant; as Goldilocks would have it, most are just the right size. The Niçoise salad was a surprising highlight: Delicate fringes of arugula join expertly hard-boiled eggs and small cubes of boiled potatoes atop an expansive cut of vibrant tuna carpaccio. Add a glass of wine, and it’s the perfect meal for a midsummer’s eve.
Service was prompt, friendly and unobtrusive, with frequent smiling water refills and quick silverware replacement after each round of plates was cleared. (To be fair, we ate on the early side, and it wasn’t crowded, but the staff seems well-trained and definitely sufficient for the small space.)
Unfortunately, we were far too full (and already in a dietary seventh hell for what we’d done) to order dessert, but we’ll definitely be back, and soon. Bouche exemplifies the virtue of doing a few simple things extremely well. Quietly excellent service and pared-down elegance create the ideal background for unmitigated foodie indulgence in raw eggs, meat and plenteous butter—or, you know, just a damned good salad.
451 W Alameda St., 982-6297
Dinner 5-9:30 pm Tuesday-Saturday