Of all the openings slated for fall, nothing has driven expectations as high as the unveiling of the biggest Bouchon outpost to date in Beverly Hills. Coming to 235 North Canon in the new Gardens Building, hopes soar high on the return of Thomas Keller to L.A dining (he was Exec Chef at Checker's Hotel Downtown for a spell before leaving to start an empire). To L.A. foodies, Keller is synonymous with Napa, where his French Laundry melds Gallic cooking with the bounty and spirit of California's fields and vineyards. It has often been named one of the world's best restaurants.
Named for the old cafes of Lyon, Bouchon Beverly Hills will lack a bakery, but not much else from its other locations. The menu will be a comprehensive collection of the authentic French dishes found in Vegas and Yountville. Think charcuterie, artisan cheese, French onion soup, white wine moule, steak frites, and fruits de mer and caviar from a raw bar. We pray for something like French Laundry's tasting menus where no ingredient gets repeated to highlight our many farmer's markets.
We spoke to chefs about Keller's arrival and - instead of fearing competition from one of the country's finest toques - they're downright happy. Many have worked with Keller before, or with Bouchon's chef de cuisine Rory Herrmann. "We are extremely excited about Keller coming to town. Tom Colicchio and he are close friends and there are a lot of connections between us all," says Anthony Zappola, chef at Colicchio's nearby Craft. "Rory is a friend of mine. We worked together in New York at Mix."
Executive Chef John Cuevas's Muse is across from Keller's new project at The Montage Hotel. Bouchon overflow (reservations are expected to be scarce for a long while) could serve his restaurant. "I just think it's a great thing that will elevate our dining scene and benefit all in the area with more foot traffic and more attention," says Cuevas, who rejected notions of Keller-induced anxiety. "I haven't met a soul who is worried about it around here."
Philip Gay, CEO of Grill Concepts, Inc. which blossomed from Beverly Hills' agent-heavy stalwart The Grill on the Alley, also welcomes Keller and affirms, "We're always on our A-game, but certainly when something this high-profile comes to Beverly Hills, the friendly competition pushes us to keep on it."
So the matrons get a dependable replacement for the Bel-Air's dining room, foodies get to try Keller's menu without having to go to Vegas, and chefs can't wait for him to show up. It appears that Keller's return comes with nothing less than a rolled out red carpet.
What else is opening in the coming months? Check out Grub Street's Fall Preview and mark your calendar.