In Miami, a whole lot of restaurants get labeled the most anticipated of the year. Bouchon has a lot of reasons to say it’s just that, with chef Thomas Keller behind it, a guy who’s responsible for The Surf Club Restaurant, one of our favorite spots in town to celebrate anything.
But in Miami, the most anticipated restaurants also get dogged by the same question: Can it live up to expectations?
Walking in for the first time very early on Friday (the only reservation we could snag), the place feels less like a traditional French bistro and more like a place an executive takes the family after the last day at the firm. But they’ve tried to dress down the stogy design here and there, with lots of yacht rock and motown, and with menus of the same material as brown paper lunch bags, folded up around the napkins like they’re being passed before the teacher notices.
The sommelier stopped by for our drink order before we’d even realized that folded-up paper was the menu, and then the server swooped over seconds later to ask again. It was really the only time we felt rushed, though. Even as busy as this place was all night, the service stayed largely at European-cafe level, dishes generally taking a while and lots of offers of more rounds of accompanying wines. Our server’s accent kept us from understanding most of the specials, but doesn’t that just add to the charm?
Once we unfolded the menus, we realized it’s easy to drop serious money at Bouchon. Like, a $164 seafood tower, a $120 caviar service and a $55 flatiron steak (a cut in Miami we used to pay single-digits for at Publix and marinate liberally in mojo).
Spending this kind of money should mean things are flawless, and they just simply aren’t here. The tartare needed more cornichons and dijon or whatnot, leaning too heavily on chopped steak, and came with bread that tasted burnt, like the grill had a grease flare-up. The lardons on the salad lyonnaise were simply too chewy, and the yolk in the poached egg too firm.
Things got better with the Poulet Rôti, a stack of roast chicken from a chef who’s a master of roast chicken, and it’s pretty incredible here, thanks in part to the gravy of pan drippings. There’s quite possibly not a better Boudin Noir anywhere, here slightly sweet and full of umami and served with mashed potatoes as creamy as melted butter.
We ordered the profiteroles for dessert, and the server poured molten chocolate over top. It was about then we realized that at one of the other most-anticipated restaurants of the year, Pastis in Wynwood, they also pour chocolate sauce over profiteroles. Pastis, though, has a vibe that’s more of a rosé -all-day party, with a sun-dappled patio worthy of every Saturday evening happy hour.
Does Bouchon live up to the hype? Not always. But at points it’s a lot like actually going to France, where it’s easy to forget about an occasional Parisian rain shower with a plate of perfect roast chicken.