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Bouchon (Santa Barbara)

The restaurant, which bills itself as the “original Bouchon” (a jab, perhaps, at Keller’s bistros with the same name), opened almost exactly ten years ago. It has consistently remained on the top of the SB dining scene, making it difficult to find anyone without a positive review.  For my birthday, my roommates took me to Bouchon for dinner.

We had late-ish reservations (8:30) and when we arrived we had problems with parking. When Alex and I made it in (a few minutes tardy), we were seated immediately. The waiter was a little slow with his initial approach but after that it was mostly smooth sailing.

Drew ordered a salad nicoise as her main salad, and made a comment that it was probably a silly thing to do. The waiter was very accommodating and made it a point to mention a few times he has no problems with splitting orders or making substitutions.

Seared foie gras with toasted brioche. Strawberry gastrique

We started with an appetizer on their specials menu. The waiter seemed excited we were ordering it and called it his favorite thing on the menu. It was delicious. It was the first time Alex had foie gras. I’ve had it before but always in small portions as part of a larger composition. I guess splitting this three ways yielded the same result but it was nice to see a larger piece.

Bourbon & Maple-Glazed California Duck Breast

Keeping with the duck theme, I ordered the duck breast. That’s what it was called on the menu but the waiter corrected me and told me it was duck two ways. I am glad he was right because when I read “confit” on the menu, I was expecting a little dallop. I did not expect a whole leg. Imagine my surprise when I saw that hunk of deliciousness, slow cooked in its own fat. The breast was nicely cooked with a thick, slightly crispy, and heavily salted (not a bad thing in this case) skin. I did not taste much evidence of a bourbon or maple glaze. The red wine reduction was well done but sort of a cop out sauce in my opinion. I loved the hash and was pleasantly surprised at how much was on the plate. I don’t like it when restaurants don’t give enough starch for a protein. There was a very strong herb flavor, probably rosemary which was also noticeable in Alex’s dish.

Pan-seared Rack of Venison

Alex was very interested in eating some sort of “exotic” game animal. He was trying to decide between the Rack of Lamb and Rack of Venison. He obviously went for the latter. The meat had a distinctive flavor, was super tender, and did not taste gamey at all. I also liked the way they cooked the barley (?).

Dessert was very slow coming. We each ordered our own and the waiter expressed surprise. The whole night I couldn’t tell if he was being super nice or condescending. I am pretty sure it was the former. They took forever to arrive. We watched trains of molten lava cakes with Brazillian coffee ice cream pass us by. The waiter stopped by once to apologize about the delay, explaining everything was baked to order.

All said and done, I am glad I finally got to dine here, thanks to my roommates. Compared to my favorite restaurant in town (Sage & Onion), I would say the food is on par, if not slightly edges it. I would not say it considerably bests S&O, though. The one area that it trails behind S&O is the service. There was nothing wrong with it, but the service at Sage & Onion is definitely at a higher level, with more attention to detail and additional personal touches.

I guess now that Sage & Onion is gone, Bouchon is on the top of my Santa Barbara restaurant list

Price: $150 for three (est; birthday meal)

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