I was supposed to have one kind of lunch with one friend and ended up with a completely different kind of lunch with another.
In between, I had to turn down the birthday boy, who had also suggested lunch today. Please note, I had no lunch plans any other day this week. Murphy's law of lunch invitations, perhaps?
Work threw me a monkey wrench, so by the time that was resolved, it was 1:30 and my original plans had been rescheduled. I didn't want to insult the birthday boy with a last minute invitation, so I let Door #3 know that I was free after all. Pick me up and pick the place, he said. Can do, I said.
Never having been to Bouchon for lunch, it seemed like the logical place when he said he wanted someplace we could enjoy a multi-course lunch. We were so late arriving that there was only one other couple lunching so we soon had the place to ourselves.
And then we did what the French espouse: ate our way through multiple courses as the afternoon progressed, until we were satisfied and ready for the weekend. Or a nap. Or whatever.
Friend is a baguette snob, so when he pronounced the warm crusty bread the best baguette he's had in Richmond (it was his first visit to Bouchon), I knew I'd made the right choice. We began with glasses of Muscadet and today's soup special, lobster bisque.
As orange as lobster claws and with a depth of flavor that spoke of time and talent, the bisque was the perfect way to take the chill off. It's been a cold week and while it may have warmed up from 25 to 43 degrees, it's still way too chilly for me.
So in the interest of being seasonal, our next course was bacon-wrapped venison pate with cranberry compote (kind of a sick nod to Rudolph and the whole holiday season), cornichons and hot mustard. My, my but this was outstanding, the kind of thing that requires wine and an unhurried attitude. We had plenty of both.
Friend had the beef tenders with potato gratin next and I opted for one of the specials. It was the Crozet Grayson cassoulet, consisting of crozet (tiny buckwheat pasta squares brought back from Francis' trip to France), onions, speck and Grayson cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy. I may have been a very French lunch, but a little touch of Virginia is always appreciated in these parts.
Rich, satisfying and the kind of homey, comforting dish that everyday people eat, just the pungent aroma of that rich and nutty Grayson melted on top was enough to tell me that I'd made the right choice. Maybe I should have been a French peasant instead of a...what? Whatever it is I am.
Friend's beef was exquisite, perfectly cooked and sauced, and the gratin so well done that he said it'll be his new standard for making a potato gratin at home, but I still liked mine better, even after multiple bites of his deliciousness.
You'd think that by this point, so much food and wine would have had us sprawled on the banquette groaning. Instead, we were having a terrific time being the welcoming committee for the restaurant staff as they came in to work dinner or returned from lunch.
Sipping and greeting, we chatted with Chef Francis (who applauded our course selections), bartender Olivier (doing the heavy lifting, but charming as always) and owner Wendy, recently returned from NYC and quick to note that it was my first lunch at Bouchon (when she asked what I'd eaten, she said to my friend, "She always gets the good stuff").
Despite the weather, this particular friend is constitutionally unable to resist homemade ice cream and Bouchon was offering bourbon ice cream with toasted pumpkin seed on top, so his choice was a given.
I had the chocolate cloustillant, a multi-layered dessert, part crispy bottom and part dense mousse on top; all chocolate all the time, and the last bite savored with the last sip of wine. Two and a half hours gone, but not soon forgotten.
Best of all, I still have the lunch with Door #1 to look forward to next week. And lunch with the birthday boy is always certain to be a good time.
But as epic French Friday lunches go, today's really couldn't have been any more pleasurable. Considering it was a last-minute substitute for what I really wanted to do, I'm feeling pretty fortunate right about now.
Or maybe that's just fullness. Either way, well satisfied.