Bouchon Beverly Hills opens its bistro doors tomorrow, and in anticipation we caught up with libation leader Alex Weil for a quick Q&A. Below he shares information on the first and only Bar Bouchon, details on two specialty craft beers brewed exclusive for Thomas Keller, and his favorite LA wine depot. On with it then!
1. Why did you decide to leave Mozza for Bouchon? It was a very difficult decision to leave. How do you leave restaurants like the Mozzas and people like Nancy, Joe, and Mario? Ultimately, given that I was fortunate enough to be choosing between two restaurant groups operating on the top level of the industry it came down to being able to be part of an opening (which I haven’t ever experienced) and to be employed by a west-coast owned and [primarily] operated restaurant group.
2. How has working with Thomas Keller changed from working with Nancy, Joe, and Mario? Simply, different people and styles of cuisine lend themselves to different ways of achieving what in the end are really the same goals. We’re talking about people that are all top-of-their-game professionals that go about achieving their visions in different ways. The intensity to perform at Mozza is the same as it is at Bouchon. I feel you have to be aware of somebody else’s style to be able to forge your own personal style. It is hard to be a complete person if all you know is your way of doing things. I am fortunate to be able to learn from some great teachers at such great restaurants.
3. Can you elaborate on Bouchon's Vin de Carafe program? We’re very excited about the Vin de Carafe program at Bouchon. Bistros in France quite often have a barrel each of white and red wine behind the bar for guests that simply request a glass or carafe of wine. Very often they are locally made and actually of a high quality given the value and always pair wonderfully with the food. They are poured for the guest directly from the barrel and really are one of the staple offerings of a traditional bistro. American law doesn’t allow for wine to be served directly from the barrel to the consumer, so we purchase mature wines in barrels directly from winemakers and bottle the wines under our own Vin de Carafe label. The wines are immediately bottled and shipped to the restaurant where a guest can order a glass, 500ml carafe, or liter carafe of house white or red and be assured that it is a wine of quality, made by talented winemakers with a soul, exclusively for our restaurants. Beverly Hills’ first Vin de Carafe wines are here and drinking fantastically. For our Vin de Carafe Blanc we have a Chardonnay grown made by Matt Dees, winemaker for Jonata. For our Vin de Carafe Rouge we have a spicy Pinot Noir from the very talented Sashi Moorman (Stolpman Winery). These are wines sourced from prime vineyard sites in Santa Barbara County.
4. So, Bar Bouchon is scheduled to open after Bouchon, what will be going on over there? We have the opportunity to bring the look and feel of a real Parisian Café and upscale bar environment to the streets of Beverly Hills. It is a gorgeous space and allows us to provide a different but similarly rewarding experience, as does the Bistro upstairs. Its decoration follows that of upstairs, which is traditionally bistro (mirrors, brass, the pewter bar). We’ll have seats at the bar inside as well as tables fronting the park outside. We have a full liquor license and the ability to be open late in the evening. Menu offerings will include a selection of small plates rooted in the classic bistro-style cuisine as offered upstairs. The wine program will offer close to 35 different selections all available by the glass, 500ml carafe, or bottle. Our Vin de Carafe will be poured at Bar Bouchon as will handcrafted beers and fine cocktails and spirits. There will be regular selections of wines by our sommeliers ranging from featured glass wine specials, to flights based on varietals, regions, or themes. Everything at Bar Bouchon will be of a quality level on par with that upstairs, but in a more casual environment.
5. Speaking of beer, did you also select the craft beers that will be served at Bouchon? Like our wine list, our selection of beers and spirits are a collaboration between the beverage team here in Beverly Hills and with our Beverage Director for the entire Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, James Hayes. We are very excited and proud to feature two beers that were made exclusively for our restaurants. Blue Apron is a Belgian Brown Ale made in collaboration with the Brooklyn Brewery in New York already being poured at our restaurants. This week we are debuting White Apron, a Pilsner-styled beer made in collaboration with the Russian River Brewing Co. in Sonoma. In addition we will feature at least three beers on tap and close to 10 bottled beer selections both in the Bistro and at Bar Bouchon.
6. If you were to suggest to a potential Bouchon diner a best value white and red...meaning lowest cost for best wine, which wines would you recommend? Our Vin de Carafe, no question about it. $8 for a glass, $25 for a 500ml carafe, and $50 for a full-liter carafe. Nothing could be more bistro, and the wines are fantastic! If you want to order a bottle, stick to the more “country” wines from France. Look for wines from the Languedoc, southern Rhone Valley, the Loire Valley, and from the Jura.
7. Have you noticed any recent trends in patrons' wine consumption? I think this question is designed to be a question of our economic times, but I think it is a question answered by the culture of Los Angeles more than anything. We are a health-conscious culture on the move. Not only does our reliance on cars and hyper awareness of what is unhealthy force less alcohol consumption, we are a people focused on where we are going next as opposed to where we are now, and as such rarely take the time to enjoy the progression of alcohol that elsewhere is ingrained into the culture. It is very rare to find in this city the diner who will have an aperitif upon arrival, white wine with their appetizer, red wine with their entrée, sweet wine their cheese or dessert, and a brandy, scotch, or some other digestive after the meal.
8. And lastly, this is probably a tough question to answer, but do you have a favorite wine? Do you have a favorite wine store? Any wines you absolutely hate? I have a few favorite singular wine experiences. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and love acidity so categorically I love the white wines made in the Loire Valley, Champagne, Chablis, Meursault and in Germany and northern Italy. It is hard to beat properly aged red Burgundy, red Bordeaux, Rioja, Rhone Valley reds and California Cabernet though. Wally’s Wine and Spirits is without a doubt my favorite wine store. There are a slew of good stores around town to use for simply buying a bottle to drink for the night, but when you need to scratch below the surface and plan tastings, track down collectables, stock bars, plan parties, rent glassware, attend wine classes, purchase fine food and cheese products, ship wine, deliver wine etc. – Wally’s really is amazingly multifaceted and simply offers services other stores don’t/can’t. [And...] I don’t hate any wine that is made by good people with passion and purity of intent. There is a time and a place for every wine of quality.