Dominique Bouchet: Simplicity and Restraint

PARIS – In this day and age, when ultra-fresh, ultra-beautiful food – from fruits and vegetables to meats, fish and poultry – is there for the asking, the hardest task for most cooks is to keep it simple. Dominique Bouchet, one of the capital’s star chefs of the moment, certainly understands restraint, and for this we thank him.

Dominique Bouchet, you say? He’s surely not a household word, yet a look at his track record belies his quiet public persona. Fresh from a stint as chef at the Hotel Crillon, he’s been on his own – again – for just a few months, settling into a quiet street in the 8th arrondissement. (For the record, he’s also been behind the stove at Jamin in the pre-Robuchon days, at La Tour d’Argent, then at his own restaurant in the Charentes. And he’s trained, among others, chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York) His latest spot – Dominique Bouchet – is what we want today, a subtle mix of homey bistro and neighborhood restaurant. The menu is brief, crisp, and welcoming, as is the small 40-seat dining room, with exposed stone walls, quiet tones of beige and brown, and a small, open kitchen that’s as discreet as the rest of the place.

Keeping it simple, the 52-year-old chef offers just half a dozen starters, a quartet of fish, five different meat dishes and six desserts, along with a single daily special. Some dishes will just make your heart sing, like his generous plate of mixed seasonal vegetables, seasoned with fresh coriander and a shower of olive oil. On one visit the combination included baby cauliflower, carrots, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, green beans and parsnips. The mix was a welcome breath of fresh spring air on a late winter’s eve. And at 14 euros, it’s a pure bargain.

Equally bright and appealing is Bouchet’s warm terrine of rich and elegant Beaufort cheese, artichokes and ham, a pretty, compact dish served with a small green salad alongside. His simple but sublime terrine of foie gras is served with a mix of dried fruits and nuts and freshly grilled bread.

I’d go back again and again for his classic rendition of aile de raie – or skate wing – set on a bed of baby ratte potatoes, seasoned with just capers and lemon. The dish sings with freshness, a winning combination of sweet skate wing, warming potatoes with a fine touch of acidity from the capers and lemon. Equally full of clean, intense flavors is the roasted duck paired with a confit of turnips set off with just a touch of vinegar. My only disappointment over a series of visits was the seven-hour leg of lamb, which tasted over-reduced, with juices that gave off a touch of bitterness.

As if I have not already given enough good reasons to pay Bouchet a visit take one look at the wine list and you’ll do a dance. Bouchet has no huge cellar and doesn’t intend to build a huge list, so instead he prefers a steady stream of limited wines, all at good prices. The 2002 red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards, from the Perrin family at Château du Beaucastel is priced at 56 euros. The year 2002 was the only year they did not make a Châteauneuf under the Beaucastel label, due to intense rain during the September harvest. So Les Sinards actually includes the Beaucastel grapes, and anyone who does not love its rich, multi-layered quality should give up drinking wine altogether. Other fine buys include Bruno Claire’s intense, expressive 2000 pinot noir Marsannay Les Grasses Têtes, for 45 euros; and Olivier Leflaive’s classic, mineral-rich Chardonnay, Chablis Les Deux Rives, at 36 euros.

Dominique Bouchet
11 rue Treillard
Paris 8
Telephone: 01 45 61 09 46
Fax: 01 42 89 11 14

All major credit cards. Closed Saturday and Sunday. About 55 euros per person, including service but not wine.