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Bouchon Amuses Our Bouches

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Glamour was the order of the evening at Bouchon's opening event Monday night. After ascending the staircase, we were greeted by servers offering champagne near a caviar station with caviar quenelle and whipped cream cheese-topped bagel crisps surrounding the biggest ice volleyball in the world. Gliding down the elegant hallway, we came across a full bar on the right serving Bouchon's signature drink of Grey Goose vodka, Lillet Blanc, and Brizard Peche with an Orange Baton/Lemon Twist. A raw bar around the corner was shucking oysters at lightning speed.

The room is reminiscent of a bistro, but on a grander scale. Whimsical murals line the walls and high ceilings keep the rococco touches from overwhelming the eye. The use of space for the event was practical and imaginative, with cheese and charcuterie being offered in the main dining room, hot appetizers in the kitchen, and cookies in the prep room. The only space that was not being used were the walk-in freezers, but quite a few people were peeking. It was fun to hang around the back corridors where the sommelier was offering a tasting. To add to the fun, there was a bake-your-own-bread station where they taught you to snip leaves of dough with scissors, forming beautiful baguettes.

The raw bar offered oysters, shrimp, clams, and mussels. The Beau Soleil oysters were ruffled, like in The Walrus and the Carpenter, and they tasted briny but clean. They went down gently with a dose of mignonette sauce. You know you are in a great hall of gastronomie when the shrimp cocktail is getting the least attention. The charcuterie table held an inviting array of salami, pickled vegetables, marinated olives, tapenade and olivade, Pate de Campagne and toasted breads. The cheese table was laden with a selection of imported cheeses including Red Hawk and Fourme d'Ambert to enjoy with fresh Bouchon breads.

But in spite of the high quality, these were all cold apps -- where was Thomas Keller's delicious food? Slip down the hall into the kitchen, and voila! Cue "Fanfare for a King's Supper". The first taste was a butternut squash soup that was comforting, but not memorable compared to the luscious morsels to follow. Perhaps the most delicious "doot" (as James Beard called them) was Keller's take on a BLT -- pork belly with pesto between two slices of butter-soaked grilled sourdough bread. Rich short ribs in a dark demi glace were another favorite. The little squares of short ribs may have been on a mashed potato and parsnip puree, but the meat was so intense that anything else on the appetizer spoon was overshadowed.

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The pommes frites were a hit with the crowd, and the paper cones were set in an adorable tiered display as well as offered around the dining room in a carnival-like cigarette girl tray. In fact, isn't that a (truffled) popcorn machine over there? Along with the accordian player and chanteuse Morganne Picard's silky voice, Bouchon was conjuring up memories of Paris' Île de la Cité.

Other notable bites turned out by the kitchen were teensy croque monsieurs, croquettes, delicate pastries filled with mushroom duxelles, petit cod brandade, and canapés topped with foie gras quenelles, smoked salmon, or roast beef.

Down the hall as we were juggling plates, someone mentioned dessert. Dessert? Oh my God! Could there be any more delicious food left out there in the world? Or was it all here in this one building on this one night? Turning the corner into the prep area, we were dazzled by a delight of cookies. Signature TKOs, Keller's interpretation of an Oreo, were shaped like adorable little daisies. Their macarons are light as air. The crackle as the fragile outer shell barely breaks between your teeth and sucks up into a little ball of sugar is as satisfying as breaking the top of a creme brulee with the tip of your spoon.

The last room was the bakery, where people were learning to fashion baguettes, a lucky few under the guidance of Thomas Keller himself. Comaraderie built as people waited in anticipation for their loaves to be turned out of the oven. It was a friendly crowd all around, and we chatted with Jay Leno as easily as Cheryl Tiegs. Walking out into the early winter cold with our gift bags, Don Johnson flashed us a peace sign. Eliza Doolittle could not have felt any more glamorous leaving her very first ball.

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