I got the name of this restaurant from a friend in San Francisco, he said it is very easy to remember, Bouche on Bush street. It is a tiny restaurant with maybe 35 seats, a small upstairs and a downstairs counter seating shared with the kitchen. Bouche restaurant is part restaurant, part wine bar. Owner and Provence native Guillaume Issaverdens opened Bouche in 2011 as a lively gathering spot to offer delicious food and a venerable wine list. The menu finds inspiration from France, the Mediterranean, and the bountiful Northern California farmers’ markets while the wine program, personally overseen by Guillaume, focuses on esoteric French wines from small appellations. In 2013 a new chef was selected, Jerome Albaric, replacing Michel Réthoré and before that, Nicolas Borzee. He was most recently executive chef at Plouf, and prior to that, he was exec sous chef at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. Jerome is originally from the south of France, and his cooking style at Bouche is classic French. He plans to keep the menu changing at Bouche (about once a week, he’ll be adding new dishes).
To call the Bouche space tiny is perhaps generous. With 16 bar seats on the first floor and 20 on the upstairs loft, the restaurant and kitchen are a study in small and a broad hint of Provence. The ceiling framing – it would be an exaggeration to say open beam – provides a relief to the somewhat cramped upstairs. But with the windows open to a warm spring breeze and street sounds, I could easily imagine I was in France. The first floor offers an urban experience, counter seating only, with views onto busy Bush Street. Dining on the second level, however, with its exposed rafters and rustic furnishings, is like cozying up in the attic of a Provençal barn. Tables sport tops that originally served as wine racks. As you can see, the staff is very friendly, the atmosphere casual and the place was packed when I was there.
I began with a white wine, I asked for something like Sancerre and Melizoa suggested Chant de Vignes (Singing of the Vines) which was much better. This is made with Camaralet and Gros Manseng grapes with a beautiful and intense bouquet with a finish of notes of citrus/tropical fruit and aromas of white pepper, cinnamon, fennel. I began with a special of the day, grilled Brussels Sprouts with Pesto and lemon topped with Parmesan cheese, absolutely delicious. I then moved on to pan seared scallop with tarragon polenta and calamari cooked in a red wine reduction. The scallop was cooked perfectly, the polenta soft and delicious and the calamari worked surprisingly well with the red wine. For my main, I had the pan seared Petrale sole, crispy Porcini risotto, espelette and carrot purée. The presentation was beautiful, the sole cooked to a flakey perfection and the purée provided a nice counterpoint. Espelette pepper is a variety of chili pepper that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Basque country. It really is not a spicy pepper but has really nice flavor. I am really not a fan of fried croquettes in general but I tasted these and they were good.
I absolutely loved this restaurant, from the moment you step through the door, you feel the warm embrace of a small French café or even of a French home. The diminutive size encourages conversation among the diners, chefs and staff downstairs, where I chose to sit, while the upper floor is perfect for a romantic dinner. In fact Bouche was voted most romantic San Francisco restaurant and one of the best French restaurants in the US by Food and Wine in 2013. It is a late night hangout for those in the area and they serve brunch on Sunday. The wines are great, the food delicious, the staff outstanding and the small size is ideal, try Bouche if you visit San Francisco.
Official Website: http://www.bouchesf.com
Chant de Vingnes: http://www.jurancon-cauhape.com/chant-des-vignes.html