Despite the frigid weather, romance was in the air as we stepped into
Restaurant Bouchard on a recent Saturday evening. Tiny white lights twined
through artificial grapevines in the small-paned side windows and across the
imposing wooden mantelpiece. An Old World flavor permeated the two small dining
rooms, where most tables have heavy brocade or flowered underskirts, their
edges caught up in a round knot to avoid tripping customers. Chairs, in a
variety of styles, have wide, upholstered seats. White linens and flowered
plates, small pleat-shaded lamps and stems of fragrant Scotch broom completed
the feeling of having stepped into a place where we would be pampered.
As indeed we were. From the filtered water -- such a necessary alternative to
the poor-tasting Newport water -- and the hot-out-of-the-oven homemade rolls to
the extra sauce, potato puff, and colorful garnish that were added to my
take-home portion of Dover sole, we felt surrounded by a sense of elegance, but
not pretentiousness. And that certainly carried over to the food.
Despite the soft sibilants and muted vowels that drifted over to me from two
oh-so-French host/waiters, the restaurant's chef-owner, Albert Bouchard, is
American-born, -bred, and -trained, at the Culinary Institute of America. After
the CIA, he worked for 21/2 years in Tours and for 15 years at a French
restaurant in New York before he and wife Sarah opened their own place in
Newport almost nine years ago.
Bouchard's menu is inventive without straying too far from classic French
dishes. The foie gras becomes a tower, stacked with potato slices, and drizzled
with truffle oil and aged balsamic. The Atlantic salmon has a "Thai crust" and
a lemongrass sauce. Asparagus and lobster show up in the vol au vent
(inside a puff pastry). And artichokes match up with tomatoes and goat cheese
inside large ravioli.
It was the latter that first caught our attention, and we ordered that ($8.50)
along with a special that evening of wild mushroom soup ($8.95), as
préambles to our meal, as the French so nicely term them. Two
large ravioli were stuffed with grilled artichokes, tomatoes, a bit of goat
cheese, and they were surrounded by a tomato and fennel broth. The bright,
green tastes in this dish made me think of spring.
The mushroom soup was also light and velvety, but its earthy tastes and the
contrasting textures of different mushrooms, from crinkly to smooth, were
reminiscent of a leaf-covered forest floor in autumn. Two crispy parsnip chips
waved from a rosette of potato puree at the edge of the soup.
Next came our entrees, Dover sole with a sorrel sauce ($30) for me, and veal
sweetbreads with a Madeira demi-glaze ($28) for Bill. The lemony sorrel was a
perfect foil for the firm-fleshed sole, so hefty and yet so subtle. Those North
Sea waters (this was from Holland) produce terrific fish.
Bill's sweetbreads were carefully sautéed with mushrooms and topped
with thin slices of smoked duck breast, one of his favorites. The Madeira
sauce, reduced with a hint of tomato, was slightly sweet and nicely
understated. Both of us had mashed potato rosettes intriguingly decorated, with
snow peas and eggplant skins as leaves, yellow squash, and zucchini slivers as
petals, even a soupçon of pickled red cabbage as sepals.
Restaurant Bouchard has a full bar and a well-selected wine list, with a wide
range of prices. Bill had a glass of the house chardonnay ($6), and he was
quite pleased with it.
Desserts at Bouchard include the classics of crème
brûlée, chocolate mousse and profiteroles (cream
puffs), but we were tempted by the Grand Marnier soufflé, ordered
at the beginning of the meal ($9). We were thoroughly impressed, not only by
the height and lightness of the baked dish itself, but by the intensity of
orange flavor in the soufflé as well as the warm crème
Anglaise that had been carefully spooned into it at the table.
With all five senses engaged in this dessert -- I had to tap the top of it and
listened to the serving spoon break through its browned crust -- this was the
perfect ending to such an elegant meal. The flow and tone of the service was
also just right (except for a slow-down with our check), and we felt very
welcomed, even by a friendly "Bon Appetit," when Bouchard himself passed
My feeling of romance was confirmed by a frog theme (stuffed or sculpted)
throughout the restaurant. Sure, it's '40s slang for the French, but upon
closer inspection, many of the frogs were frog princes, ready to
transmogrify when kissed. And don't we all turn from pouty frogs to smiling
royalty when we feel cherished? If you don't have a special someone who can do
this for you on a daily basis (or even if you do), treat yourself (and that
someone) to Restaurant Bouchard. The staff and the Bouchards will, in turn,