“It’s smaller than a hole in the wall,” owner Julie Fulton jokes about her eight-hundred-square-foot restaurant. With just eight tables in their dining area, Bouche is a cozy French experience for people looking to take a break from the bustle of the Financial District.
“You’re here for dinner, you’re not here for work,” Fulton explains. “Since 2011 we have been trying to reintroduce how pleasurable it is to sit down and share a meal and interact with people in the community. We’re not just about eating to survive, we create an experience.”
When Bouche was opened in 2011, Fulton initially worked as the manager. In 2018, the owner was looking to sell and offered the restaurant to her; on account of how close a relationship she had built with regulars.
“Bouche is my baby,” she recalls. “It was a perfect marriage. We put our souls into what we do.
We go there to give you what we give to ourselves daily. It’s personable, we know our regulars so well.”
A Culture of Creativity
It’s easy to see how Fulton’s experiences influence the space. Herself a French immigrée, she’s traveled the world and seen different cultural approaches to dining. At Bouche, she encourages her guests to expand their palates.
“We have a dish called ‘the adventure,’ where we set up a blind dish (you just know the price and any potential allergens), and we challenge peoples’ palate, stuff you would never order for yourself,” she explains excitedly. “Ninety percent of the people who are curious, they end up loving it. They trust us. We don’t reveal what it is until they’re finished. We don’t want their brains to trick them out of enjoying it.”
“When you travel and you open your mind to other cultures, you want to trust them, you don’t want to just go to McDonald’s in Thailand. Once we’ve built that trust, we don’t [hassle] them and we do good things, cook really good food.”
Bouche’s reputation is founded largely on a love of the culinary craft. Every eight weeks, the menu at Bouche changes completely. Garnishing an eclectic supply of goods from small farmers and vineyards, Fulton challenges herself and her chefs to craft new dishes with what they have.
“We challenge ourselves in creativity, otherwise we’re going to get stuck,” Fulton elaborates. “If we are bored cooking, it will reflect that in the dish. A basket of new products every eight weeks is thrilling to create with. It keeps the produce fresh and your regulars entertained. I want to be wowed so I can wow you.”
Fulton doesn’t just share this passion with her guests; Bouche also offers an internship through the CASA culinary school in Los Angeles to apprentice aspiring California chefs.
Staying True while Sheltered in Place
Bouche was not immune to the closures in the restaurant industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has been closed since March. In the second phase of Governor Newsom’s plan to reopen California’s economy, seated restaurants are expected to reopen eventually, but with harsh limits on capacity. Already an intimate space, Fulton is expecting to only be able to serve up to three tables at a time.
And yet, Fulton hasn’t abandoned her values during the shutdowns. She still sets up weekly video conferences with students from the CASA internship to show them new recipes, still passing on the tradition of cooking.
“We need to stay open so that we can welcome our employees back at the end of this,” she says. “We have to try different things.”
One of those new avenues she’s explored is a new line of take-home sauces made fresh at the Bouche kitchen.
“Our food doesn’t fit well into a box, so we had to create a new menu in order to go,” Fulton says. “We had all this product that we didn’t want to go bad, we had fresh mushrooms and cream, so we made a cream of mushroom sauce.”
Fulton named the take-home sauces “SôS” as a clever play on the universal distress signal, “SOS.” With five different flavors available at launch, there are options for meat lovers as well as vegetarians and vegans. Fulton says that each eight-dollar container gives patrons creative license to experiment with their home cooking, staying true to the love of the craft that Bouche has always promoted.
“We cook every day because we love it, and we love to get people to try new things, so we wanted to bring a sparkle into their home cooking,” she says proudly. “Now that people are cooking twice a day, we give people one bowl that they can use with their own creativity. We started doing curbside pickup with people in the community, people sharing threads for different recipes they tried.”
This week, Fulton says she plans on rolling out SôS “Burger Fever,” a package of French-style burgers with a bottle of rosé for $18 at curbside. Despite the massive challenges her restaurant faces, along with the rest of the industry, Fulton remains determined to carry on.
“We go day by day and keep motivated,” she says resiliently. “I came all the way from France thirteen years ago, and I am not stopping now.”