The new lunches at Le Bouillon are classic Omaha Old Market. There’s a view of bustling brick streets and, on the menu, French onion soup, hearty sandwiches and the kind of satisfying but artful entrees that chef and owner Paul Kulik has become known for.
Perhaps more than anything else, the new lunch service, which the restaurant started this spring after the fire that destroyed M’s Pub, helps to fill a hole in its beloved neighborhood: daytime dining.
I reviewed Le Bouillon’s dinner service two years ago, after the restaurant replaced another iconic Old Market spot, The French Café. Then, Kulik’s focus was on creating a new French destination for the neighborhood, which I’d say he’s done. Le Bouillon now has plenty of regulars for dinner and a strong Sunday brunch crowd.
Now, with lunch, the restaurant becomes more approachable and more affordable than it’s been before; the most expensive item at the noon hour is $16.
The menu doesn’t fall far from what Kulik has already created: The food is finely executed, tasty and, above all, classically French. It’s also a nod to how much Kulik cares about the well-being of the Old Market, the neighborhood where he runs two restaurants, this one and the Boiler Room Restaurant.
After the loss of M’s, Kulik said, he wanted to provide not just a place for displaced restaurant staff to work but also a new place for people to have a midday meeting or casual lunch downtown.
“It was kind of time for us to step up and be a true partner in the neighborhood,” he said.
Those ideas are what drove him to create a menu he said he wants to be warm, inviting and, above all, looser than the restaurant’s more formal evening menu. It needed to be familiar and accessible — and it is.
The French onion soup, a nod to The French Café’s menu if there ever was one, is even better than the one diners might remember from the previous restaurant. Rich with flavor — the broth is made with foie gras — it’s served in a hot bowl crowded with sweet caramelized onions, a crunchy slab of toast and a rich melt of comte cheese with crispy brown edges. For me, it is a meal in itself.
Another small plate that could be a meal in itself, or served beside soup, is the pork rillette tartine. The menu offers a rotating slate of these creatively topped toasts, and we loved the cold rillette atop perfectly crusty bread and a sweet spread of carrot butter. The mix of cold and warm, savory and sweet is an elevated version of your average sandwich.
An excellent pile of Paris ham anchored a mustardy croque madame, its brioche topped with a runny fried egg and served with a small green salad. The sandwich’s creamy yet crunchy texture was spot-on. Parisian gnocchi, made from dough instead of potato, are nonetheless light and pillowy as ever. The dish came topped with crisp-tender Brussels sprouts, lamb sausage, parsley butter and chili flakes.
And I couldn’t review lunch at Bouillon without going in for the primo item: tender Wagyu beef skirt steak and frites, a dish that’s both a personal favorite and, here, absolutely worth experiencing. Mid-rare steak came sliced thin and charred on the edge, topped with salty fried capers, rich anchovy butter, a small pile of dressed arugula and hand-cut, crisp-tender fries.
Since the fire closed M’s Pub, lots of readers have asked me “Where should I go now?”
When it comes to lunch, Le Bouillon is offering a sophisticated, approachable alternative. A smattering of diners filled the space during the day when I ate there on two recent visits, but this is a menu worthy of a following. It deserves one, and now you know.
Address: 1017 Howard St.
Hours: Now serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday starting at 11 a.m.
Hits: A croque madame sandwich and a classic burger are French lunch standbys; the restaurant’s version of French onion soup is perhaps the best in the city.
Misses: No individual dish disappointed, but we did wish for a few lighter, less caloric lunch options.
Drinks: The restaurant’s full bar, along with non-alcoholic drink options, are available.
Prices: Reasonable. Soups and salads start at $9, sandwiches are around $12 and entrees are between $10 and $16.
Noise level: Perfect for conversation.