The restaurant at 1017 Howard Street made an indelible mark on the city’s culinary landscape.
The sentence above was a factual statement when uttered in any year from 1969 through 2012, when the legendary French Café closed. In opening Le Bouillon in the same memorable space, owner and executive chef Paul Kulik aims to keep those words operative well into the new millennia.
“The history of the Old Market quite literally starts with the French Café,” says Kulik, who is also the executive chef at the famed Boiler Room restaurant located just around the corner. “Everything about the Old Market radiated out from and was developed around that place. You might say that Le Bouillon is, at least in part, homage to the French Café.”
The commonalities, other than a mailing address, between the two restaurants begin—and to a certain degree end—with Kulik retaining a French aesthetic.
“When talking about French food I want to be very clear to distinguish between a stereotype and a much simpler idea,” Kulik says. “I’m talking about the food the French as a people put on their table every day. It’s not about white tablecloths. It’s about getting back to garden cooking—country food that grandma would be proud to put on the table. Fresh. Unpretentious. It’s a French Country sensibility, but with our own spin on it,” he adds of a menu that reflects the heritage of southwestern France and northern Spain.
The most notable change in terms of outward appearance of the restaurant is that Kulik had removed the view-blocking window film that shrouded the once darkish space.
“You don’t build a restaurant overlooking, say, the Grand Canyon, and then cover the windows,” Kulik says. A window seat at Le Bouillon is sure to be one of the most coveted of table assignments, especially as the favorite sport of Old Market people-watching gains momentum with rising temperatures.
Omaha has always been a big food town. Studies show that we eat out more often than folks in other places. To many, the city is synonymous with steak. But Kulik, one of Omaha’s most acclaimed food pioneers of the past decade, believes in a higher goal—work that will cement for the city the reputation of being a place that has a rich, broad, and evolving culinary scene.
The view of diners at the old French Café was obstructed by film on the windows. Kulik’s vision has no such obstacles.