La Bourgogne serves up French country charm on the Big Island.

While many chefs dream of owning their own small restaurant one day, for Chef Ron Gallaher, it was less whimsical wishing than a purposely driven destination. He spent years preparing with formal training in San Francisco and time spent in some of that culinary capital’s most esteemed restaurants. That background, combined with a passion for cooking “really good” food, led to an impressive chain of experiences as opening chef for some of Honolulu’s trendiest, new restaurants during the flamboyantly decadent 1980s.

Then, voilà! Suddenly the destination was in sight with an opportunity on HawaiÊ»i Island he simply couldn’t resist. Gallaher and Colleen Moore (wife and business partner) took the leap, purchasing the existing La Bourgogne French Restaurant in Kailua-Kona in 1993. They made the deal with the original owners, Guy and Juta Chatelard, who after many successful years, according to Moore, decided it was time to retire. The tiny gem of a restaurant is discreetly hidden in a non-descript office building set alongside busy Queen KaÊ»ahumanu Highway—a location belying the gastronomic treasures found inside.

In the ensuing 22 years, the couple has maintained their daily mantra: “Never rush guests; the table is theirs for the evening.” Not such-a-much you say? Consider this: The immensely popular, critically acclaimed, one-and-only truly Burgundian restaurant contains just 10 tables and serves only 35 guests five nights a week.

“During peak seasons, we turn away at least that many per night,” Moore, who manages the front of the house with both savvy and charm, says. She’s also the one charged with accepting—and declining—reservations. “Fortunately, most of our customers are repeat diners, so they know to book well in advance.”

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Fricassée of rabbit, slow roasted in white wine, rabbit stock, lavender and rosemary, served with carrots, fennel, onion and mushrooms.

While Gallaher heads up the stoves in a one-man show, his personable nature leads him to the dining room frequently throughout the evening, welcoming guests, suggesting wine pairings and sharing presentation responsibilities with his one server, Colleen.

Part-time HawaiÊ»i Island residents, and frequent diners at La Bourgogne, Mike Sack and John Saul say, “That personal, warm service, along with Ron’s spectacular menu, is what makes dining here so special—it makes us feel as though we’re dining at a friend’s home. We love the food, and we love chatting with Ron and Colleen.”

It’s a sentiment shared by most diners at this quintessentially “country French” restaurant. From the brick walls and Provençale wallpaper, to the starched white linens with turquoise overlays and pink napkins, and of course, the menu itself, entering La Bourgogne is arriving in France without traveling through several time zones!

The beloved, carefully curated menu has changed minutely over the years. “We’re victims of our own success, apparently—each of our regulars has his or her favorite dish, and we don’t dare remove it,” Gallaher says.

There’s plenty of room, however, for creativity with nightly and seasonal specials—Beef Bourguignon in honor of Julia Child’s birthday each August and the most deliciously rich and soul-satisfying cassoulet this side of Paris, offered three to four times a year. Regularly scheduled prix fixe wine dinners, inspired by the couple’s annual trips to France each September, also are offered throughout the year.

“We use local ingredients as much as possible. HawaiÊ»i Island’s produce, seafood, goat cheese, mushrooms and free-range chicken eggs are fantastic. I’m a regular at the island’s farmers markets,” Gallaher says. “Of course, some ingredients are imported from France. Snails, for instance—they’re just larger and more flavorful—are a must for our escargot,” he adds.

Additional traditional dishes include a luscious, ultra-cheesy la soupe à l’oignon, frog legs Provençale, seared Muscovy duck liver, slow-roasted rabbit in a white wine and French lavender sauce, and rack of lamb with the diner’s choice of garlic rosemary butter or Dijon mustard sauce. Nightly specials appear on a large chalk board and typically include one or two appetizers and entrées to complement menu offerings.

“We always feature nightly fish specials, selecting the freshest available on any given day. Over the years we’ve developed great relationships with our vendors, and I receive daily calls from local fisherman telling me about their ‘catch of the day,’ and growers sharing perfectly ripened fruit and garden fresh vegetables,” Gallaher says.

Some of his favorite fish are the meatier-textured varieties—Hawaiian sea bass, kampachi and onaga, among them. Prepared to perfection, diners choose among three or four different sauces to accompany the dish.

Desserts, all house-made, are more than worth the calories—be sure to save room! Allow 20 minutes for the heavenly chocolate Grand Marnier soufflé, or, if you simply can’t wait, we dare you to pick just one of these sinfully delicious classics: rich chocolate pots de crème, tarte tatin, profiteroles and chocolate-stuffed poached pear with port sauce, among many more.

La Bourgogne, 77-6400 Nalani St., Kailua-Kona, (808) 329-6711