Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Evening at Chez TJ

Foie Gras at Chez TJThis was going to my first visit to a Michelin two-star restaurant. When expectations are high, it is easy to be disappointed, but I am happy to say the restaurant more than lived up to its hype. Thank you, Mark & Deb for making this a memorable evening for me; while the food and wine were really nice, the company was especially so!

Only seven restaurants in the entire Bay Area have two Michelin stars or more. Chez TJ was awarded these stars in this year's updated Michelin Guide, after chef Christopher Kostow put Mountain View on the culinary map of the Bay Area. Within months of getting the award, Kostow who is young and ambitious decided to move on; he's now in charge of Meadowood in St. Helena. Who says only software engineers are mercenary!

Anyway, Chef Bruno Chemel, a Frenchman and much older than Kostow, seems intent on keeping the culinary flag flying high here. Having worked in Japan for a few years, Chemel does borrow some ideas, but the cuisine is very contemporary French.

The restaurant is located in a beautiful Victorian house on Castro Street that was built in the 1800s. Large glass windows look out on surrounding gardens, and rooms have been tastefully furnished to provide an old-world charm.

Amuse Bouches at Chez TJWe decided to choose our own courses with wine pairings. The breads and amuse bouches arrived almost instantly. There was some cheese thing with caviar, melon sushi, and dried carrot on toast with some more caviar. Between courses, I also remember bits of sashimi in a tiny spoon that exploded with taste on the palate.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras Trio at Chez TJOur first course, the Hudson Valley foie gras trio set the stage for what was to come. The dish pairs foie gras pâté with leeks, summer truffles, a foie gras torchon and sautéed foie gras with small chunks of peach, carmelized morel, and candied strawberry. So buttery-soft delicious, rich and luxurious it left me quite overwhelmed. The pale gold 1998 Chateau La Grave, St. Croix Du Mont, France was like a dessert wine but paired well.

Day Boat ScallopsTwo preparations of Day Boat Scallops were combined into the next dish: a creamy scallop mousse with asparagus puree that was topped with a lemon foam, and a seared scallop with lemon confit accompanied by fresh corn and morel mushrooms. This dish was amazing: the mousse melted instantly in the mouth and the seared scallop was squeaky fresh. Very subtle flavors but ones that will linger in my memory.

Elysian Farms Lamb Four CutsThe lamb "four cuts" looked interesting and tasted even more so: the fatty striated belly, the confit on a piece of focaccia, the saddle with black olive crust, and the leg and tongue molded into a round. Alongside were three preparations of artichokes: a heap of crisply fried artichokes, a swatch of puree, and a baby heart on a small heap of fava beans and baby carrot. This dish was paired with a 2004 Dolcetto Diano D'Alba from Piedmont, Italy.

Meyer Angus Sirloin-Mishima Ranch Kobe Short RibCalifornia Duck SalmisI have included pictures here of the other entrees: Deb's Meyer Angus Sirloin and Mishima Ranch Kobe Short Rib with a zucchini melange and cabernet reduction, and Mark's California Duck Salmis with roasted morels and apricot sauce.

Palate CleanserPinapple Carpaccio and MoreThey sent us a citrus palate cleanser before the desserts. Pastry chef Ryan Shelton's creations complemented Chemel's main courses. I had ordered the Pineapple Carpaccio, Spiced Cake, Vanilla Nougat, and Rum Gelee. However, the other desserts on the table looked even better. Especially the iced watermelon with lime cheesecake and licorice marshmallow. The orange mocha Trifle with mudpie and chocolate gelato looks amazing too, doesn't it? (Note: Hover your mouse over the pictures if you can't figure out which is which). My dessert was paired with a Kir Royal cocktail made of elderflower liquor and sparkling wine.

Summer Iced Watermelon and MoreOrange-Mocha Trifle and MoreThat was followed by a few other surprises, such as a little spoon of lychee 'sashimi' followed by bite-sized fruit tarts and sweets, which concluded the meal on a high note.

TartsThe waitstaff was prompt, friendly and helpful throughout. All in all, I must say that there indeed is a difference between the single-star restaurants I have visited and this one. I look forward to being back here again.


Deepti said...

Was just drooling over this post !! Good to see you back .. dint strike when I bumped into you in the morning :)

beaverboosh said...

Looks very chi chi but swayed by your review, especially the scallops... will put it on the list... not sure when I will get back to SF though... maybe next spring.

Lakshmi said...

I like the old world charm...especially glass lanterns ..

Anonymous said...

@deepti: Thank you!

@beaverboosh: Let me know how you find it.

@lakshmi: They look good, especially since they have very minimalistic decor inside.

Anonymous said...

Must have been a culinary blast :-)

Great report and wonderful pictures - what artistic plates and servings!

Anonymous said...

@renny: It certainly was! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, look at the decorations :) Almost made me think that I shouldn't taste any of this food, it looks so beautiful:) Lychee Sashimi sounds good.

Anonymous said...

@priyank: Yes, don't they look gorgeous?