Monday, August 29, 2011

French Laundry (Yountville, CA) [2]

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
Mon 08/29/2011, 07:00p-11:40p

French Laundry

Back when I was just starting out in this blog game, dining at the temple of gastronomy that is The French Laundry was almost unfathomable. Almost. When I finally--due to a fortuitous meeting with Thomas Keller's father Ed--made it out, the dinner was a bit of a revelation, and to this day, it still stands as of my most significant, and best, meals that I've ever had. That was all under Chef de Cuisine Corey Lee, who left the restaurant in 2009 and now rules the roost at his own place in San Francisco, Benu. Lee was summarily replaced by Tim Hollingsworth, and for this most recent visit, I was eager to see how things had changed under the reign of the boyish Bocuse d'Or competitor.

About the Chef: Timothy Hollingsworth was born in 1980 in Houston, but spent his childhood in Placerville, CA, a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. After finishing school, he took up his first restaurant job at Zachary Jacques, a French-style country restaurant (some foreshadowing perhaps?) run by Chef Christian Masse and his wife Jennifer. He started out at the bottom as a dishwasher, but under the classic French tutelage of Masse, quickly rose up to the rank of Sous Chef. After experiencing life-changing meals at Alain Ducasse's Essex House and Le Cirque in New York, he solidified his commitment to cooking, and, after tenaciously pursuing Thomas Keller, landed a gig at The French Laundry at age 21.

It was 2002, and Hollingsworth found himself as a bright-eyed commis at the vaunted restaurant. He--obviously--excelled in the environment, and in 2004, Keller even selected him to be part of the team that traveled to New York to open Per Se. Stages at some of Europe's top kitchens, including Gordon Ramsay, Michel Rostang, and Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton, soon followed. In 2008, Hollingsworth, somewhat reluctantly, competed in Bocuse d'Or USA semi-finals and ended up winning, allowing him to represent the United States at Lyon in January 2009. Coached by Chef Roland Henen and aided by commis Adina Guest, he managed to finish sixth out of 24. By 2009, Hollingsworth was indispensible as a Sous Chef, and, having undergone extensive training by Corey Lee and Eric Ziebold, was well-prepared to continue French Laundry's strong tradition of culinary excellence upon Lee's departure. Critics seemed to agree. In 2010, he was named "Rising Star Chef" by the San Francisco Chronicle and "Rising Star Chef of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation. Perhaps more importantly, Michelin reaffirmed their three-star rating.

French Laundry Garden Cucumber French Laundry Garden Chickens
French Laundry Garden
As we arrived early, we took the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely stroll through The French Laundry's picturesque gardens across the street.

French Laundry Menu
The French Laundry typically offers up two menus nightly: a Chef's Tasting Menu and Tasting of Vegetables, both priced at $270 per person, inclusive of service. Given that we were seated in the private dining room however, the tab begins at $350 a head, and only goes up from there: +$45pp for foie gras, +$250pp for wine pairing. The cost isn't all for naught though; the huge, huge benefit of the private room is that events can be booked a year in advance, and you don't have to deal with all the rigmarole involved in making a reservation normally--easy breezy. Click for a larger version (note the signature of Executive Sous Chef Philip Tessier, formerly Chef de Cuisine at Bouchon).

A meal at The French Laundry almost always begins with a serving of the famed Gruyère gougères, and indeed, these remain arguably the best I've had. Filled with Mornay sauce, they were creamy, lush, and positively oozing with a cheesy goodness that I found slightly reminiscent of a Cheez-It!

Salmon Cornet
Another mainstay is the restaurant's signature "cornets." Constructed from salmon tartare, chives, and red onion crème fraîche, the dish's savoriness was nicely augmented by the buttery, sesame-tinged smack of the tuile cones.

1: "OYSTERS AND PEARLS" | "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Gaston Chiquet, Blanc de Blancs d'Ay, Grand Cru MV
If there is any one dish that is inextricably associated with Thomas Keller, then this is most certainly it. Oysters arrived poached in clarified butter and finished with dry vermouth and chive butter. The luxurious salinity of the oysters was faultlessly highlighted by the sharp brine of the Sterling caviar, while the tapioca served to moderate the dish beautifully. This was pretty much a perfect course, even better than before. In fact, one of my dining companions even deemed it one of the best things that he'd ever eaten. It was arguably my best oyster dish as well.

Truffled Egg Custard
Next up was an off-the-menu course--available by request only--of white truffle-infused egg custard topped with Perigord sauce (veal ragout, black truffle), then finished with a potato-chive chip. The rich, dark flavors of the veal and truffle played wonderfully with the comparatively mild relish of the custard, while the chip added a nice bit of saltiness and a welcomed textural contrast. Think classic flavors, deftly executed.

Pan Au Lait & Butter
Bread is not baked in-house, but rather, sourced from Bouchon Bakery down the street. Interestingly, bread service here comes serially, one variety at a time. Our first was a pan au lait roll, accompanied by an unsalted butter from Andante Dairy and an exclusive, hand-churned salted butter from Diane Sinclair out of Vermont.

2: SALAD OF FRENCH LAUNDRY GARDEN BEETS | Hass Avocado, Compressed Cucumber, Red Ribbon Sorrel and Yuzu "Gastrique"
Weegmüller, Riesling, "Haardter Herzog," Kabinett, Pfalz 2007
Given my aversion to beets, I wasn't exactly looking forward to this dish, though it was one of the better beet dishes that I've had. The root was fortunately subdued in flavor, and adroitly moderated by the other vegetables at play. I especially appreciated the creamy weight imparted by the avocado, while, at the same time, the yuzu vinaigrette served to temper and tie all the various elements together.

'PB&J' Salt Trio
3: "PB&J" | Moulard Duck "Foie Gras," Peanut "Génoise," Concord Grape "Gelée," Celery Branch and Petite Sirah Reduction
Oremus, Tokaji Aszú, 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj 2002
I always hated peanut butter & jelly sandwiches growing up, but I'm sure that I would've liked 'em better had they all tasted like this! The foie gras itself was delicate, restrained in savor, yet still distinctly liver-y. It thus worked wonderfully with the subdued sweetness of the grape, while the celery added an offsetting astringency to things. My favorite elements here, though, were the candied peanuts, which contributed an overarching nuttiness to the mix, as well as a keen crunchiness. Along with the foie came three types of salt: a grey surface salt from France, a white deep sea salt from the Philippines, and pink Jurassic rock salt from the bottom of a copper mine in Bozeman, Montana. Salt wasn't strictly necessary, but did serve to enhance the flavor of the foie somewhat.

4: COLUMBIA RIVER STURGEON "EN PERSILLADE" | "Ragoût" of Summer Pole Beans, Frisée and Dijon Mustard Emulsion
Vincent Girardin, Puligny-Montrachet, "Les Folatières," Burgundy, 1er Cru 2007
A filet of firm, briny sturgeon came encrusted with a layer of parsley, and accompanied by a Dijon emulsion and mixture of black eyed peas, cranberry beans, and filet beans. I first tasted the fish alone, and wasn't in love with it, finding it a bit brash. The key really was to eat everything together. The bright, green flavors and refreshing crunch of the haricot verts worked wonders in offsetting the potency of the fish, while the beans served to ground the dish.

French Demi-Baguette
Next up was a French demi-baguette.

5: SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER TAIL | Bluefoot Mushrooms, Marble Potatoes, Red Radish, Parsley and Padrón Pepper "Vierge"
Lopez de Heredia, "Viña Gravonia," Blanco, Rioja 2001
Lobster was rather tremendous, one of the best cooked preparations that I've ever had, with a perfectly snappy, supple consistency paired with a sweet, lingering salinity that I adored. The crustacean was delicious alone, but I really enjoyed the savoriness imparted by the blue-foots, while the veggies lightened and brightened the dish.

Multigrain Sourdough
Our final bread: a multigrain sourdough.

6: DEVIL'S GULCH RANCH RABBIT SIRLOIN | Baby Corn, Mission Fig, Swiss Chard and Black Truffle Sauce
Arnot-Roberts, Trousseau, "Luchsinger Vineyard," Clear Lake 2010
Here, I first took a bite of the rabbit loin and reveled in its succulence and profound depth of flavor--it was arguably the singular best mouthful of rabbit that I'd ever eaten. The rack, unfortunately, didn't quite reach such lofty levels, but was nonetheless quite tasty. Both cuts were fantastic when taken with the earthy essence of the black truffle dressing, and I appreciated the slight bitterness from the chard as well. I would say that the corn, however, was a touch too sugary.

7: MARCHO FARM NATURE-FED VEAL | "Lasagne de Langue de Veau," Toybox Tomatoes, Globe Artichoke, Romaine Lettuce and Castelmagno "Mousseline"
Tenuta Friggiali, Brunello di Montalcino, "Donna Olga," Tuscany 2004
Our final savory course, quite simply, brought forth the best preparation of veal that I've ever had. I found the meat uncompromisingly tender and amazingly juicy, amped up with loads of bovine sapor--quite an accomplishment for veal. It was beautifully countervailed by the vegetables, especially the bright crunch of the lettuce, and I loved the contrast provided by the "lasagna" of veal tongue as well. A faultless dish; I couldn't think of a single thing that I wanted to change.

8: "TOMME DE BREBIS" | Bacon-Onion Marmalade, Cipollini Onion, Jacobsen's Farm Apples and Watercress
Failla, Syrah, "Estate," Sonoma Coast 2007
Tomme de Brebis, a semi-firm sheep's milk cheese, showed off a subtly tangy relish that was easy to like. As such, it formed a great base for the sweet-savory interplay of the other ingredients to shine. I especially enjoyed the bacon-onion marmalade, which, interestingly, I found reminiscent of corned beef hash! Accompanying breads included a black currant, a toasted walnut, and a pan rustica.

9: YELLOW WATERMELON SORBET | Basil-Honey and Saba Vinegar
Serving as a sort of palate cleanser, a watermelon sorbet conveyed the pure, unmitigated quintessence of the fruit, while the saba (grape must syrup) contributed a deep, viscous counterpoint of syrup-y, savory-sweet goodness.

10: CARAMÉLIA CHOCOLATE "CRÈMEUX" | Gros Michel Banana, Candied Pine Nuts, "Dentelle" and Salted Popcorn Ice Cream
Château Rieussec, 1er Cru Classé, Sauternes 1989
The last proper course was a crèmeux of Valrhona Caramélia, a type of milk chocolate laced with caramel, which gave the dessert a particularly intense sweetness. At the same time, the popcorn ice cream and pine nuts contributed marked salty notes that countered the chocolate's sugariness perfectly. The whole amalgam, taken together, was delicious, and sort of reminded me of high-class Cracker Jacks!

'Coffee and Doughnuts'
Here was Keller's signature "Coffee and Doughnuts," comprised of fried cinnamon beignets served with a demitasse of espresso ice cream semifreddo. It was a simple but effective dessert, with the light, fluffy doughnut holes pairing with the coffee-tinged semifreddo beautifully.

Valrhona Chocolates
A platter of Valrhona chocolates was up next. Six varieties were on offer: a lovely Ginger & Rum, a classic PB&J with strawberry, a delectably fruity Bing Cherry, an Olive Oil version made with product from Calistoga, a Ferrero Rocher-like Hazelnut Crunch, and a subtle Meyer Lemon.

Macadamia Nuts
Rounding things out was a bowl of caramelized macadamia nuts. They were excellent, showing off a gorgeous crunch and deft mix of sweet and salty flavors.

Shortbread Cookies
To take away: a bag of shortbread cookies, made from a recipe from former Pastry Chef Claire Clark's mother.

French Laundry Kitchen
The requisite kitchen tour at the end of the meal. The space is surprisingly small for a restaurant of this caliber.

Coming in to this meal, I was a bit concerned--concerned about the new Chef, concerned that the restaurant was getting a bit long in the tooth. My fears, fortunately, were not warranted. The dinner was a strong one, quite possibly better than my last in fact. Sure, compared to my other meals of this trip--Atelier Crenn, Saison, Baumé--French Laundry may seem a little "safe." And indeed, the food here isn't as avant garde, as modernist as that at the aforementioned eateries, but it is executed near-flawlessly, and the flavors are pretty much spot on, with the oysters, lobster, rabbit, and veal all being some of the best preparations of those respective ingredients that I'd ever experienced. Hollingsworth and company seem to be holding down the fort quite well, and I have no doubt that my next visit here will be just as good, if not better.

Slanted Door (San Francisco, CA) [2]

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Bldg, San Francisco, CA 94111
Mon 08/29/2011, 11:30a-12:40p

Over four years ago, I stopped by The Slanted Door during a visit to San Francisco, sampled one of their signature spring rolls, and left thoroughly unimpressed. My notion of the restaurant had been negative ever since, but I was finally convinced (a personal recommendation by Dominique Crenn certainly helped) to return for lunch on this latest Bay Area trip.

About the Chef: The Slanted Door is the creation of Chef/Owner Charles Phan. Born in Da Lat, Vietnam in 1962, the eldest of five siblings in an ethnically Chinese family, Phan fled the country after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. His family became "boat people," refugees lost at sea who were eventually rescued by a Malaysian ship. They were brought to Singapore, then to a refugee camp in Guam. From there, they moved to San Francisco. It was 1977, and the family settled in the City's Tenderloin district, and later moved to Chinatown. Since his parents both worked, Phan soon began cooking for the entire family. He was influenced by his mother, who incorporated French flair into her Vietnamese cookery, as well as the culinary traditions of the US, his adopted home.

Phan attended Mission High School, and worked odd jobs during his teenage years, including bussing and serving. He subsequently made his way to UC Berkeley (my alma mater), and studied architecture at the request of his father. Phan, however, would drop out during his junior year and move to New York to work for an architectural firm there. He then took over the family garment business, and later secured a job working in sales at a Silicon Valley software company. The thrill of cooking, however, always persisted, and Phan became influenced by the Bay Area food scene, specifically the likes of Chez Panisse and Zuni Café. After plans to open a banh xeo crêperie in the Tenderloin fell through, Phan started work on The Slanted Door. He enlisted the help of his family, and in November 1995, after a year of renovations, quietly debuted the restaurant in a 3,600sqft space at 584 Valencia Street in The Mission.

Though his menu was modest, he succeeded in serving refined, market-driven Vietnamese fare made from top-notch ingredients, a revolutionary idea at the time. The Slanted Door was a hit; the restaurant soon began turning people away in droves, and President Clinton even dined there. At this point, it became clear that expansion was sorely needed. Phan wanted to stay in The Mission though, and thus purchased the Valencia building and, in 2002, moved the restaurant to a temporary space at 100 Brannan Street. This restaurant, thanks to the inclusion of a full bar, was an even bigger hit than the original; thus, even more expansion was needed. Then, in 2003, a huge space in the Ferry Building came up, and Phan grabbed it, subsequently debuting the third iteration of The Slanted Door in April 2004.

This latest restaurant has continued the success of its predecessors, allowing Phan to open up three locations of his Out the Door take-out concept. He also commands the casual Academy Cafe at the California Academy of Sciences, a joint venture with friend and fellow chef Loretta Keller that bowed in 2008. In January 2009, he opened Heaven's Dog, a noodle bar-cum-cocktail lounge. Phan comes full circle with his latest venture: Wo Hing General Store, set in the space of the original Slanted Door. The restaurant will feature Chinese-inspired street food as executed by Chef Michelle Mah, and is expected to debut in September.

Slanted Door Interior
The Slanted Door is a rather large space, seating 150 diners in the main dining room, another 50 or so in the bar/lounge, and yet another 20 in a private dining room. The restaurant was penned by Olle Lundberg, and has a sort of nautical, water-y design going on, a fitting theme given its location directly on the Bay.

Slanted Door Menu Slanted Beverage Menu
The Slanted Door's menu of Cal-Viet cuisine is on the large side, and could probably use some editing. A respectable selection of beers and teas is also on offer, as is a Riesling-heavy wine list curated by Wine Director Mark Ellenbogen. Click for larger versions.

Gin Fizz Tropical Strubbe's Flemish Ale Saison Dupont
Gin Fizz Tropical [$11.00] | Plymouth gin, Small Hand Foods orgeat and pineapple gum, lime, egg white, soda water
Strubbe's Flemish Ale [$10.00] | a sour red ale
Saison Dupont [$10.00] | belgian farmhouse ale (375 ml)
The Gin Fizz Tropical was a keen riff on the original, with a marked sweetness on the attack playing off the refreshing zestiness of the gin and lime; the egg white, meanwhile, gave the drink a great frothiness. Joining the cocktail were two beers: Brouwerij Strubbe's Flemish Red Ale Grand Cru, a nice change of pace from the Duchesse De Bourgogne that I normally get, and Saison Dupont, a farmhouse standby.

half dozen oysters
half dozen oysters [$16.00] | drakes bay (ca), kumamoto (ca), beausoleil (nb)
Oysters are one of my favorite ways to kick off a meal. We had three varieties, and I began with my favorite, the Kumamoto. They were exactly as I expected, with a slight sweetness at first, followed up by a crisp, growing brininess. The Drakes Bays, on the other hand, were much saltier, with overarching notes of melon. Beausoleils, finally, also showed off a marked, creeping salinity, but were more subdued compared to the Drakes.

wild california uni
wild california uni [$17.00] | with black tobiko, avocado, cucumber
Uni's pretty much a must-order for me these days, and these did not disappoint. The lush, inherent sugariness of the urchin paired beautifully with the creaminess of the avocado, while the flying fish roe added a tinge of saltiness to the fray. I appreciated the crunch of the cucumber here as well. Very nice!

california yellowtail
california yellowtail [$16.00] | with crispy shallots and thai basil
Yellowtail was similarly delicious. The fried shallots contributed a fantastic savoriness that played perfectly with the relatively subtle relish of the fish, and added a lovely crunchiness to boot. At the same time, the Thai basil provided an overarching sweet herbaceousness that lingered long on the palate. Yum.

green papaya
green papaya [$11.00] | with pickled carrot, tofu, rau ram and toasted peanuts
One of The Slanted Door's signature dishes is the papaya salad, or goi du du. I rather enjoyed it, with its bright, sweet, crisp flavors of papaya, carrot, and cucumber working off the nutty crunchy of the peanuts and minty rau ram faultlessly. I appreciated the additional weight imparted by the tofu as well. Just a beautifully integrated dish, one that actually reminded me of Jordan Kahn's version over at Red Medicine.

chilled greenlip mussels
chilled greenlip mussels [$12.00] | steamed in wine and lemongrass with roasted chili aioli
Mussels were snappy and fresh, with subtle tinges of alcohol and lemongrass to complement the bivalves' natural savor. They were tasty alone, but the addition of the chili aioli really completed the dish, adding creamy touches of heat that really balanced out the mollusk.

mesquite grilled lamb sausage and kusshi oysters
mesquite grilled lamb sausage and kusshi oysters [$22.00] | chinese black olive and preserved lemon relish
I'm a sucker for sausage, so naturally I just had to order this course. I found the lamb quite delectable, tender and juicy, with a rich, deep flavor nicely countered by the herbaceous tang of its accompanying greenery. The Kusshis, however, were even better, with the bright, crunchy, citrus-y, and subtly spicy nature of the relish playing off the oysters' saline smack flawlessly. My only concern here was that I wasn't sure how these two disparate items were supposed to complement each other.

shrimp and pork wonton soup
shrimp and pork wonton soup [$7.00] | with five spice pork and egg noodles
Here was a solid, though not stellar wonton soup. The meat was as you'd expect, nicely savory, but with somewhat disconcerting flavors courtesy of the five-spice. The noodles were also well-textured and satisfying, but my favorite element here was the use of crispy pork skin, which added a delightful crunchiness to the broth.

Queen's Park Swizzle
Queen's Park Swizzle [$11.00] | Pampero Aniversario rum, mint, lime, Angostura and Peychaud's bitters, crushed ice
Here was a take on the classic Rum Swizzle. It was certainly pretty, but I wasn't in love with it, finding the cocktail rather one-dimensional. I would've liked a more complex interaction between the rum, mint, and bitters.

dirty girl farm haricots vert
dirty girl farm haricots vert [$12.00] | with beech mushrooms and roasted chili
It's hard to go too wrong with haricots vert, and this was no exception. The beans were wonderfully crisp, with their bright, green flavors deftly pairing with the heat of the chili and savoriness of the mushrooms.

grass-fed estancia shaking beef
grass-fed estancia shaking beef [$36.00] | cubed filet mignon, watercress, red onions and lime sauce
What we have here, I'm quite sure, is the world's most expensive bo luc lac, one of The Slanted Door's signature dishes. The beef itself showed off prototypical bovine sapors that I found quite satisfying, but the key was the dish's complement of veggies and lime, with their bright, vegetal, acidic flavors that moderated the meat faultlessly. Wonderful over rice. My only complaint (in addition to the price) was that the meat was needed to be rarer, more tender; had that been the case, this would've been just about perfect.

spicy monterey squid
spicy monterey squid [$17.00] | with pineapple, sweet peppers, jalapeño and thai basil
I'm quite the squid fiend, so this naturally appealed to me. Unfortunately, I was let down. I really liked the texture of the squid here, how it was so tender, so supple, with still a bit of chew. However, the dish lacked punch. I could barely taste the Thai basil and jalapeño, while the peppers were too saccharine. I wasn't sure about the pineapple either.

Slanted Dessert Menu
Desserts here are the charge of Pastry Chef (and painter, apparently) Chucky Dugo. Click for a larger version.

raspberry-rose shaved ice
raspberry-rose shaved ice [$10.00] | condensed milk & aloe
Shaved ice was nice, with a juicy, floral sweetness that adroitly played off the ice and condensed milk. Texture-wise though, I wanted a finer shave; what we had here was a bit too "icy," a bit too coarse.

lychee cotton candy
lychee cotton candy [$5.00]
We ended with the best cotton candy that I'd ever tasted. It showed off a perfectly ethereal consistency that dissolved instantly in my mouth, along with a bluntly sugary attack that melted away to the juicy essence of lychee on the finish.

Well color me impressed. This visit was a complete turnaround from my previous one. Flavors were, for the most part, spot on: bold, robust, bright, and most importantly, delicious. I wouldn't call this strictly Vietnamese fare, nor "fusion" either; perhaps Vietnamese-inflected modern Cal-French would be a better moniker? In the end though, I suppose it doesn't really matter as long as the food tastes good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baumé (Palo Alto, CA)

Baume Restaurant
201 S California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Sun 08/28/2011, 08:15p-11:50p

Baumé Exterior

The third stop of our culinary tour of the Bay Area brought us down south to Palo Alto to sample Bruno Chemel's Baumé. Appropriately named after famed French chemist Antoine Baumé, the restaurant dishes up Asian-inflected contemporary French, tarted up by a healthy dash of avant garde flair.

About the Chef: Born and raised in the commune of Moulins, France, Chemel grew up with foodie parents, and thus developed an interest in gastronomy at an early age. As such, he attended and excelled at a local cooking school, and during his tenure there, also worked at the Michelin two-star Jean-Pierre Billoux in Digoin. Wanting to learn more, Chemel earned a degree in pastry from the Culinary Institute LeNôtre in Paris, and then worked at a number of well-regarded restaurants such as Le Vivarois, Le Grand Vefour, and Guy Savoy. He even taught with the legendary Joël Robuchon at the Letna Institute in France.

Chemel eventually moved to the States, landing an Executive Chef position at Le Chantilly in New York. From here, he relocated to Japan to learn the intricacies of macrobiotic cooking, and then became the head chef at Ambrosia in Tokyo's Keio Plaza Hotel (where I once enjoyed a wonderful sushi meal at Kyubey). On his way back to the US, the Chef stopped over in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he opened his first solo project, Cliquo. In 2002, he transferred to Southern California to take over the kitchens of Michael Mina's Aqua at The St. Regis in Dana Point, which would eventually turn into Stonehill Tavern.

Two years later, Chemel moved to San Francisco and opened La Suite to considerable acclaim. Then, in 2008, the Chef took on the Exec Chef position at Chez TJ, replacing none other than Meadowood's Chris Kostow. Things, however, did not go well in Mountain View. Chez TJ owner George Aviet publicly blasted Chemel for being incapable of attaining two Michelin stars (which, ironically, he just did), and as a result, the Chef, along with much of the kitchen (including Pastry Chef Ryan Shelton), left at the end of 2009. Chemel and company didn't waste any time, debuting Baumé in January the following year. Meanwhile, Scott Nishiyama took over the reins at Chez TJ, but failed to garner another macaron Michelin in the 2010 Red Guide. He was let go in February this year, replaced by Sous Chef Joey Elenterio. If history is any indicator, Elenterio might need to watch his back given that TJ failed, yet again, to score the deuce.

Baumé Interior
Baumé's space is compact, seating only 22 diners. Enveloped in earthy shades of tawny, the room exudes a sense of vibrancy, though I'm not quite sure that it fits the food.

Baumé Menu
Baumé's menu, interestingly, is governed largely by the principles of macrobiotic cooking, and thus is constructed with an eye toward proper digestion and moderation. Perhaps even more fascinating is the fact that there is no real menu at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, diners are given a sheet listing the main ingredients that will be utilized, and instructed to point out any items that are off limits--the kitchen then works off of that. An eight-course Menu Gastronomique was offered at $128, plus $70 for wine (discontinued at the start of October), while we, naturally, went with the 12-course Menu Decouverte at $168 plus $90. Click for a larger version.

Baumétini Umétini
Baumétini [$13.00] | Sparkling Sake with Lilikoi Caviar
Umétini [$15.00] | Sparkling Sake with Plum Nitro Sorbet
While waiting for our table, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails. The signature Baumétini adroitly paired the sweetness of the sparkling sake with the juicy passion fruit spherifications. I preferred the Umétini, however, with its smart interplay between the nitro plum and the alcohol.

Watermelon Glacé, Cucumber Yogurt
Amuse Bouche 1: Watermelon Glacé, Cucumber Yogurt
We kicked things off with a bright, refreshing bite of juicy watermelon goodness, one finished with the cool relish of cucumber.

Napkin Napkin
Given that our next course required the use of our fingers, we were presented with some very interesting napkins: just add water.

Olive - Boquerones
Amuse Bouche 2: Olive - Boquerones
Next up was Chemel's riff on the tapas dish boquerones, featuring Spanish anchovy and nitro heirloom tomato and olive oil. I appreciated the interaction here between the olive oil and tomato, but really wanted to taste more from the fish and less from the bread.

Deconstructed Gazpacho Couscous Roll
Amuse Bouche 3: Deconstructed Gazpacho, Couscous Roll
A "maki" was delightfully crunchy, with the essence of the couscous deftly displayed and played against a marked tanginess. The gazpacho, meanwhile, showed off a tart sweetness balanced by a celery-tinged vegetal relish--think V8.

Bread & Butter
Bread consisted of three housemade varieties--honey lavender, levain, and walnut--all served with Échiré butter.

Caviar, Grape, Sesame
1: Caviar, Grape, Sesame
Stephane Coquillette Brut (Chouilly) N.V.
A rather minimalist-looking plate comprised our first proper course of the evening. Though light on actual foodstuff, it was big on flavor, with a superb interplay between the saltiness of the caviar and the juicy sweetness of the grapes. At the same time, the sesame provided an overarching nuttiness to the fray, and I rather liked the slightly herb-y finish of the dish.

62° Egg, Ratatouille
2: 62° Egg, Ratatouille
Vin Gris de Cigare (Santa Cruz Mountains) 2010
It's hard to go too wrong with poached egg, and this was certainly no exception. The egg was absolutely spot on--runny, luscious, and positively luxurious, with a keen creaminess that was deftly moderated by the vegetal tanginess of the ratatouille. Love salty finish too. This is one of the Chef's signature dishes, and I can see why.

Heirloom Tomato Salade, Leek Ash Sponge
3: Heirloom Tomato Salade, Leek Ash Sponge
Domaine du Salvard (Cheverny) 2010
Here, I appreciated the sweet, juicy relish of the tomatoes, and how they played with the vanilla oil and tangy Balsamic gel. The leek ash, in both sponge and crumble form, added a focused bit of savoriness, but it could easily overwhelm the tomato--I had to be careful with it.

Foie Gras Financier, Brandied Cherry Gelee Toast
4: Foie Gras Financier, Brandied Cherry Gelee
Pineau des Charentes (Cognac)
Here was Chemel's "Grape Déguisée," composed of foie gras mousse wrapped in cherry gelée. I loved the interplay between the pure, focused essence of the liver and the subtle sweetness of the cherry. At the same time, the grapes served to lighten the dish. Very nice.

Loup De Mer, English Pea Hummus, Heirloom Carrot
5: Loup De Mer, English Pea Hummus, Heirloom Carrot
Jean-Marc Brocard (Chablis) 2008
European sea bass was tender, toothsome, and slightly flaky, with a mild flavor beautifully accented by the bright, vegetal tang of the pea hummus. The carrots, meanwhile, added a crisp sweetness to the mix that I appreciated, though the summer truffle wasn't quite necessary.

Tarragon Lobster, Yu Choy
6: Tarragon Lobster, Yu Choy
Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers (Sonoma Coast) 2009
Lobster arrived expertly cooked to a snappy and supple consistency, with a soft, sweet salinity heightened by the earthiness of the chanterelles. I also enjoyed the strong, robust piquancy from the garlic flowers, but I had to be careful with the yu choy, which had a marked grassiness that could easily outshine the lobster.

Melon, Mint Snow, Prosciutto
7: Melon, Mint Snow, Prosciutto
Diebolt Vallois Brut Rose (Champagne) N.V.
Next was a sort of intermezzo: the Chef's take on the classic pairing of prosciutto and melon. The melon's sweetness formed the base of the dish, joined by the saltiness of the ham, while the mint added a refreshing overtone to everything.

Vanilla Smoke Vanilla Smoke
A veil of vanilla smoke set the stage for our next course. Very Alinea-esque.

Peach Balsamic Canard, Vanilla Smoke
8: Peach Balsamic Canard, Vanilla Smoke
Ellipsis Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) 2009
Muscovy duck came perfectly cooked, with an absolutely delectable savoriness. It played off the sweetness of the balsamic-peach combo, but I would've liked a bit less sugariness there. Fortunately, the toasted pepitas added a smoky, nutty saltiness to the dish that helped balance and tie everything together.

Grass Fed Beef, A La Niçoise, Tarragon Jus
9: Grass Fed Beef, A La Niçoise, Tarragon Jus
Ahlgren Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) 2007
Our last savory course of the meal gave us a filet of Eel River beef, done up in the style of a Niçoise salad. The meat itself was nicely tender, with a great pepperiness, and went swimmingly with the subtle tanginess of the olive. I also appreciated the herbaceous smack of the tarragon, as well as the light, bright essence of the green beans and artichoke.

Cheese Composition: Gourgandine & Brebirousse
10: Cheese Composition: Gourgandine & Brebirousse
Delas (Cotes-du-Rhone) 2009
A duet of French fromage was next, served with peach preserves, walnut bread, and watercress. Gourgandine was a semi-soft cheese, with a funky, somewhat sweet, and almost blue-like character. I preferred the Brebirousse d'Argental, a soft cheese from the Auvergne region with a lusciously creamy character and a lovely lactic tang.

Nectaplum 'Spice Zee' Port Syrup
11: Nectaplum "Spice Zee" Port Syrup
Serving as a sort of pre-dessert was a slice of white nectarine doused with port syrup. I really liked the over sugariness of the port, and how it augmented the natural sweetness of the nectarine. A great, herb-y finish here too.

Plum-Peach Float
To pair with our desserts: a plum soda topped with peach ice cream.

Coupe Spumoni Coupe Spumoni
12a: Coupe Spumoni
Plum-Peach Float
Here was Pastry Chef Ryan Shelton's take on spumoni, an Italian dessert of ice cream mixed with fruit and nuts. It was delicious, with a perfectly light, airy interplay between chocolate, pistachio, and sour cherry coulis. Very nice.

Berry Tart
12b: Berry Tart
Plum-Peach Float
Joining the spumoni was a strawberry tart with strawberry ice cream. Here we had a very pure, focused berry flavor, with a nice mix of textures, all accented by a bit of floral flair.

Rounding things out was a green tea-candied orange mochi, with the slight bitterness from the tea going well with the sweetness of the orange.

Chocolate Covered Marshmallows
To take away: some delectable chocolate covered marshmallows.

Regarding Baumé, someone once called it "a real throwback to when restaurants were embracing whiz-bang molecular gastronomy." Having dined there, I definitely understand where the commenter was coming from. A lot of the dishes were whimsical, outlandish even, anachronistic perhaps, but such culinary fireworks didn't come at the expense of deliciousness for the most part. On one hand, I felt that some of the courses needed editing, but on the other, Chemel still respected the ingredients and their inherent character, and delivered food that incorporated avant garde cookery in an honest fashion.