No jokes. The smoked salmon, yes smoked salmon, was the best Ive had in the Bay Area and Ive been eating a lot of smoked salmon recently.
It was a warm thick fillet of wild Alaskan salmon covered in a mahogany brown sauce. Reading some past reviews that mention Renees tends to have sweet sauces, I did a silent groan before taking a bite. The lovely sauce had only the slightest touch of sweetness and perfectly complemented the salmon. Actually it was pretty good by itself and I was scraping it off the plate to top my brown rice.
The salmon had such a different texture from any Ive ever tried. There was a lightness and, not the right word, but almost fluffiness to it. The smoke was amazingly perfect, not over or underdone. It was delicate and clean-tasting from the smoking process and not like so many other smoked salmon that rely too much on salt or chemicals.
The piece was really big enough for two and at $13.95 one of the best values in the Bay Area. Any other restaurant would be charging $20 plus for a piece of fish with this quality. It came with some lightly sautéed al dente organic green beans and chopped red bell peppers. The sauté was so light that at first they seemed to be steamed.
For an appetizer, the Shanghai juicy steamed buns filled with pork and ginger were extremely cute. The little buns were about the size of a quarter with pretty folds on top and were served on cabbage leaves in an attractive steamer. Unfortunately they were just okay and had almost the taste of being made from whole wheat flour.
Renees is very veggie friendly with five dishes featuring imitation chicken, a number of tofu dishes and usually a veggie selection in every category like Mu Shu vegetables, vegetable pot stickers and vegetable spring rolls. Hmmm, just noticed they have steamed edamee.
While the familiar Szechuan and Hunan dishes are there, its not all lemon chicken and such. They do have some dishes like lions head meatballs, pork short ribs and spicy wontons in chile and sesame sauce.
The soup seems popular since quite a few people dropped by to take out soup.
Nothing except the water and fortune cookie is gratis. There is a charge for rice White $1, Brown $2. There is a charge for tea also ($2). It is Eden Organic tea bags with a choice of green bancha or twig tea. There are six organic wines and even an organic beer, Samuel Smith Pale Ale. The eight beers were actually more interesting than the wine with El Toro Poppy Jaspar Amber Ale from Morgan Hill as one of the selections.
Renees has been in business since the late 90s and after reading the reviews I went in prepared to make fun of it. It sounded like a Chinese restaurant catering to non Chinese diners with all those safe dishes like sweet and sour pork, orange beef, General Tsos chicken, etc. Lets face it, ALL Chinese menus have those dishes, and if they are there to cater to non Asian tastes other restaurants should do it as well as Renees Place which uses top quality ingredients like Petaluma Poultry, Niman Ranch meats and organic produce.
It is an attractive restaurant done in various shades of olive green with beautiful green cloth lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Classical music plays in the background and a row of fans on the ceiling along the windows, casually wave back and forth, It is almost like lovely museum with Chinese photography and reproductions of Chinese bronzes in glass cases.
The daily lunch special (11:30 3pm) seems a real deal at $6.75. In addition to being served in pretty lacquered trays it includes
One of seven regular appetizers like fried prawns or paper wrapped chicken
A choice of a dozen entrees including 2 mock chicken dishes for the vegetarians
White rice, brown rice, chow mien or fried rice
One thing that made me notice Renees place was that it is open seven days a week and on holidays. It was only one of two restaurants open on Solano on Fourth of July.
I enjoyed Renees Place very much. I felt healthy and satisfied after dinner tonight and am looking forward to checking out a lot of the menu on the cheap at lunch time. If Im going to eat broccoli beef, its going to be Niman beef with organic broccoli and whats wrong with that.
I was almost tempted to ask if there was a secret Chinese menu, but not seeing any Asians (other than the staff), Im guessing probably not.
1477 Solano Ave.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m., 5:00-9:30 p.m. daily