Restaurants & Bars

Chez TJ in Mountain View (long review)

eel | Mar 10, 200301:57 PM    

A friend and I dined at Chez TJ in Mountain View on Friday. This was an experiment for us. We live on the Peninsula and usually go to SF for special dinners. But since it was to be a Friday, and we didn’t want to do the drive, we thought we’d see if we could find a high-end meal around here.

Chez TJ is located in a restored Victorian house, with tables spread throughout several rooms. The atmosphere is pleasant. It was a bit drafty.

There are three dining options: Menu Gastronomique ($65—choice of appetizer, fish, and meat courses; salad or cheese course; choice of dessert. $89 includes three flights of wine paired with appetizer, fish, and meat courses); Menu Modern ($55—fixed soup, fish, meat, and salad courses; choice of dessert); and Menu Petit ($48—fixed soup, fish, and salad courses; choice of dessert).

My dining companion and I chose the Menu Gastronomique, with different selections for each course, and the wine pairings. After we ordered, we were presented with an amuse bouche: a small tea cup of pureed and creamed soup: a rich and frothy cauliflower with nutmeg for one of us; a sweet carrot and ginger for the other. Each soup was very nice and intensely flavored. They were appropriate for a tiny portion because each would have been too rich and intense in larger quantity. I was impressed that they offered us each a different soup. Nice touch.

For the appetizer course, we had an artichoke soup with a mound of crab; and a salad of duck proscuitto with frisee and fried capers. The soup was lovely—smooth, rich, with a bitter finish from the artichoke. The crab garnish was fresh and sweet, presenting a nice contrast. The salad was unremarkable and the worst plate of the meal. The duck proscuitto itself was recognizable as duck breast only visually. It just didn’t taste like much. It was overwhelmed by a sharp mustardy sauce and the fried capers, which sounded intriguing, were barely there. The wine was a good-sized pour of a 2001 Catamayor Sauvignon Blanc.

The fish course was quite successful. We had monk fish on pureed potatoes with an oxtail-red wine reduction. Each element was tasty and well matched with the others. The other fish plate was arctic char on a celery root puree with broccoli rabe. The char had a wonderfully crispy and tasty skin. It combined well with the spicy celery root and bitter rabe. The waiter willingly substituted a different wine for the pairing set for this course when we said we weren’t fond of it. Instead of a 2000 Louis Latour Chardonnay, we had a Pino (can’t remember what it was).

Our meat courses were a duck leg confit on risotto and a lamb loin with spinach and a bean ragout. The duck was nothing special—a technically proficient confit on an unremarkable risotto. Acceptable, but boring. The lamb, on the other hand, was quite special. The meat itself was tasty, tender, and nicely cooked, but the magic came from its combination with savory beans, cooked through but still firm, and the deep fried baby spinach leaves which blanketed the plate. Beautiful. The fried spinach had a grassy and bitter quality that matched beautifully with the other elements, somehow creating a completely unique flavor. We really enjoyed this plate. The wine was a 1999 Armand Roux, Verdillac, Bordeaux.

For the next course we had one salad and one cheese plate. The salad was the ubiquitous greens and vinegarette. The cheeses were more fun. The server brought a cheese board to the table and when we hesitated about what to select, he gave us a piece of each of about ten cheeses (all but one from France). The cheeses were served with walnuts, apples, prunes, and dried apricots. A wonderful blue was the standout, and matched nicely with the remaining Bordeaux. It would have been nice to see some local cheeses on the board, however.

The dessert menu had a lot of interesting options. We selected a pear brioche pudding and a chocolate/coffee/ginger crème brulee. The bread pudding was excellent, warm, and buttery. The brulee, served with cookies, had a nice texture and crisp shell, but no ginger flavor in evidence. Coffee was fine.

The service was professional, but without the elegance of a high-end SF restaurant.

We were there about three hours. All in all, this was a good dining experience. It lacked the WOW of Masa’s or Elizabeth Daniel or Farallon, but it was good.

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