Well, I visited Chouquets at the weekend and I have to say I am 'non-plussed'.
I like the actual place. it's cosy and friendly and welcoming. They have nice lighting, especially the sparkly logo on the wall beyond the door.
It's very French. We were waiting outside for our friends when the door opened and out tunmbled a waiter. Immediately Fred (my French boyfriend) and the waiter started larking around in French. I could follow the conversation only partially. They were certainly having a laugh and a joke together. After the waiter had returned inside I asked Fred where he had met that guy before, how did he know him? "I never met that guy in my life before".
The friendliness continued when we entered and found our table right next to the bar. (Note: Good view of Marina-type girls with low cut jeans and 'builders' bums' from this vantage point) I had a glass of delicious Cremant from Alsace(unusual in these parts), whilst we waited for our dinner companions, a French couple. Once they had arrive, and more Cremant had been ordered, we were bought an ample bowl of bread and a complimentary serving of pepperonata with two tiny toasts. Hmm - four people and two toasts. You do the math.
The waiter arrived and we gave him our food and wine order. We were still finishing our 'champagne' when the appetizers turned up.
Seared Scallops with Vanilla Braised salsify and Mint emulsion $12
Two of us had this appetizer. 3 beautifully cooked scallops in a creamy sauce. In between each scallop was a cross made of two matchsticks of the salsify. There was one mint leaf on the edge of the plate. This dish was rich, creamy and sweet. Emphasis on sweet. I had been worried about the combination of vanilla and mint, but, in fact, the mint might as well have been on vacation in Siberia. Apart from the garnish leaf, I couldn't find him on my plate. I ended up shredding up my lone mint leaf and sprinkling him over the dish. It actually made it taste better, a little bit more punchy, but still - this dish was just too sweet.
Cutlery - the silverware looks beautiful, but it's the wrong size or the wrong weight or something. Everyone remarked that the balance of the knife annd fork felt wrong.
The other two chose:
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus Gratinee, Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette $9
There was nothing wrong with this dish. It was exactly as described. Not culinary rocket science, something that could be easily replicated quickly at home. The vinaigrette was good.
There was a break between appetizer and main. It would have been fine oif they had delivered us our bottle of Gigondas to tide us over while we waited. In the end I managed to flag the waiter down, but the wine didn't actually arrive until after our entrees.
Seared Duck breast with Fig Honey Sauce $22.
Two of us chose this. The meat was juicy and succulent. However neither the meat or it's covering of fat had any flavour whatsoever. It had no taste of duck. The sauce was overpoweringly sugary. With honey and Figs (not in season, incidentally), I realised I was in for some sort of sweetness level, but I didnt expect my fowl to taste quite so like dessert. Accompanying vegetables, carrots, beans ad courgettes were actually very tasty, highly flavoursome, hreby and cooked to a desirable position somewhere between soft and crunchy.
A side of Gratin Dauphinois $5 was also disappointing. The word 'bland' comes to mind. They really need to be much more generous with their seasoning.
The table top salt shaker and 5-berry pepper grinder was useless at delivering the salt. I actually had to open it up and shake the salt out because the little holes in the top of the shaker were nowhere near efficient enough. I am not a big salt person, but once I had added a substantial amount to my food, it was much more palatable.
Another companion chose Apple Cider Braised Chicken with Hazlenuts and Gratin Dauphinois, $19. The chicken was declared to best tasted in America to date, but the sauce was, again, dismissed as being way too sweet.
Fred's Grilled New York Angus Natural Steak, French Fries was a lttle better. He asked if he might have some mayonnaise or aoli to accompany his fries. They replied they only had ketchup, but generously brought him some extra pepper sauce instead. His meat was tasty and cooked to his preference. the fries were ok.
When we saw the dessert menu - we asked "where are the chouquets"? We'd heard they serve the little French pastries after which the restaurant is named. We were told that they would be a complimentary gift at the end of the meal.
We order a couple of desserts.
I tried the Floating Island. It was served in a funky impraticle glass bowl, where the custard slopped over the edges when I tried to dig in. This dessert was, again, just to sweet to taste anything else. I could see the vanilla in the custard but could barely taste it. The custard was extremely thin and runny. At one point I almost considered drinking it straight from the bowl.
They were nice - they comped our desserts. I have no idea why.
But no chouquets were delivered as promised.
We did drink quite a lot, but even so, the bill came out to something along the lines of $70 a head.
Not an insignificant amount for a meal comprised of three desserts...