Last months ladies night dinner presented the challenge of finding a suitable meeting site in Castro Valley. The chowboard was remarkably silent on this town with only a mention or two of places to eat.
Google turned up a mention of a French restaurant in town - http://www.lacabe.com/marga/food/rest... - that sounded like it might suit us. And, just to be sure the evening had some high points if the restaurant turned out to be a bust, I brought along a couple nice bottles for a taste-off between 1996s from Jadot: Chambolle-Musigny vs. Gevrey-Chambertin.
The restaurant is located in a small house set back from a busy commercial street. With a white picket fence and climbing vines, the façade is quite charming. The inside was more elegant (if you dont look closely) with white table linens, dark fittings, and French wine appellation posters adorning the walls.
Beyond a handful of appetizers, the menu is set up as prix fixe for four-course dinners, including salad, soup, entrée and dessert. Prices start at $12.50 for a pasta dinner and stay under $20. We were somewhat skeptical about what could be presented at that price point and ended up being impressed by the value and quality here.
Thinking that portions must be miniscule, we decided to share a couple of appetizers smoked salmon garnished with capers and some onions and sautéed fresh mushrooms. Both were fine, if not exciting.
Standard spring mix baby greens with some sweet tiny cherry tomatoes and a good vinaigrette made up the small dinner salad. The soup was a puree of greens, a large serving in a wide rimmed bowl. My rabbit with Dijon cream sauce, $14.50, was tender and moist, yet carefully browned to bring out the flavor. The well-balanced mustard sauce was scented with fresh rosemary. The potato gratin was very good, making me wish that more restaurants would offer this. It was too bad that the baguettes werent better quality to wipe up the sauces. The multi-colored mosaic of organic vegetables carved into a variety of shapes looked good. But they were overly salty and were not served hot. For dessert, I chose a dense chocolate mousse cake with crème anglaise and raspberry puree.
Sampling from my friends plates, Id also recommend the veal medallions and the pork tenderloin. Both were carefully prepared with delicious sauces. The poached salmon tasted like Atlantic farmed product and was overcooked.
For the same price as a meal at a simple diner, we had some elegant cuisine in pleasant surroundings. While this isnt inspired, ground-breaking preparation, it is tasty and satisfying. This was reminiscent of our dinner at A Street Café in Hayward. We did feel that the cooking was a notch up, except for the desserts, and the setting is nicer too. The ingredients were better quality. The sauces were more intense and complex. Theyre rich with cream and butter, but not dominated by dairy flavors for a more modern taste. It was a pleasant surprise to uncover this small gem in Castro Valley.
La Maison Bistro-Restaurant
3774 Castro Valley Blvd.