Mediterranean Fish Soup, Artisan Bread, Kobe Beef with Baby Carrots
Occupation: Finance Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Nous
Reviewed Chez Nous: Saturday, August 17, 2006
This was the place I recommended -- my first visit was about two weeks after they opened, years ago. This visit fell in line with my previous experiences: a menu that changed enough to be interesting, but had enough of the same types of items that I knew what to expect.
We had a reservation; they were very accommodating of our baby. For this visit, there were three of us (adults). They always serve an interesting bread to start; this time appeared to be with walnuts and caramelized onions. We shared a pitcher of the strawberry sangria, which is always nice.
We started off (as always) with the fish soup -- it’s just very hearty and flavorful, and has a nice touch of licorice or similar on the end of it. The crab cake was impressive -- sweet crabmeat, perfectly cooked; the side of cabbage salad that came with it had a nice kick to it, and the mango/cucumber sauce was an excellent complement. The haricot vert we’d had before, but they always seem to put a new twist on it; this time, it had a pesto sauce and pine nuts and was really good. The squash blossoms with goat cheese were the highlight for me. I’d only had squash blossoms a few times in my life and never with the stems, which reminded me a bit of okra. They were crunchy and flavorful and the blossom with goat cheese was tangy, rich, and delicious. The gnocchi was a soft, sort of pillowy starch in a creamy sauce with a little bit of corn kernels in it for texture and sweetness; also very rich and very good. The small plate was perfect for the gnocchi, as I don’t think I could have a whole meal of something that rich. Finally, the lamb chops were amazing: nice and pink inside, nice crust on the outside, served with lavender salt to sprinkle on. The one item I didn’t find delicious was the side of chickpeas that came with the lamb; they seemed undercooked and bland (or at least weren’t to my taste).
Dessert was also very good. We got the chocolate pot de crème, which is like eating a cool, smooth version of your favorite hot chocolate. We also split the berry crème brûlée, which seemed fresh and was very good. Finally, all too often a restaurant will cap off a mean on a sour note with bad coffee. I’m pleased to say Chez Nouz has excellent drip (I believe they use organic beans from local roaster, Equator), and one of my dining companions enjoyed the espresso she ordered.
Chez Nous is a place that it’s best to be very comfortable with the folks you’re dining with, as is the best way to enjoy these small plates is to order a bunch and share. The quality and originality are very consistent. I’ll be a customer so long as I’m living in San Francisco.
Favorite Restaurant: China Village
Reviewed Chez Nous: Saturday, August 12, 2006
We love the idea of “small plates” / tapas restaurants. You can be the solo diner or a big group of friends and family, everyone can taste every dish on the menu if you want. But the best number, of course, is two. Both of you’ll get plenty of bites out of these small plates! My partner in crime, a.k.a. my husband, and I came to this lively small plate restaurant called Chez Nous on Fillmore Street on an August Saturday evening and thought we spent the night in a café in St-Germain-des-Pres in Paris. The delicious foods enticed our taste buds in every little bite!
Chez Nous’ menu covered much of the regional cuisine of the Mediterranean. The Fish Soup was a purée of halibut and monkfish and it was very delicate and delicious. The crunchy, thin toasted bread was the best contrast to the silken creamy texture of the fish soup purée. This soup reminded us so much of Paris where we had a similar soup in a café two nights in a row –- it was that good! Crab cake with cabbage salad was rich and delightful. The moist and tender crabmeat worked well with crunchy shredded cabbage. The Fried Squash Blossoms were filled with creamy feta cheese. The baby zucchini had crispy skin and a tender heart. Then came the gnocchi in pesto sauce. We have tried so many gnocchi dishes in this foodie capital, but this is the best so far! It was fluffy, creamy, and a little al dente with perfectly balanced pesto creamy sauce. We were thinking of ordering a second –- hm, maybe after the dessert. Just as we finished the Italian classic pasta, along came the exotic Moroccan spiced Duck Confit. It had a light crushed nut crust and the spices were well pronounced. The duck leg was tender to the fork. The sauce was delightfully sweet and savory. Our last course was the Kobe beef and a small order of pommes frites. The beef was cooked to medium-rare and very tender. The steak sauce was light and didn't overpowering the pure taste of a good beef filet. The fries were the classic Parisian-café good. The best part of this was to soak up the steak sauce and clean up the plate! All of these dishes were small but had complex flavors. Many of them had contrasting textures: crispy vs. soft, crunchy vs. chewy, silky tenderness vs. gritty crunch, etc.
To our own amazement, we were really full from these small plates, but we got to try the desserts! We had Chez Nous' signature Canneles and Crème Brûlée. The Canneles were well caramelized and chewy. The vanilla sauce was a little overly sweet. Crème Brûlée was a classic, but the caramelized sugar top was too thick and it tasted like a hard candy. We prefer a thin crunchy crust for our Crème Brûlée. The coffee we had with our dessert was warm, not hot at all and that was a disappointment. But over all, we felt very satisfied. We lingered a little while over a carafe of red wine strawberry sangria -- a Chez Nous special. It was very refreshing and accommodating to every dish!
Though this is a small restaurant with tables close to each other, because of its high ceiling, it makes us feel airy and lively. The service was prompt, friendly and efficient, but not every server makes an announcement when a dish arrives. We think that’s a little anticlimactic because these wonderful plates deserve a little fanfare!
Before our next trip to Paris, Chez Nous will be our cheap ticket to the Mediterranean food paradise! Bon Appetit!
Occupation: Stage Lighting
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pacific Café
Reviewed Chez Nous: Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Expecting an 8 pm reservation to be difficult, we were pleasantly surprised to find a parking space close to the restaurant and our table ready within minutes. The loud boisterous room made it difficult to hear our own conversation and the 18-inches-wide table did not allow much room for many plates, nor for a comfort zone between tables. The waiter was very articulate when describing the food and the varieties of imported Belgian ales, however he never checked up on us and our water glasses were never refilled.
For our beverages, I had the Chimay blue label dark ale, and my sweetie tried the house sangria, to her delight. She found the fresh strawberries a refreshing change from citrus.
First we were impressed with the artisan bread, with raisins and an exceptionally crispy crust. We admired the stylish crockery when the spinach salad arrived. It consisted of spinach (stems untrimmed, which isn’t my preference) caramelized almonds, with bright, crisp slices of chilled pear. Delicious!
We ordered two tapas dishes from the menu: the lamb chops with lavender salt, which was a new experience and pleasantly impressed me, and my sweetie had the Kobe beef with baby carrots and a rich gravy. Both portions were small and the lamb was roughly trimmed. The Kobe beef was exceptionally tender and deliciously buttery.
For dessert, I had crème brûlée, which was toasted on a broiler and not by a hand torch, which provided an overtly burnt and disappointing dessert. My sweetie's pot de crème was smooth, light, and could be a textbook example of perfection.
The coffee came tepid from a thermos, and the cream went straight to gray when I poured it in, connoting the age of the coffee. It was, however, served in earthen cups that we liked very much. We were still hungry when we left but were satisfied with the palette of most of the flavors that we sampled that night. I would recommend other restaurants for a truly French experience.