Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baume - 08/28/2011

201 S California Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 328-8899

Baume was the third stop on our culinary tour of the Bay Area. My initial impression of the minimalist menu made me think of yet another avant garde contemporary restaurant though officially the restaurant really seeks to combine the ancient and the modern.

Baume's chef, Bruno Chemel has had a long and storied career. He started off studying in Moulins France while working at the Michelin two star Jean Pierre Billoux. Chef Chemel's qualifications also include a study a course of study at the Lenotre Pastry Academy and experience working with French luminaries such as Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon. The chef then came to the states to take an Exec Chef role at Le Chantilly before traveling to Japan for four years to study macrobiotic cooking. He eventually returned to the states to run Ambrosia in Hawaii before finally opening his own restaurant Cliquo. In 2002 Chef Chemel landed in Southern California to run Aqua at The St Regis in Monarch Beach. Personal reasons ended up bringing him to the Bay Area where he worked at La Suite and Chez TJ before finally opening Baume.

Baume's pastry chef is a young man by the name of Ryan Shelton, a South Bay native who studied Biology and Guitar at my own alma mater, UCI. Ryan also studied at the Art Institute in OC before honing his culinary skills in Europe and Asia. He began cooking professionally in 2003 and worked at several casual restaurants before making the transition to fine dining as a Pastry/Sous Chef at Chez TJ.

Umétini - Sparkling Sake with Plum Nitro Sorbet
I liked the idea behind this drink with the smoky bits of plum nitro melting into a foam top for the drink. Unfortunately the drink was a bit hard to enjoy until the sorbet melts which defeats the purpose of the liquid nitrogen.

Baumétini - Sparkling Sake with Lilikoi Caviar
Another fun cocktail the sake has a slight sweetness that is heightened by the dollops of passion fruit caviar.

Watermelon Glacé - Cucumber Yogurt
Delightfully light and bracing, the sweetness of the melon fades under the tang of the yogurt with the cucumber becoming far more apparent on the finish.

Olive - Boquerones
The idea behind this course was an open faced sandwich with anchovy and tomato-olive oil nitro on olive bread. A bit of balance was in order here, the bread was the dominant element and I would have liked to see more from the fish.

These dime sized tablets were brought to the table prior to the previous course and we were instructed not to eat or touch them. Our waiter poured hot water on the tablets causing them to expand into a hot hand towel for use after the boquerones.

Deconstructed Gazpacho - Couscous Roll
I didn't really feel the gazpacho was deconstructed per se, the granita, foam, and broth are too similar structurally but it was a good soup nonetheless. The flavor is more vegetal than a traditional gazpacho, giving me echos of a refined V8. I thought the couscous roll was enjoyable but again it didn't really make sense to me to stick combine it with the gazpacho.

Caviar - Grape, Sesame
Stephane Coquillette Brut (Chouilly) N.V.
The first official course was an unconventional take on caviar. As much as I like a traditional caviar service, the combination with sweet and nutty profiles was an enjoyable change. I particularly liked how each bite saw a different flavor coming to the fore.

62° Egg - Ratatouille
Vin Gris de Cigare (Santa Cruz Mountains) 2010
The poached egg is Chef Chemel's signature course and with very good reason, the yolk is a torrent of viscous molten gold that flows on the palate like liquid velvet. Paired with a simple ratatouille, the zesty hearty substance of the vegetables adds a rusticity and heartiness to contrast the ethereal mouthfeel of the egg.

Heirloom Tomato Salade - Leek Ash Sponge
Domain du Salvard (Cheverny) 2010
Fresh tomato is one of the most versatile forms of produce, it can be sweet, tart, or verdant as the situation demands. Chef Chemel presents a tender sweeter preparation that maintains a svelte levity despite augmenting the flavor of the tomato with vanilla and balsamic gel. The leek ash and leek ash sponge are distinctly bitter and in large quantities the char dims the freshness of the tomato.

Foie Gras Finacier - Brandied Cherry Gelee
Robert Weil Riesling (Rheingau) 2009
Dubbed "Grape en Disguise," the core of this course was a terrine of foie gras dipped in a tart cherry gel. Tasting the foie on its own the richness comes through beautifully with an integrated tartness from the cherry. We were advised to spread the foie on the brioche, but I thought it was temperate enough to stand on its own.

Loup De Mer - English Pea Hummus, Heirlooms Carrot
Jean-Marc Brocard (Chablis) 2008
This might have been my favorite course of the night. The fish is clean flaky and moist while the pea hummus is expectantly grassy and fresh with a pointed acidity. My biggest concern was the carrots but they were sublime having a crisp counterpoint, vegetal twang, and nuanced sweetness that complimented the fish beautifully. Everything on the plate mixes flawlessly and the result is a bass that sings with verdant flavor, power, and grace.

Tarragon Lobster - Yu Choy
Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisettiers (Sonoma Coast) 2009
I had extremely high hopes for this course thinking that the grassy yu choy would be a welcome change from the typical buttery sauces normally paired with a lobster. As much as I love vegetal accompaniments the puree was akin to a wheat grass juice, the bitterness completely subsuming the sweetness of the lobster. If that weren't enough, the garlic flower was equally potent and bludgeoned the palate into oblivion.

Melon - Mint Snow, Prosciutto
Diebolt Vallois Brut Rose (Champagne) N.V.
Being a sucker for melon and prosciutto I was very excited by this frozen preparation. I think the mint was unnecessary with the flavor dominating on the attack. The creamy sweetness of the melon came through on the finish with the tiniest whisper of prosciutto on the finish. I was hoping for the ham to be more apparent, perhaps an oily Jamon Iberico would have been a more appropriate accompaniment.

Peach Balsamic Canard - Vanilla Smoke
Ellipsis Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) 2009
The dish started with a completely aromatic component. Our server brought a block with vanilla strips and poured liquid nitrogen, releasing a cold smoke infused with a floral sweet aroma. The duck itself was beautifully cooked but the accompanying peach was sweet enough to crystallize blood. A scattering of pepitas added a slight toasty element, but there just wasn't enough to balance out the ripe flavor of the fruit.

Grass Fed Beef - a la Niçoise, Tarragon Jus
Ahlgren Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains) 2007
I was happy to see to finally see some red meat on the menu. The heart of this dish is two tiny morsels of filet mignon are coated in a zesty tarragon jus that augments the natural essence of the meat. I was a bit concerned that the meat would have an overly heavy olive character, but it was fairly subdued and fit well within the structure of the dish. The artichoke, tomato, and haricot vert were unconventional but effective counterpoints to the beef.

Cheese Composition - Gourgandines & Brebirousse
Delas (Cotes-du-Rhone) 2009
It has been a while since I've had a composed cheese course and it was nice to see one with such challenging cheeses. First up was a semi-hard cow's milk cheese that had a blue-like richness along with a lingering piquancy. The Brebirousse is a soft ewe's milk cheese with a tender orange rind and pearlescent white center, the flavor was similar to the Gourgandine but a hair richer. Both cheeses were delicious but surprisingly I preferred the hard cheese which I thought was a bit more complex.

Nectaplum - "Spice Zee" Port Syrup
Dessert opened with another morsel on a spoon. This time a succulent sweet sliver of nectarine tinged with a thick sweet port.

Coupe Spumoni - Berry Tarte
Plum-Peach Float
Spumoni is a classic Italian dessert traditionally made with pistachio and chocolate ice cream with a layer of nuts and cherry between them. Presented in a cup, the dessert has a modern feel but the components are straight out of the textbook; a good choice given the amounnt of complexity already in the dessert. Simultaneously we were presented with a straightforward strawberry tart, buttery and rich it was a bit blunt but still tasted great. I wish the spumoni and tarte were presented separately as the two desserts really had very little to do with one another.

Mignardises - Chocolate Covered Marshmallow
The meal finished with two chocolate covered marshmallows. It tasted like there was some caramel thrown in there to give a slight sweetness.

Having not done much research into Baume I was expecting a heavily modernist experience and there are some touches like heavy use of liquid nitrogen that do indeed fall into the new school of thought. However on the whole, I felt many of the dishes had a strong classical grounding giving the meal a more substantial feel than my earlier dinners.

One of the biggest disadvantages having so many high caliber restaurants back-to-back is that it magnifies small flaws. Specifically the missteps on the duck and lobster stood out starkly against the dinners at Atelier Crenn and Saison. Despite that, the meal was still quite enjoyable; probably my second favorite restaurant in the South Bay after Manresa.


Ryan Mc. said...

I like the "Amount Saved" at the bottom of the receipt. What a deal! When they brought out the gazpacho, did you yell "Go back to Russia!"?

NicoleM said...

I'm really glad you didn't eat the hand towels.

NicoleM said...

also, the vanilla smoke picture is absolutely stunning. gorgeous photography!

Epicuryan said...

Mr. McArdle
Haha well it was a nice gesture for making us wait 15 minutes past our reservation time.

I did not yell go back to Russia but I'll be sure to do so next time.

I was actually tempted to lick it, but I assumed it was like alka-seltzer and would be fizzy.

Glad you liked the vanilla smoke, good to know I can sometimes do things right.