Saturday Lunch at ChouChou: Report
I was running errands in the Forest Hill neighborhood yesterday and was hungry, so pulled into Chouchou, which has been favorably mentioned on this boards and about which I had been curious about for a while, for lunch...
It is a small and narrow room, with two rows of banquettes along either wall and a tables in each window. Decor is a bit frayed around the edges. There are a few two tops upstairs along a balcony: but both the balcony and tables upstairs are so small that I kept staring to try and figure out if they were really meant for use, or just for decoration. I'm still not sure. In either case, they weren't being used yesterday.
Tables downstairs are extremely closely spaced: I had to listen to my neighbors argue about the job their contractor is doing on their remodel, even though they tried to keep their voices down. I'd heard the place described as romantic and cozy: cozy, well maybe, but certainly not romantic, imo.
I was surprised at how busy it was: my conclusion is that the crowds reflect the lack of options in the neighborhood, rather than the quality of the food, service or ambiance.
The lunch menu has several breakfast items, including baked eggs and french toast, as well as a burger, pizzas, salads, and a few french specialties.
Bread was brought promptly: it was a stale sourdough baguette. Not an encouraging start for a place that is known for baked goods. Weak and flavorless ice tea came shortly thereafter.
Then the waits started. Eventually received french onion soup. For $6, I'd expect a bowl, but the serving was more of the size of a cup, although it wasn't anything I'd want more of anyway. The broth was quite salty and tasted canned, and the cheese melted on top could have as easily been jack as gruyere, since any taste was overpowered by the salt in the dish. After another long wait, the friendly but harried server brought out a spinach salad, which was more succesful: pieces of fresh spinach with a few cherry tomatoes and largish chunks of thick bacon, with an extremely light dressing (the menu says mustard but it was too light to taste), croutons, and with a whole coddled egg on top. Again, oddly given that the place is owned by a pastry chef, the croutons were the weakest part: they were tiny, and looked and tasted like the dry component of a Stouffer's pre-made turkey stuffing mix. Regardless, the salad was nice, though it would have been nicer with some chewable bread to mop up the egg yolk....
By this time, I was running too late to try one of the dessert tarts for which the restaurant is known. Fortunately, I had asked for the bill with the salad, so was able to get out of there in under an hour and fifteen minutes(barely). I considered standing by the counter to get a tart to go, but ran out of time.
Total bill with tax and tip: $21 for soup, salad and ice tea. Not a good value. To be fair to the place, I probably should stop back in to try the pastries(which I definitely would get to go) but I doubt if I would go back for breakfast or lunch. Moreover, while the dinner menu looks more interesting than lunch, I generally dislike dining in places I can't get in and out of the banquette seat unless the table next to mine is moved over. I'd make an exception for Paris, but not for Forest Hill...
I haven't eaten at ChouChou for a few years, but my experiences have been pleasant if not amazing. I thought is was nice for the neigborhood where there is notthing comparable near by.
It would be a shame if they are letting the place slip that badly. The service was usually pleasant but not particularily efficient. I've eaten off hours, so it was never crowded or noisy.
The desserts are nice if you choose wisely. However, the quality is pretty similar to Bay Breads with bay Breads being more consistant and a better quality.
I wouldn't make a special trip there for dessert, take out or not, uless you happen to be in that neighborhood. It was always a pleaseant relaxing little spot for me and i did have one of the best glasses of wine in my life there once.
Not sure what off hours would be on the weekend: When I walked in at 12:15 there were still three large groups finishing breakfast, and when I left at 1:30 it was getting more crowded yet.It was close to being completely full at that point (other than those possible tables upstairs).
However, it actually wouldn't have been particulary noisy were it not for the antics of one group of five that would do things like break into loud aplause whenever a dish came out (maybe they were tired of waiting :-)).
Tables on the balony are for parties of two only. They are only used @ night. It can get noisy there, but up in the balony, you are really far enough away to have an intimate dinner.
By the way, the bread is not baked on premise. They do get them from a bakery.
Do try the fruit and chocolate tarts if you get a chance. They are excellent.