Chez TJ - a great value
I had a major craving for foie gras last night so a friend and I dropped in to see if they would take us without reservation. The restaurant was not full so we were led to a table. The menu offers 2 variations: four course for $80 pp or the chef's tasting menu for $110 which includes 12 courses. Although I really wanted to try the "Composition of Suckling Pig" which is not part of the chef's tasting menu, gluttony won out. We both went for the chef's tasting menu. All I can say is that I much prefer eating here than Manresa and I think it's a complete bargain considering all the quality ingredients and labor that went into making those dishes. Highlights were the scallops 3-way, the sardine and the foie gras of course. The chef probably has a love affair with truffle because he was quite liberal with it which is fine with me since I love truffle too. The only 2 dishes that I wasn't really into were the butter poached lobster which was executed quite nicely but was a little more salty than I would have liked. Also the beef tenderloin was ok but the promised corn gnocchi that came with it was not particularly corny and the other ingredients did not really jumped out. Service was competent and all the dishes were paced nicely. Service was shared by 3 servers. One of them seemed slightly grumpy but the other 2 women made up for him.
My husband and I thought the food and service at Chez TJ's was better than Manresa, also, but it's too bad the restaurant is cut up into several small rooms. Sitting in the small front room with 2 other couples (at 2 other 2-tops), it was hard to converse without everyone hearing everything everyone else was saying.
I was wearing shorts, albeit nice shorts, when I was there because I hadn't plan on going to a place that fancy. It was purely a drop in because I had a craving for foie gras. At first I thought maybe that's the reason why the waiter was giving a semi attitude but I don't think that's the case. I think it's just him. There was another couple wearing jeans and they appeared to have a great time. I think this new chef (from Campton Place I believe) is much more successful than his predecessor. The last guy seem to like to experiment with salt (the main reason why I'm not really Manresa) and olive oil. Not that I don't like salt and olive oil nor am on some kind of restricted diet, I'm just not into that approach I guess.
Two other friends and I went to Chez TJ last weekend. I don't eat out too often anymore, so it was a nice treat.
We did the Menu Gastronomique for $85, plus the optional cheese course.
For the first course, I got the chilled watercress soup. The colors were very pretty (photo attached). The soup was refreshing and delicious. The watercress's bitter played really well with the other flavors (sweet from the plum creme fraiche, buttery and woody from the chanterelle). It was also very smooth and creamy.
For my second course, I had a choice between scallops prepared 2 ways and halibut, and what I ended up doing, since course 3 was all meats, was doing the scallops for course 2 and the seared halibut for course 3.
(They had vegetarian option that consisted of tofu w/ veggies, but I did not want to eat "adulterated" tofu at a French restaurant, so I did the halibut instead.)
One of the scallops was seared, while the other was I think pureed, mixed with egg white and made into a timbale, b/c it tasted like scallop, but it was really fluffy. The texture was very unusual, but I think of the two scallops, I liked this one better, just b/c it was so unexpected. It also went well with the meyer lemon foam that went with it. Again, excellent combo of flavors. I kept trying different combos--seared scallop with asparagus, seared w/ lemon foam and lemon sauce, morel with lemon sauce, etc. All were lovely.
The halibut was also quite good. I'd say of the five courses I had, it was the least "exciting", just b/c it was the most quotidian of tastes, but this isn't meant as a put down. The fish tasted very good. Very succulent.
Then came the cheese platter. All three of us were getting full, so we split a cheese plate among the three of us. The cheese plate was supposed to be $20 extra, but for whatever reason, they comped it (we gave them a very generous tip to compensate).
This was my favorite course. If you go to Chez TJ, you should definitely get this plate.
I had an epiphany while dining on this course. As I sampled the 7 different cheeses and found myself in cheese bliss, it occurred to me that at places like this, yes, you are paying for the food, the preparation, presentation, etc., but it was this course that made me realize that you are also paying for the chef's/staff's expertise in terms of flavor pairings.
All of the flavor combos were right on. I didn't do the wine flight, but both of my co-diners did, and they both said that the wines they picked went really well with the food.
But to return to the cheese plate, several cheeses were paired with small bits of kumquat relish, fig compote, frisee, and a sour plum preserve. Each combo was heavenly. Perfect. Orgasmic. (Ok, can you tell I really liked the cheese plate?) The Fourme d' Ambert (a blue cheese) with the deep plum compote was my favorite. The tete de Moine was also very good. It was served with frisee. Its smoky flavor was a nice counterpoint to the other creamier cheeses.
I don't know if what they gave us was a single serving, but the three of us were really glad we split it, b/c even though it was bliss-inducing, it would've been a lot of cheese if we had each gotten our own.
Finally, dessert. (my second-favorite course) For dessert, I got the orange-mocha mudpie, which sounds very un-French, and the least interesting of the three choices (pineapple carpaccio, summer berry "flood" (soup)), but we each ordered different desserts and tried tastes of each others, and mine turned out to be the favorite of all of us. The "mud pie" was more like a dark chocolate baked pudding, with candied orange and cocoa nibs. It was served with a trifle with a chocolate cookie crust and ice cream and a mystery square thingie that also tasted very good. Again, I went back and forth spooning and doing different flavor combos.
In addition to these official courses, we had 5 additional mini courses/bites. I wish I remembered what they were. First, as we came in, they gave us two small bites--a melon "sashimi", and I think they called it "acorn ice cream"--whatever it was, it was a burst of cold, creamy, nutty goodness.
Then after we placed our order, they gave us a spoon of a kind of sashimi that was translucent white. Also very succulent.
Before the cheese course, they gave us a pluot spritzer with peach ice cream, probably to cleanse the palate. It was very refreshing.
After dessert, they gave us itty bitty "post" dessert thingies (salted caramel, a blueberry tart the size of my thumb, etc.)
Food was lovely; the company was lovely. If I were to make three minor critiques, they would be:
-the wines seemed heavily California-centric. More French wines would've been nice.
-I think for the vegetarian option, they should offer something other than tofu. Given the flavors we tasted, I'm 98 percent sure the tofu dish would've tasted fabulous, but still. It's a French restaurant. I want *French* options.
-The only thing that tasted meh out of the whole meal was the spread that came with the bread-- a parsley/tofu (or edamame, I forgot which) spread. Somehow, the flavor combo lacked oomph. Tarragon and walnuts might've been a better flavor combo. My watercress soup was a much better bread complement.
The three of us had a lovely time there.
Lobster salad with melon and cucumber (my friends both got this)
The melon "sashimi" and cold acorn ice cream thingie
the raspberry spritzer/ peach ice cream refresher
my chocolate mud pie dessert