Anyone know about Chez TJ's new chef, Scott Nishiyama?
I was thinking of getting a gift certificate to Chez TJ for my parents who are visiting for Christmas and staying a couple of weeks, but when I went to the website I saw they're bringing in a new exec chef starting Dec. 29. No menu available yet. I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with his cooking elsewhere - apparently his last gig was at Yoshi's, and he's also worked at Daniel Bouloud Brasserie in Las Vegas and the French Laundry.
I'm also hoping to try this new chef soon. (The MIT degree is an interesting angle! Note in the same vein that Josiah Slone, the very capable chef at Saratoga's Sent Sovi in its post-Kinch era, is an engineer-turned-cook. Ask him about blowing things up, if you dine there.)
Chez TJ has had nine chefs, counting late co-owner TJ McCombie for whom, of course, it's named. (I posted my first Internet report of meals there under chef TJ almost 20 years ago.) I was fortunate over the years to dine multiple times with each chef cooking, except Bruno Chemel who came and went too quickly. I'm still puzzled at the statements thrown around that Chemel "lost" a Michelin star. The Guide awards stars to restaurant-chef combinations, and requires awardees to carefully requalify yearly in the US Michelin editions. Chris Kostow brought an entirely new level of experience and sophistication to that well-used tiny kitchen, won one star in the first Bay Area Michelin Guide, rose to two stars later, and promptly left (for Meadowwood, where he again received two stars, but remained.) His two TJ stars by no means transferred to any successor, and to even win one star in Michelin is an accomplishment for any chef, let alone one new to a kitchen. I assume there's more to the real story of Chemel's departure.
Last month the leading local restaurant journalist, Stett Holbrook (who operates without the wordcount limits of more mainstream newspapers, and often does multiple-page interviews) wrote a review with the new chef:
Holbrook also noted the revolving door in that kitchen, and he's only experienced the last three chefs, not the five others following TJ's sudden death at 44. (It's as if the pressure created by arrival of the Michelin to the Bay Area has increased the revolving door's velocity.)
938 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
Sent Sovi Restaurant
14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
I agree that Chef Nishiyama is a welcome addition to Chez TJ. I used to be a frequenter of Chez TJ when Chef Kostow was there and absolutely loved his food, but Chef Chemel’s food just didn't compare. I had dinner there last night and I’d say that Chef Nishiyama has brought the spark back to Chez TJ. His foie gras "niege" was superb - I felt like I needed a spoon to ensure I didn't miss one tiny bit of snow. And I found almost all of the courses of the tasting menu delicious; the only disappointments were the cheese course (ricotta, strawberries, yeast and bee pollen) which I found very bland and boring and the dessert course - warm pistachio rice pudding with a black and white sesame croquant, milk chocolate, and citrus sorbet. The ctirus sorbet was absolutley delicious (as was the palate cleansing sorbet) but the pieces of the dessert just didn't seem to fit together and the rice pudding was bland. The rest of the courses were all very well executed and flavorful, so I will definitely be back to try more of Chef Nishiyama's creations.
938 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
We had a belated Valentine's dinner at Chez TJ last weekend, and it was quite wonderful. A lot of the dishes that we had are the same or similar to what EK and GH reported in their review from a few weeks ago.
Our intial amuse bouche involving some lobster was unimpressive - you've got to do lobster better than this to impress a couple of ex-New Englanders. But everything quickly righted itself with the 4-way beet amuse bouche. The beet sorbet had a different accompaniment, and the third dish was a golden beet with pumpkin seeds. When this came out I was a little fearful since I'm not a huge beet fan. But the beet sorbet tasted like a wonderful frozen borscht. The gelee had great complexity and a break from beet dominance. The golden beet and pumpkinseed was a great sample of more concentrated beet flavors. And hey, any time you fry up a vegetable like that and serve it with a beautiful dollop of creamy blue cheese, it's going to be great.
Having been sold with the beet amuse bouche, we then moved to what was my favorite dish of the night - the foie gras neige. If you like foie gras you *must* get this at Chez TJ! The foie gras shavings were spectactular by themselves and then in combination with the banana, cashew paste, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Pairing wines with this was problematic, though. The Vouvray from the pairing was nice on its own but overwhelmed in combination. and my wife's sparkling rosé suffered a somewhat similar fate. Wine pairings got much better after this.
Our next course was the sablefish en sous vide. I'm not a big fan of sablefish unless it's smoked, but everything else in the dish - especially the magnificent truffle - was just wonderful, and the fish made a nice counterpoint for those flavor. My wife is a bigger sablefish fan and had no reservations about this dish whatsoever. The pairing with a Château de Cary Potet Montagny les Reculerons was just awesome; each made the other taste so much better.
Our palate cleanser was a pomegranate sorbet with tarragon gelee. Very nice, both separately and in combination, and a great lead-in to the meat course.
For entrees my wife had the ribeye and I had the kurobata pork duo. The gingerbread crusting on the tenderloin part of the duo took some getting used to, but the pairing with a Spicerack "Punchdown" Syrah from Sonoma really brought things together. My wife had the Château de Jau Côtes de Roussillon with the ribeye and that was also a very happy pairing.
For dessert I had the "Chocolate and Coconut" - milk chocolate pot de creme, dark chocolate ganache, and coconut ice cream, paired with a very nice Spanish sparkling muscat from Musva in Penedes. How could you go wrong with those ingredients and combination? You can't if you know what you're doing, which Chef Nishiyama most assuredly does - both in simpler dishes like this as well as the earlier high-wire offerings. My wife had the Lemon meringue which was delicious as well.
Our mignardises included vanilla marshmallow, passion fruit pavé, dark chocolate truffle, and fleur de sel caramel. This made a wonderful conclusion. The tea selection didn't seem too great so I skipped it, but my wife's espresso was excellent.
Chez TJ is back on track with delicious food showing more creativity than is often found in the Bay Area, but still in the service of great ingredients and flavors - no technique for technique's sake. I loved Chef Kostow's cooking, but the portions of the 4-course menu during our visit there a few years ago were a bit small - a case of "leave them wanting more" taken too far. With the flow of foie gras shavings in the neige, we knew that wouldn't be a problem any more, and the portions this time were just right - not too little, not too much.
So Chef Nishiyama is doing great things here. As a fellow alum, it's nice to see an MIT influence extending beyond technology into Silicon Valley's fine cuisine!
Please note that this entry is a rather long review.
We've been wanting to try Chez TJ for a while and with a new chef in place and a $30 discount for the month of January (see yelp or Chez TJ website--you need to mention that you are there to welcome the new chef, Scott Nishiyama), we finally went to check it out.
Service: Definitely enough staff, knowledgeable, friendly but not overbearing
Ambiance: The "dining room" is actually several rooms in a house--good space between tables.
We went for the menu gastronomique ($85/$140 w/pairings) instead of the chef's tasting menu (8 courses for $120/$195 w/pairings). It was nice that there were no extra surcharges on any of the dishes. We've seen this practice of asking the customer to pay extra for things like foie gras, lamb, cheese, etc. and for an expensive, fine dining experience, it seems a bit much (we admit we're not big fans of this practice). EK had one glass of wine, a 2007 Testarossa Castello Chardonnay ($15), which had a fruity nose, with nice body, and had a clean finish. But onto the food!
1st Amuse Bouche: Their take on an eggplant parmesan--tomato coulis on the bottom and some parmesan foam on top.
GH: I was skeptical of the parmesan foam at first, but it was surprisingly flavorful and worked well.
EK: I liked that there was so much flavor in one little bite.
2nd amuse bouche: A beet tasting--four different takes on the beet (so really like four amuses). The first was beet sorbet over olive tapenade, the second was like a three layered jello consisting of citrus, almond, and granny smith apple on top of a beet sauce, the third was marinated beet over sunflower seeds, and the last was a beet chip with blue cheese mousse.
GH: The mini-tasting was like a course in itself and was really well executed in the progression of flavors.
EK: I'm a fan of beets and it was nice to see its versatility here. Maybe I'm a purist but my favorite of the four tastes was the simple marinated beet.
Hawaiian Kona Kampachi Crudo with baby cauliflower, coconut foam, lime sauce, mizuna, and red curry salt on the side.
GH: Subtle but flavorful. The red curry salt provided a really nice punch.
EK: Light, clean dish--basically a sashimi. Clearly good quality fish and the lime sauce with the coconut foam definitely heightened all the flavors but didn't overpower the fish.
Sonoma County Artisan Foie Grae "Niege" with banana gelee, mint, sunchoke, and cashew paste--the foie was shaved table side with a slice of mustard seed toast.
GH: Sweet, salty, and rich. The foie niege was interesting in a good way. The shavings definitely made you feel like there was more foie gras but there was a lightness to the dish that you don't usually get when you eat foie gras.
EK: Generous portion of the foie gras shavings and the banana and mint were surprisingly a nice match. Very smooth tasting.
Alaskan Sablefish "Cuit en Sous Vide" on top of baby leeks (from their backyard garden), topped with shaved Oregon black truffles and Yukon Gold potato chips, surrounded by manila clams (2) in a parsley sauce and smoky ocean broth (you mixed the sauce and broth together).
GH: Fatty fish plus truffle, yum! Dig the fish knife!
EK: I really liked this fish course more than the snapper. The sablefish was really tender and flaky and it's hard to miss with black truffles. I liked the texture the potato chips added (they were small bites). The manilla clams were a bit small and easy to miss but the focus here is on the fish.
New Zealand Thai Snapper served with toybox radish with dehydrated lettuce on top of uni with a consomme served table side.
GH: Tender and almost a little sweet. Nice interplay between the fish, the richness of the uni, and the slight sweet bitterness from the radish. Extra points for leaving the skin on the fish. I actually liked it a bit more than the sablefish.
EK: Not usually a big fan of radish but could appreciate its usage here. Liked the presentation and the broth, when mixed with the other elements, was extremely tasty.
Palate Cleanser: Mandarin orange sorbet on top of tarragon gelee
Beef filet with tempura broccoli, cippolini onion, maitake mushroom mousse, caramelized garlic tamari jus
GH: Perfectly cooked piece of meat. Nice and beefy, perhaps dry aged?
EK: Awesome crust. Love the mushroom mousse.
Berkshire pork two ways--Glazed belly and gingerbread crusted tenderloin with swiss chard (also from their garden), lentils, squash, and black currant jus
GH: I'm a pork man so this dish really hit the spot. Perfectly cooked and a wonderful study of textures. Tenderloin was slightly pink and the belly had the fat rendered out but was still flavorful. This dish and the snapper were my two favorite of the evening.
EK: Nice balance between the belly and tenderloin. The other elements were well-cooked and had their own flavor.
Three cheese tasting--Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam with cornbread and truffle honey, Tomme du Berger with pickled carrot, coriander, and haricot verts, and Haystack Peak Chevre with pear and red pepper relish and aged balsamic on the side.
GH: EK never turns down a cheese course. The genius was in the unusual pairings.
EK: I liked the fact that the the pairings really highlighted the cheese and made the cheese taste better. Not that the cheese was bad on its own, but their flavor was really balanced with the sides, especially the pickles and relish.
Lemon Meringue--Lemon genoise with meringue brulee, candied kumquat, and milk sorbet on the side.
GH: This was a light dessert but, for me, the most underwhelming dish of the evening. It was fine, not great, not bad.
EK: Not usually a big sweet dessert person and was glad none of the flavors were overwhelming. I think I liked it more than GH.
Dark chocolate truffle, root beer marshmellow, raspberry soft chew (like a super high end Sunkist fruit gem), caramel with fleur de sel.
Got to take home a couple of homemade lollipops--coffee and root beer--we're saving these for later!
GH: Bonus round--it was all really good--better than the lemon meringue. It was good to finish with these tasty treats because I left on a high note.
EK: Another dessert! Really liked the marshmellow and caramel with fleur del sel. Nothing was too sweet and everything was in a perfect bite.
Overall, we really enjoyed our meal with this new chef. He did a really nice job with the balancing of flavors. There were no gimmicks, even the more avant-garde elements were incorporated into the dish well. Each element served the overall purpose of the dish. We'll be back to see what else the chef can do. Would be interested to see what other folks think.
938 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
I heard was the last chef left or was let go or some mutual deal because TJ lost a Michelin star (went from 2 to 1) this past year and the owners weren't happy. I have no idea about the new guy but if he was hired to improve things or get back that star, it seems like a safe or reasonable bet. OTOH, can't go wrong with Manresa but it might be too hip for parents (I have no idea here) but TJ always seemed relatively sedate and low key in a good way.
I haven't looked to double-check, but I'm pretty sure reviews here on Chowhound correlated with Michelin, well in advance of the latest edition being published. There seemed to be consensus that the food was still very good, but not as great as it had been.
Reading the news on the Chez TJ site, I think I may need to go sooner rather than later. It turns out that Chef Nishiyama is a fellow MIT alum. A star chef with a chemistry degree from MIT should be a great match for Silicon Valley. We'll see!
I don't know anything about Chef Nishiyama - this is the first I heard that TJ had hired a replacement chef. But the whole staff is in transition there, not just the chef, so I would be hesistant to send someone there over the next few weeks. There are always a few kinks to work out when the changes are this big. Manresa or Village Pub might make for better bets in this time frame.
It's a nice resume so things do look promising for the future!