Cijjo: Gastronomic small plates, downtown Mountain View
- eatzalot Jan 15, 2014 10:10 AM
This should answer DagingKuda's October-20 question (in a Mountain View restaurants thread).
Cijjo (unphonetically but definitively pronounced sy-jo) opened late December after several weeks of quiet dry-run testing of candidate small plates by veteran chef Ira Siegel, who has experience in NYC and Las Vegas. I've now been to Cijjo several times and am impressed. In particular this is a very serious, capable high-end chef, offering a range of international tidbits that presumably will evolve over time. Potentially Michelin-Guide grade (conceivably, even a starred recommendation) is my assessment (based on some experience of those). If one may extrapolate from a restaurant open not yet three weeks.
The only other restaurant where I've seen comparably energetic and serious commitment to small plates in this compact pedestrian neighborhood of over 100 restaurants is Gochi's expansion site up the street, off ECR -- upscale Izakaya cooking. (Bushido is capable but with smaller menu; many people find CasCal more of an "atmosphere" restaurant with periodic good specials than a place that's mainly about the food.) Cijjo's menu is more international than any of those, albeit inclined toward Europe -- even some REAL tapas, in the original, Spanish-wine-bar sense first fashionable in the US some 30 years ago.
Among the plates are charcuterie; a "sampler" for $15 combines Spanish "Iberico Bellota" (freshly shaved and they will show you the whole ham, if things aren't too busy), house-made duck prosciutto, Italian beef bresaola. Thin shavings of all three come flanked with breads and some (evolving) tapas-y garnishes like olives. Alsatian onion-cheese tart, $14, I thought delicious, nicely balanced (smoky flavor from bits of yet another preserved meat). A popular specialty is spicy Ahi cones $4 each; another, old-fashioned rich roasted marrow bones with fancy accompaniments that contributed to my strong impression of the kitchen. I have tried several other dishes (it's not all meaty stuff, there's a fair range of vegetarian and sea items). Salads vary from small and "artistic" to large and hearty (port-poached pear, greens, CA goat cheese, $10).
Plates average around $11-12 on the main (dinner) menu. A few also are available in small, "tasting"-size portions, $4-6, at the 8-seat bar and couple of adjacent bar tables in a weekday happy-hour menu 4-6 PM. Lunch recently started on a very experimental basis, to firm up later. (The restaurant also plans to close temporarily at some point to update the glass frontage inherited from Pho Garden -- which incidentally did not, after all, reopen nearby as earlier announced.) Bar is beer & wine, emphasis wine (intriguing experiments have started with custom infusions for wine cocktails) and wine list is more of a Somm's or wine-geek's than the generic Bay Area California-heavy restaurant wine list (set up, often, by the distributor, often Southern W&S; not so at Cijjo).
The Frequently Asked Question is the restaurant's name. Proprietors patiently tell everyone the pronunciation (sy-jo) and that no, it doesn't mean anything: it was something they thought of when traveling in Spain.
I ate there the other night. I had the sweetbreads (yay, a restaurant with sweetbreads regularly on the menu in Mountain View!), burrata, and the pork belly. I enjoyed the sweetbreads which were served fried and plated over a stripe of a chunky tomato sauce. The tomato sauce was somewhat mild, but I was told they are experimenting with livening it up. The burrata was served over sliced, roasted beets and a slash of pesto. The combination was dynamite. The pork belly came with a cantaloupe puree and pickled carrots and daikon over frisee. This was the only dish that I thought didn't gel as a combination of flavors -- it was a bit bland as separate components and it was difficult to get the elements into my mouth together to enhance the complexity. The staff and the owner were wonderful about soliciting my input on all of the dishes and communicated my thoughts to the chef. I'm impressed by their attentiveness and interest in improving the menu.
I'm definitely going back -- the flamme, marrow bones, and oxtails are on the top of my list of things I want to try.
re: Peter Yee
Yes, that burrata cheese over sliced multicolored roast beets was one of the salads I characterized earlier as "artistic." The first salad I tried, with the poached pair, was main-course substantial, and quite vegetal. The burrata then came as a surprise, it was almost a cheese course with vegetable foundation under it. I understand that another salad is built on asparagus with something like log-cabin construction. So the "salads" vary widely in spirit.