938 Villa St
Mountain View, CA 94041
Just off Castro Street in Downtown Mountain View, a quaint little Michelin starred restaurant resides in one of Mountain View’s oldest homes. Historically known for its superb farm-fresh food, extensive and hand picked wine, intimate setting, meticulous attention to detail, Chez TJ is truly a memorable dining experience.
David and I settled into our seats with a bottle of Voss and La Tunella, and spontaneously decided on the Chef’s Tasting Menu – that’s 8 dishes, and 4 random amuse-bouche/intermezzo/post-dessert samples. So without further ado, let us begin.
We began with a peanut butter and foie gras madeleine (not pictured) – it was soft, buttery, salty and delicate-crumbed. It was the perfect execution of a madeleine, and so unique and delicious. This was followed by a shredded pork meatball coated and fried in cornmeal with a bit of truffle oil I think. I’m not too sure, so don’t quote me – but boy, this was the meatball redefined. Rather than textureless ground meat, the savory meat was shredded then balled together before being fried. A dollop of some kind of tart, bright cream really added depth to the dish. David probably could have popped a dozen of them, but unfortunately (or fortunately) that was it. Our opening dishes really challenged our typically congruent notion of food and flavor, and really foreshadowed the magic and chemistry that was to follow.
The first dish off the chef’s tasting menu was slow poached crawfish presented with grilled potato, cauliflower, licorice, and what I think was pork trotter gelée. Beautifully artful presentation – great contrast in colors and flavors, and even with so much going on, the plate was very harmonious. I think it helps that potato and cauliflower are bland enough to be great bases for bolder flavors.
This next presentation was sea bass sashimi with steelhead roe, bacon, and tangy and bright sudachi purée. I think the foam was actually bacon flavored (again, I might be wrong), which gave the very fresh sea bass a nice subtle salt. Again, beautiful presentation.
The following dish was a warm, hearty green garlic and stinging nettle (I didn’t realize it was edible) risotto, topped with a perfectly poached egg, a bit of fish roe, and freshly shaved pecorino cheese. I broke into the poached egg, and the velveteen yolk spilled out onto the dark broth and green risotto – such beautiful contrast. Side note, David says he detected a hint of Maggi seasoning in the broth, though I can’t verify. All I know is that this dish was rich and filling – it was the right portion (any bigger and I wouldn’t have made it through the rest of dinner).
Salmon is one of those fish that’s easy to get wrong – sure it’s simple enough, but a few seconds too long on heat, and you end up with dry, not yummy salmon. Here at Chez TJ, the salmon was slow cooked at presumably a very low temperature just enough to warm the fish up from raw. The soft, moist and fleshy salmon is served with a “degustation” of peas and carrots, and dotted with roe. When you cut into the fish, the soft flakes give way to a moist and tender inside – now dip that in the sweet pea and carrot sauce and take a bite – delectable.
This dish of sous-vide then maybe pan-fried (for color?) lamb belly and some unidentifiable sweet berry from the Chez TJ gardens. The lamb belly was salty to counter the sweetness of the berries. Such a perfect amalgamation of flavors. And so tender!! The soft belly meat was (obviously) super fatty, and just melted right on the tongue. Soo goood. Probably one of my favorite dishes of the night.
To cleanse our palates, a passion fruit sorbet was brought to the table with tapioca starch balls and coconut milk. We could have stopped there and I would have been happy – wonderful tropic flavors, and it was heavily southeast Asian with the tapioca balls and sweetened coconut milk, reminiscent of chè – mais non – the show must go on.
This braised short rib was drenched in beet syrup. The short ribs were also melt-in-your-mouth consistency and very fatty. The onion soubise sauce provided really nice color and flavor contrast to the roasted red beet. The presentation was a bit abstract, but the dish was perfect. I actually only took a few bites though, because it was so rich and David scarfed down the rest.
To end and make way for dessert, we had a rather confusing concoction of house-made cheese and green peppers. David blatantly didn’t like it, but I thought it was a nice, refreshing touch after the very heavy lamb belly and shortribs. The homemade cheese had consistency like cottage cheese, and it was creamy without being overwhelming. Paired with the crispy bites of green pepper and the overall effect was south western to me.
Up to this point, I was very impressed not only by the food, but also the presentation and originality of the dishes. Literally, ever dish was art on a plate. Beautiful. But dessert was a rather big disappointment. This creamy and fragrant chai pot de creme was unceremoniously (in my opinion) topped with ripped poppyseed cake, Mandarin orange granita, blood orange foam, and something else I can’t place/can’t remember. The flavors were delicious! Cold flakes of citrus granita, with the fragrant blood orange foam, and bits of poppy seed cake – and the sweet chai custard to bring it all together. The presentation, however, was more than wanting. My initial response was – it looked like someone had barfed on my plate. Not to be rude, but it was such a fall from the artistic presentations of the preceding dishes. Where was the color contrast and playfulness with shape and texture? There was too much of it on one dish and I thought that it didn’t quite work so well. Delicious though. It’s definitely something I am going to try and recreate at home. Those flavor combinations were amazing.
And just before we end our night, our server brought out a plate of petit fours, consisting of a yummy fruit glacé, bit of cake (was good, but can’t remember what was in it), salted truffle (surprisingly salty filling), and fruity Starburst like taffy candy. Perfect end. All those little plates really added up, and we left contentedly full. Overall, the only drawback of the night was the pace of the meal. I understand long, drawn-out meals – I just came back from France, of course I know how to enjoy my meals. But, I prefer to let a meal run its course without the deliberate breaks. I feel that it interrupts the flow of things, and I don’t like that. Rather than time precise 20min intervals between dishes, I think the meal itself should be more fluid and unrestrained. But overall, David and I really enjoyed our time at Chez TJ, and I personally think that though it came with a steep price tag ($300+ for 2), we had a good time. The setting allowed for really intimate conversations, and the attentiveness of the servers and the deliciousness of the food made for a wonderful reunion.