Chez TJ has had the distinction of being one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants on the Peninsula, earning two stars in 2008 under the helm of Christopher Kostow (who is now cooking at the 3-starred Meadowwood). Kostow's replacements, Bruno Chemel and Scott Nishiyama have both earned for Chez TJ, a single Michelin star. Under the Michelin system, stars are non-transferable and belong to the pairing of chef and restaurant -- they don't follow the chef or the restaurant, they must be re-earned each year. In 2011, Chez Panisse lost their single star, and Scott Nishiyama managed to keep the star for Chez TJ. Chef Nishiyama will be leaving at the end of February, so I had to make a visit to experience his cuisine.
My only previous Michelin star restaurant experience was Chez Panisse in 2009, which was my benchmark for fine dining; after my experience at Chez TJ, I can definitely see some similarities and differences between the two, and I can definitely see the merits of each restaurant. While Chez Panisse excels in finding local perfection, Chez TJ is quite innovative with their food. Chez TJ definitely has some very creative ideas when it comes to food, such as beet macarons and foie gras presented as a soup.
Chez TJ has exceptional service; the servers are well prepared and well versed in the dishes being presented, and the sommelier Gretchen Simms is knowledgeable in the wines and regions. The pairings, I felt were quite good; for this particular visit, the wines all happened to be not California wines, which gave Simms a chance to show her knowledge of the various wines, climates and tastes of the different wines.
The desserts and pastries were top notch; if I could afford it, I'd be quite happy eating those items night after night.
I stuffed myself with the Chef's Tasting Menu, but the four-course "Menu Gastronomique" can be modified to become a vegetarian or pescatarian menu. At Chez TJ, the menu selection is for the entire table; either the whole table gets the 4 course or 8 course menu; mainly this has to do with the timing of the dishes -- expect to spend at least three hours here to complete the 8 course menu, and around two and half hours for the 4 course menu; a couple near me requested that the timing be sped up, as they had a babysitter to get back to, and another table near me requested the rest of the meal to be boxed up, as they had their families to get home to; for this kind of food, it seems as people these days do not have the time for truly sit and enjoy the food and service.
While the foie gras dishes are very delicious, I can't help but feel that they were too heavy to start with; I may have placed them later on the menu; going from the very refreshing take of amberjack onto two different foie gras dishes to a more light chestnut raviolini felt somewhat unbalanced for me, and would have been better positioned between the pork belly and the ribeye. The menu is definitely much richer than Chez Panisse.
There's some very interesting combinations coming out of Chef Nishyama, such as the Octopus and Oxtail dish that he presented, as well as the Ribeye with the black garlic gnocchi and mushrooms, which was an excellent finish to the savory courses.
It may be some time before I return to Chez TJ; Chef Nishiyama is leaving, and no successor has been announced yet. When Chef Chemel left, he took 5 assistants with him to work at Baume; any visit I make after Chef Nishiyama's departure will surely feel like a different restaurant.
Flickr: Chez TJ.