The Latest: BAUME – Molecular Gastronomy in Suburbia

Minimalist presentation cheese plate: Swiss Tete de Moine comes in shaved curls that melt like velvet or buttery wings, while a fritter is oozing with the same cheese, accented with yuzu marmalade

As far as I’m concerned, there’s room for it all. I crave artistic, mind-blowing experimentation as much as I hunger for pure, simple comfort food. We excel in the latter in San Francisco but I don’t see enough of the former. There’s Coi and Daniel Patterson bringing us fine dining in ways we won’t see it done anywhere else. But where are the all-senses-engaged gastronomy temples like Chicago’s Alinea or the whimsical decadence of Jose Andres The Bazaar in LA (my review and photos coming next issue)?

“Baume-tini”: sparkling sake with bursting passion-fruit lilikoi pearls

Thankfully, the Bay Area just gained a molecular gastronomy gem from Chef Bruno Chemel (formerly of Chez TJ in Mountain View), who opened Baume in a non-descript, ’70’s-looking Palo Alto building on California Street.

This is expensive, special occasion dining, but only weeks into opening, I’d already say it’s one of the more rewarding options for the price in all of the Bay Area. Service is well-orchestrated, timely and warm, each server informed and seemingly happy to be there.

In a simple but striking dining room of brightly elegant orange and warm browns, choose from five ($78), 10 ($108) or 15 courses ($158), plus more for wine pairings (I heard the table next to me ask to split a wine pairing and was delighted they accommodated – ideal for tasting but not wanting to go overboard).

Foie gras comes with apricot miso, a sliver of candied pineapple and a hoppy shot of house pineapple beer

As a guest of the restaurant last month, I was offered the 10-course meal and ready for whatever Chemel might serve. I hear he may slightly alter a dish each night, and, naturally changes the menu often. As an eater who’s about food first, I crave adventure and artistry… but never at the expense of taste or with pretension. Chemel manages to succeed on all fronts and I can imagine his menu only ripening with time.

The meal hit its highest note early with a 62 degree sous-vide egg (this type of a dish is also a highlight at Coi) served in a bowl with wild mushroom and Noilly Prat (French dry vermouth) foam. I closed my eyes, letting out a moan of delight at first silky bite. Paired with shots of fresh celery and lime juice with roasted rosemary stalks, it was the best course of the night.

Thoughtful wine pairings took it further… and at quite a range. It could be anything from a local 2008 Viognier from Jazz Cellars, to Blandy’s 10 year Malmsey Madeira with dessert. I especially savored two Chardonnays: first, an ’06 Collovray-Terrier “Vielles Vignes” Pouilly-Fuisse (mineral initially but after sitting there awhile, became buttery). Then, a 2007 Windy Oaks “One-Acre Estate” Chard from the Santa Cruz Mountains, with a mineral acidity reminiscent of white Burgundy wines.

I’ll share just some of the beauties of the meal here through my photos…

The piece de resistance: 62 degree egg with celery lime juice shots
Paper-thin nori-shoyu flatbread with tofu parsley spread and an aged balsamic “butter” so addictive I ate every drop
Striped bass over bouillabaisse gelee, topped with a transparent purple potato chip
Asparagus Salade in shallot vinaigrette – simple, gorgeous with Parmesan, edible flowers, creamy hollandaise pearls
Palate cleanser of lavender foam  frozen with liquid nitrogen – nitrogen ‘smoke’ playfully expels from your mouth
Grass-fed filet is prepared sous-vide, completely dry yet miraculously juicy with orange vinaigrette and spring onion
A dessert extravaganza, from pastry chef Ryan Shelton, is an ode to the strawberry: mini donut with strawberry gelee; chocolate tarragon ganache and burnt almond “rocks’’, and my favorite: a dry strawberry ice cream soda with sorbet-like float