Sunday, October 03, 2010

Baume

A couple of weeks ago I went with some of my coworkers to Baume (apparently it's pronounced "bau-MEH"), a new molecular gastronomy place in Palo Alto. I'm a little surprised about the location (on California Avenue); it seems more the kind of thing that would do better in the city, but it made it convenient for a weeknight dinner.

The restaurant isn't very large, and the four of us were seated in a small room with maybe five other tables. The atmosphere was a little hush-hush for my taste, although I think we livened it up a bit after we got there.

Baume offers three menus: five courses, ten courses, and fifteen courses. Each has an optional wine pairing. We quickly decided to go for the full fifteen, and a few of us (not me) were initially tempted by the wine pairing, but decided against when the waiter described it as "75% whites". We got some cocktails instead.

The menu is not very specific; it just lists some ingredients that are likely to be used in the courses, so that diners can point out allergies and/or other preferences:


The cocktails were pricey but I was glad I ordered one; mine was a passionfruit sake drink with little "pearls" of passionfruit in it that burst when you bit them. It was very fun to drink and reminded me a little bit of bubble tea. Even more visually stunning was this grape sake drink, which had the same pearls (in grape) but also had liquid-nitrogen-frozen grape sorbet on top:


The amuse was a tiny bit of scallop sashimi with soy and passionfruit pearls. It was tasty but very small:


There was no bread basket, but we were offered a total of four different types of bread at two instances during the evening. My favorite was this walnut bread which was served with a "choc-olive":


Basically, the olive was processed into the shape of a chocolate truffle, and the server recommended we spread the whole thing across the bread. I found this made the bread too salty, and I scraped some of it off. I'd chosen the black olive and wondered if that was the problem, but my coworker who had the green olive said the same.

The first real course was comprised mostly of red beet bubbles, with goat cheese and pinenuts on the side. It was fun to look at, but hard to eat once the bubbles started to collapse. This may have been my fault for spending several minutes taking photos of the dish. Both the goat cheese and the pinenuts were quite strong in flavor and I felt like the beet flavor got overwhelmed a bit.


Next up was a duck, shiso, and kabocha soup. Initially we were given just a bowl of smoked duck bits and duck lardo:


The servers quickly added a scoop of frozen shiso, and then poured the kabocha soup on top:


The final product wasn't that interesting to look at, but it was quite tasty; the flavors went together well, and I could have eaten the duck bits all night:


Next up was sauteed abalone with citron foam and green apple "wasabi":


I liked the sauteed abalone by itself very much, but I'm not sure the foam and the apple added that much to the dish. I tire quickly of foam and bubbles, though.

This was one of the dishes that I had heard about previously, from another coworker who had already eaten at Baume; he said it was one of his favorites. It's called "62-degree egg" and is literally an egg perfectly cooked at 62 degrees for an extended period of time. It was served with lobster mushrooms and tarragon sauce. I dislike egg yolks but have to admit this dish was very well executed. I even ate most of it:


The foie gras torchon was served with pineapple and a bubble of cinnamon foam. I liked the cinnamon but the pineapple flavor was too strong. The foie gras itself was tasty served on toast points, but as usual I let others finish my portion:


I liked this matsutake trio but others found it bland. It was a very simple dish:


The server called this palate cleanser "gaspachio" but it was mostly sweet, with more flavored pearls and brandy foam. It was nice but by this time I was starting to get tired of the pearls:


Next up was a leek farcie with arctic char mousse and shaved truffles:


Luckily I had asked for substitutions for any dishes involving cooked fish, so I was served this vegetarian dish instead. It had figs, carrots, and other greens, as well as the truffles:


The vegetables were fresh and flavorful and I enjoyed the dish but wasn't amazed.

Our second palate cleanser was a rosemary nitro-foam. The server scooped little bits of frozen rosemary foam into wooden spoons for us, one by one, so that they would be good and cold when we consumed them. Eating the "foam" was quite interesting; visible cold steam/smoke came out of my nose and the bits were cold and crunchy on my tongue:


The meat dishes started with this "cochon au lait" (basically pork belly), served with sliced apple, armagnac sauce, and a prune. Everyone else liked this but I thought the pork was drier than it should have been:


My favorite course was this grass-fed filet with summer truffle saveur. We were pretty sure the filet must have been done sous vide as to achieve the perfectly even degree of cooked-ness, and it was seasoned perfectly; not too salty and not too peppery, so the meat flavor could take center stage:


The desserts started with a cheese course. The cheese was served with "honey caviar" which was basically the same pearls done with honey:


The bottom-most cheese was a Petit Basque which I liked a lot, and the top one was a Point Reyes blue; also very good. The middle one was fine but unremarkable. The slightly bitter taste of the watercress went quite well with the cheeses; I'll have to remember that for future reference:


At this point we were served a second amuse; a sweet one this time. It was comprised of lychee bits with chocolate and passionfruit pearls:


I liked this amuse very much; even more than the first one. (Then again, I love sweets.)

All three of the desserts came out together, which I thought was kind of strange. One was a combination of lychee and passionfruit, in which the lychee was processed and frozen. This was my favorite of the three:


The most fragile one (which we were told to eat first) was a caramel foam freeze which was topped by chocolate ganache syrup. I'm not sure the chocolate sauce was very necessary. (This photo was taken before the syrup was added.)


The last dessert was a fig and nut concoction. Again, the individual bits were yummy, but I'm not sure that it all came together very well. That didn't stop me from finishing it, though.


Finally, we were served mignardises of strawberry daiquiri spheres on tiny financiers. The spheres were delicious, and tasted exactly like strawberry daiquiri. I liked the presentation, too:


The last little treat was a packet of homemade marshmallows. We debated awhile and decided the flavors were green tea, grape, and probably orange or citrus. We did think marshmallows were an odd choice for such a fancy restaurant, but they were packaged up nicely, at least:


Closing thoughts...I thought that the food presentation was among the most spectacular of the restaurants that I've visited. Unfortunately, I also thought that they reused the same techniques a bit too much; nearly every dish had some kind of "pearl" or "caviar", there were lots of uses of liquid nitrogen, and there were several dishes that were heavy on foam. Taste-wise I thought both WD-50 and Moto were more consistently delicious, but Baume was perhaps more ambitious (definitely less subtle) than WD-50 at least. Also, the super-quiet atmosphere was a little stifling at first, although that may have been partially because we had such an early (6:30pm) reservation.

In conclusion, it was a fun meal and I'm glad that I went, but I probably won't be returning anytime soon, especially given the price tag and all the other restaurants on my to-try list.

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