Restaurant: Baumé (Palo Alto, CA) **
16 May 2015 (Dinner at 7.30pm)
For the last 7 years, Baumé has only been about a 15 minute drive from wherever I’ve been living at the time. I’ve always wanted to try it, but the high menu prices were off-putting to me. As expensive a city as Palo Alto is, Baumé is a bit of an oddity. There actually aren’t any other super pricey restaurants in Palo Alto. Baumé has a nondescript storefront down the quiet end of S. California Avenue, not too far from an array of affordable eateries that cater to Stanford students and healthy Californians. Antonio’s Nuthouse — a fun, though not exactly classy establishment — is meters away.
The few people that I know have gone remarked that they specialized in molecular gastronomy and created artworks out of food. I don’t know about that, but what I got when I finally visited for dinner was hands down the best food that I’ve had at any fine dining restaurant. That’s a fairly big statement.
The booking was easy to get. I found a 7.30pm slot on Saturday only a couple weeks in advance through their website. They don’t require a credit card to make the deposit and ring up a few days in advance to confirm the booking.
Food & Presentation
Baumé offers one tasting menu at a fixed price. There are also three different wine pairing menus you can choose from. We were offered our choice of still, sparkling and “regular” water, and that was it. Strangely, no drinks menu was presented.
The menu was eight courses, plus an amuse bouche and a bonus mignardises course to finish. Each was amazing, with the exception of the cheese course.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the food so much was that the menu they picked so happened to match my palate and preferences exactly. This was the menu:
- Amuse: Lemon Sponge, Radish Cucumber, Celery Sorbet
- Brittany Blue Lobster Gelée, Carrot Ginger
- Golden Osetra Caviar, Fennel Kiwi
- Jidori Egg Yolk, Smoked Sabayon, Polenta, Kale Mélange
- Haricot Vert, Artichoke, Hazelnut
- Noirmoutier Turbot, Zucchini, Cardamom Licorice Fumet
- Lacquered California Squab, English Pea, Cherry, Wild Onion
- Goat Cheese Parsley Root Mousse, Pink Peppercorn
- Lychee Peach Rose Mousse + Framboise Tonka Vacherin
- Mignardises: Mint Sponge, Pear Pate de Fruit, Calamansi Sorbet
The dishes had super balanced flavors. The ingredients were fairly simple, with nothing weird. The caviar was smooth and not overly salty. The Jidori egg yolk was amazing — it didn’t taste “yolky” at all. And any dessert with lychee and peach in it has me sold (I like sweet and fruity over dark and chocolatey). The only weak point was the goat cheese mousse, which was a bit too much for me, although admittedly I’m not great when it comes to cheeses.
There was a wonderful symmetry between the amuse bouche and last course — the visual presentation was almost identical, but the ingredients used reflected a savory start to the meal and a sweet end.
The presentation was artful, and it must have been fun to shop for the restaurant’s crockery and cutlery. There was a bent towards using usually shaped, polished, dark silver cutlery that was very reminiscent of hematite.
They didn’t even ask for my name when I walked through the door. I guess I was probably the only one booked for that time, but they kind of just assumed who I was, called me by name, and ran with it.
In a change to the usual army of waitstaff at these types of restaurants, there were only two serving our side of the restaurant (and they might have served the other side as well). One was a genial woman with a piercing laugh that was somewhat jarring because of the relative somberness of the surroundings. Our food was brought out by a waiter that looked like Tobias Fünke. Susanne thought he was creepy, but I quite liked him — he would enunciate the ingredients in a measured, clear and methodical way, then hover about for a couple seconds afterward until we said thanks. I eventually figured out he was hovering in case we had any questions about the dishes, which he smoothly answered. Which was just as well, because I didn’t recognize about 25% of the words he spoke (“What’s tonka?”). While chit-chat with the waitstaff was virtually non-existent (and they never ever asked if we enjoyed a dish), they still gave off a friendly, relaxed vibe.
Even with only two staff, they did a great job — attentive while being unintrusive. Pacing of the meal was great, though relatively quick for a restaurant like this. We were out in two hours and 15 minutes, as were all the other tables.
Atmosphere & Decor
When you step into the restaurant, you’re immediately immersed in an inky darkness. Like, darker than a massage parlor dark. After your eyes adjust, it’s still pretty dark. Curtains divide the restaurant’s two halves. While it’s murky inside, a spotlight illuminates each table. It’s a very intimate feel actually, and the lighting really focuses everything on what’s happening on the table — everything else fades to black. Not the best venue for noisy, large groups, but perfect for couples. Very quiet, with some faint ambient music.
As a parting gift, they gave us a box of caramels, and a tube of chocolate hazelnut ganache. They also gave us a copy of the menu, which is always nice.
Baumé really hit it out of the park for me. The food was really incredible, the service was smooth, and it was a great meal. There aren’t many restaurants in that price range that I would re-visit but, for a special occasion, this would be one of them. And it’s local!
$268 per person, plus tax ($23.45). Tip is included in the price.
The Restaurant had two Michelin stars at the time of visit.