by J.J. Brentar
In an era when trendy restaurants open and close within the span of too few years, one takes comfort in knowing that a handful of traditional establishments do last. As it approaches its third decade, Chantilly (for the last four years known as Chantilly II) draws a loyal following to its cozy courtyard location. Cognizant of dining trends away from the elaborate French preparations that marked Chantilly's culinary past, the restaurant's partners, including chef Bernardo Orapeza, designed a more reasonably priced "continental" menu with a generous splash of Italian flavors. To keep attracting the customers who enjoyed the former style, traditional favorites such as the signature rack of lamb ($18.75) still grace the menu.
With its numerous antiques, character-rich table settings and cozy, private dining rooms, the atmosphere at Chantilly II points to a restaurant not at all uncomfortable with its past. The main room's squat, beamed ceiling, mirror and fabric-covered walls, and candlelight and chandelier lighting create a snug dining environment.
The private rooms, with fireplaces and decorated mantelpieces, seem the appropriate setting for a recreated Victorian Christmas.
Although indications of the kitchen's previous inclinations are still apparent in holdover dishes such as Veal Normandy ($15.50), Chantilly's dinner menu now offers about a dozen pasta dishes and a daily risotto.
Various preparations of ravioli often appear as pasta specials, augmenting the Ravioli Porcini and Ravioli del Mare (each $12.95) that appear on the regular menus.
One offering had a flavorful filling of lobster and ricotta and a light cream sauce studded with conspicuous bits of more lobster ($12.95). The fresh crabmeat ravioli ($9.50), on the other hand, was filled with far more ricotta than crab and was covered with a somewhat overwhelming tomato sauce.
The menu's salads and appetizers run the gamut from such "continental" restaurant holdovers as hearts of palm salad ($3.75) to such Italian mainstays as the summery buffalo mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil ($5.25), which seemed somewhat out of place on a menu in late November.
The Gamberetti, prawns baked with herbs and brandy, ($7.50) consisted of four large prawns, tender and sizzling hot in a generous pool of well-seasoned browned butter.
The salad of spinach, mushrooms, goat cheese and roasted pine nuts paired fresh baby spinach with a generous number of thinly sliced mushrooms, crumbled goat cheese and excellent aged balsamic vinaigrette.
Among entrees, the "roasted Sonoma quail with sauce Pear Williams" ($16.75) rested atop slices of sauteed fresh pear surrounded by sweet and savory demi-glace sauce. The two mostly boneless birds were masterfully prepared, golden brown yet moist and succulent.
The large medallions of lamb in the Noisette of Lamb Dijon ($17.50) were medium-rare as requested but surprisingly tough. The delectable mahogany-hued sauce, scented with madeira, provided additional evidence of the kitchen's skilled devotion to the art of refined sauce making.
The kitchen seems equally adept at sauteeing. The filets in a special of fresh sole ($11.50) were burnished an attractive golden brown and served perfectly moist topped with a tangy citrus-based sauce studded with fresh, sauteed chanterelle mushrooms. The scaloppine in the Veal Uccelette ($13.75) were tender, topped with prosciutto and moistened with a sauce of marsala and white wine. A deft hand controlled the addition of marsala, which too often overpowers scaloppine in some restaurants.
Other Italian menu features include "Awesome Osso Buco" with risotto ($14.75), which was unavailable one busy Saturday night, and "Our Famous Calamari Mugnaia" ($12.50), a tender squid steak sauteed nicely to mimic a decent abalone.
The extensive wine list offers selections from California, France, Italy and Germany at about double the usual retail price. Numerous choices are offered at around $6 per glass. The dessert list offers cognacs and about 10 port wines.
Dessert offerings include a hazelnut torte ($4.50) surrounded by creme Anglaise and fresh berries, warm apple tart with caramel sauce ($4.50) and creme brulee ($3.50). The torte was the most memorable, pairing layers of moist spongy nut cake with rich chocolate cream. In contrast, the apple tart's crust seemed a bit tired and tough, and the creme brulee tasted somewhat insipid.
The service at Chantilly is precise and attentive. Despite a nearly full dining room one evening, the quality of service provided by one server, Placido, seemed truly impeccable. Women receive a long-stemmed rose as they depart the restaurant.
Such traditional touches combined with its streamlined prices, excellent service and an interesting, refurbished menu should see Chantilly II through the coming decades.
Chantilly II, 530 Ramona St., Palo Alto, 321-4080
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Mon-Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Atmosphere: Antiques, charming private rooms, classical guitar on weekends
Highlights: Lobster ravioli, pastas, roasted Sonoma quail, seafood Reservations: yes
Credit cards: yes
Full bar: yes
Wheelchair access: yes
Outdoor seating: no
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