Restaurant Review: Born again

Publication Date: Friday Jan 14, 2000

Restaurant Review: Born again

The new Chantilly in Atherton picks up where Chantilly II left off, treating Silicon Valley right

by Laura Reiley

Can a new building have a sense of history? Can it have ghosts? If you go to the new Chantilly at the border of Redwood City and Atherton, and you listen carefully, you may overhear fellow patrons trying to recall the last time they dined "here." Of course, they don't mean here. Here is brand new, built from the ground up and opened in early December. What they mean is the old Chantilly II on Ramona Street in Palo Alto, a place that bobbled hardly at all through the vicissitudes of high-tech Silicon Valley life over the past quarter century.

Muckety-mucks from Intel, Intuit, Microsoft, AMD, National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard and all the other big names in the Valley were closeted in the private rooms of Chantilly II while the rest of us ate in the main dining room and wondered what deals were being cut behind those doors. The jury's still out on whether technology's titans will pull up a chair at the new Chantilly, but everyone else seems to have settled right in. After a few zoning problems with the city (resulting in complimentary valet service out back), Chantilly has managed to pack them in nearly every night since.

Curiosity and nostalgia can certainly account for some of the business, but it is the owners' savvy that makes up the rest. Original owner Gus Talasaz and his partners Judith Dolkas and chef Bernardo Oropeza have kept many of the best features of the old restaurant, jettisoning those that seemed outdated. Using a Hillsborough decorator by the name of Alfonso, the trio has managed to create a space that is formal but contemporary, attractive without aspiring to hipness. French silk shimmers from the walls of the main dining room, ornate Louis XIV chairs make everyone feel important and an Italian crystal chandelier dangles toward matching wall sconces. A second level balcony reveals a hallway that leads to five private dining rooms, and downstairs a wine cellar (designed by uber-cellar designer Paul Wyatt) offers another intimate space for private dining.

Chef Bernardo Oropeza has chosen to retain many of the signature dishes from the old restaurant, and many of the old waiters are there to serve it up. Still saddled with the description "continental," the menu really leans toward the Italian part of the continent, with lots of veal scaloppini, risotto, gnocchi and the like. The wine list is mixture of familiar and more boutique bottlings, with lots of fairly priced California chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons.

On the evening of our visit, we began with a bottle of 1996 Matanzas Creek chardonnay, with its white-Burgundy-on-steroids depth and mouthfeel. To accompany this, we revisited several of Chantilly's favorite starters. Scampi provencale ($9.50 as appetizer, $19 as entree), hearts of palm salad ($6.50) and mozzarella di buffalo salad ($7) were passed around the table. The mozzarella salad is virtually identical to that at Osteria: Two fat disks of tomato were topped with rounds of soft, fresh mozzarella, a chiffonade of basil and a vinaigrette that hails from the pesto family. Its only flaw was that of the season, with hard roma tomatoes yielding up scant flavor.

The thick, basil-heavy vinaigrette appeared again alongside long stalks of asparagus and heart of palm, crisscrossed with strands of red and yellow bell pepper, all resting on a big lettuce leaf. The whole effect--colors, flavors, textures--took us back to composed salads in continental restaurants of yore. The fat scampi, more monochromatic, were flavored gently with a Pernod-scented cream. The advertised tomato, garlic and herbs contributed just a whisper.

Before segueing into our entrees, we made a stop off at a plate of Maine lobster ravioli ($19.50), one of the old Chantilly's notable dishes. The lush texture of tiny lobster meat chunks was accentuated by lengths of sauteed chanterelle mushroom. The lobster's flavor was less in evidence in the dish, however.

On a menu ripe in veal scaloppini offerings, it's a little surprising to find a more oceanic signature dish. The calamari steak (the most affordable entree on the menu at $15.50), however, is given a treatment akin to that of veal--pounded and breaded, whole squid bodies are gently sauteed and served fork-tender. The evening's vegetable risotto ($14.75) brought another well-conceived dish marrying carrot, green beans, oyster and cremini mushrooms with parmesan cheese and arborio. While the rice wasn't "to the tooth," the dish's gorgeous flavor dispelled any complaints. And a Colorado rack of lamb ($25) showcased four rosy lamb chops wading in a pool of mint- and tarragon-spiked jus, served with a simple potato gratin and a jumbled vegetable medley.

After stewing in the juices of nostalgia for most of our meal, we felt inclined to continue in that vein. For dessert, we dipped our spoons into a thick, velvety creme brulee ($6) and then into a glass of fat mixed berries ladled with heady creme anglaise. Even without these, and despite its move to the north, Chantilly managed to satisfy our sentimentality for the good old days.

Chantilly, 3001 El Camino Real, at the border of Atherton and Redwood City, (650) 321-4080

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Atmosphere: An ambiance of Old World formality echoes that at the old Chantilly II, although the interior reflects a more sophisticated and elegant aesthetic. This is a place in which you'll feel most comfortable in dressy or business attire.

Highlights: Even in the new digs, many dishes persevere from the old days--Maine lobster ravioli, hearts of palm salad, rack of lamb and calamari steak are all worthy of a little revisitation.

About the owners: Chantilly has had a long ride. In the 1970s, the Ramona Street location was a haunt for high-tech movers and shakers. In 1990, Chantilly added a "II" after its name, gussied up the food and became a joint venture between founder Gus Talasaz, business executive Judith Dolkas and chef Bernardo Oropeza. For the past two years the trio has worked to open a new restaurant at the border of Atherton and Redwood City. Called just Chantilly, the new venture opened at the beginning of December, not long after the Ramona Street location was closed. Reservations - recommended Credit cards - yes Parking - lot Full liquor - yes Takeout - no Banquet - yes Wheelchair access - yes Highchairs - no Outdoor seating - no 

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