Worth the encore
Chez Bob is a little bit elegant or a little bit awkward, depending on your perspective. Mine changed dramatically between my first visit, two years ago, and my recent return. After writing the place off, I was drawn back by rumors of major improvements in both service and food.
Organic beef, free-range chicken and wild-caught salmon from the Fish Hugger are standard, according to the new manager, a man named Counts. The salads are made of butterhead and romaine lettuce, a major improvement over the tired, bagged mix I remembered.
A former market and Community Supported Agriculture farmer, Counts used to raise three acres of organic vegetables with no fossil fuels. His farm is in transition now that he’s taken the helm at Chez Bob. He plans on growing squash and tomatoes for the restaurant next year. Unlike the many servers who look at you blankly when you ask where something is from, Counts is encyclopedic about the sources of his food. Not everything served there is as sustainable as he wishes, but it’s encouraging to know he’s pushing for as many local, organic ingredients as are economically feasible.
In addition to bringing in Counts to do the ordering and orchestrate the action in the front of the house, Robert Maw, aka Bob, has taken over the kitchen from a series of chefs that, he told me, were talented but unreliable.
The French/Italian restaurant occupies the end of a strip mall in La Cueva Town Center at Paseo and Wyoming. Huge burgundy window dressings push into a tiny dining room. The walls hold multiple paintings of women in various stages of undress. A long bank of kitchen cabinets covers the east wall and faces the dining room like a big, open bus station. Fresh flowers grace the tables, which, along with the improvements in service and food, upgrades the ambience from awkward to solidly eclectic.
The housemade dressing on the Caesar salad is one of the best I’ve had. It was so rich that just a light drizzle was all I needed. The romaine heart leaves came topped with high-grade anchovies, and there’s an option for a piece of chicken that’s worth exercising. I also recommend squeezing the accompanying lemon wedge over the whole thing to complete this excellent, simple salad. I only wish it were bigger. The house salad, comprised mostly of succulent butterhead leaves, was larger than the Caesar and excellent as well—though I was less into the dressing, a balsamic reduction that was too sweet for me.
If the Nutella crepe doesn’t get you laid by the time you get home, it’s probably never going to happen.
The lunch menu is a pared-down version of the dinner menu in smaller, cheaper portions, while dinner includes European classics like beef Wellington and sole meunière. My favorite was a plate of immense diver scallops in a clarified beurre blanc, flanked with a rainbow of perfectly roasted yellow and purple potatoes.
Green chile chicken Alfredo lasagna was a study in richness, with bits of chicken and green chile embedded in the ricotta mortar between layers of pasta. Like many of the dishes at Chez Bob—and in France, for that matter—this one caters to those who like their food supersaturated. The flavor of green chile was faint but present.
Chez Bob’s crepes, both sweet and savory, could hold their own on the streets of Paris. The spongy pancake soaked up sauces perfectly—as was the case with a beef bourguignon’s braising liquid. The tender beef and whole button mushrooms made for a satisfying filling, and I used shards of leftover crepe to clean my plate.
The ratatouille crepe bears the distinction of being one of the few menu items that isn’t drenched in butter or cream. Earthy and simple, it lived up to that vegetable stew’s history as a simple classic.
On the sweet side, if the Nutella crepe doesn’t get you laid by the time you get home, it’s probably never going to happen. The world’s favorite chocolate hazelnut paste was mixed with whipped cream, making it impossibly big, rich and fluffy. Bread pudding came recommended, but it reminded me too much of French toast. Truth be told, I haven't forgotten the spectacular chocolate crème brûlée from my first visit.
If, like me, your first trip to Chez Bob was a letdown, it might be time for a return visit. It’s already greatly improved, and I’m confident that as long as boss Bob keeps holding down the kitchen while Counts orders the best ingredients he can, the future looks even brighter.