Bijou: A Jewel in The Jewel
Step off downtown La Jolla’s main street and into an entryway replete with marble leading to one of the plushest, most upscale dining rooms in all of San Diego. Bijou was not originally constructed as a casual eatery for lounging over a breezy two-Sancerre lunch; rather, the vast, cushy, dark wood and wrought iron-adorned dining room was built to mirror Amaya, a fine dining eatery at The Grand Del Mar. The esteemed lodging sent chef Camron Woods to The Jewel to install Amaya Part Two, but not long after, The Grand Del Mar decided to reconcept to something they believed to be missing from La Jolla — a traditional French bistro. In doing so, they employed one of their most valuable resources — William Bradley, executive chef at Addison, The Grand’s high-profile, five-star, five-diamond gourmet restaurant.
Bradley developed a menu stocked with dishes so classic, some can only be sourced at Bijou. Veal Paillard, clafoutis, Ouefs Mayonnaise — they’re all here. Chef de cuisine Shaun Gethin (formerly Bradley’s sous at Addison before being handed the reins at Bijou) describes the latter as an amplified take on deviled eggs. Halved domes of ova are covered in a brilliantly rich acidic mayonnaise so luxuriously velvety, it’s barely recognizable. It’s a starter that shouldn’t be overlooked.
On the more popular end of the bistro spectrum, the red wine reduction on Gethin’s coq au vin exhibits such depth (thanks in part to the addition of smoky, slow-cooked bacon) that it would be a fantastic dish if the slow-cooked carrots, onions and mushrooms were served in it sans-poultry. Rainbow trout filets are abnormally meaty and served with uncommon yet deliciously harmonious accompaniments — earthy lentils and a sweet port wine sauce.
Bijou’s beef tartare is simple, given sporadic bursts of acidity from capers. Parisian gnocchi (potato-less and made using only flour, butter, eggs and crème fraiche) shines thanks to salty olives and tangy tomatoes. Having more of the latter would allow diners to experience the beauty of every ingredient with every bite, but that feels like splitting hairs. And on the dessert side, a pot de crème is decadent in its caramely appeal and perfectly offset by a sticky sea salt meringue.
While the environs are incongruous with the concept, logo, menus and other items (this can happen when such a large space requires reconcepting), fortunately, Amaya was a beautiful place built to be extremely comfortable and ornate. And the opulence and painstakingly detailed service (which is similar to the stellar wait style at Addison) is both enjoyable and complimentary, so no harm, no foul. It also doesn’t hurt to have the formidable beverage resources of The Grand Del Mar behind a list of French and West Coast wines (most of which are crafted by French winemakers for a stateside sip of vin Francais).
Going with something different versus a second iteration of an existing concept should yield better results. One thing’s for sure — the early returns on Bijou are quite flavorsome. (858.750.3695, www.bijoufrenchbistro.com) BRANDON HERNÁNDEZ