European, Southeast Asian, and American culinary traditions all influence the unique fusion recipes at Vo's Restaurant. Vegetables and rice get simmered in traditional clay pots and prawns and lemongrass are seared in woks; there's even a deep-fried catfish filet with ginger-infused nouc mam, a dip made from fish sauce. The dining room is as colorful as the dishes, featuring warm red walls, bamboo sprouting from tall vases, romantic lighting overhead.
A native of Paris, Executive Chef Christian Nam-Hee sharpened his knife skills and his palate at l'Ecole de Paris des Métiers de la Table. Today he lets his know-how blossom and wander in the kitchen of Bijou Restaurant & Bar, blending the culinary traditions of his homeland with the flavors found in northern California's seasonal organic ingredients. From his pans and cutting boards spring forth sweet-potato frites, quail stuffed with napa cabbage, and other dishes that embody the menu's inventive fusion spirit. To complement such an aesthetically poignant dining experience, the space itself—designed by DesignPlus's Pia Thomas—remains sleek and focused. The centerpiece is the bar, which glows a dreamy, iridescent amber that's complemented by ring chandeliers and absorbed by Italian leather chairs, a lounge area's plush velvet cushions, and tabletop black holes.
Executive chef Vanessa Dang follows up her first blockbuster of French-inspired Vietnamese dishes with this intimate sequel promising elegant small-plate options and explosive flavors. The menu pokes sleepy taste buds with shareable small plates such as maple-leaf duck-confit lettuce wraps ($9) and tuna-and-salmon poke with ginger, avocado, mango, and cucumber-and-tomato salsa ($9). Full-sized entrees combine intercontinental palates with mouth-warping orders of cumin-marinated jumbo prawns and garlic noodles ($16) or a rack of lamb marinated with Dijon-mustard peppercorn in a Bing-cherry reduction ($25). Fill out abridged meals with a glass from the saga-worthy, 150-bottle wine list or a sweet-tooth-regaling Fuji-apple-and-coconut egg roll ($8).
Zazou's simple but powerful selection of café fare includes savory eats and fresh sweets. Stumble out of an ear-buzzing alarm-clock stupor with an Italian dark-roast or an organic, fair-trade medium-roast coffee before diving into a classic Nutella, chocolate, and banana crêpe ($6) or a hearty vegetarian crêpe stuffed with roasted red pepper, tomato, pesto, and monterey jack ($6.95). The hot pressed sandwiches see that cuts of pastrami, ham, turkey, or grilled chicken are lovingly squished between ciabatta or baguette halves with grandmotherly intensity, after receiving a number of pinches on the cheek and savory fillings, such as roasted red pepper, pesto, and swiss cheese ($7.50¬–$7.75). The meal-worthy Lebanese salad woos ravenous leaf-loving appetites with organic mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, and kalamata olives topped with feta cheese and pomegranate dressing ($7.25). Zazou’s also features a fresh soup du jour, with past offerings that include North African lentil ($3.50 for cup, $5 for bowl).
Formerly La Rose Bistro on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, La Sen Bistro opened its doors in November. Split between reds and whites sourced from Californian and French vineyards, its wine list reflects the California-French cuisine emerging from the kitchen. Chefs coat duck breast in a honey-pepper sauce and craft a traditional French onion soup with garlic croutons and broiled ementale cheese. They also douse salmon in saffron sauce, pair garlic pommes frites with a ribeye steak, and adorn a vegetarian pizza in goat cheese and ratatouille, a tastier alternative to vegetarian pizzas topped with topiaries.
The two chefs at Cypress rely on more than following great recipes when crafting their fine French foods. They meticulously prepare every batch of béarnaise sauce and pot of coq au vin using sustainable, organic California ingredients as often as they can. They also take pride in their artful, festive presentation, serving their dishes tableside style on gueridons whenever possible and Cirque du Soleil style when they remember to bring their leotards. Servers, meanwhile, toss salads, sizzle up new york steaks with brandy, and ignite strawberry flambés.