Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of a meal there, it’s hard not to like a restaurant named Chez Bob. Much as poetic French words are apt to do, the term “chez” seems to impart instant credibility, authenticity and just a touch of haughtiness to any restaurant sporting that appellation–even though “chez” is just a preposition which means “at the home of.” So, Chez Lucien is essentially “at the home of Lucien.” On restaurants, the term “chez” usually prefaces the name of the chef or owner, as in Chez Pierre or Chez Emile.
The ordinary nature of the “Bob” portion of the name Chez Bob counterbalances the haughtiness of the term “chez” because Bob is one of those “every man names” we all trust. It doesn’t have those intimidating metrosexual qualities of Hollywood names such as Troy and Brad or the perceived hauteur of a French name. Bob is a vanilla name, a name your friends and neighbors might have. You would probably feel more welcome at a restaurant named “Chez Bob” than you would at one named “Chez Arnaud” which sounds more than a bit pretentious and expensive.
The Bob in Chez Bob is Robert “Bob” Maw. Bob’s vision is for Chez Bob to be the type of restaurant with which he grew up in New York, the type of restaurant which emphasizes great food, great service and a great experience for all patrons. He means it when emphasizing service, teaching his staff that it’s much easier to remake an entree than to make a new customer. His goal is to exceed the expectations of each and every guest. Chez Bob is well on its way to doing just that with a young, but very talented kitchen staff that includes chefs Jason Sanchez and Stephen Wood and baker-sous chef Rebecca Rodriguez who prepares the restaurant’s desserts, quiches and pear tart.
Before there was a Chez Bob, there was La Crepe Pierre, a charming little eatery in the plaza at Candelaria and San Pedro. An year had barely elapsed when the restaurant moved to the far Northeast Heights and was rechristened Chez Bob for its owner. The restaurant is ensconced in a sprawling shopping center, part of an urban infill effort on the northeast corner of Paseo del Norte and Wyoming. Its de rigueur stuccoed facade is somewhat obfuscated from traffic and its signage, even though incorporating the Eiffel Tower, is subdued. Being away from the well-beaten, well-eaten path in an out-of-the-way shopping center have made it a destination restaurant, one which diners from outside the neighborhood have in mind when they set out for a great meal. My three visits have validated that Chez Bob is a special restaurant, one discerning diners should visit even if it may be a bit out of the way.
Chez Bob’s interior is as charming as the exterior facade is blase. Industrial style ductwork on the ceiling is barely noticeable considering everything pleasant to look at–from the colorful portraiture festooning the walls to the tile and cabinetry. The center part of the restaurant is lined with small tables in close, neighborly, proximity to one another, while comfortable booths brace against the north and south walls. Linen tablecloths and napkins adorn each table as does a full place-setting. It’s a welcoming and cheery milieu with a casual elegance.
Service at Chez Bob isn’t haughty in the least. It’s friendly and attentive without the wait staff hovering over you at every turn. The staff is trained well enough to understand that a casual glance here and then is enough to know when customers’ glasses needs refilling or more bread is needed at the table. Bread is one of the few items not prepared on the premises. Chez Bob showcases the freshest, wild-caught seafood and premium steaks with everything on the Continental cuisine menu prepared to order. All sauces are freshly made from the highest quality ingredients. Instead of sticker shock, your face will register surprise at the reasonable bill of fare.
The menu is an impressive array of mostly French entrees with a smattering of Italian cuisine for good measure. All entrees are served with a side salad, starch of the day and fresh vegetables. The “On the Hoof” section of the menu features only two items–Beef Wellington and Rib Eye Steak–but they’re better than steakhouse quality. The “Wet and Wild Caught” menu includes seafood delicacies such as Diver Scallops prepared with your choice of three sauces: Provencal, St. Jaques, or Buerre Blanc. Poultry offerings such as Duck a l’Orange adorn the Winged Creatures menu. Diners also have their choice from among six savory or sweet crepes or from an impressive selection of Italian pasta dishes.
A thinly sliced loaf of French bread with chilled butter is a French restaurant staple and Chez Bob doesn’t disappoint. It is hard-crusted, airy French bread served with creamy French butter. Diet be damned, you’ve got to have a few slices of the staff of life with your every meal here–some with butter and some saved so you can sop up the soups or sauces.
The soups at Chez Bob are magnificent, none better than the traditional French Onion Soup. This heart-warming elixir is made from rich Chablis (a dry white wine) enhanced beef-based stock with caramelized onions served with a toasted gratin with bubbly Swiss cheese. It’s not as aesthetically appealing as some soup crocks on which the golden, melting cheese blankets the entire top, but it is beefy, rich and fragrant and as delicious as soup gets. Almost as good is a soup du jour offering of cream of potato and ham soup, a thick, creamy soul-warming bowl of sheer deliciousness.
An Artisanal Cheese Plate appetizer showcases a variety of cheeses and fresh fruits with toasted crostini. The cheese platter is a quadrumvirate of terrific cheeses any turophile will enjoy. Good fortune will smile upon you if the four cheeses are Gruyere, Fontina, Goat Cheese and Brie, cheeses with varying flavor profiles, but not as much textural contrast (no hard cheeses, for example) as some would enjoy. The chevre (goat cheese) is especially flavorful, whether you spread it on the toasted crostini or enjoy it by itself. The fruits are seasonally fresh and delicious. They make for an effective palate cleanser in between noshing on the cheeses or for a terrific sweet contrast afterwards.
The “Pasta de la Casa” section of the dinner menu features five Italian pasta dishes including one in which New Mexico green chile meets Italian chicken Alfredo lasagna. It’s a delicious melding of flavors: fresh pulled chicken with a fromage triumvirate of rich ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan layered and finished with a green chili (SIC) Alfredo sauce. If you’re tired of being beaten over the head with puddles of thick, red marinara sauce and spicy sausage, you’ll luxuriate in the elegance and richness of Alfredo sauce and a complementary cheese trio. The pasta is light and delicate despite being just a bit thicker than some lasagna noodles. This is a creamy, delicious entree served slab-sized.
Accompanying the lasagna is a vegetable medley of sweet carrots and green beans, both reminiscent of the freshness you might experience at a market in Provence. The carrots in particular are sweet and perfectly prepared so there’s just a slight snap when you bite into them–not quite al dente, but in no way mushy. The beans are similarly fresh-tasting and delicious.
The pasta menu also features a more conventional New York style lasagna which showcases a house-spiced sweet fennel sausage in a slow-cooked real marinara sauce with three cheeses. Bob Maw told me once that if his customers want something that’s not on the menu and the restaurant has the ingredients to prepare it, Chez Bob will do so. His staff didn’t bat an eye when we asked for a couple slices of sausage. We were brought two huge patties of sweet New York style sausage, blessedly kissed by fennel. It’s a good sausage, the type of which you might enjoy several hunks of during a meal.
Savory crepes are a specialty of the house. Prepared on real Krampouz creperies which are renown for their uniform temperature control, these are among the very best crepes in town. The crepe de resistance is probably the seafood crepe: large sea scallops,shrimp and mushrooms in a rich lobster cream sauce. The golden crepe is literally bursting at its seams with ingredients, all perfectly prepared and as fresh as if brought to the kitchen from a fishing boat. The mushrooms explode with a uniquely robust and woodsy flavor. The scallops and shrimp are sweet and succulent.
There are five other crepes on the menu: Crepe Florentine (spinach in a garlic cream with Bechamel and Swiss cheese), Chicken and Mushroom Crepe, Beef Bourguignon, Salmon and Asparagus Crepe and Ratatouille, a traditional French vegetable stew popularized by an animated feature film by that name. It’s an impressive assemblage of savory crepes, but savory crepes tell only part of the menu’s story. Dessert crepes are among the very best way to cap a meal anywhere.
The menu describes the Beef Wellington as “soon to be famous.” This is one elegant entree which deserves fame and acclaim. It’s an excellent alternative to steak though it does feature a nine-ounce select beef tenderloin and house-made, rich mushroom duxelle (sauteed and finely chopped mushrooms) wrapped in puff pastry then topped with a brandy peppercorn cream sauce. In both taste and aroma, the hemisphere of golden puff pastry is reminiscent of the thin crust which tops freshly baked bread. The tenderloin is prepared to your exacting specifications, but any more than medium and you’ll lose some of the beef’s inherent juiciness. Chez Bob’s recreation of a Beef Wellington pays a loving and faithful tribute to a timeless classic.
Even among people who aren’t especially fond of fish and who think shellfish stinks, you’ll rarely hear a disparaging word about scallops. The delicately mild-sweet, oceany but not overly briny flavor of scallops and their soft, fleshy texture are oh so endearing. Chez Bob offers fresh, wild-caught divers scallops seared in butter and served with your choice of three sauces: Provencal, St. Jaques, or Buerre Blanc. The scallops are plump and delicious, so fresh they nearly melted at the press of a fork. Buerre Blanc, a rich French sauce made from an acidic reduction whisked together with chunks of fresh butter. It adds a complex, rich layer of flavor and unctuousness to the scallops.
The luscious home made desserts menu is replete with the types of indulgences with which we should all treat ourselves once in a while. Though they’re likely heavenly, skip the Creme Brulee and bread pudding and head over to the dessert crepes. There are six on the menu, all tempting, all juggernauts of flavor if the ones we had are any indication. It’s ironic that crepes are the quintessential street food of Paris where trained artisans prepare them to perfection considering that in America, crepes are the decadent denizens of fine French restaurants.
The sweet and delicate Nutella Crepe was showcased in “100+ Things To Eat Before You Die,” a popular list which has been making the rounds throughout the blogosphere for years. It’s a crepe I’d put near the top of that list In 2005, Chez Bob earned a “Hot Plate” award from Albuquerque The Magazine for this delicious beauty which the magazine called “a literal taste of France.” Nutella, a thick, smooth paste made from chocolate and hazelnuts is one of those decadent sweet things you don’t mind smeared all over your face as you lap it up. It’s that good! Topped with whipped cream and strawberries then drizzled with confectioners sugar, it is fabulous. Cut into it with your fork and the sweet succulence oozes out in utter deliciousness. Oh so good!
At the opposite side of the spectrum, at least in terms of sweetness, is the tart and delicious three cream lemon crepe. Engorged with lemon curd and cream cheese, this crepe isn’t so tart that it purses your lips, but it will grab your attention and capture your taste buds with explosions of deliciousness. This is an overstuffed crepe redolent with flavor and freshness.
Though it may not (yet) have earned a Hot Plate award, the favorite dessert of Chef Sanchez is the pear tart made with real almond paste imported from France. This is a very rich, very buttery dessert you might need to share because it is just that rich. Thankfully sliced strawberries lend a tangy contrast to the near cloying sweetness of the almond paste. The golden-brown, buttery pastry shell is light and delicate and the fresh poached pears are glorious. There are many elements in this dessert to like, but if your sweet tooth isn’t what it used to be, tread lightly. This is one rich, rich dessert.
As of this writing, Chez Bob is proceeding with its expansion to the Nob hill space once occupied by the former Vivace at 3118 Central, S.E. The Nob Hill location will be offering breakfast and lunch and should be open in late February or early March. Dinner will eventually follow.
Chez Bob has the commitment of a service-oriented and passionate owner coupled with an energetic and talented kitchen staff now thought of more in terms of excellence than youth. It’s a restaurant at which you’ll feel right at home.
7610 Carmel, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 23 January 2013
1st VISIT: 7 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Prosciutto and melone, Green Chili Chicken Lasagna, Seafood Crepe, Nutella Crepe, Three Cream Lemon Crepe