Good Taste: A Theatrical Lunch at Baumé

Food news and views on the Bay Area's most surprising flavors

Courtesy of Baumé

At best, ordering a tasting menu at a high end restaurant should be both leisurely and go beyond a normal meal to uncover new ideas, flavors, and techniques. It should be a participatory performance that satisfies in the way a cultural event might. The usually steep price tag for such a meal reflects the amount of time put into the preparation and service. Unfortunately, this is an experience that's largely only available at night, which isn't always a boon to the digestive system or conducive to making other plans afterwards.

In the 18th century, French chemist Antoine Baumé invented a scale to scientifically measure the density of liquids. He is also the namesake for Baumé, an inventive modern French restaurant in Palo Alto that uniquely dabbles in multi-course tasting experiences during the day, serving an abbreviation of its seasonal dinner menu on Friday afternoons. The two-starred Michelin restaurant gives its nod to Antoine Baumé in its playful use of technique, though chef/owner Bruno Chemel is loathe to use the catch-all term molecular gastronomy.

Diners at Baumé are presented with a list of the main ingredients used in the tasting menu, which gives those with allergies or aversions a chance to take anything problematic out of the proceedings. After that, each course is a total surprise, those ingredients appearing in unexpected combinations. It's a thrill that engages a sense of adventure that isn't usually around when you know exactly what you're getting.

The restaurant is in the final weeks of its spring presentation, and without giving any major spoilers away, items such as lobster, grass-fed beef, young coconut, cherry, and caviar take on starring roles. The surprises are not limited to the food, either. Plates, bowls, and other serving vehicles sourced from around the world are often creative and amusing as well.

At $78 for five courses ("Le Cinq") and $128 for nine courses ("Le Neuf") at lunch (and $178 for 12 courses at dinner), this is certainly a luxury experience. It's also a decidedly theatrical one that deserves to be put it on par with the comparable ticket prices to a concert or show. Chef Chemel might not come out from behind the curtains to do a dance, but his food sings on the plate.

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