A Taste of French Comfort Food in San Carlos
Geoffroy Raby came to California a little more than a decade ago from northern France without knowing any English.
But he had the dream of recreating the simple, classic and casual bistro fare of his native land.
Last October, he did just that — opening Cuisinett in San Carlos with the assistance of Consulting Chef Guillaume Bienaime late of Marche in Menlo Park. Bienaime designed the menu, created the recipes and did all the training of the kitchen staff at Cuisinett. He’s even doing the book-keeping there. Raby makes you feel welcome immediately, chatting easily with both regulars and newcomers as if they had just stepped into his own home.
It’s a tiny place with only about 26 seats at small tables fashioned from reclaimed wood. Brick walls, exposed pipes and small arched windows just below the ceiling give the place an industrial charm. It’s already proved a hit. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s often an hour-long wait to get in.
You order at the counter, find a seat and wait for the food to be delivered to your table. Brined Rocky chicken, mussels or a New York steak are offered, each with a choice of three different sauces, plus a choice of a vegetable side dish. There’s also a burger ($12) with shallot confit and Gruyere, a vegetarian soup of the day ($7), salads such as the Nicoise ($12), quiche Lorraine ($9) and a spicy lamb sandwich with frites ($10). Look for a pork chop and a shrimp dish to be new additions to the menu.
Recently, I had a chance to dine as a guest of the restaurant with Bienaime, who filled me in on what he’s been up to since the closure of Marche last year, which will reopen later this year as an LB Steak restaurant. After getting Cuisinett up and running, Bienaime has been working on opening his own restaurant. Unlike the fine-dining French fare he was cooking at Marche, his new restaurant, which will open later this year on the Peninsula, will be moderate-priced Italian food. He’s already purchased a pricey pasta maker, too. Stay tuned for more details on his new restaurant to come.
If you were lucky enough to have a French grand-maman, she no doubt would have cooked you the type of food served at Cuisinett. It’s comforting like home-cooking done superbly.
The ratatouille crumble ($13) is a delightful mix of butternut squash, eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions cooked in a casserole dish that’s topped with crisp bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan and herbs de Provence. Unlike some ratatouilles in which the vegetables have been cooked into submission, these retain their individual integrity and are cooked almost al dente. Enjoy it as a side dish to share or a vegetarian entree as it comes with a small side salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette.
With the moules frites ($16), we chose the shallot-white wine-herbs broth. The large, plump mussels are from Washington state. It’s a generous bowlful with slices of bread to soak up all the wonderful sauce.
For the roast chicken ($14), we went with the mustard cream sauce. After brining, the chicken is roasted on a spit. The flesh comes out juicy and tender. The whole grain mustard sauce is velvety enough to nicely coat the chicken pieces. A mix of peas, carrots and pearl onions came on the side. Cooked with herbs and butter, they make you realize just how satisfying such a basic jumble of vegetables can be when done really well.
On Sunday nights when the restaurant is normally closed, Bieniame has been hosting “Cuisinett After Dark” pop-up dinners, featuring more sophisticated fare. To find out about upcoming pop-up dinners there, email CuisinettAfterDark@gmail.com.