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09.19.07

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First Bite

Restaurant review: Chez Pierre in Novato

A real, old-fashioned French restaurant charms in Marin.

By Carey Sweet

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they—informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves—have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

I'd never have guessed someone could transform a tired Denny's into a Parisian bistro simply with some new burgundy upholstery, a long white tablecloth draped the length of the old coffee-shop counter, flickering votives on the table tops, a sign proclaiming "French cuisine" and a smattering of French dishes on the menu.

But that's just what Pierre and Isabelle Awad have done with their new Chez Pierre in downtown Novato. Formerly Pepper's Diner, and before that, Denny's, it opened in January under the name Peter's, until it occurred to the French couple last month that "Pierre's" made a whole lot more sense for a place offering Gallic fare like escargot ($6.95) served in their shells and swimming in garlic butter.

Good move, that name change. It was the French sign that pulled my companions and me into the parking lot early on a recent Friday evening, struck with an impromptu vision of waiting out the hellacious rush hour with bowls of that savory classic soup, French onion. It ended up being a full feast.

French food isn't the whole deal—there's Italian and American on the lengthy breakfast and lunch list, too—but French is the real reason to come here, and at dinner in particular, when most of the magic kicks in and a dozen or so plats Française take center stage.

Pierre's soup ($5.50) is more soothing than exciting, but good enough, bobbing with strangely pleasing crisp onion curls and a bit of toast in a thinnish broth under a slender cap of cheese. A salmon salad ($11.95), meanwhile, arrived laden with three fat rolls of smoked fish stuffed with Boursin on a bed of arugula, tomato, avocado, cucumber and goat cheese drizzled in an excellent Dijon vinaigrette. Paired with a basket of small crusty bread rounds spread with lots of butter and Pierre's generous glass of wine ($3), it's a meal.

There's nothing fancy here: a simple but soul-satisfying smoked duck salad with berry vinaigrette ($7.95); a big slab of mild, sweet sole ($16.95) bathed in buttery mushroom sauce; half a moist roasted chicken slathered in Dijon herb sauce with green beans, carrots and nicely lumpy mashed potatoes.

And how often do we see chicken Cordon Bleu these days, though I can't imagine needing to find it anywhere else ever again after the joy that is Pierre's version ($15.95). A big, beautiful breast of bird is rolled around ham and sundried tomato, crusted in breadcrumbs, fried to a juicy crunch and ladled with rich brown mushroom sauce. The traditional cheese stuffing has gone missing but is made up for in the creamy, dreamy au gratin potatoes alongside.

Pierre's also has a rousing tableside show of strawberries flambé with Grand Marnier and vanilla ice cream ($6.50), and homemade profiteroles ($5.50), the two oversized cream puffs stuffed with vanilla ice cream under nicely bitter dark chocolate sauce.

By the time my group wandered back out to brave the highway, it was nearly dark, and traffic had dissipated back into a merciful Autobahn. We were stuffed, sated and oh-so-happily surprised.


Chez Pierre

7330 Redwood Blvd., Novato

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

415.898.4233.


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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.