A NEW KIND OF DÉJÀ VU - PARIS ARRIVES IN CABO
by Richard Chudy
Ever had the feeling that you've been somewhere before? Well, even if you've never been to the French Riviera Restaurant in Los Cabos, the experience will leave you with a new kind of déjà vu, one that makes you wish you had been there before. The owners and staff make you feel as if you are long lost friends or family who have finally come home and the food, service and congeniality will create a lasting impression.
Los Cabos has no shortage of excellent restaurants. Whatever your appetite, you'll have little trouble finding food that pleases the palate. Traditional Mexican, authentic Italian, the freshest seafood, sushi, fondue and fusion, they're all here. The cuisine that has garnered the least attention has been French, the king of haute cuisine. Not anymore. Nestled on the cliffs above the Sea of Cortez, just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Cabo San Lucas, is an elegant yet unpretentious jewel in the crown of Cabo culinary delights.
That jewel is the French Riviera Restaurant and Bakery. A destined to be famous trio of eateries with locations in San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas and along the tourist corridor in between the two municipalities. Until recently, those seeking true gourmet French dining had a very small selection from which to choose. Most offered French fare as part of a mélange of vastly unrelated cuisine with the French fare being a somewhat obvious afterthought. Others claimed to have French trained chefs, but my taste buds told a different story. It is with great pleasure that I report that my taste buds have found true French cooking, and it is alive and well in Los Cabos.
Begat by Jacques Chretien and his wife Sophie, the French Riviera is a gastronome's paradise, an oasis of flavor infused sauces, originality and decadence. Led by Chef Jacques Chretien, the staff prepares some of the finest meals that are likely to ever pass your lips, all the while making guests feel more at home than any home should have the right to feel. That, my friends, is no easy task, but somehow these wonderfully hospitable folks make it look easy.
Chef Chretien has the honor of belonging to a small community - the world's greatest chefs. As recipient of the Maitre Cuisinier designation (French master chef), he joins a group that boasts only 200 members worldwide with only forty or so outside of France. Mexico boasts a total of five, Los Cabos has only one. The award is bestowed by the French government and recognizes culinary excellence as an art form unto itself. Couple Jacque's talent and passion for fine food with Sophie's "joie de vie" and undeniable warmth, and you have a five-star dining experience set in one of the world's most picturesque coastal destinations.
The main restaurant is open for lunch (12:00 to 4:00) and dinner (5:30 to 11:00 pm), bar service runs from 11:30 am to 11:00 pm. Decorated in with stone tables and wicker chairs, the interior bathed in earth tones, the restaurant is warm and inviting. Out on the terrace you are surrounded by lush landscapes and an endless ocean view with Land's End and the famous arch off in the distance. Sunsets here are spectacular.
Chef Chretien's menu is an eclectic collection of original dishes and classic French fare. For starters, your waiter brings you a delightful trio of "welcome" canapés, sea bass tartar with baby green onions, goat cheese mousse and other seasonal delicacies. A nice touch that starts the process of making guests feel truly special and welcome.
For an appetizer try the lobster cappuccino served with truffle foam and a crispy zucchini stuffed ravioli; tuna & scallop carpaccio flavored with walnut oil and lime, served atop lamb's lettuce and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese; or roasted heirloom tomatoes served with a comfit of eggplant, zucchini and crab with cheese sauce. These are just a few selections from the menu, making a choice is not easy as they are all excellent.
For your entrée Chef Chretien has created a plethora of unique dishes from which to choose. Items include; braised red snapper served with potato-mushroom gnocchi in a basil reduction; gilded frog's legs served with "Purée d'Andouillette " drizzled with a foamed garlic, and parsley butter sauce; roasted Sonora beef tenderloin served with homemade fettuccine and a vanilla-ginger portabella mushroom sauce; herb crusted loin of lamb served with organic French green beans and black truffle jus; roasted free-range chicken breast stuffed with eggplant and vegetables with pan reduced au jus; or roasted lobster raviolis with shitake mushrooms bathed in a garlic-basil emulsion, just to name a few.
Each dish is prepared in full view of the restaurant thanks to the open kitchen designed by Chef Chretien. Watching the kitchen staff is a real treat. Co-owner and Chef Eric Scianamanico is the perfect partner in the kitchen with Chretien and the rest of the staff. A constant buzz of activity takes place in the kitchen and one walks away hoping to have learned techniques to use in their own kitchens, albeit that watching is much easier than doing.
The wait staff does an outstanding job of pairing wines to each stage of your meal and has a large selection of wines from around the globe. One of the great surprises is the quality of the Mexican wines the restaurant features. Until recently, Mexico was not regarded as a wine producing country but with the abundance of land and temperate climate that exists here. Slowly but surely, Mexican wines are being taken seriously by wine enthusiasts worldwide. To make selection even easier, the restaurant menu offers the option of adding wine selection to both single and double entrée prix-fixe menus.
For the finish, dessert, and what a selection they offer. My partner, Dolores Peralta, opted for a chocolate soufflé made with Valrhona chocolate and served with fresh baked cookies, goat milk and caramel ice cream. I opted for the lemon soufflé with the same garnishments. Valrhona is a wonderful French chocolate company. Their "Noir Amer" chocolate literally translates as "black bitter", which is a fair description of both the color and taste of this chocolate. For the true chocolate aficionado, eating Noir Amer is almost a religious experience. It is most likely as close as you'll ever come to tasting pure chocolate essence.
In addition to the soufflés, the French Riviera also offers; melted chocolate cake served with pear puree; a soft hazelnut biscuit served with chestnut cream; a selection of seasonal red fruit with "Sablé Breton mango coulis and cocoa sorbet; or flambéed apples and bananas served with Calvados chocolate dentelle.
Another aspect of the French Riviera experience is that it does not have to end with lunch or dinner. Rise the next morning and satisfy your morning appetite with a short trip to either of the restaurants satellite locations for terrific breakfast fare. Fresh baked baguettes, decadent pastries, crepes and more await and there is nothing more appetizing then the aroma of fresh baked goods carried on crisp, clean coastal breeze. All in all, the entire experience is, well, magnifique!
To learn more about the French Riviera or to reserve your table, visit them online at www.frenchrivieraloscabos.com or call 011 52 (624) 142-3350. Bon apetit!
For complete restaurant locations, hours and contact information, visit CabosBest.com.
About the Author
Richard Chudy is the author and also the owner of CabosBest.com, a travel information portal for Los Cabos and Baja Sur, Mexico.