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Do the Continental

[whitespace] Michael Schibler
Robert Scheer

Pan-tastic Voyage: Chef de Cuisine Michael Schibler, a recent addition to the kitchen at Emile's, has added exciting touches to a culinary landmark.

Legendary Emile's keeps its tradition of elegance

By Christina Waters

NO DETAIL is left to chance at Emile's. The minute you hit the doorway, you're met with a tone of confidence. Each generously spaced table is graced with gorgeous flowers in curved silver vases: Lilies with tiny white chrysanthemums waited for us as we took a corner seat.

And no guest at Emile's languishes for lack of attention--service is sensitive and sophisticated. On our most recent visit, our wait person helped finesse the meal according to our tastes, retrieving information and even making sure our dessert was customized to our liking.

While cruising the comprehensive wine listing, we had our choice of various breads, and we quickly fell in love with a soft whole-wheat number that was served pliant and warm.

For appetizers we began with orders of butternut squash gnocchi ($12) and pistachio-crusted sea scallops ($13.50), both executed beautifully enough to justify the prices.

The gnocchi were as soft and moist as sea urchin, lightly sauced with a truffle-infused reduction of fresh tomatoes, enhanced with Parmesan cheese and garnished with a sprig of chervil. The huge scallops--whose quivering interior made an exotic contrast to the crisp, nut-crusted coating--were filled with sea essence and served on a bed of infant spinach with a vibrant vinaigrette of lemon and orange.

My companion, Candice, and I mentally redecorated the main dining room, adding more mirrors to help break up the cruise-ship boxiness and rethinking the beige tones of the existing wallpaper. Some bolder colors or starker whites would lend dash and drama to this theater of fine dining, as would some fabrics to soften the sound.

Our entrees, however, didn't need a thing. My order of extravagantly rich and rare New Zealand venison ($32) fanned out along a cloud of wild rice and a nouvelle-pretty landscape of baby carrots and baby turnips, all exquisitely flavored, all impeccably executed. A branch of fresh red currants topping the venison reminded me of a midsummer meal in Geneva many years ago.

Candice's order of roasted chicken breast ($25) arrived sculpted into a series of pinwheels whose interior spiral of basil-cheese filling was perhaps a bit on the dry side. The crusting of ground pecans was echoed with a confetti of pecans adorning the plate, and the side of mashed potatoes was echoed by a crown of straw potatoes--almost Palladian in concept and architecture.

Both the ornate flavors of the basil and chicken and the straightforward ones of the game went brilliantly with a bold Cabernet Franc 1995 from Cooper-Garrod ($7 a glass), one of our fine local wineries. The wine opened into meaty nuances as the entrees were served, every bite confirming my commitment to the joys of red wine with everything (except maybe raw oysters).

Our server, who had been concerned about making sure we had the meal that would please us most, had fussed about our dessert choice of the evening's tropical soufflé ($8.50 per person). Ordered well in advance of dessert time, this house specialty is designed to be shared by two and shows off the restaurant's renowned touch with this gossamer genre of gastronomy. Tonight the choice of flavors included raspberry, mango and passionfruit, we were told. Both of us sighed at the word "mango," and with that our server went back to the kitchen to request that mangos appear frequently in the soufflé we received.

The souffle arrived in a cylindrical baking dish and was deftly split at the table into two buoyant, ethereal portions utterly packed with tiny diced mangos. The shell-pink concoction was placed on pools of crème Anglaise thickly laced with more mangos. With espresso, it was continental heaven. And that's what Emile's does best: continental heaven. Now if only the lighting could be lowered just a notch, the ambiance would be up to the impeccable culinary tone.


Emile's
Cuisine: Updated continental
Ambiance: Old World upscale
Menu: Entrees $24-$32
Hours: Lunch Fri. 11:30am-2pm; dinner Tue.-Sat. 6-10pm
Chef de Cuisine: Michael Schibler
Address: 545 S. Second St., San Jose
Phone: 408/289-1960

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From the January 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro.

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