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New Bistro in Town

[whitespace] Jou Jou
Christopher Gardner

High Style: Chef Edouard Wehr and Mitchel Post have converted a former Italian trattoria into the newly renamed Jou Jou, a French bistro.

From its perch overlooking downtown San Jose, Jou Jou offers a new perspective on casual continental dining

By Christina Waters

A SENSE OF FRESH ATTITUDE fills the attractive second-floor digs of the brand-new Jou Jou, a bistro built around the veteran talents of chef Edouard Wehr, formerly with Dartanian's. Wehr has filled his new menu with tantalizing California translations of heartland French bistro themes, items like sole with rosemary potato galette, duck confit, braised short rib and Lyonnaise seafood stews.

Jou Jou's art director has freshened up the former Bellino's space with a serene sea of blonde wood chairs snuggling up to generous expanses of white linen. Tasteful touches like an oversized vase of yellow tulips, fin de siècle Cognac posters and a diaphanous blue curtain dividing the compact bar area from the main dining rooms lend continental attitude to the site.

If we hadn't been looking for the new restaurant--commanding a terrific view of St. Joseph and the elegant San Jose Museum of Art across the street--it would have been easy to miss, so discreet is the signage indicating both restaurant and free parking in the ground-level lot.

Seated to take full advantage of that view, Candice and I decided on glasses of an excellent Clos du Bois 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon ($6.50) to accompany the sourdough offered along with pats of butter inaccessibly wrapped in silver foil.

The evening's special salmon ($17.95), encrusted with a pavé of potatoes, sounded great. And so did that cafe classic, a dish of braised short ribs joined by soft polenta and Bordeaux sauce ($15.95). Though our waiter was earnest and helpful, the kitchen appeared to meditate at leisure on our appetizer orders, which arrived after a lengthy wait despite the lack of customer volume.

Very pretty, we both remarked about an order of seared yellowtail tuna ($7.95) that arrived centered with a vertical puff of tender greens. The greens were dressed with a spectacular vinaigrette enhanced with curry powder and poblano chiles. Though the tuna was disconcertingly chilled--when had it been seared? I wondered--the dressing was irresistible.

Not so our other appetizer, a round, beige, uncrisp filo packet filled with quail, leeks and smoked pancetta ($6.95). The filling--to which cheese, possibly Brie, had been added without prior warning--was rich and tasty. The filo packet was unappealing. Spears of perfect steamed asparagus did their best to counteract a generic brown sauce.

Our entrees looked more promising, especially the seafood dish, in which faux fish scales of transparent potatoes had been broiled onto a filet of expertly poached salmon. Along the side were plump sea scallops lightly sautéed with saffron. A row of diamond-shaped carrots tossed with tarragon lay next to a perfect sheaf of asparagus. Terrific vegetables, I thought, enjoying the overabundance of the portion.

Candice's short ribs--a bistro classic that can be tender and intensely flavored--were, in fact, quite fatty and lackluster. They arrived with creamy, Gorgonzola-laced polenta, a huge sprig of fresh thyme and more of the fine vegetables. Again, the menu made no mention of any cheese in the polenta, and we were both annoyed at the unwanted addition. "It could use some garlic," Candice offered, unable to finish the beef.

Still curious about the restaurant's lack of full disclosure in its menu descriptions, we decided to share a house dessert of lemon layer cake ($5) and some good cappuccinos ($2.75). The dessert was an overgrown, unfresh cupcake that had been split in half, frosted with lemon curd and topped with whipped cream, strawberries and raspberries. So narrow and high was this unwieldly pastry that it was impossible to insert a fork without toppling the whole thing. Perhaps we should have sampled that New York- style cheesecake instead.

Jou Jou looks nice and has obvious talent behind its menu. Some attention to quality of ingredients, and perhaps another spin through the menu listings, will help to fine-tune this new downtown bistro.

Jou Jou French Bistro

Cuisine: Bistro California
Chef: Edouard Wehr
Price: Entrees $13.95-$18.95
Extras: Full bar; free parking
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm, dinner Mon.-Thu. 5-10pm (Fri-Sat till 10:30pm)
Address: 95 S. Market St., San Jose (San Fernando and Market)
Phone: 408/277-0690

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From the April 16-22, 1998 issue of Metro.

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