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Classy Cuisinartistry

[whitespace] Jack and Renee Chyle
George Sakkestad

Salut: Jack and Renee Chyle celebrate Chez Renee's 16th anniversary and their 26th wedding anniversary.

A legend in the heart of Aptos, Chez Renee updates its reputation with an eye toward seasonal changes and enduring craftsmanship

By Christina Waters

A CAPRESE SALAD, offering the first tomatoes of the season, beckons from the appetizer menu. A Mediterranean platter of grilled mixed vegetables is stocked with Yukon Gold potatoes, baby zucchini and red bell peppers. The fabled duck is accented with fresh raspberries and red currants. Chez Renee has never looked better, with its new deck and an arbor of grapevines starting to creep over the alfresco dining area. And the menu, reflecting the expertise of chef Jack Chyle, keeps pace.

Rosemary and I make at least one annual pilgrimage to this charming and breathtakingly consistent restaurant on her birthday. Aglow with peach tones, the main dining room is as cozy as it's possible to be and still space tables generously enough for private conversations. Presided over by the vivacious Renee Chyle, the restaurant exudes casual joie de vivre. And the service last week was, as always, impeccable.

From the award-winning wine list--and Chez Renee dinners practically demand a decent bottle of wine--we treated ourselves to a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny 1996, partly in honor of a trip to Burgundy we took together a decade ago. Rosemary and I need no excuse to open a bottle of Burgundy, but the prospect of Jack's impeccable duck was the clincher.

We started with Malpeque oysters on the half shell ($8.95) and a luxuriously satiny house-smoked sturgeon appetizer (7.50) served à la Japonais with pickled ginger and wasabe sauce. The Nova Scotia oysters, briny yet sweet, were exactly the right start for our celebratory dinner. The mignonette sauce, vinegary and laced with shallots, was good enough to drink like an aperitif. While we both missed the silky coral-colored smoked salmon we used to die for at Chez Renee, we fell in love with the tender sturgeon--delightful when topped by a thin cucumber slice.

The wine was opening abundantly, thanks both to its oenological pedigree and to the generous size of the stemware. It's a wise restaurant that knows how to showcase wine to the fullest.

A sexy little Provençal-style mussel soup followed, along with my salad--all Chez Renee entrees include soup or salad and vegetables. The salad, a mix of flawless greens, was topped with a vinaigrette heightened by lots of Roquefort cheese. The soup was ablaze with tomato and shellfish broth, fresh mussels and a float of melted cheese. A tiny bowl of garlic and red peppery rouille arrived, which we spooned onto the soup in larger helpings than were absolutely necessary. Soup made with the care of a main dish--how refreshing.

After a fresh pour of the spicy wine, entrees arrived bearing more culinary enchantment. Rosemary's order of fresh pan-grilled sturgeon ($21.95) was presented with a handsome border of sautéed shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Rich and creamy, like an alabaster steak, it arrived on a beautiful white rectangular platter along with mashed potatoes, yellow and green beans, and a rosette of butternut squash puree.

A heroic portion, it was matched--and then some--by my duck ($24.95). The crimson slices of sauteed breast meat and a leg/thigh combination roasted to maximum flavorfulness were joined by the same radiant vegetables--although my scalloped potatoes were even better than the mashed ones. A bouquet of raspberries, blackberries and currants joined the duck, echoing the berry and wine tones of the sauce.

Both were hard acts to follow, but the chef's vision du soir included ice cream of prunes and Armagnac ($5) that had us spellbound. Served in a cookie tulip, the three scoops offered some remarkable flavors, ranging from prune to raisin before hitting the haunting flavor of the Armagnac. Served with room-temperature unsweetened whipped cream, it provided dreamy closure. A slice of outstanding soufflé-style cheesecake ($6) with fresh raspberry sauce showed off the kitchen's baking genius. There is no other cheesecake in Central California. But then there's no other Chez Renee, either.

Chez Renee
Address: 9051 Soquel Drive, Aptos
Phone: 831/688-5566
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday from 5:30pm
Entrees: $16.95-$24.95
Service: *** 1/2 Attentive and swift, service here is the best kind--practically invisible.
Ambiance: **** Small-scale and unpretentious, yet classy.
Cuisine: **** Gracefully presented, impeccably created. Jack Chyle is a brilliant culinary artist who adds touches that elevate each item beyond the merely wonderful.
Overall: Chez Renee retains its place in the central core of the best Santa Cruz dining.

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From the August 11-18, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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