Scotts Valley California
Santa Cruz Attractions

Scotts Valley Dining Guide

Chez Elise
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Dessert Oasis: Creations such as this chocolate mousse make for happy endings to the meals at Chez Elise.

Brie Fixe

On the site of a former tearoom, Chez Elise offers Scotts Valley diners leisurely romantic ambiance with a continental accent

By Christina Waters

ANTIQUE porcelain, gleaming silver and graceful wall sconces all complement the cozy interior of Chez Elise, a recent addition to Scotts Valley's dining possibilities. My intrepid Uncle Harold and Aunt Virlyne--who'd already done lunch at Chez Elise and had favorable reports--joined us for dinner last week, their presence providing oodles of family anecdotes and an opportunity to sample widely from the house menu.

Seated at a large central table appointed with a lace tablecloth and bouquet of pink roses, we festively ordered a bottle of fine Burgundy--a 1996 Gevrey-Chambertin from Joseph Drouhin ($54)--and proceeded to make our dinner selections. I chose the prix fixe menu ($34) that included an hors d'oeuvre of baked brie, a vegetable soupe du jour, salad of mixed greens, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce--Chez Elise appears committed to the classics--and dessert of crème brûlée (ordered to please my aunt, who adores creamy desserts). The prix fixe turned out to be a deal, since my meal alone would have cost $50 a la carte. (Why is a steamed artichoke $8.50 yet a Caesar salad is $5.75?)

While the French pinot noir opened in lovely, large stemware, we sampled the house bread and awaited the appetizers. With only two other patrons in the café, the long wait between courses was puzzling. Through the course of the evening, it became apparent that our four orders pushed the minuscule kitchen and single cook to their limits. We began to wish that Chez Elise had scaled back its menu--with perhaps just a choice among two appetizers, and two desserts, as is done in small French establishments.

First came soup. Described as "hearty vegetable," it consisted of freshly made and very light vegetable stock filled with root crops. After a lengthy pause--during which time no other dishes were brought--my baked brie arrived. A nice portion of the creamy hot cheese had been wrapped in a pastry crust, and on the side were red and green pepper jellies, plus a sweet apple relish. It was pleasant, but hardly justified the trouble it must have caused the kitchen.

Finally the salads arrived, including my aunt's flavorful Caesar and our "salades maison." The latter were dressed with a very sweet raspberry vinaigrette--sweetness at the beginning of a meal closes down the taste buds--over a bed of tender, delicious baby greens, a few roasted pecans and piquant Niçoise olives. With less sweetness, it would have been a refreshing start to our long dinner. The time passed, however, thanks to the sheer vivacity of my aunt's raconteurial skills--and my uncle's dry wit. We needed them both, since dinner was a while in the making.

Eventually a tableside burner arrived and Uncle Harold's generous portion of New York steak ($24.95) was quietly cooked by our host, flamed with cognac and peppercorns and served on a plate with mixed zucchinis, carrots and a tasty creamed spinach. It was delicious, with enough beef to provide lunch for a village the next day. Virlyne's rack of lamb--also a huge portion--was tasty though very fatty ($26.95). Jack's great white slab of sea bass was tasteless under its fussy coating of herbs and spinach ($21.95). A slender carrot and fine potatoes encouraged good will. My perfect filet mignon ($23.95) was good under a light blanket of bearnaise sauce--two tiny pieces of potato made me wish for more. We all admired the cook's way with fresh vegetables.

Sampling my order of well-made crème brûlée, served with excellent decaf espresso, we admired the textbook texture and a light scent of star anise--an unusual and successful flavoring choice. The menu as a whole could learn from the dessert's adventurous spirit.

Chez Elise, 18A Victor Square, Scotts Valley, 831.438.5310. Hours: Lunch Thu.-Fri. 11am-2pm; dinner Tue.-Sun. 5:30-9pm. Entrees: Expensive. Ambiance: **1/2 Attractive antiques adorn this tiny bistro. Service: ** Correct, yet distant. Cuisine: ** Well-made entrees on an ambitious menu of traditional French dishes. Overall: Chez Elise would prosper by streamlining its dinner menu to reflect its tiny kitchen's capability. Pricing appears out of line, higher than Theo's, Oswald and Chez Renee. Reach far overshoots grasp.

From the January 19-26, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.
Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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