Disappointed. Ripped off. Unhappy. Those are the words I would use to express my feelings about our dinner at Bijou Wednesday night (April 2009). We had great hopes for this new French restaurant in downtown Hayward, but unfortunately it did not live up to them. While Bijou is all in all a nice place, and the waiters, at least, seem to be trying, it doesn't really know what it wants to be, so it fails at being anything.
Let's start with Bijou's dining room. Taken by itself, it's quite pleasant. It has comfortable booths, stylish chairs and soft lightening. A tall flowing translucent curtain, which somehow resembles a waterfall, separates the dining room from the bar - but here stands the problem. The bar, while stylish in itself, features two large screen TVs, tuned in to sports. The TVs are clearly visible from the restaurant, and they constitute a distraction, a break in the illusion of casual elegance that the dining room, otherwise, strives to project. The other problem is the music. Loud, very loud, contemporary music - something that may be fun for twenty-somethings, but that once again clashes with the rest of the experience.
A more significant problem at Bijou, however, is the food. While not uniformly bad, the portions are uniformly small and overpriced. Stylishly arranged, for sure, but if the restaurant aspires to foodie status (I would say gourmet, but that word is so pasé), it has to get a better chef and get rid of the music and TVs.
Mike and I shared two appetizers (snobbily described in the menu as "small plates"). The mushroom puff pastry ($9) consisted of a piece of plebeian puff pastry sitting on a careless mushroom ragout. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good, it just was. We had great expectations (again, a mistake) for the "le doix foi gras" ($19!), as we are both lovers of grossly inflamed duck liver, specially when served seared. I must admit that we both flinched when we saw the bite-size piece of seared foie gras, not large enough for one, much less to share, but were quick to be thankful for the restaurant's stinginess: this was the worst foie gras we've ever eaten. No, let me rephrase that, this was the worst foie gras that has ever been cooked. If you've ever seared foie gras, you know that it's extremely easy to do: you heat up a pan, put your pieces of foie gras on it, cook them for 45 seconds, turn them, and cook them for another 45 seconds. Yes, that's all, it couldn't be simpler. Tell that to the cooks at Bijou, who grossly overcooked the foie gras and then covered it with a burnt balsamic reduction sauce. Of course, the sauce was so strong and bitter that it hid any hint of foie gras flavor. I can't imagine any meat that would have been able to stand up to it. It even challenged Mike's sweet heat drink (more about that later), leaving my poor husband gasping for water. The other component of the dish, a foie gras pate, was much better (in comparison). It had a very mild flavor, and the portion once again was lilliputian, but it went well with the accompanying chutney. Needless to say, however, this is not a dish that we'd order again.
We had better luck with our main dishes - and really, our only criticism is the small portion size. My grilled skirt steak ($16) was perfectly cooked, if a tad too thin for my taste. I did enjoy it, however, specially after brushing away the overpowering peppercorn sauce. It came with very average celery mashed potatoes, and green beans wrapped in very tasty bacon. Mike also enjoyed his salmon, in particular the lemon beurre blanc, but he did leave most of the rice on his plate.
Now, as for the drinks... I had my usual regular coke ($2), while Mike went for the "sweet heat", a drink made of sweet liquors and a jalapeño pepper. He wasn't expecting it to be as spicy as it was, he was a trooper and drank it all (after all, he'd spent $10 on it), but didn't really enjoy it. We (OK, I) decided to skip dessert because I wasn't too confident on how they'd be - though I was definitely hungry enough for one. Instead, we went to Horatio's where I had my usual chocolate indulgence cake.
Service at Bijou varied from solicitous to incompetent. We got served two rolls and very average butter soon after we came in, but at no point we were asked if we wanted more bread. The waiter was enthusiastic and the food pacing was good - but the drink menu was never removed from our very small table, making it hard to fit the plates. It seems like they need some more training.
In all, I think we had a disappointing experience, specially for the over $90 tab. I'm definitely not in a rush to go back - which is a pity, because it would be really nice to have a first class French restaurant so close to home.
1034 B St
Hayward, CA 94541